I have been thinking a lot today about the idea of censorship. How critical it is that we don’t fall victim to the fear that what we think and feel might bring trouble if we speak up and share our thoughts. Free speech is one of the fundamental components of a free society; without it, we all live disconnected one from the others and tyrants can have a heyday. It is, after all, when people are afraid to speak their minds out of fear of reprisal that dictators like Hitler arise. Fear breeds repression and repression breeds powerlessness. Our power is our willingness to say, “No, this is not right. No, I will not stand by and allow bullies to dictate what gets said, written, performed, sung, painted, or even built. Freedom of speech can make for messy discourse, but it’s honest discourse. Messy is part of the process.
One of my favorite books is Salman Rushdie’s children’s book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and one of my favorite scenes in that book is when a loud disorganized army defeats a well-trained stealthy group of fighters solely because the stealthy group has had their mouths sewn shut and they run away once they are met by this ill-trained, but highly bonded bunch of freedom fighters. Speech is what has kept the army united; its absence is what made the stealthy group disband because they had no connection with each other. Being able to speak one’s mind is the very essence of freedom; it is also the lynchpin in creating a real sense of community.
Sometimes I grow weary of the endless debates we have in our country with people defending their ideologies with such fervor. I wish we could work more towards consensus so we could move forward with so many sorely needed reforms. However, I prefer this debate – even with these hard lines drawn in the sand – to the alternative. In a world where freedom of speech is gone, one person or a select group of persons can decide they know best and impose their beliefs on others. That is totalitarianism and I want no part of that world.
So, I hope we can all stand strong when our ideals are challenged by terrorists who deem it appropriate to assassinate journalists simply for exercising their freedom of speech. That is unacceptable. We all must make our voices heard so this does not become part of a new approach to create fear. I believe democratic nations must unite in that fight. Otherwise, we may soon find ourselves acting as if our mouths have been sewn shut, and life as we now know it will then be gone.