Tuesday, 20 January 2015

To offend or not to offend

Today's Straits Times’ article riled me up (20 Jan 2015). It is about the freedom of expression. In the light of the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy, respected world leaders were called to offer their view on this motion: "Does one have the right to offend or not?"
At the front-and-center of the wrestling ring are the British PM and the French President. And seated on the bench, away from the belligerence, are the sassy Pope and the Turkish PM.
I will let David Cameron fire the first salvo here: "I think in a free society, there is a right to cause offence about someone's religion. I'm a Christian; if someone says something offensive about Jesus, I might find that offensive, but in a free society, I don't have a right to wreak vengeance..." How's that for a gracious society?
Now, this is what the Turkish PM has to say, "...Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult.” Here comes my angst rant below.
Lesson? Well, the first few questions I have here are not about whether one has a right to offend or not. It is about the need for more common sense in this world (a desperate need really). Firstly, isn't the above motion or subject a non-starter? Now, let me illustrate this with gritted teeth: which parent in their right mind would tell their child that he has the right to offend his classmates? Underscore "right". And then, when the child gets punched in the face or alienated for being a loud mouth or class pest, which parent will be smiling from ear to ear and showing a thumbs up to his kid with this exclamation, "Well done son, you did good. I am proud of you!" Get the drift?
Putting aside the right to seek revenge (or justice), why even be insensitive, and provoke your neighbors who have done nothing to you in the first place? This is clearly not about which of the two is the greater evil: To offend indiscriminately or to retaliate by shedding blood. It is of course obvious. But it is really about why you even need to start it all in the first place? Why can't we all just get along?
If you really really need to "bitch" about it, then, for goodness' sake, do a William Tell and target the rotten apple and not the innocent person. I mean, what has Jesus, Muhammad or Buddha done to you lately. Imagine cursing Karl Marx for Stalin's atrocities or blaming Papa Smurf for the very corny Smurfs movie part II.
My infernal bugbear is this, "Does anyone really have the right to offend (in normal circumstances and unprovoked)?" Is this the same twisted logic as the right to discriminate, the right to insult, and the right to hurt people’s feelings. If so, why not exercise your God-given rights in reverse, that is, insisting on the right to love, the right to forgive, and the right to show kindness? I mean, what is the provocative offender trying to protect...true democracy, freedom of expression? Or is he more concerned with his profit margin or his 7-minute fame or he’s doing it just for kicks or to show how smart he is?
Here is a thought experiment to present my point in a different light: Why build a society based on spite, malice, hatred, vileness and crassness, and then stand on a self-glorifying pedestal, declaring defiantly, "It's my right!"? Instead, why not build a society based on love, kindness, forgiveness and hope, and be a city on the hill, a high tower of timeless virtues, and then proclaiming with humility, "It's my right." Now, which society is bound to bloom, and which is invariably doomed, you decide (it’s a no brainer right?)

So, if I have a prayer for some world leaders, it would be this: "Dear respected leaders…forget about leading a nation, lead your own heart first. Forget about fighting poverty, fight your own ego. Forget about giving the best speech to a standing ovation, give to the least amongst you. Forget about saving the world, save yourself from hatred, intolerance and postmodern cockamamie logic. And most of all, forget about splitting hair over "the right to offend or no right to offend", the first question you really have to ask yourself is this, "Why even offend in the first place?""
I will end with these honest words of a leader whom I deeply respect, Pope Francis: "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others...if my good friend, Dr (Alberto) Gasparri, says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. (note that he is using a universal, secular example and not a religious one).
I hope the good Catholic's word is offensive enough to knock some sense into some people. Cheerz.

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