Everyone knows what happened in early January at the offices of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris: probably the largest attack on the media’s freedom of speech in recent years. This was a shocking event that forced the international community to look at the right to freedom of speech in the context of religious fundamentalism. But are Islamic terrorists the only ones that want to limit our freedom of speech? Or are there other entities and groups that want to stifle this important form of freedom?
In a presentation titled,“Global Threats to Free Speech: A Consideration of the Charlie Hebdo Attacks in Light of Political Correctness & Other Cultural Maladies”, writer and journalist Alvino-Mario Fantini tried to answer this question.
Addressing an audience during a recent policy breakfast of the Center-Right Coalition Meeting at the Hayek Saalin Vienna, Mr. Fantini began by reminded people that freedom of speech and liberty of expression is closely linked to political liberty. Then, using a wide variety of images and photographs, he methodically showed how the global risk to free speech and freedom of expression doesn’t come only from religious fundamentalists but,more importantly, from a very dangerous ideology which has grownrapidly around Europe and in all of Western countries: political correctness.
This, as Mr.Fantini well explained, is one of the biggest threats to free speech. He gave numerouscolorful examples—such as the protests over images or logos considered offensive by some minority groups, or the violent protests when Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, was invited to a debate at Cambridge University. Students there wanted to forbid her from speaking without giving her a chance to state her position.
Similar attempts to prevent speakershave been made not only against the leaders of extreme right parties but also against the heads of international institutions like the IMF. As Mr. Fantini explained, in May 2014, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, was scheduled to speak at Smith College but was forced to withdraw her name after nearly 500 people signed a petition objecting to the policies of the IMF.
Similar outcries have foiled speaking engagements by former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis University. Even the most recent speech given at the United States Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, attempts were made by several legislators to boycott his speech. “This is a trend which is clearly growing fast”, Mr.Fantini said. In nearly allWestern countries, there have been rallies and protests against speakers, for one reason or another, all in an attempt to limit free speech.
So the question is simple: Who should decide what speech should be allowed? That, said Mr.Fantini, is the question that everyone needs to ponder. But given all the attempts to prevent free speech for one reason or another, he suggested that perhaps we should “donothing” and allow things to be said or to be written—even when it offends people. He said the state, with all of its laws and regulations,has becoming a threat to free speech, along with all the groups that follow the ideology of political correctness.There are many other examples of these attempts to limit and control our right to free speech, Mr. Fantini said, pointing to the attempts to ban books or certain clothes in Germany, the incarceration of journalists around the globe, and many more.
So what should we do? Not ask for more state intervention or more rules, argued Mr. Fantini, but rather, teach people the importance of freedom—especially in countries where the state has a monopoly on the educational system. In this way, young generations that hear or see something which could hurt their feelings or challenge their beliefs may learn not to automatically assume that such speech or cultural expressions must be banned; but, instead,they should learn to respectfully disagree, and perhaps just walk away if they don’t want to have their feelings hurt. Otherwise, attempts to protect special interest groups from hurtful speech or products that offend them may lead to further controls, further limitations on free speech—and this is a road that has already been mapped out. It is called the road to serfdom.