So…Encourage Violence and Ban Free Speech?

Amina Wadud – No Protection from the Police

When someone promises to beat you up if you don’t give them what they want, we call it a threat. Any police officer will know that it’s illegal. If you file a complaint and the policeman says “Just do what they want and you won’t get thrashed!”, you know that the police has forgotten its duty. No sane person in a civilized society will side with that policeman or the thugs doing the threatening. But apparently in India we have neither sane people, nor do we live in a civilized society.

To put it more accurately, neither the police nor the politicians realize that India is a free country. Or perhaps they have a more pervasive understanding of “freedom” than I do. In their eyes, it’s not freedom to live your life as you want, but the freedom to bully and intimidate. Amina Wadud is a well known Islamic scholar who was scheduled to give a talk on women’s issues in Islam. Predictably, some fringe groups threatened to agitate. The police instead of reassuring Madras University by promising to arrest anyone who broke the law, “warned” them that things could get ugly. As a result, the talk was cancelled and Amina Wadud was informed that she was no longer welcome to make a public address at that venue.

This is called the Heckler’s Veto

It’s nothing new. Civilized countries all across the world have formulated ways to deal with what is known as the ‘Hecker’s Veto”. Essentially it means that the government refuses to allow freedom of expression out of fear of someone else’s reaction. In essence giving in to blackmail by any thug who claims to be “offended” or whose “sentiments are hurt”. Instead of providing protection to people exercising their free speech rights, the government takes the lazy way out by banning it, in the process trampling all over the Constitution and its responsibility to the people.

But it’s so pervasive that we rarely even stop to think about it. Most of the time in India people side with the “offended ones”. On Internet forums all over the web you keep hearing “You don’t have the right to hurt someone’s sentiments!”. But “sentiment” is so poorly defined that anyone can literally take offence at anything. Whether it’s Sena thugs taking “offence” at girls posting on Facebook, or atheists being taken to court merely for expressing their view that god doesn’t exist.

You almost never hear them tell the hecklers “Look, you have the right to protest. You have the right to feel offended. You have the right to use your own Freedom of Expression to combat what you don’t like. Write books, draw comics, make speeches, sing songs, or create displays etc. But you have no right to stop others from speaking using threats of violence”. Why is this such a hard concept to understand? The solution to freedom of speech being “abused” is more freedom of speech.

In any case, the government needs to possess a monopoly on violence in strict accordance with the law. I don’t care what your provocation is, if you raise a hand against someone who hasn’t raised a hand against you, you should be thrown in jail – your sentiments and feelings be damned. No one cares about your feelings the moment you destroy property, or threaten someone. It’s as simple as that.

I won’t beat a dead horse by explaining how the 66A IT amendments are unconstitutional and wide open to abuse. I want some political party to stand up and publicly promise to repeal it. I’ve been skeptical about the BJP for the longest time, but let them promise this one thing and I’ll throw my support behind them. Or the UPA for that matter. Let them guarantee an India where the government promises to obey the law and follow the Constitution.

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13 thoughts on “So…Encourage Violence and Ban Free Speech?”

  1. but to counter your argument, the UNIVERSITY was the one that cancelled the event, not public officials. The public officials just warned that things would get ugly and as a result, the University just cancelled the talk.

    I may be getting that wrong, however.


    • In reply to Western Point of View

      I’m fairly sure that if the university had confidence that the police would immediately arrest anyone who engaged in violence they would have allowed it to go through.

      But when the law and order mechanism is willfully blind that is by itself the root cause of the problem.


      • In reply to bhagwad

        What if the university simply didn’t want to deal with all of those angry people and police out front. An entire police force sometimes can’t quell a large rabble. Just look at what happened in LA in 1992.

        A lot of times a controversial speaker in the states is meant to speak at a university, then word of a protest comes, so the university ALONE decides to cancel the speech. Why not? Its THEIR university, right? Don’t they have the right to cancel whatever talks they want?

        It is also a PR nightmare for ANY organization to have a rabble like that. I mean if the university was linked to this protest, on the business end of things, it probably wouldn’t look to good, so they decided to cancel. Again, nobody was forcing them to cancel. It was all on the university.


      • In reply to Western Point of View

        Because I know what it’s like in India. The university would have cancelled it out of fear of violence. And there would have been violence and the police would not have punished anyone. That’s how things work here.

        This is an academic institution. They should welcome controversy. All academic institutions should welcome it. But they don’t welcome violence.

        In fact, the very fact that the police even told the university that there would be violence was a way of telling them to cancel it.


      • In reply to Western Point of View

        Sure they cancelled it out of fear of violence. Again, it is under their discretion to do so and why not? Academic institutions have the rigth to do whatever they want, whether controversial or not. It isn’t up to US what an academic institution should do.

        Police tell people ALL THE TIME if a certain event might spark violence and what not. Whenever leaders from South Africa came in the 90s in the US, the cops would warn such institutions that you might see violence. What would happen eventually, combined with the US not appreciating apartheid, was after such warnings, these visits would be cancelled.

        Its up to the institution. They can do whatever they want. They got a warning, and as far as the records are concerned, the university decided to cancel. They are their own institution and, therefore, have EVERY right to do so no matter how bad (or in my case, how great with this particular situation) it may be.


  2. I think this silly focus on whether or not the university can do what they want is taking the focus away from the point at issue here. Why are people who threaten violence never punished? This isn’t true just for India. I was reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book ‘Infidel’ and when SHE wanted to speak about Muslim women’s rights in Holland, the same thing happened. They wanted her to shut up so crazy fundamentalists wouldn’t commit violence. How about punishing the people who do wrong, not the people who are merely talking about stuff?


      • In reply to bhagwad

        “no one should be afraid of physical violence.” Unfortuantely, that is easier said than done. Although the University appreciates this crazy woman speaking on campus, the university also has to ensure the safety of its students. If the safety of the students is compromised, that means they have to do whatever it takes to return normalcy back to the campus, even if that means cancelling talks and what not. I’m sure there are plenty of parents telling the university “hey this woman might stir up something. I don’t appreciate my child going to school on a safe campus. You guys better do something or I’ll remove my kid from your university.”

        YOu can punish people all you want, but at the same time, once someone is dead, even by accident, they are dead.

        Besides, if you simply here the “rumblings” or “rumors” of violence, who would you lock away and punish in the first place?


      • In reply to Wesern Point of View

        It’s the police who should ensure the safety of the students. Not the university. No one should be afraid of violence because if the police did their job properly, they wouldn’t have to face violence.

        If the protesters/rioters knew the police would arrest them, they would never indulge in violence in the first place.

        And there’s nothing in the article or my post to suggest that this woman is “crazy”. So I don’t know where that illogical argument is coming from.


      • In reply to Wesern Point of View

        No, those are my words, not yours regarding her being crazy, lol, so I will leave that out.

        As far as ANY institution goes, for example a work place, the employer is responsible for the safety of the employee. Same goes for the schools. There are entire security officers privately hired by a university or a PRIVATE institution to enforce this. Therefore, it IS the university/institutions responsibility to ensure an overall safety on THEIR campus/grounds since it is privately owned. Even if somebody falls and trips on a university (at least here in the states), the university must take liability (i know, silly right)?

        Also, policemen cannot go onto private property without either the consent of the owner of the private property (ie the school) OR with a warrant, rigth? So how can cops go onto private property and ensure safety if they cannot enter it in the first place?

        People are afraid of violence regardless of the police doing their job or not. A 100,000 people rabble cannot simply be quelled by a particular police precinct for example.


      • In reply to Wesern Point of View

        I’m not interested in prevention. Only punishment.

        You’re not understanding what I’m saying. I’m saying that if the police did their jobs and punished (not prevented) those who indulge in violence, the rabble will never form the next time.

        That’s because people who form rabbles are cowards. If they knew they will be arrested for breaking stuff or hurting people, they will quietly stay at home.

        And if a private institution has to work extra hard to protect its students from crime (not falling down the stairs), that indicates a breakdown of law and order. Which is exactly what this is.

        I’m not sure what you’re arguing about.


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