Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1343, (4 - 10 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Voltaire, come back

Al-Ahram Weekly

It is not quite the Fall of Eden, but close. That great bastion of Democracy has violated one of its major pillars, rattling it at its very roots.

What makes America unique is its freedom written in the constitution in 1787, with unrivalled stateliness. Amendments were added to further individual protection called “The Bill of Rights”. First among them is the freedom of speech, religion and the press. They all revolve around freedom of speech, which has received a severe blow during the last few weeks.

Freedom of thought is inborn, but its free expression without censor, apprehension or penalty is the magic of the First Amendment.

Now, freedom of speech has been dealt a grievous assault, in the most progressive of all 50 states… not one, but twice, and where? On the grounds of the University of California at Berkeley, the most liberal of all academic institutions.

Conservative speakers have been literally “shut-up”.

Shocking indeed, coming from the country that first so eloquently expressed man’s inherent rights in their formidable constitution. The world has admired it, emulated it and sought to live under its guarantee of protection. It is guaranteed no more.

Chipping away at certain laws of the constitution was apparent by Barack Obama, as he chose to overlook them whenever they got in his way.

Encouraged by this apathy, a self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders ran against the Democratic Party’s official candidate Hillary Clinton, promising free schools, free college, free medical care, free this, free that, never specifying where the money would come from. Take from the rich and spread it around… that is the government that would take your money and assign it to wherever and whoever… and there vanishes the idea of democracy with all its freedoms. The government that gives all can also easily take it all.

Saved by the majority of Americans who elected Republican Donald Trump, a staunch devotee of the laws of the constitution, despite some alien ideas that pop up here and there, the constitution and its democracy were saved.

Churchill once remarked: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government”, that may well be, but he added: “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. And that too may well be. Democracy is by no means perfect but it affords us freedoms we should safeguard and cherish.

A conservative author and commentator, Ann Coulter, was invited to speak at UC Berkeley, and then suddenly was uninvited. The reason the university gave was it could not provide security. Security? A group of dissenting activists were unwilling to listen to opposing views, and threatened violence. The campus would turn into a battlefield. Is this a page from the Monstrous Brotherhood constitution?

All the campus police, the state police, the Federal police cannot maintain security on a college campus in the great USA, land of laws, justice and freedom.

Security compared to freedom. Why is not a prisoner “secure” in his cell? But what does he yearn for?

San Francisco, being a sanctuary city (a ridiculous concept that protects criminals) prevented the police from making an arrest, enforcing the law and protecting the citizen’s constitutional right for free speech. It sounds like chaos and anarchy.

If you cannot speak freely, what follows?

Only two months prior to this incident and on the same campus author Milo Yiannopoulos was chased off campus for fear of saying things contrary to what the young students wished to hear.

Young people should hear contradicting ideas, not shutting out the right in favour of the left. Any intelligent mind would conclude that these protests are organised and funded by interested parties to ruin freedom by leftist ideas.

Free speech is a necessity. College is the ideal place where young minds are exposed to a variety of ideas. Freedom is hearing a speech you disagree with.

A fortress of democracy is being shot down in the birthland of democracy and is not creating the great alarm it should.

Once a colony of Great Britain, the US citizens fought and won their freedom from the colonists and declared their independence in 1776. They proceeded to write a superior constitution inspired mainly by French philosophers like Rousseau, Montesquieu and Voltaire who had written extensively about the attributes of equality, justice, liberty and humanity. While the French launched their revolution years later, it was their philosophic thought and ideas of freedom that gave birth to the independence of the USA.

“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”, wrote US president Franklin D Roosevelt: “The first is freedom of speech and expression.”

While several freedoms are revered, freedom of speech tops them all.

It was French philosopher and author Francois Marie Arouet (1694- 1778), better known as Voltaire, who spoke those deeply moving words in defence of freedom of speech:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Detractors will violate the noble thoughts of noble men and pay big money to see them destroyed “for a greater world order”.

If Voltaire and Co were alive today they would surely build on their ideas of democracy and not destroy it as many are trying to do in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

“We don’t appreciate what we had until it’s gone. Freedom is like that. It’s like the air.

When you haveit you don’t notice it.”

Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007)

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