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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Free Speech Ends Where Sedition Begins

Free Speech is a very difficult thing to understand, if you place restrictions or give the discretionary powers to a few to determine what is free speech, they will ruin it. Laws are made to go beyond the whimsical discretion of people in power. 

This is my response to M. J. Akbar's op-ed in New York Times, I was disappointed in him, as an intellectual, I expected him to defend free speech and JNU,  but he compromised his interests and turned the issue into sedition. I feel sorry for the loss of his freedom to express what is right, and instead, he carefully pandered to the raw sentiments of those who are insecure and want to control others. I guess that is what it takes to make it in the world for some. 

A year ago on Fox News show, Pamela Geller, Sean Hannity and I had a hell of an argument over free speech; they wanted to ban Professor Ghannouchi’s speech at Yale University Campus because he had made anti-American statements. I don't agree with Ghannouchi, but as a society we cannot stop, and we cannot change the character of our nation because of him, free speech is free speech and must be allowed. Indeed, I had defended Pamela Geller's right to free speech in UK, where she was banned at that time. We have to be consistent as much as we can. 

Each one of us has our own interests to protect, and as an institution that governs, no one in it should have that discretion. Free speech is an inalienable right of individuals - God gives that right, if it was not free, humans would not have had the ability to dialogue.

As they say, Satyameva Jayate, the truth ultimately triumphs, indeed free speech ultimately triumphs.  India has come a long way in becoming a democratic pluralist culture, it is a learned behavior, and it can also learn to respect free speech. Let no one be hindered from free speech.  You have better counter it with a better speech to put bad speech out of circulation that is the civil thing to do.

As a Muslim I stand for free speech, this is precisely what those guys have done to Islam in the past,  they have robbed Muslims’ God given right to free speech through Fatwa and excommunication threats. Of course, it is not just Muslims, the Hindus, Christians, Jewish and other societies have tight rules to shut people up through similar authoritative calls.  

India will not disappear just because someone shouts it so, her people make India, I urge the government not to feel threatened, let them do it. We should instead take pride in our freedom, we are secure enough to allow diversity of opinions, even if it sounds against the interest of the nation, and we are a secure nation to give room for differences.

I am against such slogans; but I will stand up for the rights of those who have something to vent, every one should have the right to dissent. I think we are capable of handling the anti-India slogans, in the end; after all they are our rebel children. If we don't consider them as our children, we need to grow up and develop the ability to deal with them on an equal footing and not brute force. 

Free speech, Zindabad!
Mike Ghouse for free speech

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Free Speech Ends Where Sedition Begins
M. J. Akbar, New York Times

NEW DELHI - Last month, a flyer entitled "The Country Without a Post Office" was circulated on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.), here in Delhi, inviting students to a "cultural evening" on Feb. 9.
But "cultural" was a misnomer, and academic freedom would not be on the agenda. Some not-so-small print further down the page called on participants to "rage" against the Indian "occupation" of Muslim-majority Kashmir and protest the "judicial killing of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhat."
Afzal Guru, who is also known as Muhammad Afzal, and Mr. Bhat were both convicted terrorists, found guilty separately after their cases slowly went up the ladder of due process, all the way to the highest court in India. Mr. Bhat was hanged in 1984 for the murder of a police inspector in Kashmir; Mr. Afzal was hanged in 2013 for his role in the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament. In both 1984 and 2013, the Congress Party was in power.

The date chosen for the Feb. 9 event at J.N.U. was the anniversary of Mr. Afzal’s execution. Upon learning of this, the university authorities initially reacted by shrugging and looking away: Students will be students. But a video made the night of the gathering soon went viral, and it seemed to show shouting students and activists vowing to break up India into small pieces. It ended with the calls, “Inshallah! Inshallah!” “Allah Willing! Allah Willing!”

More footage of the protest soon appeared online — followed by allegations that some of it had been tampered with. The local Delhi government, which is headed by Arvind Kejriwal, a vitriolic critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sent seven videotapes to a laboratory for a forensic probe. On Tuesday, India’s leading news agency, PTI, reported the results: Two of the tapes had been doctored, five were authentic. (The Indian Express reports that three had been manipulated.)

I saw one of the tapes deemed to be authentic, and I heard those fever-pitch chants calling for India’s dismemberment. And so to my mind the issue isn’t what was or was not said that day; it is whether freedom of speech should be stretched to include the adulation of terrorists and calls for the destruction of India, or if it ends where sedition begins.

When free India’s first Constitution became the law of the land in 1950, it included an article treating freedom of speech and of expression as a basic right. The very first amendment to that text, passed by the republic’s founding fathers in 1951, added “reasonable restrictions” to the free-speech clause, partly in order to protect the “security of the state.”
This happened while India’s prime minister was Jawaharlal Nehru, a self-proclaimed socialist and a liberal icon, after whom J.N.U. was named. In 1963, while Mr. Nehru was still prime minister, Parliament passed another constitutional amendment clarifying that the security of the state meant “the sovereignty and integrity of India.”

Mr. Nehru had good cause for caution. During the volatile 1940s, during which India won its independence from Britain, he saw how Islamism posed an existential challenge to the nation’s unity, and Communism to its democracy. Pakistan was born in 1947, at the same time as India, becoming the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era. A year after that, the Communist Party of India, instead of joining Mr. Nehru’s efforts to build up the fledging Indian nation, declared its independence a “fake” and began an armed struggle.

By 1951, that red revolution had mostly died out, partly because of limited popular support and because Moscow, which backed Indian Communists, was wary of alienating Mr. Nehru as the Cold War was picking up. Yet some Communist sympathies continued to smolder. In 1962, when India suffered a devastating defeat in a war against China, a powerful section of Indian Communist leaders backed China. They were imprisoned, briefly, and in 1963, the Nehru administration clarified the scope of free-speech laws.

"As Mr. Nehru himself well understood, freedom of speech is not a license to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of India."Free speech...
Within a few years, India’s Communists had split three ways. Two parties joined the nationalist mainstream; the third, which identified itself as Maoist, started a violent revolution to overthrow the Indian government. Many of that group’s younger followers found sanctuary at universities, knowing that by longstanding tradition, the police were loath to enter campuses.

But as the violence grew more intense in the 1970s and thousands of people died throughout eastern and northern India, police forces began crossing university gates to arrest Maoist radicals. Then in the 1980s the old specter of religion returned to haunt India: In Punjab, demands for the creation of a separate Sikh state turned into a full-fledged insurrection, which encouraged Muslim separatists in Kashmir to rise up as well.

Many Indians today are still wary that religious separatists and Maoist extremists continue to threaten India’s unity, and that they have supporters among students. Some try to explain away such activism by pointing to anti-Vietnam War protests at U.S. universities in the 1960s and 1970s. But to do this is to overlook the scars that terrorism’s long and lacerating history in India has left on us here. Mr. Afzal, whose rights the J.N.U. students were rising to defend, was involved in the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament. I wonder how Americans, after 9/11, would react to a “cultural evening” celebrating Osama bin Laden.

Some reactions to the J.N.U. protest were ugly. A group of lawyers assaulted the students who came to court to face charges of sedition. A videotape of a speech made by the most prominent J.N.U. student leader reportedly was doctored in ways designed to incriminate him. Such things are unacceptable.

But many Indians are livid about one thing that is not in dispute: that some of that talk on Feb. 9 was aggressively secessionist. As Mr. Nehru himself well understood, freedom of speech is not a license to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of India.

M.J. Akbar is a member of India’s Parliament from Jharkhand for the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the author, most recently, of “Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan.”

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