Free Speech and Hate Speech
by Shahinur Islam
What we call “Free Speech” is not free at all. It does not indicate absolute freedom. Even if someone is thought to be free in some case, he or she has always some restrictions and limitations as he or she has to live in a community, a society, a country, or even in a world where other people of either the same culture or race, or language live. It applies not only to a person but also to a race, nation or country.
What is free in an absolute sense, may cause harm to others. This way, no person can enjoy absolute freedom in his or her speech. He or she must draw a line lest it should lead to a hate speech. Now the question arises where to draw the line? The answer obviously depends on the situation a person gets into. No law or rule can define, limit or restrict it narrowly. But it can be defined in a broader way as we see in the constitutional laws of a country. Therefore, Free Speech is Hate Speech when it harms to or provokes the people, the community, the race, etc. Here it goes with the moral theory of “Cultural Relativism”, which “holds that no valid rational criterion for determining the right thing to do exists.” And actions are judged on the accepted values or criteria of a society or culture.
As we have to live in a community, a society, a country, or even in a multicultural world, we do not have any right to unleash terror or trigger clashes between the two peoples, two countries or two religions, and disturb the peace and harmony prevailing for ages with themselves. Most of the people of the world are peace-loving, so they should not be infuriated by one’s unbridled free speech, even if they live with some superstitions.
But if you wish to break their superstitions, and bring out the truth before them, you should do it in diplomatic or strategic language, not in the free speech. Hence, Free Speech must be bridled on the context of the situation arising in some cases. Here we can bear in mind the theory of “Act Utilitiarinism”, which views that “Each act is to be evaluated morally according to the degree to which it increases or decreases overall human happiness.”
Or else, Free Speech may lead to some fatal consequences. For example, it may disturb peace and harmony in a community as mentioned earlier; it may also cause conflicts and war even; last but not the least, it may result in sufferings of some people, or even killings of some valuable lives.
However, freedom of expression can, in no way, be suppressed in the name of banning Hate Speech. If so, we cannot say what we feel about our life, governance; our ruler or boss will be more autocratic; and one day we will lose our democracy, and return to the medieval period when common people had no right to say anything against the ruler or the monarch. We will again be enslaved in our thoughts and expressions. That will be a great loss to us.