Posts tagged Mubarek
Free Speech is a Basic Human Right
Tibor R. Machan
The New York Times reported recently that “John Galliano, the talented and troubled designer who was fired by the fashion house Christian Dior for making anti-Semitic remarks in a drunken rant at a bar, will be put on trial for the offenses, the Paris prosecutors office said Wednesday.” This is of interest to all those who realize that the right to freedom of speech isn’t merely some odd American idea, as some multiculturalists might maintain, but a basic individual human right. It is a basic right that is always under assault from dictators and also, sadly, from earnest but misguided champions of various causes.
For example, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said a while back, in a meeting with intellectuals and writers at [a] book fair’s opening: “There are freedoms, but they can’t contradict our traditions … We must guarantee that freedom of expression agrees with our values.” [From the Christian Science Monitor] Unfortunately such sentiments aren’t confined to dictators but are embraced by many who feel strongly about their values in a country, such as the United States of America, that provides the right to freedom of speech with strong legal protection.
Those who believe that American soldiers who fell in wars fighting for the country’s various objectives need to be honored have found the recent ruling of the U. S. Supreme Court upholding the rights of protesters near the funerals of such soldiers quite outrageous. But instead of directing their outrage at the perverse views of the protesters, they have targeted the Supreme Court for its correct interpretation of the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution (which aims to secure everyone’s right to freedom of speech).
It is in fact baffling that the the champions of the fallen soldiers would be so upset about the ruling protecting freedom of speech when what the soldiers supposedly fought and died for is the political system that includes as one of its central ideas that everyone has that right and may exercise it even if such exercise displeases or offends many people. The complaint with the ruling betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of the American system as laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.
Having the right to speak freely has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of what is being said. Indeed, if speech has obvious merits, it hardly needs protection. Only when it prompts some people–who fail to grasp what it is to have such a right–to move to legally silence those whose views they find objectionable does the protection of the right achieve its central objective.
It is interesting to compare how American constitutional law deals with seriously objectionable speech and demonstration with how French law does. It seems that Mr. Galliano’s human right to hold whatever despicable views he choose to hold, just like the views of those protesters who agitate at funerals of American soldiers–making the ridiculous claim that the deaths are God’s punishment for the support American law gives to gays–are going to be ignored by French prosecutors. Surely if the maniacs here in America have rights–and I do believe they do (while I hold my nose)–so does Mr. Galliano.
Furthermore, if the French government doesn’t recognize Mr. Galliano’s right to hold his opinions and express them, it may be time for The New York Times itself to criticize France’s legal system, as it often criticizes the legal systems and practices of other countries–e.g., the former South Africa, Chile when it was ruled by General Pinochet, and others. It shows a lack of integrity when editorial writers at The Times stand up only for some people’s basic rights instead of for everyone’s.
But then, of course, The Times and others who share its political philosophy have been doing this for ages: loudly protesting rights violations of some citizens and ignoring such violations when others are the targets (such as those citizens whom the Obama Administration is attempting to compel to purchase health insurance and thus whose right to liberty is being attacked).
Democracy Wont Help Egypt
Tibor R. Machan
Even without being a Egyptologist I can say with reasonable certainty that it will not help to solve Egypt’s problems to make it into an unlimited democracy. What we are likely to get is Lebanon with the heavy hand of Hamas in charge there. In Egypt it looks like the Brotherhood is ready to jump into the position Hamas occupies in Lebanon.
In any case, in none of the discussions about what lies ahead for Egypt is there ever any mention of ushering in a limited–or bona fide liberal–democracy, with a constitution that would restrain all sides and leave the citizenry in peace to attend to its own affairs. Such pluralism isn’t very likely to take center stage in that country.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became a virtual dictator after the assassination of the previous president Anwar Sadat, with hardly any credible and sensible resistance from the population and it’s only now, that a bunch of young people appear to be upset enough with the culture he has been heading up, that his his rule is seriously questioned. Nothing much that’s rational is evident in the current developments apart from the simple insistence on the part of a great many Egyptians that they’ve had it up to here with being ruled by Mubarek team.
Now this is not so surprising when one realizes that none of the leaders around the globe, including American presidents, nor indeed many intellectuals in Egypt itself, have made a serious pitch for Egypt adopting constitutional reforms that respect individual rights. That’s not the same thing as promoting the vague idea of democracy, which as history shows, has not managed to be a bulwark against tyranny, not in Western or Eastern Europe, not in Latin America, not even in the United States of America where nearly all the good ideas failed to get democratic support or bad ones got swept aside democratically. The American civil war was no triumph of democracy, nor the New Deal, nor again all the oppressive federal measures that are burdening the country, keeping its economy hostage to populist and egalitarian notions.
Very probably the reason the U.S.A. hasn’t gone under yet is that some of its better features gained solid momentum and despite the absence of sustained political and judicial support for them these are continuing to be fairly dominant–relatively free and competitive markets, civil liberties, private property rights, freedom of religion and speech, due process, etc. But they are all gradually being replaced with the widely championed ideology of activist citizens in higher education and media, people working in the most prestigious and invincible institutions in society, who not very surprisingly want to regiment us all into compliance with a vision of full equality. (The cautionary tale about this was written by George Orwell, in his brilliant fable, Animal Farm, who was anything but a Tea Party type but, rather, a rare sensible Leftist!)
When the mobs in Egypt, who have been treated as a bunch of unruly children by Mubarek’s regime, finally couldn’t take it any more and stood up to the dictator, there is little reason to think they would become a civilized citizenry that renounces the temptation to rule others once they gain power. Their call for democracy appears to have little to do with the kind of constitutional system that America’s founders favored. Even their call for freedom seems mostly to be about being free to rule instead of being ruled.
At the personal level my fear is that those expatriates from Egypt who in the last few years decided to return in the hopes that their country would move closer to a liberal democratic model are now packing their bags again, headed back to some more stable region of the globe so as to save their necks from chaos. I know a few such people and can only empathize with their disappointment.
True self-government isn’t the sort of democracy we have seen in the Weimar Republic, in Lebanon, in Venezuela, and being widely demanded now in Egypt. It is, instead, a polity that upholds the rights of individuals not simply to take part in the vote but to live as they choose in peace with their fellows.