On Freedom of Expression
A U.S. court has just ruled that the South Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SPTA) must post ads from a group called the American Freedom Defence Initiative in its vehicles, including one with a picture of Hitler with an Arab leader, al-Hussein,[i] and the slogan, “The hatred of Jews – it’s in the Koran.” The judge ruled that SPTA violated freedom of expression.
It broke my heart to see this. It is not “freedom of expression” when what is being said is a direct and deliberate attack on another religious community, promoting hatred toward it. I believe the judge veered off to the right on his ruling.
The ad is wrong on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin. But I will point out that the people cited in the ad are no longer among us.
Did any of you see the movie, Kingdom of Heaven? Do you recall when Balian, played by Orlando Bloom, and Saladin, played by Ghassan Massoud, were discussing the terms of Jerusalem’s surrender? Saladin offered safe passage to Christian lands for every man, woman, and child. Balian, unsure of the conqueror’s sincerity, reminds him that when the crusaders had taken the Holy City[ii], they had slaughtered every Muslim. Saladin’s reply?
I am not those men. I am Saladin.[iii]
Did his answer not feel complete? Did it not resonate within you to your very core?
The message is clear: for us to break a cycle of violence which has no beginning and offers no way out, the past can be allowed no role in the present. After six millennia of violent tit-for-tat, this should now be clear to all of us.
If we are selective in our determinations as to what constitutes “Freedom of Expression,” then this core societal tenet is rendered meaningless. The freedom to project and promote hatred toward other groups in society is contrary to every other force that functions to hold societies together. It is for this reason that yesterday’s sages provided us with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They acknowledged that no society’s majority has ever showed itself to be beyond capable of perpetrating injustice and malice upon its minorities, and that, if these processes are not constrained by law, society will quickly devolve into an interminable cycle of action-reaction. One group is given offense, and its “war-hawks” respond in-kind by attacking the offenders. It has always been the innocent, “moderates” that get hurt along the way.
Whether you are Muslim or Christian, Palestinian or Jew, Francophone, First Peoples, or Anglophone, male or female – you want, more than anything else in the world, to be happy; to have a comfortable home, food on the table, and to live in peace while you raise your children and watch them realize their dreams –very probably, the same dreams you had as a child. Continuing the egoic cycle of action-reaction makes certain that your children will not have these things.
The real anathema to a just and happy society is hatred, in all of its forms. But there are some who are addicted to hatred. They feel it gives them power. This is a big mistake; the ‘power’ invested in hatred is purely pathological: it enfeebles homes, communities, countries. It is easily spread. Its only fruit is a society wherein no one is truly happy, and where most live in fear and misery.
For those who are the targets of hatred, my heart is deeply sorrowed. Hard as it is, the only way to react is to not react. You are the target, not the reason. The reason, and the responsibility, wholly belong to those who are attacking you. You cannot change them. It is for these people to change themselves, and for society to constrain them. You must show leadership, by example, if you want to help society to move closer to being that which you want to live in; the one you want your children to live in. There really is only one choice left to us:
Be part of the problem, or become part of the solution.
[i] You can read up on the court’s decision here: http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-antiislamic-ads-septa-lawsuit-20150312-story.html , or en français: http://journalmetro.com/monde/735920/des-annonces-avec-hitler-sont-autorisees-aux-e-u/
[ii] This is not historical fact, but rather, dramatic license.