1sunfight’s Weblog

November 28, 2008

Free Speech in Open Societies

Filed under: Daily Observations,politics,Uncategorized — Julie P @ 9:46 pm
Tags: , ,

And so it was over the Thanksgiving holiday there was a vicious, inhumane, and despicable act of terrorism in Mumbai, India. This act of terrorism was so extreme in its nature that the best way to describe it is that this is India’s 9/11. World reaction can only be described as revulsion.

As a part of the coping mechanism of such unspeakable acts people flocked to the internet to vent their disbelief, their outrage. In one blog where people meet to discuss and debate current events, members went there to share their outrage, their disbelief and their anger. Words of condemnation filled the pages, words just words, continued to come in as the violence continued to rock Mumbai. Tempers began to flare; words were written that some took as hate speech, as a call to genocide. Still others believed that others words were that of apologists. One contributor left so angry because another contributor’s words were allowed to remain, because the words were perceived as hate speech tantamount to calls for genocide of Islam. The contributor vowed never to return. It was not long after that the conversation ceased and blog had gone cold.

So what to do when words become filled with hate? Censor or censure? When words become heated exchanges that are written to denigrate the other, is it time to leave permanently or stay to fight another day? The events of Mumbai and the exchange of words reminded me of another time, post WWII and the McCarthy Era.

My paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States during WWI from Poland. They experienced war first hand. They also witnessed the carnage of WWII and saw what happened in Poland, some to their own relatives. They came to hate Germans as only they could. But, it just was not my Polish grandparents who came to hate Germans; Germans were also hated in America during WWII and the years that immediately followed. My mother told me that she, her father, and his family did not speak of their German heritage for fear of reprisal. The Japanese were rounded up and put into internment camps during WWII as well. Fear and hatred of the enemy, both real and perceived, ruled the time.

My father, son of these Polish immigrants who came to hate Germans, met a woman of German decent, fell in love with her, and married her. My Polish grandparents would not speak to my mother until they learned she was pregnant, then the ice melted and they came to accept her, but it was not an easy time for my parents, for a while there was ostracism.

Before my parents met my father was in USAF, his rank was that of corporal. During his time in the air force he belonged to the Polish National Alliance, a fraternal society and Polish based insurance business. As a child I was made to join, and was taken to Christmas parties where cheap toys were given, Polish food was served, Polish dances took place, and some man came in the Polish costume that Santa Claus would wear. It was a harmless organization, but not for my father when he was in the air force. My father was in the air force during the McCarthy Era.

During the McCarthy Era my father was summoned to speak before a board to explain his communist associations through the Polish National Alliance. My father plead the Fifth. The Fifth Amendment is where one is not compelled to testify against themself. He was never convicted, he walked away a free man shaking his head in disgust at the whole event and McCarthyism.

McCarthyism was the fear and hatred of communists, just like the Germans were feared and hated in America during and right after WWII. Here we are in the 21st Century where some are engaged in the fear and hatred of Islam, both real and perceived. It seems the need to have an “other” to fear and hate is just as strong now as it was then. But, does that mean that those who speak their words of hate be censured or censored? Does that mean that those who are offended leave, or fight another day? The United States Supreme Court has argued this in the past, some of the best minds in the word, and it is a struggle for them as well. What do with free speech in open societies?

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1 Comment »

  1. As is always the case when we talk about freedom, where does mine stop and yours begin? There is no excuse for an inability to communicate. Holding so tightly to my beliefs that I can’t hear what you’re saying is the path of insanity, because it doesn’t allow for any discussion who’s outcome is not preordained.
    Those who can’t communicate, because their pain is too great and all they share is that pain, seek solace in the old adage, “misery loves company.”
    We can only pray that they find a balm which opens their ears, their hearts, their minds, and stems their words. The price of our opportunity to share our voices is hearing theirs, too.

    Comment by ReyMac — November 29, 2008 @ 1:25 am

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