DEFENDING FREE SPEECH

Nothing is more important to productive intercourse between individuals, countries, different ethnic groups and people of disparate beliefs than complete freedom of expression in the written word, in speech, and in still and moving images. There can be no exceptions to this human right.

People who feel they have been defamed can resort to court action. However, truth must always be a defence in defamation cases.

Outrageous, hurtful, racist, blasphemous, abusive, sexist, discriminatory commentary should in no circumstances be used as a reason to curb free speech. Nor should the attachment of words like “sacred” and “holy” to human activities provide justification for quashing free expression in those areas.

However, incitement to violence is a renunciation of free discourse so should be actionable under law.

Recent attacks on free speech include a clamour from Muslim leaders for a worldwide proscription against blasphemy, which has attracted sympathetic commentary from some Christian quarters, and calls among governments for new laws to curb the media.

 Now, as ever, the right of every person to express his or herself freely without fear of persecution or prosecution must be asserted vigorously.

Banning blasphemy closes the door to any serious discussion of religion. Sacred and blasphemy are words long used by Christian and Muslim clerics to insulate their religions from criticism and prevent followers from having their beliefs undermined. Early Christian punishment for blasphemy included piercing the offender’s tongue with a red-hot poker. Islamic penalties for apostasy are an additional deterrent to defection by Muslims.

Islamic leaders seeking to preserve their “God-given” power over their flocks and governments aiming to prolong their tenure by muzzling the media pose the most serious threat to free speech.

A senior Australian newspaper executive recently warned of “creeping media censorship”. He called on believers in the freedom of the press to say no when the words government control and media were uttered in the same sentence. He said they must say no even more vehemently to those wanting to impose harsh penalties for breaches of what they consider to be the bounds of journalistic propriety.

I firmly agree. Calls for so-called reform are disturbing enough but when I read of proposals for fining or jailing journalists, with little right of appeal, I feel as if I was back in Asia, where I worked as a foreign correspondent for 30 years. During that time I was arrested and interrogated by military police in Jakarta, threatened with prosecution for sedition in Kuala Lumpur and had a work permit abruptly revoked in Singapore. These are minor harassments compared with the controls imposed on local journalists in these countries or the repressive measures in China and Vietnam but they are symptomatic of governments determined to hold on to power.

In Malaysia and Singapore the same parties have been in office since or shortly after these former colonies gained independence and they have a strong distaste for “unbridled” democracy and a truly free press, which might end their rule. I see an alarming echo of this authoritarian mindset in the arguments of proponents of tight media controls in Australia and other countries with long democratic traditions.

Speak out. Defend free speech. It is your right.

EXPLORATIONS

What is is.

 Embrace the Universe.

You are the Universe. The particles that are the Universe flow through you. They are the same particles that you think of as you.

“Why” is not a word relevant to the Universe. There is no why. There are no questions. There are no answers.

What is is.

There is no “future”. There is only now. You can recall previous events in the now but you cannot “recall” the next event. Why? Because it has not happened. When you think about the “future”, that is all it is: a thought.

The scenarios about what might happen that appear in your mind are merely thoughts. Deriving look-forward-to pleasure from good thoughts just makes you give similar unreal substance to bad thoughts, engendering depression or fear.  So it is better to clear your mind of speculative thoughts about an imagined “future”

The next event in the now will occur when it occurs. Make plans and work hard to bring them to fruition but keep in mind that how they eventuate is not something you can know absolutely. Conjecture merely clogs the mind with more unuseful thoughts. Concentrate on what needs to be down in the now for your plans to succeed.

    HOW THE UNIVERSE BEGAN

    In the beginning there was nothing. Then there was the Universe.

    Stephen Hawking calls it “spontaneous creation”. Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, says the Universe plausibly arose out of nothing, making the concept of a creator “unnecessary”.

    Many people find this concept difficult to grasp. A reader to a Sydney newspaper asked how could the first particles of matter have “called themselves into being from an empty void” without the hand of God?

    It was just too hard for him to accept the idea of the Universe coming into existence from nothing. Anything as simple as that doesn’t satisfy the inquiring minds of homo sapiens.

    The human brain has developed in an extraordinary fashion to sustain the evolutionary progression that is aimed at preserving and strengthening the species.

    But its cognitive reach is limited by the practical nature – in evolutionary terms – of our faculties, which enable us to see, hear, feel, smell, and taste, and the confines of planet earth, our island in the vast sea of the universe.

    Dissatisfied with our inability to explain so much that we do not understand we are constantly seeking answers.

    In this search early humans came up with the concept of God to resolve the problem. But that only prompts more questions. One might well ask how did God call himself into being in the first place? And why?

    Others who cannot accept God seek alternative spiritual answers. The seeking becomes their life.

    But there is only the Universe. We are the Universe and the Universe is us.

    As Rumi says:

    “This that we are now created the body, cell by cell, like bees building a honeycomb.

    “The human body and the Universe grew from this, not this from the Universe and the human body.”


ON GROWING OLD

I am the old man I saw as a child
Who lived all alone and never smiled;

In a house big and empty except for himself
And his books and his photos on every shelf;

The pictures of her as a girl and a bride
And embracing their sons the year that she died.

How dreadful, I thought, it surely must be
To live without laughter or people to see,

With noone to talk to all day and all night
No loved one to kiss or share a delight.

It filled me with sadness to think of him there
Waiting for death in his red rocking chair.

All alone like him I never will be;
Then a flash of time and the old man is me.
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