To what extent can freedom of speech be elastic?


By Lamino Lang Comma

Value systems are derived from what are regarded as moral principles or morality. Morality is often derived from traditions of a society that have been established and accepted over the years. Traditions have a cultural flavor that binds different societies together for their peaceful coexistence and survival.  Value systems are not universal since they are defined by different societies and even where, more often than not, they have a common denominator of some moral aspect, they may be given different priorities or ranking by different societies.

In a world that is getting smaller and more interrelated, if not integrated, a globalized world would require a higher level of cooperation, understanding and appreciation of other societies that are in existence in order to sustain the survival and peaceful coexistence of humankind.  Since value systems are hinged on to morality, they have an underlying meaning that encompasses the definition of what is acceptable or right and what is unacceptable or wrong for an individual, society or a nation.


Over the years, these value systems have then been extended into the realms of non-religious considerations with a secularized format.  Nonetheless, there is a common foundation of the underlying morality of these systems which are both religious and secular. However, the superstructure of such a foundation has developed into various shapes and shades of value systems depending on how far a society is willing to stretch the definitions and concepts.  Thus, value systems are not absolute because they can be so elastic that they can be stretched to encompass a way of life that is perceived as the best for the enhancement of life for society.

The religious society lives a life that correlates to their belief – normally called faith.  The secularist society excludes religion from the governing of society.  The former lives a life in accordance to the freedom granted through the Will of a Creator and the latter lives life as freedom defined by humankind. Here lies the thorny engagement and interpretation of the codes of how-to live-in society.

Value systems under the umbrella of Islam have found its interpretation being used by a small fraction of Muslim society as an ideological weapon, although this is not a peculiar feature to the religion of Islam.  Historically, all monotheistic religions have had their fair share of using interpretation as an ideological weapon as a means to an end by a small section of their communities.  There is a saying that the devil sometimes interprets the Bible.  The point is that, a small enclave of an aggressive few must not be seen as representing an entire faith that uses religion as an ideological weapon. Ideology has commonly been known to be used as a means to a political end.  However, faith is derived from morality and defines the values of a society of believers.  It is in this regard that there must always be a vehement condemnation of atrocities committed by such a few in the name of religion.

The events in France over the past years and currently should be of global concern with renewed perspectives from two points of view – the use of violence as an agenda and the use of freedom of speech with a limitless definition. The different points of view emerge as a result of the interpretation of the various concepts that embody the value system of a society.  The interpretation of religious edicts has given rise to ideological religious thinking whilst the interpretation of freedom of speech has become a defining polarization factor between the religious and the secular society.    The problem lies in the obstinate adherence to either standpoint in an ever-changing world and circumstances.

Islam needs a unified approach to resist the unjustifiable interpretation and misuse of its codes of morality.  This unity can be further strengthened with an enhanced level of understanding from a more globalized world and not through the stoking of stigmatization.  The very few aggressive groups are acting outside the norms of Islamic practices and beliefs.  Their actions have consistently been universally condemned as abhorrent and totally despicable by all standards from the point of view of both faith based and secular morality.

Nonetheless, respect and the recognition and protection of rights are of paramount importance in a globalized world.  Secularist thinking cannot banish religious thinking whilst expecting the full respect and regard for its secularist format of living.  That is contradictory and unsustainable.  There should be some amount of complementarity of respect accorded to both sides.  Both thoughts derive their strength of values from the foundation of morality which in itself is not absolute.  However, morality goes beyond the definition of a right or wrong behavior.  It extends into what is that we ought to do and defines the way we ought to live our lives in society in peaceful coexistence whether as individuals or as a group or as a nation.

The old fashion condescending attitude towards other value systems is repellant, unconscionable and unsanctionable.  Geopolitics has been changing over the years.  Economic and political powers have gradually outstretched into what were hitherto considered as states and empires of colonial estates.  These emerging states have their own value systems. It has become a question of what ought to be done as a global society to live a life of peaceful coexistence in a globalized world through mutual respect and understanding of each other’s value systems.

In other words, the other point of view lies in defining the elasticity of freedom of speech.  There is nothing like absolute freedom.  It must be, and is indeed, circumscribed, to some extent and under certain circumstances, by the prohibition of the burning of a national flag or the proscription of a denial of atrocious events in history and should indeed include the recognition of the respect accorded to the Prophet of Islam by a substantial and significant portion of the global population as a nation.  Religious thinking, in reality, can never be banished by secularist concepts of freedom rather it is the elasticity of freedom of speech that must not be overstretched. Just thinking aloud.