The definition of free speech that I stand by is the ability to express oneself without any boundary, except when one deliberately incites direct violence.
Free speech tracks its history back to the creation of the United States Constitution. The First Amendment of the Constitution says that: “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech”. George Washington, Thomas Payne and other scholars who lived generations before had the idea of free speech and we owe them greatly.
Free speech is the foundations of liberty that hold other social movements together. Without the ability to express oneself the development in women’s rights, LGBT+ rights or civil rights would not have occurred at such a fast rate. This is why we have the moral high ground. It is the one underlying difference between the West and the rest of the World. One of the reasons we have it is to speak out against those in power without fear or arrest and we should cherish this right. Instead, my generation is wasting it away.
Free speech is something that should unite everyone in this Country. It should be the norm for us in the West, like women’s rights or same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, free speech is a right that people, particularly those on the left, are squandering.
Many students have political views to the left, which is understandable as I am left-leaning. However, there are some authoritarians who demand the prohibition of anything they happen to disagree with.
In November of last year, the student union at City, University of London passed a motion banning the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express – all of which are right-wing newspapers. I loathe each of these newspapers, but I will never lampoon my own political opinions onto the rest of a university campus in the hope that everyone has to follow my opinions. Therefore, these newspapers should be allowed around a campus.
If newspapers are going to be prohibited in a prominent London university, what does that say about attitudes to free speech amongst young people? Bad ideas are there to be exposed, not silenced. Silence them, and more people would be inclined to be in favour of those bad ideas.
A proud tradition a university campus has is the freedom of thought, speech and discussion. This goes back to the 1960s when students at the University of California, Berkeley protested a ban on political activities on campus, which later led to the Free Speech Movement. This has enabled us to freely speak on current affairs without fear. The actions of some students today not only stain the image of the rest of us but also disgrace those students who fought for our freedom.
It is not just university campuses that are triggered. Two years ago, journalists at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted and killed in an Islamist terrorist attack. Charlie Hebdo pokes fun at all political parties, all major religions and has a history of publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, which is forbidden in Islam. The response by some Muslims and non-Muslims on the left who said Charlie Hebdo should not have published the cartoons was a disgrace to the journalists who died for free speech.
Malala Yousafzai, the girl who defied the Taliban and religious law, fought for women’s rights and was shot for challenging the status quo. Should Yousafzai deserve to be shot because she freely expressed herself? The same principle of free speech stands with her. When Charlie Hebdo journalists were killed, free speech stood with them. When people resort to violence, the message is that they cannot beat us on the battlefront of ideas.
You cannot ban people from writing something, drawing something or saying something, because when you have a status quo there will always be challengers. Not everyone is in agreement on everything. I would love to see more people from my side of the political spectrum defend the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. But some pander to fear of offending people and will not support the liberty they supposedly stand for.
Last month, alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos written a book published by Simon & Schuster, which led to an outrage, with some calling for a boycott on the publisher. I disagree with almost everything Yiannopoulos says, but the anger from the far left on social media about banning the book was ridiculous.
Mein Kampf is still in circulation. As is the Communist Manifesto and the Little Red Book. Not that I am comparing Yiannopoulos to Hitler, Stalin or Zedong, but if something as vile as Mein Kampf can be bought so can Yiannopoulos’ book. Exposing ideas people disagree with is what free speech is about. I do not defend what he says, but I defend his right to say it.
Free speech is allowing speech you disagree with. If you have a problem with people with differing opinions speaking as freely as you, then you are no advocate of free speech. Protect the speech we dislike more than the speech we like. It is good to hear opinions that you disagree with because you may hear something new and therefore you will broaden your thinking and you will be educated. If you still disagree, at least your argument is reinforced and reaffirmed. Criticism is a good thing. Once an adult cannot take any criticism, they become a child.
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