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The Importance of Freedom of Expression and the Right to Offend

The Importance of Freedom of Expression and the Right to Offend

Introduction

Freedom of expression is recognized as a universal human right that allows one to freely articulate, seek or receive information, opinions or ideas regarding any subject using any medium; whether written, spoken, art and more. This should be done without fear of interference or retaliation from anyone. The freedom of expression is of a great importance for a free society (Winston 34). All around the world, countries have enacted the freedom of expression, but it is not in all of them that the citizens are allowed to freely practice it. Especially in most third world countries, it is noticeable that the citizens are always careful of what they speak concerning certain issues like the governments. Freedom of expression should entail having to freely air out one’s views without fear even if what you say might seem offensive to others.

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Should Freedom of Expression include Right to offend?

Offence is an illusory feeling that an individual would have if and when a different opinion is given as opposed to their own opinion. An offensive statement should therefore not be viewed as a hate crime (Winston 126). A hate crime would be involving of threats, harassment or physical damage done to an individual usually having a motivation of either race religion, ethnicity and much more. Now what would be the need for the freedom of expression without the right to offend? Only then will you be able to freely criticise ideas, opinions or philosophies held by other people (Ginsberg 199). Moreover, even if your views or opinions would not correspond with society’s expectations or are offensive to anyone, you would still air them out without fear of facing opposition or criticism from other

As mentioned above, offence is subjective; therefore if your opinion is not intended in causing any harm, then you should not be curtailed from airing it out. In fact, to some people, the freedom of expression in itself is offensive to them. Just because your views are not similar to another does not warranty that they should be banned because they offend the other individual (Ginsberg 122). Fact of the matter is that it is because of the same disagreements in opinions that result in development of new and more proactive ideas. We all have different experiences that consequently force us to have different perspectives towards the society. Therefore every individual should be allowed freedom of expression encompassing right to offend.

An open platform is laid for open discussion of a particular subject only when people present different ideas and opinions that are subject to challenge. This gives us an open ground to be able to criticise and address ideas that seem bad to us. Offence is a two way traffic thing. We are able to challenge anything offensive thrown to us or anyone else even if it means being offensive in so doing, just to challenge their opinion (Ginsberg 234). Denying people the right to table rather offensive views does not make the views go away, rather they would be expressed elsewhere, in much smaller groups and this makes it impossible for certain ideas to be challenged. A good example is Donald Trump, who during his campaign had very strong and offensive opinions towards race, Muslim religion and even made some very mean comments about women (Ginsberg 355). Some of those comments were offensive to many but to others, they felt that Trump was representing their opinions and that is why they even voted him in. There were people like Oliver John, who came out to oppose Trump’s views in public and this meant that Trump’s supporters had been challenged in some way.

We live in a society where we are surrounded by very big institutions that up to some point have some control over our lives. They include religious institutions, the government and many more. These institutions may have views that seem oppressive to the general public hence need to be challenged in order to ensure our freedom of expression is put to use (Steen-Johnsen 357). For a very long time we have been faced with extremist Muslims who hold some extremist views towards certain issues in society. I believe people should have a right to choose their own religion but it is clear that the Muslim religion has been taken over by extremists who have some teachings that go against humanity. Now the only way to be able to deal with this is if people arose to speak against some of these teachings without fear. This cannot happen if freedom of expression does not include the right to offend. There are vulnerable Muslims living under the mean Islam Sharias but cannot be able to speak out for fear of being offensive to their religion (Bhat 68). If anything that seems offensive to an individual is banned, then this curtails the ability to discuss important topics in the society.

Freedom of expression being an essential tool for a free society, limiting the right to offend means that you are giving priority to a particular group or person over the other. That in turn translates to inequality. Fact of the matter is, we live in a society with varied cultures, beliefs, practices and ideas (Steen-Johnsen 354). It is highly probable that people would get offended at some stage and time because of other contrary beliefs to yours, but unless there is any physical harm done or infringement on safety, people should just accept that others have a right to express themselves as they wish. Freedom of speech entails varied opinions and points of view being aired out. Any view would therefore seem offensive to another.

On the other hand, the government does not have the right to curtail prevent different viewpoints from being aired out, it is only moral that a person has to chose what they say so that it does not end up causing harm to another (Steen-Johnsen 353). I believe that before speaking out, one should be able to consider the repercussions your views have on the person being addressed or what harm would it cost if you chose to stay quite. Some people often tend to take advantage of the freedom of expression to cause pain to other people by what they say. Whilst we are legally allowed to express our opinions and views, we have to put into consideration if what we say will be beneficial to the society, if not, then it would only be right to keep the views to ourselves.

Then there is the issue of morals and respect; for both self and people around you. Imagine a situation where a grown man in his 50’s meets a 12 year old girl on the streets and says sexually inappropriate words to her. Yes we have the freedom of expression; some people however take advantage of this fact. Obviously the little girl will take offence in whatever the man says. What then is the use of the right to offend here? If you are a morally upright person you should be able to put your freedoms to good use rather than causing deliberate pain or offence to others. Right to offence should exist only when one does not misuse it to cause deliberate harm to others (Ginsberg 254). Some people, especially those in power tend to take advantage of the freedom of expression with right to offend by intentionally offending others with what they say. This is not right.

Arguably, it is often said that words do not hurt anybody; this might not be the case. Not being able to see any physical damage done to the person does not mean that they are not hurt inside. In fact, emotional damage or torture is much worse than physical torture (Winston 104). There is no easy way to repair the damage caused with words. Some people out there have actually made it a habit to cause mental and emotional torture or harm to others. It may be a way to satisfy their ego or seem superior, it should not be accepted. When it gets to this point, I would much rather have the right to offend limited in these kinds of instances and action taken in a bid to prevent more people from following suit.

The United States First amendment prohibits the government from making any law that curtails a citizen from being offensive (Hume 175). That does not however mean that there are no consequences for the same. Think about the effect it would have on you as an individual. When you intentionally use offensive language on an individual or a group, you are likely to lose some form of prior relationship you might have had before. People will no longer want to associate with an offensive person lest they be taken as being like you. Some might even cause physical harm to you. What do you think can happen if you abuse an emotionally unstable individual? Obviously they are likely to get violent and this will not end well for you either. You risk losing important relations in your life, like friends just because of misusing your freedom of expression by being offensive.

It is commonly said, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated”. It is very possible to say what you want to say without necessarily bringing down someone else’s view or being offensive. If you would not like it if someone blew away your ideas in an otherwise offensive manner, then you should probably not do the same to another. There is absolutely no need to use offensive expressions just to air your views out. You cannot just go around belittling someone else in the name of exercising your own right to offend. Take an example of someone walking around claiming that all Muslims are terrorists, this is a bad generalisation that tends to come out as a fact depending on the way it has been said. It then becomes offensive to the larger Muslim community who do not convey with some Muslim teachings and are generally good people (Bhat 76). It would however been nicer if they opinionated their sentiments in a way that can be resonated with to spark a change of mindset.

Offending someone is only possible if the person on the other end allows what you say to offend them. It is important to put into consideration the fact that the freedom of speech would not exist without the right to offend. The freedom of speech only comes to light when people are able to share different opinions on an issue without fear of repression (Hume 234). As a result, they are able to come up with new and more functional ideas. The freedom of expression should be a fundamental right to everyone considering that we all come from different societal set ups and backgrounds. In order to co-exist in one society, and understand one another, everyone needs to freely air out their views and opinions in order to come up with a better and improved society where everybody can live in.

All said, I am for the opinion that freedom of expression should include right to offend. Of course there should be limitations. People should have the right to offend and be offended. On many occasions, offence is always used to shut down people who challenge you. On the contrary in order to co-exist in one society, everybody needs to accept criticism and conform to the idea that others will always hold a contrary view to theirs. People have the right to say whatever they want and think. Staying silent even though we have a burning issue would mean that we are living fake lives. Offending someone is a normal thing and we should therefore be given the right to express it.

References

Bhat, Ali Muhammad. “Freedom of expression from Islamic perspective.” Journal of Media and Communication Studies6.5 (2014): 69-77.

Ginsberg, Jodie. “The right to free speech means nothing without the right to offend.” The Guardian 16 (2015).

Hume, Mick. Trigger warning: Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech?. HarperCollins UK, 2015.

Steen-Johnsen, Kari, and Bernard Enjolras. “The fear of offending: social norms and freedom of expression.” Society53.4 (2016): 352-362.

Winston, Brian. A Right to Offend: Free Expression in the Twenty-first Century. A&C Black, 2012.

 

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