Limits to freedom of expression -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Limits to freedom of expression


THIS is with reference to the Friday feature by Asghar Ali Engineer (Oct 5). It was a well-balanced analysis of the law of freedom of expression currently debated worldwide.

As he mentions the ad put on some subway stations in New York City, let me add that, according to some media reports, two religious groups will also put ads urging tolerance alongside anti-jihad ads in New York City subways as a rejoinder to the ads he mentioned in his article.

These ads are being posted by Rabbis for Human Rights – North America and the Christian group sojourners. According to The New York Times report they’ll be displayed in at least 10 Manhattan subway stations. The rabbis’ ad reads: “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbours.”

The other ad by the Christian group reads: “Love your Muslim neighbours.” Another group, United Methodist Women, already placed some pro-Muslim ads in the subway which say: “Hate speech is not civilised.”

As the writer describes, indeed freedom of expression is a very delicate matter, and it is very difficult to find a common ground as to where the line can be drawn curtailing the freedom from overflowing into a sordid state. A concrete level and a certain degree of qualification are required for this law to gain true validity with the help of other laws, prevalence of common sense and value of coexistence.

Everyone has a right to express themselves but where to stop expressing yourself should not be a matter of one’s own choice. It should be measured on decency, societal norms, and realisation of ethics and morals as human beings.

In the West, for example, you have freedom to drink alcohol but this freedom has rules too: you cannot openly drink in public places; you need to go to designated areas, like bars, pubs and restaurants to drink. You cannot drink and drive, if you do, it is illegal and you can lose your licence and be suspended to drive for a long time and even be thrown in jail.

You cannot drink after 2am even at designated drinking places. These are rules surrounding freedom. We need some kind of qualification to this freedom of expression law. It is time we revamped this menace of hate culture vis-a-vis religions. It is a personal matter and should be confined to a personal level.

Hatred should be denounced because with hate comes destruction and the only loser is humanity. As an old saying goes: “Your freedom ends where my nose begins”. The question is if someone’s freedom did not end for some reason and hit my nose, what should be my reaction? Do I go home with an injured nose? Do I tell them not to do it again? Or do I expand my freedom to their nose with equal force?