Call it a pillar or a cornerstone, freedom of expression is at the core of democracy. But it has always been a delicate issue, up for debate. Writers, poets, cartoonists, filmmakers and even rock bands have, for years, rubbed governments, religious groups and others the wrong way. But when does this unrestrained freedom grow so vast that it engulfs the overall serenity and sensibility of our society?

Back in September, when the Middle East crisis seemed like it was losing gas, a 14-minute trailer of an outrageous film posted on YouTube sent shockwaves across the world. Cheekily titled, ‘Innocence of Muslims’, it provoked millions of people in the world, and the already fragile governments in the ‘Arab Spring’ nations became further unsteady as a direct result of one man’s act.

Freedom of expression puts great power in the hands of people. Such power also calls for a degree of self-control. It is a voice for something in society that needs attention. But if it’s only hate-mongering, hate is what you’ll create and hate is what you’ll get. We have to be tolerant towards other people’s beliefs and sensibilities.

We mustn’t force our personal viewpoints. The advent of internet and technology is such that a certain amount of regulation is a must for the betterment of society.

Freedom of speech can be used for good rather than for pointing fingers. Culture and religion can be used either as a cover to disagree with other people or to understand them better. Different cultures have different values and traditions. What needs to be understood is, if everyone thinks, behaves and talks the same, the world will become too homogenous for its own good.

(Suraj is studying at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.)

(This article was published on December 5, 2012)
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