In recent times, there’s been an insurmountable rise of what its proponents call ‘free speech’, or what could also be termed as ‘politically incorrect speech’. These give you hope – albeit a morally complicit one – to embrace the freedom that was bequeathed upon you in terms of speech and writings. Or, so they claim. But, who is this ‘they’? Mostly, so-called right-wing politicians, extremely biased media outlets characterized by an unerring zeal of competing for social outreach against their counterparts, and scarily, a rising majority of the general public, who seem to be under the ethically futile spell of general chaos of the previous two entities.
One could arguably claim the violent attacks on the staff of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, on 7th January, 2015, as a response to the caricature of Mohammad that appeared in the magazine, which left 12 people dead, was the starting point of the aggressive debate of free speech. Many slammed the acts of violence against the staff, and reinforced arguments as to how nothing should be a deterrent to expressing what you want, in a relative environment. The impact of this was such that, even certain restrictive news outlets reviewed their deadlines. One notable instance is the removal of guidelines which were opposed to all depictions of Mohammad, by BBC. This was marked by their depiction of Mohammad, originally published on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, as a stance for the magazine.
Now, it wouldn’t be much of an unsolicited exaggeration, if one remarked that it all went downhill from there. The debates regarding free speech were taciturn, yet very emotionally characterized. And, this seemed to be the case everywhere. This in turn led to communal hatred towards ethnic groups, racially motivated violence, growing opposition towards immigrants, all in the name of ‘protection of values and freedom’.
What was once considered basic humanity and politeness was now dubbed as ‘political correctness’, and exaggerated to be an absolute deterrent to free speech. The concept of ‘We can say whatever you want, whenever we want, wherever we want’, began to be abused by political and media outlets, all of whom promised the people a better future and a better land, by ‘regaining their freedom’.
This idea of ‘regaining their freedom’, was propagated vehemently by mobs and groups, who were and still are under the impression that their country was under attack by the fleeing scourge of immigrants (what they like to call as ‘invasion’) and also liberals who ‘aren’t tolerant of their own values, yet are welcoming of other people’s preferences’. The Horseshoe Theory is strong with this one. What the right has forgotten in its long overdue process of ‘regaining freedom’ is that, it has become exactly like the left, in terms of intolerance towards what they don’t prefer.
This term of ‘regaining freedom’, which has already been mentioned twice (cheers to monotony!) – its a weird one, for it has managed to seep through different societies in various forms, with relative ease. This phrase is called, ‘Make America Great Again’ in the US, and in the UK, it was characterized by posters of ‘Breaking Point’ with a backdrop of fleeing Syrian refugees, indicating them to be a threat to the British culture and values.
But, there’s more to it than that: Donald Trump and Nigel Farage have been detrimental to the concept of peace in terms of interpersonal communication and diversity among people in general. With their morally biased outlook, and fear psychosis tactics, they have played on the minds of the fearful and played into the hands of the feared. While Donald Trump is a force that is yet to be done with, Nigel Farage has already dealt the damage he could to Britain with his narrow Brexit campaign, the shock waves of which were felt globally, economically and politically. His campaign has also resulted in an increasing amount of racial attacks against the vulnerable, even after the campaign has ended, thanks to his well-planned normalization of bigotry and hatred.
But, does language play a part of it? It does, and a huge chunk. “He who controls the language, controls the masses”, said Saul Alisnky. By passing over the mics to the likes Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, we have lent the unparalleled power of free thought and speech to the hateful ones. The people have become insensitive to the language of spite and irrationality. The incident of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte abusing Barack Obama in front of international press in profane words is all but forgotten amidst the qualms of support for him in the name of free speech. Donald Trump’s choice of words – which range from ‘crooked’ to ‘fraudster’ to describe his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton – have become very normalized in the eyes of the public. This is what qualifies as ‘parliamentary language’ in today’s world.
Well, for all we know, it wouldn’t be a surprise if politicians were allowed to swear in the parliament and in debates, in the name of ‘free speech’. Sure, free speech is an essential component of freedom of thought and action as well. But, it should not be at the cost of one’s moral dignity and ethical behavior.
– S Yuvan