By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The people who always are pushy and demand the most freedom of expression for their views, are always the first to deny it to others.
This is why I disagree with the aphorism “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
I don’t think we should defend the free speech of those who constantly bully and try to take away the free speech of others. I think, for instance, if there is an extremist organization that routinely insults and slanders others, and then that organization constantly comes and demands that it not be critiqued, I think that organization should not have a venue for its “freedom of expression,”; if there is a dictator who is rounding up people and imprisoning them for their dissent, that dictator should NOT have a venue for expressing his views abroad.
We should have a very clear view of free speech, not that free speech only belongs to the loudest, the biggest, the wealthiest, those with the lawyers and able to bully, the dictators, the religious extremists, nationalists, or others…but that free speech should be provided with more protections to the weak and the dissenters and the minorities.
What we see often in society is that the more powerful exploit the freedom of expression concept and then foist their “freedom” onto everyone, so that we are not actually free from their speech. But we should be also free from speech. What happens is those with influence and power are able to force us to listen to their speech, but then critical views are not aired, critical views have no platform for free speech.
Media might host an extremist guest but then when someone comes on to critique that guest, the guest threatens to sue them and thus silences them. That’s not freedom of speech, that’s freedom only for one person. When Ahmadinejad was hosted at Columbia he got “free speech” but none of those dissenting in Iran got free speech. Why is that? Why does the dictator get free speech, but this whole concept of “I will defend to the death your right to say it” was not in evidence there, because the university didn’t go to Iran and release the dissidents, it DID NOT defend to the death the rights of others.
We need to go past this concept of “free speech” and instead stop turning free speech into a bludgeon of the powerful. I support freedom of expression, but I also support not having “freedom” be actually an excuse for only those with “might makes right.” That’s not freedom. That is taking away freedom.