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Freedom and Responsibility

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Freedom, and responsibility, of expression

[Translation of Libertad, y responsabilidad, de expresión by Pepe Cervera published in on 8-Feb-2006]

On the internet we all have a voice and we all can listen to the voices of others. We are living in a global information society, a new phenomenon for which we are going to have to invent new rules. Too many people rise too quickly to justified anger and fly off the handle at any criticism. Too many people cause unnecessary offence, either because they don't respect anything or they are unaware of the seriousness of the insult that they are making. In order that we can endure the global market of ideas in which we are immersed, we are going to have to learn. Some to take criticism and return it critically; others to keep silent when their only message is an insult. If we don't develop thicker skins and restrain our statements, the alternative will be the introduction of laws to govern our behaviour instead of the respect and common sense that we can all exercise freely. We are either going to learn to behave properly, or they will force us to do so.

There is no law that prohibits kicking tigers, but doing so is so stupid that few people need such a law. Freedom of expression is key, but all freedoms reach a limit at the point where harm is done to others. Freedom of expression is not permitted when it comes to slander or an excuse for terrorism. It is also possible to use words as a weapon and this is also illegal. If we continue to exceed the limits of decency and good taste, without thinking about the consequences, these laws will be extended to new cases; new crimes will be created, new barriers raised. And we will all suffer, because the laws that limit freedom can always be used, or abused, to silence or apply censorship.

Conflicts between civilizations start when one tries to impose its values on the other; and they get worse with the disparagement of the other side. Because freedoms are never absolute and always carry with them responsibilities, it is the duty of all good people to ensure that respect prevents the breaches that are only beneficial for those who want conflicts. Respect is not surrender. And of course, violence is not the way to gain respect.

Only common sense can prevent the radicals from taking advantage of events like these. We, the huge majority, the non-radicals, have to learn to compromise a little, to respect a lot, and lose a little of our feeling of self-importance, because in the global information society it is easy to provoke and to misunderstand. If we don't learn to do this, then they will win; they who want conflict and death. If they haven't won already.

[Translator's note. Written in response to the anger and violence in the Muslim countries stirred up by the inflammatory cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, and copied by other western media.]



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