Despite the Risks, Free Speech Is Worth Fighting For April 6, 2015

Despite the Risks, Free Speech Is Worth Fighting For

A week after the brutal killing of Bangladeshi blogger and critic of Islam Washiqur Rahman (below), coming not long after the equally tragic killing of Avijit Roy, the New Yorker‘s George Packer offers a reflection on the price of free speech and why we must keep fighting for that right:

in some ways, an even greater danger than violence or jail is the internal mute button known as self-censorship. Once it’s activated, governments and armed groups don’t have to bother with threats. Here self-censorship is on the rise out of people’s fear of being pilloried on social media. In Russia, Vladimir Putin has been masterful at creating an atmosphere in which there are no clear rules, so that intellectuals and artists stifle themselves in order not to run afoul of vague laws and even vaguer social pressure…

The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them — how to think freely at all — and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.

While I’ve sometimes held back on social media out of fear of saying the wrong thing, I’ve never had to worry about my physical safety. What these writers faced in criticizing religion was incomprehensible to us in many ways, and yet they took those risks because they knew what was at stake. For that reason, they deserve respect and a permanent place in our memories.

Read the full piece here.


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