My thoughts on freedom of speech

For Al Jazeera, I examine recent controversies over freedom of speech:

The battle lines of free speech are often drawn over the banal. One strategy of those who seek to minimise the argument of the offended party is to scoff at what inspired it. Only a restaurant, only a movie, only a cartoon – why the outrage, they ask.

But such conflicts are rarely about the object in question. They are about the participants and their culture, their ideologies and their faith. They are about sanction and censure, about whose dignity can withstand whose degradation.

Freedom of speech is protected by law, but guided by emotion. We should not mistake legal sanction for personal approval, but we should also not mistake personal disapproval for a rejection of free speech. In free societies, people have the right to say hateful things. And those offended have the right to oppose and condemn them.

Read the full article here.

In other news, I will be presenting at the Registan conference in Arlington October 4-5. This is a fantastic conference with a great line-up of social scientists studying Central Asia as well as experts from the policy and human rights communities. Registration is still open and I encourage readers in the DC area to attend. I will be a panelist at a roundtable about human rights in Uzbekistan.

Then I’m off to New York October 11 to give a talk at Columbia University with my academic BFF Katy Pearce. Our talk is called “Not Talking about a Revolution: The Internet in Post-Soviet Authoritarian States”. Katy is going to give an overview of digital media trends in the region while I’m going to give case studies from Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It’s open to the public, so come and watch!

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