I was once a victim of hate speech. Bizarrely, this happened in the most unexpected of places. It happened in Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland is full of expatriates from Asian nations. Unfortunately, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. While walking at Auckland’s Cental Business District (CBD), a fat Maori in a Porche playing loud rap music took a look at me and shouted ‘Fucking Asians’ out loud and sped off. Of course I was inflamed. I wasn’t an immigrant. And he just took a piss at my continent and implicitly, at my race. But it was his right. I could have said something bad about his puny continent or his indigenous race (many things) but I didn’t. I didn’t want to go down his level. As you can see, my reference to him is only ‘fat’ and ‘Maori’. And that’s not degrading!
Let me be clear. My stance on freedom of speech is not an anarchist’s view on liberty. It’s more of a classical libertarian’s view on speech. I find America’s take on it ideal. Quite ironic because I don’t study in America, I just read about it and dream of that American dream. I think things like hate speech, regulated defamation, insults and offensive speech ought to be permissible. What should be banned are acts such as “telling people to kill others”, which is already a conspiracy to murder. Or even, in the immortal words of Judge Oliver Wendell Holme Jr of the American Supreme Court in Schenk v United States “to shout fire in a crowded theatre”. These types of speeches are very dangerous as it present a clear and imminent danger. The Harm Principle must be observed. But what type of harm is permissible? Of course, tangible physical harm should be prohibited. But feelings??
But what about hate speech you say? Yes, there is some element of truth in that ‘kerana mulut badan binasa’ proverb. People would have their feelings hurt and angry at various hate speeches. But that’s it, right? The context that I’am talking about is a Malaysia post GE-12. We are presumed as a mature society, capable of intellectual rationalization. If we have KLCC and Sepang F1, why can’t we react to bigots in a cultured way? When a person, who, I assume is intellectually bankrupt forwards an idea that is bigot and with malicious intent, how must we, the moderates react? Do we react to extremists by extremism? In my opinion, the way we should react is to not go down their level. We must show that we are better than him/her. React in a peaceful way and correct his misguided views. These people just want attention. Don’t give them that and soon their ideas of bigotry would die out. We must counter bigotry with intelligence ideas to show that bigots are below our level. This would appeal of course appeal to the masses and would ‘wither thy bigot’.
What about defamation? Of course people are entitled to insult each other. The right to insult and offend is a right within the perimeters of freedom of speech. The question would then be, to what extent? If the defamatory statement causes say corporate losses, of course these types of speeches must be regulated. But if the expression is one of satire, why must people see each other in court? It’s just ridiculous. Look at satirical statements in USA in the form of the Onion. People know its fake and have a good laugh. In Malaysia, you can’t even make fun of state controlled corporations. Geez. What about malicious defamation at bringing down a person’s character? Let him speak! It’ll look bad on him for being such a douche. But if people do believe him, we can correct those misconceptions!
Sedition you say? Why that’s a disease that could end the world! We surely need to scare our citizens into submission by muzzling their voices pre-emptively! Not quite. The fabrics and contextualization’s of modern contemporary society needs to be observed. As in my 1st Post, I have observed that the society that we have is one where it is a mature society where rationalization is put as premium. So we won’t act irrationally and riot at every instance. And even if we were to riot, it would be one which is peaceful since we have families to consider.
What about false information? These false information can be countered by the correct information. We just need a society which is active in voicing out their views and concerns, something which cannot happen in a climate of fear where though is oppressed.
Sensitivities will always be sensitive because the state brands these sensitivities as sensitivities by controls. As long as controls are instituted, sensitivities would remain. The idea of “rakyat belum sedia” will remain as “rakyat tak akan sedia”. The moment controls are lifted, there is no such thing as sensitivities in the long term as people would get used to speech. Remember, laws do not only reflect a culture, it has the ability to change culture. Change the mentality, mindset and views of the rakyat by liberalizing these draconian laws.
The only fear that I have with regards to freedom of speech is the concept of the tyranny of majority. In a democracy, where majoritarianism rules, the majority would of course have the most say. What if the majority is not as mature as I had assumed? What if they are bigots and disrespect the Harm Principle. This is bad as the minorities would have less airtime and their ability to air their views would be too little. Thus the majority could craft laws that are oppressive to minorities by influencing each other through a climate of fear created by bigots who are a minority in the majority. Evidence of this is the banning of the Burqa in Europe, rising Islamophobia attributed to the Far-Right nutjobs like Geert Wilders who scare the majority to oppress the minority. Scaring the Europeans that the immigrant muslims would overpopulate and impose Sharia in Europe. Utter nonsense and thus this needs to be remedied by controls as well.!
In conclusion, what have I told you? I told you how freedom of speech is inherently part of us. I told you how controls are bad. I told you how hate speech, can be countered. I observed the harms of the absolution of speech. My objective of writing this is to persuade. Persuade for a better Malaysia.
Next: My take on the role and duties of local undergraduates!
Written by: Bukit Mertajam