Monday, March 20, 2006

Freedom of speech, cross cultural differences & isolationism

I recently stumbled upon this article in Arabnews and thought it made an interesting point.
check it out :


"Freedom of Speech: Whose Freedom? What Speech?Abeer Mishkhas, abeermishkhas@arbnews.com

IT seems that the controversy over the Danish cartoons has opened the door on a non-stop discussion about freedom of speech. No matter where you go these days, there seems to be someone discussing what has been said and published and whether it is within the bounds of “freedom of speech.”
Recently the mayor of London was sued for what he said to a reporter. His words, if looked up in a dictionary, were not themselves insulting. He unfortunately compared a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard and that is replete with all the wrong historical connotations.
The furor which followed his remarks centered on the use of certain words and how certain words are “out of bounds.” In another incident, a teacher in the US state of Colorado was suspended for comparing George Bush’s rhetoric to Adolf Hitler’s. We in the Arab world have a similar sensitivity concerning the word “crusade.”
It is loaded with centuries of hostility and bad feeling; the major uproar the word caused in the Arab world when George Bush used it after 9/11 is a good example of how sensitive language can get. Usually in our case, however, those protests never go anywhere; they just lie there, creating bad feelings that fester over time.
In the West, on the other hand, the words are not pushed aside and ignored; instead they are often punished. The interesting thing is that the words which provoke these reactions are so different. In the West, they seem to be references to Nazism, the Holocaust and gay rights that offend the most.
In the Arab world, on the other hand, the “emotive words” are totally different; they are usually related to religion since it is the most sacred — and most sensitive — element in people’s lives.
The dialogue that is going on now, and that we hope will continue, should aim at exploring how the “emotive words” and “untouchables” differ from place to place. The whole Danish cartoon business is seen in the West as a freedom of expression issue; it can legitimately be seen as such in the West but as the Muslim world sees things, it is a direct attack on religion.
Where, I wonder, do we go from here? During a recent British Council-sponsored seminar which dealt with translating from Arabic into English and from English into Arabic, one speaker made an interesting point.
He pointed out that one reason for the few translations in the Arab world is the lack of freedom of speech — and that this is the very issue that is so ‘hot’ today because of the cartoons.
Though he is absolutely right, what I wonder about is whether we have the same definition of freedom of speech. It seems to be an area that we need to go much deeper into.
After the lecture, I asked the speaker, “Are we, in the age of globalization, going to globalize the “untouchables?” In other words, is what one part of the world feels is freedom of expression going to be imposed on the entire planet?
So far the Arabs show no sign of overlooking the “crusade” or what they see as the defamation of religious figures any more than the West is going to give up what it feels is right. Given that this is the case, what is to be done.
The speaker could not help me much as he said he was opposed to all kinds of censorship — and he included his dismay at the sentence given to David Irving by an Austrian court.
In the end, I think my question will hang unanswered in the air. We need to agree to respect each other’s differences and to understand that they do exist and must be taken account of. We do not need to go further along the way of globalizing untouchables. "



I believe that the author's message should not go unnoticed especially by those holding extremist ideas among us ( in the West and in the Muslim world ). Dialogue and reach out are the only solution apart from total isolationism and when I say that I mean it literally: i.e no interaction with the Muslim countries, no travel over their airspace, no travel to them , no diplomatic representation, no business in both direction, nothing , no military bases, no sailing in their regional waters, no employees, consultants or anything in our world and vice versa, zero zilch as if we did not exist to each other. If you think that is possible then this would be a good policy of disengagement right ? forget globalization , just make the world village with those you want and can tolerate in your group.

* end of rant

2 comments:

NBA said...

Highlander, I didn't quite get your point... sorry...

The freedom of speech is universal and there shouldn't be any local versions of it, just as there's nothing like 'Eastern democracy' whatever Putin's lackeys try to call the growingly despotic Russia. Either it's democratic or not, there's no Western, Eastern, Northern or Southern version of it.

But the Arab News thing is crap, the usual rantings about the treatment of Holocaust in the West and so on, with no reference to the horrible situation of the freedom of speech all over the Arab world (to tell an example, if I wrote this to the Arab News editor instead of Highlander's blog, it'd have no hope of being printed). To point out, the denial of Holocaust is punishable in just a few European countries and yes, in my opinion Irving is an idiot but 'just' being an idiot shouldn't put anybody behind the bars.

The fact that a Saudi government-owned (Highlander, isn't Arab News that or am I wrong?) has this typical nonsense is very annoying. It reminds me of old Soviet propaganda and the current propaganda Cuba has about the advantages of their system and so on.

The state of the freedom of speech and other freedoms in the KSA is one of the worst anywhere. Arab News should point out bigger problems in their own country first and at least try to show some kind of objectivity before this stereotypical anti-West tirade. The West can and must be criticized but objectively.

highlander said...

Hi NBA :) thanks for reminding me I guess my poin got lost somewhere ...basically what I wanted to say is that people should not be hurtling accusations at each other because terms have different meanings for each of us...so we must listen to each other and try to one what the other party really means - it does not always have to be offensive. Otherwise if we are not prepared to do so then let each culture isolate itself ..pretty drastic eh ;)

Yes Arabnews is Saudi , they are not exactly beacons of freedom of expression :)