Letters to the Editor

Freedom of expression must not incite violence

Tuesday, September 18, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

It has been established that freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom to elect political representatives are the cornerstones of western democracies.

But of all the freedoms that we enjoy, none is more taken for granted and blatantly abused than freedom of expression. This freedom is so taken for granted that many people seem to think that they have the God-given right to say or write anything that comes to mind. These people fail to realise that unbridled expressions cannot impinge only on the rights of others; unrestrained expressions can also do a great deal of harm worldwide.

The thoughtless and hate-filled video that sought to denigrate the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslim religion is a prime example of how unbridled freedom of expression can spread hatred and incite violence.

The diehard advocates of free speech may be tempted to cite the Bradenburg vs Ohio case in 1969 in which the US Supreme Court concluded that an individual is not subject to punitive measures for uttering offensive language. But it should be carefully noted that it was the opinion of the court that the First Amendment did not apply if a person's "advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action."

The reprehensible video has certainly brought to the fore the issue of how unbridled expressions can endanger the lives of thousands of people worldwide. But the incendiary power of the video is not alone in this respect. The mass media is also unwittingly guilty of disseminating information that can endanger the lives of innocent people.

Take the case of Prince Harry, for example. Some time ago he was clandestinely posted to war-torn Afghanistan. After about 10 weeks the media revealed his presence in that country. His life was in such danger that he was withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Then to my surprise a few weeks ago the media revealed to the world, including the Taliban, that Prince Harry was again posted to Afghanistan.

The mass media did this knowing full well that the prince would be a prime target for Taliban insurgents. It is beyond the pale that the media would be so thoughtless and callous.

It is true that freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of democracy, but there is no doubt that this freedom should be carried out with a great deal of restraint so as not to incite hatred and violence.

Rupert Johnson

Ontario, Canada

r.b.johnson@sympatico.ca

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