So Much for Free Speech

By Smurthwaite, Kate | New Internationalist, November 2014 | Go to article overview

So Much for Free Speech


Smurthwaite, Kate, New Internationalist


On 1 September Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi lost his final appeal. Convicted of insulting Islam, he will serve 10 years in prison and receive 1,000 lashes.

I'm guessing I do 10 things a day that insult Islam. Bacon sandwiches, vodka shots, shouting 'Islam isn't true'. Then I have breakfast.

Badawi's 'crimes' were committed on his blog. The existence of the internet is an insult to all theistic religions. You can't claim to be an all-powerful deity and then issue your important messages through hallucinating prophets and etched stone tablets. Everyone knows you reach a wider audience on a Twitter.

We need to do better at protecting the right to free speech. Which isn't easy when the term gets thrown about more carelessly than literally anything else. It might be easier to defend if we understood what it is or, more importantly, what it is not.

For starters, it's not a free pass to win any argument. Male politician suggests rape victims are asking for it (I'm just picking a random example that would never happen in real life), women respond angrily, only to be told to shut up because 'he has a right to free speech'! Silencing people in the name of free speech is like a much less fun version of fucking for virginity.

Nor does free speech mean you can say things without consequences. If you say the wrong thing you can lose your job, your relationship, your invitation to speak at a Greenpeace rally, or, if you phrase it really badly, all three. Those sorts of consequences are fair enough; consequences like prison sentences and horrific violent punishment are not.

And, as though this needed saying, free speech is also not the right to a massive great helping of privilege. As far as I'm concerned, anyone whining 'free speech' after finding out their TV show isn't getting a second series, isn't fit to wipe Raif Badawi's arse. …

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