“Freedom!” – Really?

“Freedom!!!!”, shouted William Wallace as they drew the axe over his head. But what exactly is freedom, and how do we express it? Are freedom of speech and freedom of speech two different matters? What should we class as hate speech? How fine a line is the difference between abusive expression and creativity? How should be express ourselves to each other? Did Lenin come down the chimney at Christmas, for Marxists?

The 21st century is a time of flux for humankind. Was this any different for previous generations? Perhaps not. Civilisations have come and gone. Manners have been taught and unlearned. Nations have grown together and drifted apart. Wars have torn the fabric of perceived time and conscience into pieces, only for peaces and treaties to reaffirm calmness. Humankind’s communities and their individual personal breadth of histories have delivered humanity to a lens unique in time. Those discoveries, explorations, migrations and have led to a wider acceptance of expression. Gone are the chains of slavery, mostly.

The relationship to others through interconnectedness of individuals and civilisations offers both a global and local perspective of humanity’s varied interpretation of freedom of expression. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘the power or right to express one’s opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty.’

Freedom differs from place to place. As does expression. The homes and journeys an artist in Beijing, Tehran or Moscow may differ to that of an artist in Berlin, Paris or Manchester. Many so-called free countries such as U.S.A. will argue freedom is quashed in China, Iran, or Russia. Censorship to protect ideals, culture and people or nations is not a new thing. The word treason finds its origins in Latin. The Latin equivalent is traditio, from tradere (a verb meaning ‘to hand over’ or ‘betray’). Every empire or organised culture, since the dawn of mankind living in groups, has perhaps experienced the handing over of something to a rival tribe or clan. This was not a word invented for the two 20th century World Wars.

Democracy allows freedom of expression to grow and develop. Society can flourish based on access of information and hold those in power to account. From Emmeline Pankhurst and her suffragette movements to the formation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19) laws, rules and legal systems have evolved to support voices. The systems and cultures surrounding criticism and opinion needs to be an environment supportive to a voice. There must be the right to assemble, gather and share. Libraries and print go hand in hand with allowing debate and discussion. Some western and civil countries, like Australia and the U.K., threaten the rights of protest and questioning. To remove the ability to stand together against something a person truly believes in, is not seen as democratic, yet democratic countries are doing just that. Football manager Sir Alex Ferguson frequently banned journalists who asked questions relating to footballer Ryan Giggs concerning a court injunction and his reported affairs. That was his right, in a democratic society. But, was that withheld information something that people should have had the right to talk and express opinions upon?

In 1982, the Chinese government passed a constitution that guarantees freedom of speech. They also have clauses to cover ‘subversion of state power’ and ‘protection of state secrets’ with imprisonment a tangible possibility for such threats to their state. Many find difficulties with China’s image of their interpretation. But, are democratic nations perfect in their treatment of freedom of expression. The UK has a long-standing tradition of censoring theatre, movies, and the press. Reporters Without Borders, an international independent non-governmental organisation that safeguards freedom of speech, added the UK in the top 24 of global nations. The British Broadcasting Corporation prides itself on being impartial, yet many criticise the corporation for a growing list of bias.

“The free expression of opinion—even of opposition opinion, I do not know if you are prepared yet for that much freedom here.” – H.G. Wells, having met Joseph Stalin in 1934.

Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) is a term that has caused division in France and the wider world. Charlie Hebdo‘s magazine headquarters were attacked by extremists. The mass shooting on January 7th in 2015, by al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch perpetrators killed 12 and injured 11. They objected to the prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah being drawn in cartoon style alongside a phrase translating to ‘all is forgiven’. The ripples of time gave rise to much attention including South Park influencing the ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day‘, and countless pieces of journalism that could raise questions about the safety of journalists.

Liberalism allows movies such as The Whistleblower be filmed, based upon true stories like that of Kathy Bolkovac to be told. The rights of the individual, their liberty and consent allow equality before law. The Nobel Peace Prize is nominated and awarded for such things. The continued debate of Confucianism philosophy keeps Kǒng Fūzǐ (孔子) relevantly rock and roll. Liberal thought continues to influence freedom of expression and finds its niche welcoming for continued proliferation.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – Obi-Wan Kenobe – Star Wars: A New Hope

Censorship in media can take many forms. It could be substantial or partial. Whether it’s blocking Premier League football from copyright infringement or Tunisia hacking an individual’s Facebook account. Pervasive overseeing of the world wide web may require the use of a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Social media can often be a hotbed of freedom of expression and sharing of materials. The internet is full of information. Disinformation, misinformation (fake news) and malinformation can be used to cause harm or detriment to others. Much like putting your faith into a higher power, the believers, armed with false information may not intend to cause harm, but may muddy the waters and cause it nevertheless. Leaks, harassment and hate speech could follow.

“If you open a window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” – Dèng Xiǎo Píng (邓小平), reported by Torfox.

World War One and its poorly organised sequel World War Two saw a huge rise in hate speech between nations. Races of people were referred to as cockroaches. Something that history repeated in Rwanda, the Yugoslavian wars and probably happened long before The Great War was born. Discrimination has been around a long time, and sadly in the 21st century it does not appear to be disappearing anytime soon. Race (or colour) division: Kick it out. National origin is dividing. Age. Gender. Disability and ability. Religion. Sexual orientation. Animosity and disparagement has been targeting individuals and groups for as long as humanity has disagreed. Freedom of speech arms and disarms both sides of the divide. That’s where responsibility could glue together these problems.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Voltaire A.K.A. François-Marie Arouet [not just Spider-Man]

Nazi flags belong in museums as an example of what was, what went wrong and an alarm bell for the future. Students should be reflective – and caring enough to want to change the future, to avoid the negative history from repeating itself. Whether students at Tungwah International School (TWIS) or Chapel Street Primary School, or any other educational institution, the environment of learning is important. The right to seek information should be nurtured and encouraged in positive ways. Inquirers work towards being knowledgeable. Ideas can be received and expressed freely in the classroom. Thinkers should become communicators. They should remain principled and open-minded when doing so. Expression can allow balanced students to become risk-taking, by showing different shapes and forms. Likewise those who study should feel privacy keeps them from harm. Their freedom to learn must be a safe haven.

Wall Art, was once titled Peckham Rock. Artist: Banksy.

The street artist Banksy has been awarded great artistic freedom. Negatives of expression his work includes dissent towards his work. Peckham Rock was placed into the British Museum. Like all matters concerning freedom of expression and speech, the world is full of examples and sources to both support and offer facts about the subject. In explaining the subject briefly, a simple conclusion can be drawn. The debate of freedom of expression is open to interpretation and can be supported or argued against through varied means and ways. Research and examples can only stretch do far.

The notion of freedom of speech should be a fundamental global goal, both in democratic or autocratic societies, in order for change. The world is constantly changing and over a great period of time, evolution to adapt to ever-mobile conditions is a necessity. The mind must also progress. The Great Pyramid of Giza forms part of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World‘, factoring in a small region of the Earth. It completely ignores the far east, the northern areas of Europe, huge sections of Africa and countless other world places. There are examples globally of other wonder-worthy titles, yet these other ancient advances and constructs make a varied and broad set of cultural lists. Politics and idealistic perspectives shape views. Views need to be expressed. Expression is a tool of progress.

“Because it’s there.” – George Mallory, survivor of the Somme, former teacher and mountaineer

The ability to say no, or to filter our Twitter retweet opportunities is something embedded within our personal philosophy. We can each ask questions, perform reasoning and impart information and knowledge whilst taking into account values, the mind and the existence of others. Whether you aspire to be Malala standing up to the Taliban for education equality or Emily Davison jumping before a horse to raise a voice for women’s voices or Pepe Julian Onziema fighting for sexual minorities, freedom of expression will act as a tool for freedom of speech.

For further reading:

Free Speech Debate.com

Thoughts on courage.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

Bravery and tragedy seem to sit hand in hand, side by side. Wherever the former is, we’re usually shown the latter in the news. Tragedy sells. Courage, valour or bravery is not always frontpage news on its own. Superman’s cape draped over a chair sells better than him saving a kitten from a burning oil-tanker out in the worst waves imaginable. Some tragic news brings apathy – because let’s face it, much of the news we see is grim – and often, as is the way of the multimedia age and global connectivity. Sometimes we need to turn a blind eye. There can’t always be happiness and suffering are a worry many carry. The news does not shy away from such tales. It reports in all manners about lust, jealousy, hatred and hostility in equal-ish measures. What we choose to empathise in is up to us, as an individual.

On Monday, in Sìchuān [四川], a region renowned for spice, pandas and Kung Pao chicken, around thirty firefighters were killed. A huge forest fire engulfed them – and none could escape the path of the fireball. 700 brave firefighters had been trying to control the fire for several days. Sichuan is home to Manchester City’s new partnerclub Sìchuān Jiǔniú [四川九牛] who play in the provincial capital of Chengdu. I’ve grown up on a diet of London’s Burning, the TV show, famous for portraying the hardwork and lifestyles of firefighters. I almost became a firefighter myself, but instead, opted to go to university instead. I have firefighter friends. Around 343 fatalities from the 2,996 deaths on ro around September 11th, 2001 were those of the New York Fire & Rescue Services. Firefighters occupy a community of selflessness and put themselves between dangers and the everyday soul trying to survive. Some pay that ultimate sacrifice. On top of that, their mental health is affected and levels of suicide is higher amongst them than the general populous. Firefighters who faced the Grenfell disaster or other such tragic emergencies will surely lose a piece of themselves.

SICHUAN MESSAGE

Humans have always worshiped heroes. They may be Gods, they may be comic book figures, or they may have been very much real. Religions have plentiful heroes and examples of bravery. Some, like Islam, show control as a huge auxiliary to courage, in tackling the devils of life and spirituality.

Some religions and governments push embarrassment and disgust through their guidelines, wording and morals. That’s how stones become a weapon of execution in Brunei, right? Don’t worry, they need witnesses or a confession. Sorry, Brunei but your rules are cuntish at best. How do the private actions of individuals that cause no damage to those around you, affect your leadership or government or religion? It is utter bullshit. The Sultan of Brunei is cunt. I challenge him to a public conversation, face to face. A debate. Let’s get his problems out in the air – and his government’s worries. Come on Mr Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, let’s talk. If you want to experience sedition, I’ll fight for another (woman’s or) man’s cause, with words. Give me my chance to show courage. I’m not writing from boredom but from contentment to your new laws. I hold these law in contempt of humanity. I’ll feel disappointment if you do not reply. I won’t be surprised as anywhere that amputates hands for thefts, brutally punishes minors for petty crimes and completely fails to prevent human trafficking. Their intrays must be overflowing with requests.

I always wonder if such laws are caused by boredom and loneliness or perversed arousal from power over the people. Do they grip panic at allowing too much freedom? Well at least we have Amnesty International, Human Rights campaigners and others to renew our faith in humanity. Again, they are all courageous. All too often they’re fighting for voices in former British protectorates, colonies and places rich in resource. The 159th member of the U.N. are a case in point. Perhaps the U.K. could withdraw the Nepali Gurkha battalion and other military personnel stationed within Seria. But U.K. interests in Brunei probably only stretch as far as having a stopover airport on the way to Oz and New Zealand.

慈故能勇 cí gù néng yǒng loving causes ability brave

 Socrates said a hero is, “a man willing to remain at his post and to defend himself against the enemy without running away” but back then gender inequality was rife. There has been an acceptance and anticipation throughout history of multiple religious saviours and possibly an end to suffering by a higher being, or two. I prefer to think that we alone can save ourselves. Many individuals work in conservation and humanitarian aid. There’re more heroes than we see in movies. They just don’t attract the same desire or curiosity. On a heroic front, Brunei were the first Asian nation to ban shark finning. So, every cloud can have a silver lining – it is all a matter of perspective. Some British Indians hate our new five pounds notes, because Sir Winston Churchill is on there. His willingness to let courageous Ghandi die on a hungerstrike and his general lordly attitude over the “foul race” of Indians and their own fault for “breeding like rabbits”. He wasn’t at all nice to Indians or Bengalis, or Hitler and co (but Adolf certainly deserved it up ‘im). His legacy can be hugely criticised. For me, the Royal family are the same – and Queen Lizzy the 2nd is on one side of the note. That’s history. It is more grey, than black and white. At least with busts, notes, books, documentaries, and more. Otherwise we’d not learn that King of the Belgians, Leopold II of Belgium was a bit of a bastard. Think millions of deaths.

Sir Winston Churchill said of courage many things, but he as both the hero and antihero, cannot be denied his power to compose and express. Courage over risk needs a personal fear to be conquered or managed. There may be deliberation but eventually an intention to act will be made. The courage could be as a perceived good act – or one that is believed to be noble. As noble as a lion or as strong as myself resisting a box of fresh raspberries. Okay, the rapsberries are gone. Not a fine example of strength, but moreone of my own humiliation at not enduring a test. The rage I have in not allowing a punnet of raspberries making it from the fruit shop to my apartment door. Okay, I show no remorse. Just resentment. Okay, not that. Sorrow that the raspberries have gone.

“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Emotions are strong things. I have an affection for those who are brave – and selfless. It gives me angst that maybe I’ll be called upon to do my bit. How will I react? I am in awe of thise capable of freezing their minds and cutting away from anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, despair, disgust, fear, frustration, grief, horror and shock in order to save other people – especially when they are unfamiliar with such strangers. That curiosity of my mind wonders how their self-confidence dominates pride and creates a social connection that rejects self-interest. The ecstasy of saving life must further create an anticipation of joyful hope. They never seem to panic or show over confidence, these superhero firefighters. They’re like you and me but made of stronger stuff, at the same time. They’re courage in a bottle. The bottle cannt be procured at a cornershop. It is ingrained in years of enthusiastic service. Our gratitude may be given from time to time, but these service people don’t look for merits and commendations. They get their heads down and do their jobs. Euphoria one day. Sadness the next. Depression waiting around every corner. I don’t envy firefighters. For they have a rainbow of emotions to contend with. It’d give me anxiety! I don’t pity their choice of occupation, but I do pity their salaries. Some risks deserve more surprise and trust. I feel guilty that the U.K.’s elected government is too busy wasting money on things that could fund those who put themselves in truly adverse situations. It is an outrage that the masses have such a little voice to show pleasure and show little passion in looking after our own heroes. Just like the environment, we’ll miss it all when it’s gone.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā