The persistent attack on freedom of speech has been going on for a long time
The recently drafted Digital Security Act has the potential to be quite effective at gagging people’s freedom of expression, to the point that it would make Kim Jong-un beam with pride and shed tears of joy, were the North Korean leader to add it to his “selected reading for the aspiring tyrant” booklist.
However, this legislation should not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the global political scene for the past few years.
The persistent attack on freedom of speech has been going on for a long time now, and those who stand against this basic human right have been winning by a large majority.
Around the world
Erdogan’s crackdown on secularists in Turkey, the wars in Yemen and Syria, the Iraqi-Kurdish Battle of Kirkuk, the Egyptian crackdown on political activists (Muslim brotherhood or otherwise), and the glorification of the violent media-backed terrorists known as the Antifa, are but a few of the major incidents from last year where brute force helped tyrannical rulers gain total victory over the forces of freedom.
Putting these events into perspective paints a gloomy picture of a dystopian world where oppression and censorship are, slowly but surely, becoming the new normal. Contrary to popular belief, what sets mankind apart from all other animals is not the ability to communicate verbally.
Instead, it is our capability to make rational choices based on logical reasoning that has given us the edge over all living things. At present, however, rationality seems to be the last thing guiding people’s decisions.
The new trend in American politics is to label anybody with ideologies right of Bernie Sanders as a fascist. People protesting radical Islam are immediately described as racists (even though Islam is not a race). To make things worse, this phenomenon has spread like wildfire to other Western nations, resulting in anybody having opinions different to that of the “progressive” idea of multi-culturalism being immediately shut down from expressing themselves.
Unfortunately, the left is no longer liberal.
Claims of social justice and equality by these people do not change the fact that they have no respect for the idea of freedom of speech, making them no different than the master oppressor Joseph Stalin.
Meanwhile, the Western right wing has been gripped so badly by an epidemic of xenophobia, that they have resorted to worshipping the same Adolf Hitler that their forefathers had fought so hard to defeat.
Bangladesh, along with the rest of the world, is on a slippery slope to becoming a full-blown Orwellian state
The ultra-conservative Republicans are now much closer to the IS in terms of ideology than they are to Abraham Lincoln, who no doubt is turning in his grave every time an alt-right neo-Nazi terrorist decides to run over a protester he disagrees with.
A world of intolerance
A society based on emotional judgment is bound to lead everyone towards intolerance. In turn, this intolerance will inevitably lead to attacks on each other’s right to freedom of expression.
As the world gets lazier, everyone seems to get this notion that being comfortable is a right, and that this right of theirs supersedes somebody else’s right to free speech. This is, by far, the dumbest idea to befall mankind.
Stating an opinion (including this article) will always have the potential to make someone uncomfortable. Just because a person tends to make polarizing statements does not warrant shutting him/her down or throwing him/her into prison. Attitudes like this have a tendency to give rise to oppressive authoritarian governments who, in absence of an enemy, ultimately turn on their own people.
Those living in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Russia, China, and Pakistan will attest to this statement.
What is the harm in censorship?
No matter how noble the initial intentions of censorship are, it ultimately leads to uncontrollable and unaccountable governments.
The state often becomes so powerful and intrusive that every aspect of a citizen’s life is monitored and directed by who wears the crown. Bangladesh, along with the rest of the world, is on a slippery slope to becoming a full-blown Orwellian state.
Journalists, academics, and opposing politicians who went “missing” a few months ago, only to be later returned by the “kind-hearted kidnappers,” would agree with this observation.
This international trend of censorship and oppression shows absolutely no sign of stopping. While some of us are trying to put out this fire before it completely engulfs the world, sadly, we are failing. If radical terrorists, social justice warriors, and the state keep on being so easily offended by free speech, they will keep on fighting until they succeed to destroy it.
It is imperative for the world to realize that the issue of free speech is not a partisan thing. It is not something that should only be considered important by opposition political parties, who themselves have had a very poor record of protecting citizens’ rights when they were in power.
Freedom of expression is an inalienable right, and those who do not value it or fight for it, will end up losing it to the state. Bangladeshis who are willing to sit by idly while this law is passed into action, will end up being ruled by an extremely intolerant government that, in the words of Joseph de Maistre, “they truly deserve.”
SM Abrar Aowsaf is a Staff Sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune.