Freedom of Speech: Intention vs Interpretation
Salman Rushdie, Cancel Culture vs Hate Speech
A post about the recent brutal stabbing of author Salman Rushdie garnered a lot of comments about how one holds the ultimate Freedom of Speech to express anything in a democracy, and how people “these days” are prone to taking offence easily.
The naivety of these commenters to compare murderous religious fanatics to cancel culture might not be lost upon you. It’s like when Putin compared himself to J.K.Rowling claiming he too was “a victim of cancel culture” in response to the backlash Russia has been receiving for the war in Ukraine.
The Intention of Freedom of Speech
The Right to Freedom of Speech was intended to give people in a democracy the agency to voice out their opinions. It was intended so that the voice of those in power doesn't have to be the only thing that people heard. So the citizens can challenge harmful, unfair and oppressive ways without fearing punishment from those in power, as one might observe in a monarchy or a dictatorship.
The Right to Freedom of Speech isn't absolute. It comes with its set of Reasonable Restrictions. And these restrictions were put in place in order to protect—protect one against unlawful defamation, or protect the public safety or the security of the state.
The Interpretation of Freedom of Speech
But, in contrast to its intention, Freedom of Speech has become a buzzword; thrown in according to the convenience of its user. Instead of a constitutional right created to protect an individual's freedom to express their views without fearing the oppressors in a democracy, the words have come to be a way to protect ignorant minds that spew insensitive comments—like the numerous comedians of our time who think r*pe, misogyny, homophobia, body-shaming are subjects for comedy; or like the politicians who deny some communities the right to exist in peace by spreading hate.
It is frustrating to see the conservatives and some liberals forcing a narrative that Freedom of Speech is the equivalent of Hate Speech.
When Salman Rushdie said, “A poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel can’t defuse a bomb… But we are not helpless…We can sing the truth and name the liars,” he didn’t intend it so ignorant minds can keep making insensitive comments without facing backlash, but so the marginalised can voice out their injustices without fearing violence.
Freedom of Speech was intended so women may speak freely against r*pe culture without being silenced by men, not so some wanna-be comedian can make r*pe jokes.
Freedom of Speech was intended so the trans community can fight against transphobia, not so an author can make up stories about a hypothetical “transvestite” serial killer to spread fear and hate.
Freedom of Speech was intended so that an author can write about his curiosities and confusion with religion, not so a religious leader could ask a crowd of his followers to murder him for doing so.