News from the Arab Press

Freedom Of Speech And The Death Of Democracy

By Asaf Zilberfarb | The Media Line

October 9, 2018

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Al-Anba, Kuwait, October 3

“No to the silencing of opinions” and “Yes to freedom of speech” were just two of the many slogans we’ve heard chanted throughout Arab capitals just a few years ago. Since then, the Arab world has gone through a widespread process of so-called “democratization.” International players such as the European Union and the United States pressured Arab governments to loosen government restrictions on the media and the press. Yet our exaggerated focus on allowing free speech blinded us from noticing the new ideas that we allowed to propagate: agendas of hatred, violence and blasphemy. Allowing these kinds of ideologies—the same ones that gave rise to organizations like Islamic State—to spread throughout our societies proved to be more dangerous than limiting freedom of speech. We must therefore remember that freedom of expression involves more than just providing everyone with a platform to voice his or her agenda. Sometimes, the prisoner proves to be crueler than the prison guard. We now know that an “imperfect” press that silences radicals is safer than a “perfect” press that gives rise to fundamentalism and terrorism. The talk of democratization that has swept the Arab is overwhelmingly dangerous unless it is accompanied by a profound discussion about the responsibility of our governments to simultaneously protect our other rights. This kind of discussion has been absent from the minds of Arab leaders. Kuwaiti women today, for example, finally participate in parliamentary elections—but only to vote for candidates that outspokenly deny women’s political rights. In other countries, those who describe democracy as “sacrilegious” are the same ones winning the popular vote. Without talking about the limits of democracy we are paving our way towards disaster. Allowing the ignorant voices within our societies come to the fore under the guise of democracy will make us crave our long-forgotten days of tyranny and oppression. –Salah al-Sayir

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