The great irony of India’s free speech movement is that those who swear by liberalism have ensured a paradigm where only their right to dissent is preserved. Any speech or expression that runs contrary to their narrative is neatly labeled and put down as 'hate speech' or 'fascism'. We saw this intellectual racism play out in the immediate aftermath of the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
The prime minister was made accountable for the abuse peddled by some of the individuals that he follows on Twitter. It quickly became an example of his 'intolerance'. The act of following someone on Twitter was placed within the framework of morality, and a false agency was imposed on it. This logic is not very dissimilar to that which guided some viewers to place garlands on top of TV sets when Ramayana was being aired.
But the fallacy quickly became mainstream. Commentators who blamed the RSS-BJP for Gauri’s murder within hours of the incident, poured scorn over Prime Minister Modi for following trolls who “celebrated” the death of an avowed Left liberal.
Unsurprisingly, such alacrity was nowhere to be seen when one of their own was caught spewing hate on the prime minister and literally wishing him dead. Reference is to three tweets of Suprateek Chatterjee, a journalist and columnist with several publications. The first two on September 18, issued in the context of Prime Minister Modi's 67th birthday a day earlier and the third one from the archives of his timeline. Here's the first:
The second one, 15 minutes later on the same day, carried his contention further. If the first tweet left some space for ambiguity (that it was a lame joke, not a death wish) the second left no scope for connotative complexity about birthdays bringing every individual closer to death and other such universal truths.
In fact, these tweets are entirely commensurate with hate-mongering that he has indulged in, in the past. One particularly disturbing tweet (the third) blurs the line between free speech and hate speech where he is seen wishing luck to terrorists regarding assassination attempts on the prime minister.
If you expected these outrageous tweets to be met with the same kind of flak that the prime minister received for somebody else’s tweets, you do not know the rules of engagement with the Left. They did exactly the opposite. They pilloried The Quint, one of the publications where he has contributed in the past, for disassociating itself from Chatterjee and taking down all his posts. They questioned The Quint’s journalistic integrity and lambasted it for setting a 'bad precedent'. See how deftly they carried off their intellectual acrobatics:
— Supriya Nair (@supriyan) September 19, 2017
Even in the US, the bastion of free speech, there are some clear red lines that cannot be crossed. Journalists have lost their jobs for wishing death for US Presidents. The Los Angeles Times fired a reporter last year who wished Donald Trump dead.
— Nick Iannelli (@NickWTOP) November 3, 2016
In a statement to Washington Examiner, the LA Times said: "The Los Angeles Times is committed to fair, evenhanded coverage of the presidential campaign, and expects all journalists representing the paper, including non-staff contributors such as Mr Borowiec, to adhere to this standard in their articles and social media posts… We regard Mr. Borowiec's comment as inexcusable, and we have ended our relationship with him."
Comedian Kathy Griffin was sacked by CNN for posting a mock video on social media carrying a gruesome image of Trump that was deemed to be too inappropriate, according to The Washington Post.
The issue here is not abuse, per se, but the inconsistency around its interpretation. If all abuse is to be treated as kosher, then free speech campaigners should refrain from name-calling and blame-fixing when they see something that they don't like. If, however, we are to abide by strict rules on hate speech, then all hate speech should be condemned with equal gusto.
The lavish love showered on Chatterjee adequately proves the fundamental inconsistency in the liberal argument. It is hatred, illiberalism and fascism when done by the other side, and 'joke', 'rebuttal', 'irreverence', 'dissent' when done by their own, and any action is an 'over-reaction'. It also shows they have one inflexible and fundamental philosophy in life: For my friends, everything, for my enemies, nothing.
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Updated Date: Sep 22, 2017 12:59:40 IST