Freedom of expression is a fickle beast; inherently crucial in our society, it is equally capable of damage if misinterpreted or yielded by individuals whose intentions are less wholesome.
During my journalism degree the question was raised of whether groups with a racist agenda should be entitled to vocalize their views in the public arena, whether it is through print, online, or plain open-air galvanization. As I was wont to do in my youth I weighed in on the discussion with much gusto, proclaiming that views of bigotry, racism, and general intolerance should never see the light of day.
As my monologue reached its zenith and I concluded with a smug, self-righteous tenet, my colleagues erupted in a raucous cacophony that included the words ‘fascist’, ‘censorship’, and possibly ‘dictator’.
I was flabbergasted, for it made perfect sense that to enable such groups to promulgate xenophobic ideologies would be also conducive to further societal schisms. It was simply not possible, or tolerable.
Which brings us to two news stories that have emerged in the past 48 hours in Britain and Germany:
The first exhibits the heavy hand of political correctness; the willingness to enforce my nascent view that any sentiment remotely construable as anti-[insert word of choice] should be condemned and censored.
In February this year the German politician Hermann Dierkes conveyed that in light of Israel’s recent foray into Gaza, and the subsequent blockades, Germany must exhibit condemnation for the actions and triumph the human rights of the Palestinians in Gaza.
As a campaigner for social and political justice, Dierkes countered that:
“We should no longer accept that in the name of the Holocaust and with the support of the government of the Federal Republic [of Germany] such grave violations of human rights can be perpetrated and tolerated … Everyone can help strengthen pressure for a different politics, for example by boycotting Israeli products. “[Source]
So far, so Left; but Dierkes had not reckoned on the German press.
In a subsequent interview with the conservative Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ), Dierkes reiterated the demands of the World Social Forum and emphasized that his views were in no manner anti-Semitic.
Specifically, he requested that the interview be printed in a manner that stressed the need to assist the Palestinians, rather than become misconstrued fodder for rags such as Bild. It was not to be, and Dierkes has become a figure of hate amidst a flurry of condemnation that bandies about words and phrases such as ‘Nazi’, ‘Anti-Semite’, and ‘mass execution at the edge of a Ukrainian forest’.
This is an example of the press going crazy; salivating their chops at the prospect of castigating a politician in the name of political correctness.
The second case involves the controversial impromptu protest at the Luton parade of 200 British troops returning from Iraq.
As the Union Jack fluttered, the trumpets honked and the soldiers strode down the road, a gaggle of men began to heckle and jiggle placards bearing slogans such as ‘Butchers of Basra’ and ‘British Government, Terrorist Government’. Inevitably, the British papers have since been jostling for the most conflagrational angle, with the Express and Daily Mail jockeying for first place.
The point is this: we argue for freedom of expression in Europe, yet simultaneously exploit the notion of political correctness to castigate the views of others. All the while, the press perpetuates a degree of hate, while advocating self-censorship, both of which are contradictory in their very juxtaposition.
Dierkes was attacked after his call for a boycott was twisted and used as a weapon to silence his views and withdraw from political life.
The British newspapers are advocating that peaceful protest – for placards and heckles are better than Molotovs and tear-gas – is unacceptable and utilizes the images as a means to further augment public anxiety vis-à-vis the Muslim community.
Democracy is the utopia that we are striving for, but in order to do so, full freedom of expression is required, regardless of how oppositional the view might be. It cannot be a fair weather friend, implemented only when the views and political climate suit; rather, it is a bitter pill, but one that we must accept and implement in all its hideous glory.