Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Freedom of speech? Where?

George Orwell
George Orwell

It was in 1948 that British author Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, wrote his masterpiece 1984.

Deathly ill with tuberculosis, lying on his bed, haunted by his demons, in an isolated island in Northern Scotland, he had a vision of a bleak future as he madly wrote and wrote of repression and intolerance of “Big Brother” and “Thought Police”… words that are more relevant today than ever. He managed to finish the manuscript that would become the definitive novel of the 20th century and beyond.

It was translated in 65 languages, sold millions of copies and occupies a unique place in world literature. As we look around the world today, “Orwellian” — a general expression for anything repressive — thoughts come to mind and resonate as we witness the curtailment of freedom in speech and expression, Orwell thought were figments of his imagination. Indeed they were prophetic.

Deeply fascinated by the relationship between morality and language, as we are, but are we free to speak our minds without fear of retribution? Is that not what the First Amendment of the American constitution clearly stands for? The principles of free religion, free speech, free expression, free, free, free? No word of censorship there, or hypocrisy, which Orwell likes to call “doublethink”.

What about “Big Brother”? Is he not alive and well and as active as ever, dispersing his “thought police” to listen to our every word? Are we allowed to call a spade a spade? Of course not. Does the word “negro” still exist? Only among them. But shame on us. We should use black or African American — that is politically correct.

Why even black is reprehensible to the sensitive British who have changed the childrens nursery rhyme: “Baa Baa black sheep” to “rainbow sheep”, with darling little pink, yellow, violet and orange sheep jumping with glee.

I guess we need to find other words for blackboard; or black coffee.

Women can be no longer referred to as housewives or caregivers… they are consumers. Canada follows in the footsteps of Britain. Words like mankind, man-made, homosexual are as taboo as housewife. They are extremely sensitive to anything sexist, therefore mankind becomes humanity, homosexual is same sex, the fireman is a firefighter and even the man who had an accident in the street becomes the person with the accident.

The list is long and mind-boggling, and if we cannot absorb it all but the next generation is sure to as it is included in the curriculum dictated by a kind and sensitive educational committee. A whole generation is being raised with the idea that speech is a nuisance and the enemy of progress, rather than the expression of freedom of thought. Oh, by the way, our forefathers are our ancestors and Adam and Eve are now Eve and Adam. Try to remember that to be politically correct.

What exactly is being politically correct? It is any expression perceived to exclude, marginalise or insult groups of people socially disadvantaged, discriminated against or regarded as not good enough. The claim is false. Most humans (is that acceptable?) possess an innate sensitivity — a censor that is concerned with his/her, fellowman/woman.

No doubt language is a living entity, changing, evolving and growing as long as it speaks the truth, and truth is freedom.

A survey by the prestigious Pew Research Centre on free speech across the globe found that only35 per cent among 38 nations polled feel free to say what they think. Shocking. Whatever happened to the endless call for democracy? Only the US, which we are tempted to criticise regularly, because it sets an example, almost doubled the percentage to 65 per cent.

Yet it is the violence on American College Campuses that instigated this review.

 The University of California at Berkeley, the so-called birthplace of the free speech movement, has of late engaged in censorship of five guest speakers who are not of the liberal mould. The students even resorted to violence in the sacred halls of learning in order to suppress voices and opinion they disagree with. This is alarming as a college is the ground on which we absorb and debate new and opposing ideas. These are our formative years, when the young mind is exposed to new worlds and gradually forms its own convictions.

More alarming was the fact that the faculty members did nothing to discipline the students, but bowed to their will. Following severe criticism from members of the liberal left, like Bernie Sanders, they allowed the fifth speaker to return costing the university $600,000 in police security — reserved for criminals — a scandal even among extreme liberals. Violence never entered the equation of free speech, that belongs to the realm of criminality.

Freedom of speech predates any constitution as its ideology of free speech was practised in 507 BC and lasted for two centuries.

So, sportsmanlike is now offensive. No doubt there is a closing of minds as described by Alan Blooms bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, (1987) and particularly Pat Buchanan’s Death of the West, (2001) describing political correctness as cultural Marxism.

The very concept of objective truth is fading out in the world. Where do you go for truth? Not the media, for sure. “Doublethink”, as Orwell put it, making lies sound truthful.

Dishonesty is to be resisted whether it comes from right, left or centre.

That is why we have never let Orwell leave.

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

François-Marie Arouet, Voltaire (1694-1778)

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