Thursday, January 15, 2015

Free Speech Fundamentalism

Continuing the previous post on FoSE.  There is now a significant push back against all the support for Charlie Hebdo and the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ movement.  Mehdi Hasan in an essay in the New Statesman argued that Charlie Hebdo has not printed any cartoons about the Holocaust or 9/11, saying that the right to offend does not “automatically translate into a duty to offend”.  I don’t think they have of the Holocaust but they definitely have a controversial one of 9/11, which shows stock-trader shouting ‘Vendez!’ (‘Sell!’) as one of the hijacked planes is about to crash through his window on the World Trade Center, published the same week as the 9/11 attacks.  May be that was in poor taste, as most of their cartoons are, but I would still support their right to print it.  And for the record, I would support their right to do so if they published a cartoon on the Holocaust too, however tasteless I might think it is.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A short comment on Charlie Hebdo and the Freedom of Speech/Expression

The horrible terrorist attacks in France these last few days has led to a lot of comment and controversy especially around the issue of free speech/expression.  I was unaware of this magazine, Charlie Hebdo, until this incident.  But a lot of the commentary on the issue, both in India and elsewhere, has been in my view quite misplaced.  The key issue is what, if any, are the limits of freedom of speech/expression.  This touches also on another recent case, the initial decision of Sony to stop the release of their movie, the Interview, because of threats, reportedly from the North Korean regime.  My random thoughts, set out below. 

Charlie Hebdo is known for lampooning religion, religious figures as well as political and other leaders.  A lot of commentary has focused on the obscene and offensive nature of these cartoons and Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of satire. Many of these cartoons have been about Islam but many have also been about other religions, though the primary target appears to have been French politics and politicians. 

The argument in a lot of the commentary has been that while freedom of speech/expression should be protected, Charlie Hebdo has crossed the line (though none of the folks I saw on TV or whose columns I read suggested that killing is an appropriate response).  The argument even among some ‘liberals’, especially but not only in India, appear to be that free speech should also be responsible speech and that you should not deliberately offend. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year Ends But the Chaos May Just be Beginning

As a long year ends, there is greater uncertainty than ever about the direction of world politics.  My end-of-the-year analysis was published on the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) website on the last day of the year, and reproduced below in full.

The Year Ends But the Chaos May Just be Beginning

This year by far has been the most chaotic year in international politics, since the end of the Cold War. The depredations of the so called Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East threaten to upturn borders that have been settled for close to a century. Europe is in the throes of an unexpected tussle with Moscow, with former Soviet President Gorbachev characterising the state of relationship between Russia and the West as being on the brink of a new Cold War. In the South and East China seas, China's aggressiveness, too clear now to be ignored, is leading to a reluctant quasi-alliance with some strange bedfellows. And as the year winds to a close, the weird North Korean regime is back on the front pages, demonstrating that generational change in no solution for preposterousness.

Though a certain amount of turmoil was always present in international affairs, the general sense of a gathering disorder and uncertainty in international affairs today is much deeper.  One indicator is that this in itself has become an issue of debate. Concerns about an emerging global disorder, such as predicted by Gorbachev, have been disputed by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, who argued recently that statistically speaking, violence is coming down and "the world is not falling apart". They argue that homicide rates have fallen, crime against women and children are decreasing, a majority of the world's countries are now democracies, and that genocide and mass civilian killings are trending down.