Freedom of Expression = Freedom to Insult?
EDITORIAL, 1 Oct 2012
There are two key human rights values in this confrontation:
freedom of expression–basic, but not the only value in the world;
freedom from insult and respect for the sacred–basic, but not alone.
Conflicts between two values generally have five outcomes:
 The freedom of expression prevails over freedom from insult-hurt-harm and respect for what is sacred to others: this happens right now; the US-made anti-Islamic YouTube video, and the Charlie Hebdo article.
Comment: Unacceptable; but does not justify violence to humans and property. Nonviolent reactions against governments protecting individuals against libel, and Judaism-Christianity but not Islam, with forms of boycott till they change, and international conferences, are called for. The problem is not what governments do, but what they have not done; not acts of commission, but their acts of omission.
 The freedom from insult and respect for the sacred prevails, with silence whenever a religion is invoked, like by Islamic dictatorships.
Comment: Unacceptable; making it possible to hide the political under a cloak of the sacred as islamophobia, as being “anti-Islam”.
 Neither expression, nor respect, but also non-verbal violence, like prejudice (attitudinal) and discrimination (behavioral).
Comment: Unacceptable; we need freedom of expression for that!
 Compromise: moderate freedom of expression for moderate insults.
Comment: No solution to anything, but very frequently found.
 Both freedom of expression and respect for the sacred. But how?
Comment: By drawing a line between the secular-political and the sacred-religious (like between the public and the private person); with freedom of expression for the former, and respect for the latter. Neither trampling on the sacred nor hiding the political from scrutiny, essential for the rule of law, human rights and democracy. The video combines insult-hurt-harm with no hidden politics. Unacceptable.
Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.
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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Oct 2012.
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