Freedom of Expression 
By Shah N. Khan
Free societies do not negate the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according 
to conscience. Politeness, courtesy and decency are considered virtuous but vain talk or
the things that injure feelings of others unjustly or offensive or disrespectful
expressions especially for elders, women and superiors are not favored. Lies, distortions,
sensual and vile expressions inciting to sin or illegal action as well as backbiting and
spreading hatred or rumors are prohibited.

 Even in this age of enlightenment; haughtiness, vanities, arrogance, meanness, and
hypocrisies remain psychic diseases – especially among the affluent, which are despised by
the less fortunate as well as the balanced people. 

Quite often political debates and the proceedings in parliaments and different types of
meetings are found to be much in deviation from these high ideals. As Thomas Jefferson
said:” An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which has
never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a
 Even in this age of enlightenment; haughtiness, vanities, arrogances, meanness, and
hypocrisies remain psychic diseases – especially among the affluent, which are despised by
the less fortunate as well as the balanced people.

Somebody quipped that daily life is governed by an economic system in which the production
and consumption of insults tends to balance out. Russell Lynes, U.S. editor and critic gave
us sound advice: “The only gracious way to accept an insult is to ignore it; if you can’t
ignore it, top it; if you can’t top it, laugh at it; if you can’t laugh at it, it’s
probably deserved.”

There is an old Indian saying that the injury caused by sword heals more quickly than that
caused by tongue. But late H. L. Mencken, U.S. journalist thought: “The only cure for
contempt is counter contempt.” And another great American statesman Benjamin Franklin
opined: “Those disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in
their affairs. They get victory, sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of
more use to them.”

Sincere criticism with the specific object of correcting a fault must be appreciated even
though it may cause some pain or embarrassment, which more often than not, is quickly
healed by honest soul searching and reflection. But censure or disparagement in the course
of idle gossip or for the purpose of ridiculing or hurting or destroying the image is quite
different. It is a vice. People who indulge in this vice as idle gossip usually lose their
countenance when their criticism is responded with strong refutation based on logic and

 Wise men hammer out truth on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate. But when mind is
full of predigested rubbish or when people look at the facts with the jaundiced eye irrationality 
dominates causing animosity or pandemonium. 

Propaganda has a bad name but all politicians and rulers use it as s a soft weapon in
combination with the arsenal of lies, deceit, camouflage or exaggeration. Professional
propagandists or lobbying firms are hired not only to improve one's image but also to
destroy the image of opponents. Some hypocrites are engaged full time in demonizing Islam.
Propaganda is not merely dissemination of ideas and information for the purpose of inducing
or intensifying specific attitudes and actions. It is an art lying which consists in nearly
deceiving your own people as well as your enemies. Because propaganda is frequently
accompanied by distortions of fact and by appeals to passion and prejudice, it is often
thought to be invariably false or misleading. Although some propagandists may intentionally
distort fact, others may present it as faithfully as objective observers. 

As we have seen in case of invasion of Iraq war propaganda of weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq based on lies and distortion lead to fear and fear lead to approval of invasion by
a slim majority. 

Every man has a right to express what he thinks truth but speaking or publishing words for
defamation, inciting for illegal action or involving obscenity are not be allowed,
especially those that vilify or ridicule religious beliefs or Holy Scriptures are regarded
generally criminal acts of blasphemy.  Nobody has a right to make defamatory or slanderous
statements about people. But it is difficult to prove it in court of law as the willful act
of damaging the reputation of another by means of false and calumnious communications. In
common law, defamation in writing is classified as libel, and oral defamation as slander.
If defamation is proved, usually damages are granted by the courts for monetary losses—such
as loss of business or of a job—as well as for other types of losses, including harm to the
victim's reputation or emotional distress and the person or body accused of defamation is
required to pay that. . In some cases punishment is given to the libeler rather than to
compensate the victim. 

It generally accepted that the right to free speech could be curtailed on grounds of
national security.  Contempt of court is another area where one cannot say the things that
insult the judge or ridicule his judgment. 

Free Media
Journalism is still regarded as a more immediate short- term weapon to change the public
opinion. Few journalists conform to the modern journalist’s code of Olympian objectivity
and total purity of motive. Here is a confession from a senior journalist.
“If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people — including
me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very
rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”_
Hunter S. Thompson (b. 1939), U.S. journalist. 

In developing countries ridiculing or defaming the rulers may sometimes lead to jail
sentence on real or fabricated charges depending upon the laws regulating press and
publications.  In India we see ideal freedom of media, but the journalists and papers
favoring independent struggle of Kashmir are harassed and punished on fabricated charges.
President Musharraf has allowed freedom to media to great extent.However, religious
extremists both in India and Pakistan do not tolerate blasphemy or criticism of their
religious rites. Hindu extremists in India tore down centuries historical Babri Mosque
merely on the rumor that Mogul Emperor had built the mosque by destroying their temple.
There is no archaeological evidence available to support that. 
International organizations take cognizance of attacks on freedom of expression for the
journalists.  Generally the journalists are required to follow a code ethics under which
the media is supposed to honor the right of the public to know the facts but refrain from
presenting a false picture and aiding and abetting a prosecutorial agent of the state in
the commission of a felony. The freedom that the media in the West enjoys is unthinkable in
many third world countries.

 Here is a confession from a senior journalist.
“If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people — including
me — would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”_

Hunter S. Thompson (b. 1939), U.S. journalist.
In common law in the West, Blasphemy is a crime of speaking or publishing words that vilify
or ridicule God, the Bible, or religious beliefs. Scurrility and a resultant tendency to
provoke a public disturbance are the criteria for blasphemy. Laws that condemn it are held
to be in consonance with the laws that protect freedom of speech. Blasphemy is still a
crime in Britain and in most of the United States, but prosecutions are now rare. But in
medieval Europe people used to be burned alive or killed for blasphemy. Ridiculing Pope and
Clergy was treated as a form of blasphemy. 

In many countries uttering words against kings or religious deity was considered as a sin
punishable usually by death.  Although in Quran great emphasis is laid on kindness,
forgiveness, mercy etc. orthodox Muslims take blasphemy very seriously and in some sects
Sharia laws prescribe death penalty whereas during his lifetime Holy Prophet Mohammed
discouraged such cruelties and forgave even those who had molested him and made him migrate
from Mecca. 

The anger of Muslims over the cartoons published by some European papers ridiculing Prophet
Muhammad caused worldwide protests recently. Some Muslim religious leaders say that the
agents of the enemies of Islam planted their agents in peaceful demonstrations to ignite
violence with the object of demonizing Islam. And some moderate scholars say that we should
look for enemies within us as the worst blasphemy is violating the commandments about
justice, honesty, brotherhood, kindness and altruism.

Nudity and Erotic Literature
In countries like Afghanistan extremists and despots object to all kinds of female modeling
for publicity. Adult Magazines showing pictures of bikini clad girls or topless pin ups are

However in moderate Islamic State like Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. the laws and values
for lies, distortion, exaggeration, slander, inciting to illegal action, spreading hatred
etc. are not much different than the universally accepted norms. But nudity and obscenity
are not dealt with as leniently as in the West. 

It is not right to believe that  the good Samaritans all over the Western world support MTV
culture; gay rights and events like beauty pageants. Definition of obscenity varies in
different cultures and nudity is not prohibited in most countries to the same extent as it
is in Islamic world. Any Publisher of erotic literature or nude or pornographic pictures
would land up in jail in most Islamic states and in countries like Afghanistan the porn
film actors (if any caught) would be sentenced to death. The values in the West are quite
liberal as depicted by the following quotes: 

“Art can never exist without naked beauty displayed.” William Blake (1757–1827), English
poet, painter,

“In the NUDE, all that is not beautiful is obscene.”_ Robert Bresson (b. 1907), French film

“Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. … The nude is condemned to never
being naked. Nudity is a form of dress” _John Berger (b. 1926), British critic.

The attitude of most people in the West towards it is truthfully shown by Tony Hancock
(1924–68), British comedian: “It’s red hot, mate. I hate to think of this sort of book
getting in the wrong hands. As soon as I’ve finished this, I shall recommend they ban it.”
Pornography is generally classified into two categories: soft-core, in which erotic content
is more titillating than explicit. And hard-core, in which erotic content is explicitly and
graphically depicted with full intensity. Most objections to pornography have been based on
religious grounds. And pornographic sites on Internet are a great source of concern to most
parents and attempts are made to block such sites. Most people regard pornography as
degrading and socially harmful. 

Proponents of pornography argue that it is essentially a harmless diversion and may serve
to relieve sexual tensions. Much controversy over pornography centers on whether or not
pornography should be considered a form of obscenity, and whether it should be subject to
some form of censorship.

Bertrand Russell wrote:” Nine-tenths of the appeal of pornography is due to the indecent
feelings concerning sex which moralists inculcate in the young; the other tenth is
physiological, and will occur in one way or another whatever the state of the law may be.” 

Definition of pornographic literature has often posed problem, which prompted W. H. Auden
(1907–73), Anglo-American poet to suggest, ”There’s only one good test of pornography. Get
twelve normal men to read the book, and then ask them, “Did you get an erection? If the
answer is “Yes” from a majority of the twelve, then the book is pornographic.” But laws in
many countries are more lenient.

Limits of free speech and tolerance are tested in political, religious and other kinds of
debate. Intellectual debates on complex abstract topics always present the possibility of
unproductive confusion people talking past one another, saying similar things with
different words, using the same words with different meanings, or otherwise wasting their
efforts in merely verbal disputes. In the opinion of Grant M. Nulle, "Politicians and their
deputies are merely the best at exploiting the system's impaired moral climate to organize
the state's confiscatory arm to serve their backer's interests. Those who would treat
politics and morality apart will never understand the one or the other.  _Rousseau.
Many intellectual believe that while our politicians may not be able to solve many of the
problems they create, the political classes in  many  countries have proven they are still
adept at causing crises—and then blaming others for the results. 
The trouble with the adult franchise (specially in developing countries) is the   political
immaturity the voters as well as the candidates. Remember the old saying, "Majority
consists of fools." Good democracy is said to be commensurate with literacy, class, wealth,
and occupational convergence. Many scholars lament that less-than-perfect democracy has
been achieved and existing system cannot guarantee good governance. and stricter
qualifications for the voters and the candidates are needed. 
 A scene from the National Assembly of Pakistan or Indian Parliament ‘Lok Sabha” and some
other countries is about the same: noise, clamor, and little genuine debate but variety of

 A scene from the National Assembly of Pakistan or Indian Parliament ‘Lok Sabha” and some
other countries is about the same: noise, clamor, and little genuine debate but variety of
fisticuffs. While most of the Western Parliamentarians would be content with, the retorts,
quips churlish replies or at worst the quarrelsome refutations, in India, Pakistan and a
few other countries parliamentarians often cause pandemonium and sometimes do not hesitate
take to fisticuffs at the slightest provocation? Not because great principles of policy are
involved but simply because the ignorant majority elects the wrong people.

Ambrose Bierce defined diplomacy as the patriotic art of lying for one's country. And
another diplomat regards the ambassador as honest people sent to lie abroad for the good of
his country. As Barbara Tuchman, U.S. historian wrote: “Diplomacy means all the wicked
devices of the Old World, spheres of influence, balances of power, secret treaties, triple
alliances, and, during the interwar period, appeasement of Fascism.”  And now diplomacy has
become an art of saying nastiest things in nicest words.

Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason posed a valid question: -“Certainly one
may say, ‘Freedom to speak or write can be taken from us by a superior power, but never the
freedom to think!’ But how much, and how correctly, would we think if we did not think, as
it were, in common with others, with whom we mutually communicate!”

The ideals of freedom of expression could be defined not by what we are free to express but
by what we are free not to express. It is the freedom to abstain, refrain and avoid
offending people of different creeds and hurting the feelings of fellow human beings, which
form the basis of conforming to the moral standards of the modern world. The business of
these standards and  laws is to free the freedom from confusion and chaos inherent in 
human life, which is bound to arise if one is free to do whatever one likes without any
thought or consideration of its impact on others.  .

Shah N. Khan

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