blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By: Tamuz Avivi
Sticks and stones may break my bones, and words can hurt too.
Freedom of speech can be very easily used as a weapon: When he was elected in 1992, many Israeli politicians lashed out against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who along with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords, which set the framework for the Palestinian National Authority. On November 4th 1995, Rabin was murdered by a young student, who had been, arguably, influenced by the violent propaganda aimed against the Prime Minister.
There are times when freedom can also contribute to a full-scale genocide: Prior to, and during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the media was a significant instigator of ethnic hatred. Newspapers, radio stations and even hand delivered fliers all vilified Rwandan citizens of Tutsi origin and encouraged violence against them. In one instance, two years before the genocide, Radio Milles Collines, a government-supported radio station, directly called for the slaughter of the Tutsis. The dangerous hostility between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups germinated due to freedom of speech.
Speech has great influence over us; it shapes our thoughts, opinions and actions; when used against certain groups or individuals, it may cause violence.
The importance of freedom of speech, however, lies in the fact that it is also a means of protection. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (with which I had a chance to meet recently during the GYC in NYC program) use their freedom of speech to disseminate information and criticize political policies in order to fight violations of human rights.
Freedom of speech is essential to ensure the candidacy and transparency of regimes. During the Watergate Scandal which took place in the first half of the 1970s, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used their freedom of speech to expose crimes ordered by the Oval Office – allowing the public to keep a closer look upon its representatives and protect its democracy.
Freedom of speech should not be renounced because it may lead to violence. Should we stop eating because we may become obese or forfeit driving because we might find ourselves in an accident?
We should always be cautious, and try to be respectful while stating our opinions. Freedom of speech should never be exercised to violate the human rights of others. Most importantly, we should always bear in mind, that when handled with care, freedom of speech may save many lives. It is our duty to protect human rights; sometimes this duty compels us to remain silent, while at other instances, it forces us to scream at the top of our lungs.