Thursday, March 16, 2006

thinking about speech

The thing about feeling strongly about your right to have an opinion and to be able to freely express it is that you need to respect the right of other people to have different opinions and likewise be able to express them.

In our country, there is an active suppression of voices that speak against the Lady President. There can be only one set of proper opinions – everything else has been colored by the implications of words like “treason”.

These voices make no secret of their agenda: they want change, and they see the first step of change’s occurrence with the removal of a leader who has lost the support of the nation.

There is an avenue for legitimate protest, and it is used by these voices that represent many different constituencies including the poor and voiceless. The government, however, has labeled of these efforts, all of these voices speaking legitimate concerns, as dissident, anti-government, destabilizing, narrow-sighted, selfish and as a threat to national security.

Or, more properly, as a threat to their security. Because those in power want to remain in power through any means and any critique, however phrased, is as welcome as a mother-in-law's presence during your honeymoon.

These voices have a right to be heard. You and I may not necessarily agree with what they’re saying or with what they’re asking for, but we need to respect their fundamental right to speak and be heard – and to hold strongly to their opinions, whether or not those opinions are popular and acceptable or threaten our safety zones. This embraces all sorts of opinions, from the religious to the political to the press, and so forth, in all mediums of expression including rallies, speeches to large groups, manifestos, blogs and so on.

We all equally have the right to express ourselves even if (and perhaps even, especially if) our opinions distress the people in power.

We need to encourage a country that talks and listens, a political system that debates with the intention of coming towards a mutually acceptable solution to issues. We need to encourage opinion, not suppress it, because even in the grip of heated arguments we can learn about each other.

There will always be opinions that are frightening or unacceptable. And the way to deal with them is not to maim or kill the speaker or to intimate further violence to his family and loved ones, which is the way of the non-thinkers and those threatened by reason.

The way is to hold dialogues, as reasonable people, and to take it from there, taking steps to ensure a positive outcome for the benefit of everyone involved.

It begins with being able to speak freely, and being willing to listen with an open mind.


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