Freedom Of Expression

By ActuaLitté
Salman Rushdie - Le Livre sur la Place 2018
CC BY-SA 2.0
The attack upon fellow writer Salman Rushdie, an attack which has left the enigmatic writer on life support and possible absent of one eye, is and should be a sordid wake-up call to everyone in society. Certainly such threats to our freedom of expression are not limited to any one single religious or ideological demographic (for example: Islam). 

There has been a long history of similar action taken against expression from many different sources throughout history. That certainly isn't to defend the actions of Hadi Matar, Mr. Rushdie's attacker who has since the attack, been charged with attempted murder. It is to say that disagreement over freedom of expression came to a recent pinnacle as a result of the attack. 

Now is the best time to discuss these matters in full, because threats upon freedom of expression and freedom of thought come in many different forms. Not just physical violence, but social and psychological violence as well. It is best to understand the underlying mechanics that make these social ideas and concepts what they are.

Much like the crosswalk is built after a certain limit of civilian deaths, we only become aware of this after significant acts of physical violence that are a direct threat to freedom of expression occur before our eyes. As if at any other time without the publicity, they simply do not exist. When we encounter such challenges in society it is often best to define them fully (much like in this excellent response by Michael Ignatieff courtesy of CTV), so that we may all have a common understanding of what we're discussing and wherein lies the challenge.

What Constitutes A Violation Of Freedom Of Expression? 

A violation of freedom of expression can best be defined as any response to expression by a person which by means of the threat of violence, or physical acts of violence, or by means of coercion, a person's expression is forcefully limited or even silenced. In my examples, I will use the names Alice (the expressor) and Bob (the one responding to the expression).

    The Situation: Alice states something verbally or in writing, or in any other form of expression that offends Bob.

    Examples of violations of freedom of expression:

    • Bob threatens to physically harm or kill Alice.

    • Bob physically attacks Alice with the intent to maim or kill her.

    • Bob denies Alice of any of her Human Rights as indicated in local law (in my case Canadian) or the United Nations Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. Violations include any steps taken against her right to life (which includes by legal definition her right to identity).

    • Bob, who employs Alice, cuts down on her hours and attempts to create situations to get her fired.

    • Bob organizes or implores his peers through social, workplace, religious or ideological groups to torment Alice socially and electronically until she ceases to continue to express herself.

    Examples that are not violations of freedom of expression:
    • Bob responds in spoken words or writing to Alice's expression, relating that he is offended or disgusted by what she expressed. Perhaps he indicates that he will no longer listen to her spoken words, or read her written works again.

    • Bob rants in public or online about Alice's expressed ideas. Bob might violate local law with regard to public slander or defamation libel, but as long as he doesn't resort to one or more of the violations from above, he hasn't violated her freedom of expression.

    • Bob discusses Alice's expression with his peers through social, workplace, religious or ideological groups and they decide never to enter into any communication with Alice, other than what is required for their workplace, business or community interaction and without violating her rights.

    • Alice's initial expression included a threat of violence against another person, persons, or directly against Bob and Bob responds with a similar threat using the same medium and method as Alice.

      Though in this example, Alice and Bob might be in violation of local law, it wouldn't necessarily be a violation of freedom of expression, so long as neither party resorts to one or more of the examples of violations from above.

    Now that we have a definition for what constitutes a violation, we can better discuss the matter of freedom of expression without trying to feel our way around in the dark.

    In Salman Rushdie's case, the prolific and enigmatic writer lived for decades under the threat of a Fatwa that arose from the religious fervor by some against his book: The Satanic Verses. The fact checked details can be found by following the two preceding links.

    In 2015, two gun men forced their way into the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, where they killed 12 people and injured 11 others.

    The purpose of this post is not to single out Islam extremists for attacks against freedom of expression. It is to cite incidents, and to deal with the repercussions of what happens when you start keeping score for each religion, their relative score against freedom of expression. In such a case, extremists of other competing faiths might take it upon themselves that they have leeway to conduct similar activity without suffering the same consequences that results from negative media attention. Much the same way that the Oklahoma bombing which was conducted by Christian extremists is often swept under the carpet in comparison to the more press familiar, Islamic extremism. The Oklahoma bombing was not an attack upon freedom of expression, but was considered to be a retaliation against the United States Government for the raid against the Branch Davidian compound (a distant sect of the Seventh Day Adventist movement) in Waco, Texas. 

    The point in iterating this is that if Islam's "score card" is perceived as being very bad, that might actually distract people from radical or covert acts that detract from our freedoms conducted by other competing ideologies, including attacks against our freedom of expression.

    What Gives Expression Its Value And Cost?

    When dealing with the topic of freedom of expression, or for that matter, any freedom, it also helps to know what the cost of that freedom is socially. 

    What actually gives expression its value, and what is the cost? 

    Value of expression is the positive effects upon society gained by something expressed by a person, and upon a person's reputation that are gained socially from being the one who expressed that thing. You could say that to some, this almost is an invisible social currency. If a person expresses valuable things often, society will benefit if the value those expressions have is beneficial, while the person who expressed them will become wealthy in the social currency of reputation for having said them.

    Expression... From Small Talk To Reactive Expression

    Most but not all expression, arises from some response to other expression. For instance, if someone says that all grass is green, someone else might be incensed to express the fact that some grass is yellow or brown and therefore all grass is not green. Such statements might clear up the facts, but have little weight, value or cost as far as society is concerned, hence people don't often focus on trivial topics unless they're making small talk. Expression that has little potential for conflict or benefit. If other people heard you talking with someone else about the topic of the colour of grass, they would certainly think nothing of it and it would likely hold little influence over their impression of you.

    The Cost Of Expression

    If on the other hand, a person named Bob expresses that all women are sluts, and Charlie overhears Bob's expression but is not involved in his conversation, then Charlie might think nothing of it, except that Bob has a bad attitude towards women. Charlie might adjust his bearings to avoid Bob in the future, but he says nothing having heard what Bob said.

    Dan, heard Bob express the statement: all women are sluts and saw that Charlie was there and overheard Bob. Though Bob is truly the one responsible for that statement, Dan then goes about treating Charlie as if he was responsible for the statement and gets his peers in the same community to do the same thing to Charlie. Treat him as if he's responsible for whatever Bob said.

    Bob's expression has value, albeit a negative value to society that paints all women the same and in a very shaming light. It also has negative value to the person who said it, although in this case, that responsibility has been mitigated to Charlie, despite the fact that it was Bob who said it.

    So weeks go on and Charlie is treated very poorly by both women and men of the community, who regard him as if he was the one who made that statement. He is also treated as if he truly believes that statement. Eventually, he traces it all back to the point of when he heard Bob say that all women are sluts, and that because he didn't say anything in response to Bob's statement, he was given responsibility for it rather than Bob for some reason.

    A few weeks go by, and Bob is near Charlie again when Bob decides to say something equally devastating. This time he says: all women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Charlie, who learned that all of his bad experiences in the community of the last few weeks arose as a result of the fact that when Bob made his earlier statement indicating that all women are sluts, Charlie didn't respond to Bob's statement and was held responsible for Bob's expression even though it wasn't his conversation.

    That is an example of the cost of freedom of expression. In this case, the cost isn't carried by the person who made the statement, but rather by someone who just happened to be close enough to have overheard it. From that point on, every time that Bob says something of that nature, Dan and his peers in the community make it the responsibility and burden of Charlie.

    Reaction: The Pot That Boils Over

    Now, if this goes on for long enough, eventually chances are that when Charlie and Bob are near each other and Bob says something socially jagged as he had in the past, eventually the burden upon Charlie is going to come to a head, Charlie is likely either going to explode upon Bob, or he might confront Bob verbally about his current and former statements and express his disagreement with them. In one instance, if Charlie has difficult dealing with stress of that nature, he might be at risk of committing violence against Bob for his expression. In another scenario, Charlie merely confronts Bob with words, and tells Bob that he abhors what he stated about women. On the other hand, Charlie, if he is able to cope with the psychological pressure that Dan's peers have subjected him to, he might just remain quiet and continue to bear the load. 

    Market Manipulation

    That is the weight of freedom of expression. In some instances, there are people whom by organized means attempt to create situations where the weight and burden for expression is extremely heavy in a coordinated manner throughout communities where this sort of thing is conducted. Now depending upon Charlie's stability, he'll either break, break extremely or he might just remain quiet as if nothing happened. This pressure or burden is the price and currency for carrying the weight of expression, and just like in some stock markets there are activities to affect the price of a stock, when it comes to the freedoms, there are social activities conducted by some organized ideologies that attempts to affect the currency of the burden of protecting those freedoms.

    I, Robot

    If Charlie was to respond by violence against Bob, exploding after all of that pressure came to a head, or if Charlie responded with heated words against Bob, Charlie would then be regarded as if he were a "robot". Simply responding to something automatically, as if Dan's peers by way of making Charlie responsible for Bob's expression was a form of conditioning to get Charlie to automatically respond anytime someone said something near him that was extreme or controversial, that might end up as Charlie's social burden. Therefore Dan and his peers would regard Charlie as nothing more than a robot. He wasn't responding because he cared about women. He was responding because they made him responsible for what Bob had said.

    To Dan, and his peers, the logic would be that they should get the credit for whatever Charlie says to Bob or others in response for his statements, because they conditioned him to be that way.

    Some people even turn this sort of social puppeteering into a large scale game, where a large group of people attempt to condition and puppeteer certain members of society, using social tactics like what I've just described above that involved the fictitious people Bob, Charlie and Dan.

    Freedom's Currency

    This is just one example of how our freedoms (freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of speech) can be coopted to become the tools for forms of control and radicalization in communities throughout the west and quite possibly, everywhere in the world. Possibly at every level too. Ironic that any group would attempt to use the very foundations of freedom as tools to manipulate others, and to harvest the currency of expression and its burden from others who originated it and carried its burden.

    Freedom of expression is one of those freedoms, and that isn't to say with any certainty that this was the mechanism behind the attack upon Salman Rushdie, nor does it excuse any of the violations against freedom of expression I've indicated here. It does introduce the fact that there is more going on behind the scenes than that about which most people are aware.

    We're dealing with a currency that is paid in public reputation and can make or break careers in the blink of an eye. It can be harvested like any other resource, and it can be stolen too. The weight and burden for any of the freedoms can be misused as tools actually operating against freedom itself.


    Just remember, that when someone expresses something controversial, that it has a weight of burden associated that they who expressed that thing won't always carry themselves. That is not to say that the risk wasn't Salman Rushdie's because it entirely was. When people express things, there are those who gather that weight as a currency, cheating the people who carried it the whole distance, while the people for whom it was carried get the credit as if it were their doing.

    These are the complex dynamics and hidden motives behind radicalization in the modern world. In order to ensure that what happened to Salman Rushdie doesn't happen to others who live by the means of their expression, or others like myself who are struggling to earn a living by expression, perhaps it would help matters to take the fullest of these ideas into consideration.

    On the other side of the fence, there might be a similar effort that makes it a burden for allowing one to have gotten away with expressing something, that drives the wheels of radicalization around the globe. That social phenomenon that has led to every violent attack for decades if not centuries.

    Not to use this tragedy against an enigmatic author like Mr. Rushdie as an opportunity for promotion, but that's exactly the territory that my own book, The Butterfly Dragon III: The Two Dragons is pursuing, and this has been an underlying plot curve in the first two Acts (Act I and Act II), which I have been developing since 2013. The story occurs from the perspectives of many demographics in society, so its well rounded. Act III is where this will all come to its final climax to face exactly what I'm seeing in the world around us.

    I hope that by this post, I was able to bring about further understanding and possibly even help investigators to understand the social mechanics of these phenomenon enough so that it saves lives, including the lives of my fellow peers in the world of the written word.

    I wish Mr. Rushdie a speedy recovery.