Freedom of Speech – The Cornerstone of Democracy

I can’t remember the last time I was publicly assaulted and humiliated for being ‘immodest’. I have never been to prison for speaking out against the government, or for writing essays criticizing the political and social structures within Australia. I have never been denied an education due to my gender or race and enjoy equality on all counts with my male relatives and friends.

 

This is in stark contrast to the experience of individuals – in particular women – all over the world. In countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and Sudan (for example), personal freedoms are limited, and dissenters are often brutally punished. In her book, The Wind in My Hair, journalist Masih Alinejad details her experience as a political prisoner of the Islamic Regime, interrogated and punished for the crime of producing a political newsletter, critical of the government. Alinejad, still in high school at the time, spent weeks in an Iranian prison, separated from her family who remained unaware of her fate until she was released.

 

I was born and currently live in a country where freedom is unquestioned but is also taken for granted – as a right – forgetting the blood, sweat and tears of those who fought to secure it.  Freedom of thought, of action and of speech whilst not immortalised within our constitution is considered a human right and is treated as such. Democracy has paved the way for liberty, and whilst imperfect is far superior to the alternatives. However, I believe we have become complacent in our support of liberty and her tenets, to our peril.

 

In her article on freedom of speech, published today by The Australian, Jennifer Oriel delivers a resonating statement:

 

“Human enlightenment is forged in the fire of intense intellectual debate made possible by freedom of thought and speech. It is long-form argument that lays the foundations for human progress.”

 

The article was written in response to a bout of racist slurs thrown at culturally diverse commentators such as Michelle Malkin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jacinta Price and Warren Mundine who dared to disagree with what Oriel describes as the ‘fashionable orthodoxy on race’. In a recent example, Paul Bongiorno a paid commentator for the national broadcaster (ABC), referred to Indigenous leader and author Warren Mundine as an ‘Uncle Tom’ for his conservative views and unwillingness to accept the victim mentality of left-wing activists. It would seem the left would stoop to discrediting and silencing Mundine rather than considering his perspectives and debating him in a logical manner.

 

The same aggressive techniques were used to silence Warlpiri/Celtic woman Jacinta Price, a former councillor for Alice Springs who dared contradict mainstream Indigenous views regarding the date of Australia Day celebrations. According to critics, Price’s views should be discredited due to her education, her conservative Christian background and her mother’s former political career. Her arguments were not debated, rather her character and personal life were pulled apart and criticized. She received threats and hate mail from the public and scathing reviews from the media simply for daring to contradict mainstream PC ideology.

 

All around our country the cracks in our democracy are starting to show. Ideas are no longer discussed, rather the politics of personality controls the debate. Those who dare to challenge the status quo are not being debated as much as they are being discredited. This frightens me as I recall a story from Masih Alinejads book, where the Islamic Republic discredited her as a prostitute, rather than respond to her protests and criticism of the compulsory hijab.

 

During the Same Sex Marriage debate, dissenters were labelled as bigoted, hateful and intolerant. Their arguments were not even considered worth listening to, and if the left could have silenced them, they would have. I’m not here to debate whether they were right or wrong, but merely that democracy demands they also have a voice, as unappealing as their views may be to the mainstream.

 

The extreme right are just as much to blame for their treatment of Yassmin Abdel-Magied. Again, my aim is not to discuss my support or dissent for Abdel-Magied’s views, but to highlight that a truly democratic society would have engaged in a more intellectual debate regarding the efficacy of her ideas as opposed to a dissemination of her personality and character.

 

Intelligent debate is the cornerstone of democracy. Our freedom and intellectual integrity depend on it, and we should defend it at all costs. I fear the day where restrictions are placed on speech because what is being said ‘offends’ the majority. William Wilberforce offended many in his push to abolish slavery. If Martin Luther King Jr had been silenced, African Americans would not experience the freedoms they have today. Let us not be complacent with our democracy. Let us enjoy the debates and discussions, giving all perspectives equal consideration and respect. This is our best protection for democracy and for personal freedom.

 

 

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