By The Post
Fri 12 Nov. 2010, 04:00 CAT [1563 Reads, 0 Comment(s)]
Intolerance seriously undermines our people’s right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression forms the backbone of democracy.
Democracy will only become a reality when there is a freedom of speech, including the freedom on the part of each individual to criticise the government and political parties; the freedom of each individual to hold a political opinion that is different from that of the ruling party or the opposition; the freedom of each individual to express a political opinion that is different from that of the ruling party or opposition; that is: the freedom to have a different line of political thinking and expression.
And as Fr Mambwe Mpasa has observed, “intimidation and threats against those with divergent views will not help. Freedom is about letting people speak freely. To use threats to try and stop divergent views is not healthy and is not even good to those who are trying to do that”.
Clearly, the enjoyment of freedom of expression would require an acknowledgement of every human being’s desire to be heard and listened to, to take part in the discussions of the issues that affect one’s life, to provide an input to decisions that affect one’s life and to search and find the truth.
When in a family, the father decides, commands and eventually punishes, without listening to the opinions of others, it is a foregone conclusion that the peace of that home will last only as long as fear and infancy lasts. The day will come when the children will reject such parental authority and will rebel or leave the home. Or they will go out into life diminished.
True love for one’s country is, as it were, an extension of love for one’s family; it is a love given to a wider family. And that which holds within the narrow circle of the home also holds in the wider community, which is the nation. Adult people wish to be heard, to take part in discussion and in the decisions which affect their own lives within the national community. People desire to take part. A country is firm and united insofar as its citizens feel that they have a voice in its affairs. This requires that each citizen be allowed one’s own opinion and the right to act with full responsibility and without fear in matters that affect him intimately.
This reminds us of Pope Pius XII’s Christmas message of 1944: “It is among the rights of citizens which found their expression in a democracy to express their points of view concerning the duties and sacrifices which are imposed on them, not to be forced to obey without being heard.”
Let us work to become a single people. We should not follow leaders blindly; we should critically examine their true intentions, and the direction in which they are leading us. Is it to a richer, more satisfying life? Is it to a life in which we are the masters of our own destiny? Or, is it to new forms of oppression, slavery and unfulfilled promises?
We human beings have an inner propensity to search for the truth and to voice out that truth. This is enhanced within a climate of freedom of thought and expression. Moreover, we human beings are honoured – and this honour is due to us – whenever we are allowed to search freely for the truth, to voice our opinions and be heard, to engage in creative service of the community in all liberty within the associations of our own choice. Nobody should ever have to suffer reprisals for honestly expressing and living up to their convictions – intellectual, religious or political. We can only regret, as Fr Mpasa has pointed out, that this is not always the case in our country.
We can be grateful that freedom of worship is respected. The same freedom does not exist when it comes to translating faith into daily life. Freedom to think freely is seriously restricted in all sorts of ways; exposing injustices can be considered as a betrayal; revealing some evils of the society is seen as slandering the country.
The respect of the freedom of opinion and expression requires an acknowledgement by each politician and each political party, as well as each individual and each group in the country, of the fact that no person and no group can hold a monopoly of truth and wisdom. As such, room should be left for an alternative line of political thinking that is wiser and richer than one’s own. It also requires the acknowledgement and respect of each person as an intelligent being, capable of independent thinking and independent opinion. No one person can claim to have a monopoly of truth and wisdom. No individual – or group of individuals – can pretend to have all the resources needed to guarantee the progress of the nation. The contribution of the most humble members is often necessary for the good running of a group.
The people must never be reduced to a mass of subjugated beings vis-à-vis their rulers, but rather be treated as conscious, intelligent and responsible citizens, while those in authority for their part play their role as servants of the people.
The realisation of the respect for the freedom of thought and expression by the government requires that government be open to criticism and be ready to acknowledge and admit its weaknesses and failures.
A first step in the restoration of the climate of confidence may be taken by recognising the true state of the nation. “The truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). These words of Christ do not have an exclusively religious meaning. They also express a deep human reality. For too long, we have refused to see that despite singing praises of development, our country still suffers from many ills – economic and social progress does not trickle down to the masses of our people; much still needs to be achieved to make adequate education and health services available to all; the HIV/AIDS problem presents an incredible challenge. People will not be scandalised to hear these things: they know them.
They will only be grateful that their true needs are recognised and that efforts are made to answer them. Feeding them with slogans and half-truths or untruths only increases their cynicism and their mistrust of government representatives. Real progress can only be attained when the true problems and the real needs are identified and all resources are channelled towards solving them. Let us add here that people in positions of responsibility have an obligation to know the actual conditions in which their people live and to work tirelessly for their betterment. They should be willing to allow their performance to be judged by the people they serve. Accountability is a quality of any good government. People are entitled to know how their representatives fulfil their duties. No disrespect is shown when citizens ask questions in matters that concern them.
The enjoyment of the freedom of speech would require that the government allows the people who hold a different line of political thinking an open forum to express their views without government interference. We all know that freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every human being. This right is also enshrined in our Constitution. And it is a matter of justice that this right is given to all without discrimination and irrespective of the issues involved.
It would be disastrous if freedom of expression were not the same for all but dependent on the person who is speaking. Participation in the life of one’s country is not only a right; it is also a duty that each citizen should be proud to assume and exercise responsibly.
Clearly, intimidation and threats against those with divergent views must surely rank as one of the worst forms of immorality in human affairs. What is distinctly lacking among our politicians is a culture of tolerance and humility which places the humanity of others before self and accepts that all citizens have a right to participate in the shaping of their destiny directly without fear of reprisal. Things must change if we have to see a reversal of fortunes. Threats and intimidation work against progress.