In solidarity with Hishammuddin Rais, in defence of free speech

I still think that even the people who say horrible things about me have a right to say whatever it is that they wish to say, because it is me who chose to say what I say in a public space.

Nehru Sathiamoorthy

Veteran newsman A Kadir Jasin has recently come out to express his solidarity for activist Hishamuddin Rais, who was recently investigated by the authorities over “offensive content” reposted on his blog, “TukarTiub”.

“I’ll join Hishamuddin and his band of brothers and sisters in pushing the boundaries of freedom and take the government and its control apparatus to task openly through my writing,” Kadir added.

“But the pen will never be mightier than the sword if journalists and writers allow themselves to be cowed by the politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen and their apparatchiks,” he added.

I am not sure whether I have reached that point where I can express solidarity with veterans like Kadir or Hishammuddin, but regardless, I am going to express my solidarity with them anyway.

I am going to express it, even if I am not really sure about what is that Hishammuddin wrote about Anwar that has gotten Anwar so riled up, although I have a theory of about what it is that Hishamuddin might have said to have riled up even the battle-hardened Anwar. If I am right, and Hishammuddin did say what it is that I think that he said, even if I disapprove of what Hishammuddin might have said about Anwar, like Voltaire said, I will still defend to the death his right to say it.

I am not saying this lightly either. You should see some of the things that people say about me in my writings. Words can hurt, and I have spent many a day feeling like I have been kicked in the stomach after reading some of the things that were said about me by the people who disapprove of what I wrote.

When what you say offends people, people don’t necessarily feel that they should just counter your points. Hell no. When people are offended by what you say, they will often just try to offend you back in any which way they can, to make you hurt as much as you have hurt them.

But saying that, I still think that even the people who say horrible things about me have a right to say whatever it is that they wish to say, because it is me who chose to say what I say in a public space.

If I can’t stand the heat, I should get out of the kitchen.

A cop who cannot abide aggressiveness or a fireman who is afraid of the heat, should quit their job.

The public space in the age of social media is a boxing ring. If you step into it, you must be prepared to get hurt.

I do to a large extent believe that a private person should have their privacy protected by the authorities, but I don’t think a public person or a person who steps into the public arena should be afforded the same protection.

If you are just minding your own business somewhere, and you have displayed no desire to make your presence felt in the public sphere, then yes, I think the authorities should step in if somebody is using social media to disturb your privacy without your consent.

But if you are a public figure who has put yourself out there on your own accord, then no, I am against the notion that any action should be taken against anybody who says anything about you, even if what they say is patently false, harsh or uncalled for.

You have a right to file a civil suit against anyone who offers you a grievance, but you can’t ask the authorities to take action against the people who you feel have offended you, when you yourself are the one who put yourself out there in the first place.

If you have used the public space to showcase yourself to the public, then you must accept that the people who you have showcased yourself to have the right to say whatever it is that they want to say about you.

If only you get to say things about yourself to the public, and other people can only say things about yourself that you approve of, less they get into trouble with the authorities, then we are no longer living in a democracy, where the government is made up “of the people, by the people and for the people.” A government that is made up “of the people, by the people and for the people” will not uphold the rights of anyone above the rights of anyone else. It is only in a tyranny, where some people are considered to be “superior” to others, that the authorities will uphold the rights of these “gods on earth” above the rights of everyone else.

A public figure in the age of social media, must possess the attitude of a fighter in the ring. When you step into a public space for whatever reason, you will just have to accept that you might have to bleed before you get what you want.

You will have to accept it, because the alternative, which is to shut down or limit free speech, will be the death of democracy.

A democracy cannot survive if we cannot put our trust in the wisdom of the people.

At its very core, democracy is a theory that wisdom in the nation lies most prominently in the hands of the people. That is why in a democracy, it is the people that are given the right to choose those who govern the nation.

If you believe that people, as a collective, are wise, then you must believe that they are capable of seeing through what is right or wrong, true or false, fair and foul, as long as they have access to an unrestricted flow of information.

Even if a few individuals were to say some slanderous, untrue or uncalled for things against you, as a public figure, you must allow it, with the conviction that when the dust settles, your reputation will come out unscathed, while the reputation of your accuser will be the one that will lose its value.

If you can’t believe that, you shouldn’t be a public figure, for what kind of public figure will you be, when you have so little faith in the public?