Yelling “FIRE”

Credit: AP / SANA

Our ability to voice our opinions, to say and express what we think, is one of our most cherished freedoms.  In fact, the most basic rights in a free and open society are Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.  These rights are a prerequisite for Democracy. It is worth noting that Democracy will fail in any country or society where these rights either don’t exist in the first place or if they are taken away.

Everyone has to be able to say what they think in order for there to be honest and open debate.  Such debate allows people to form their own opinions and make their own choices once they are well informed by a broad variety of voices and arguments.  Any restriction on the presentation of the arguments and evidence of different points of view reduces our ability to arrive at informed opinions and positions.

We can all readily acknowledge the increasing lack of civility and politeness in political discourse.  The unwillingness to listen to the arguments of the other side.  The chanting and other attempts to drone out what one side doesn’t want to hear from the other.  All of these are bad enough, and are attempts to limit freedom by limiting debate.

But there is an attack on our freedoms from a different direction.  What I mean here is the abuse of the freedoms in order to eliminate them.  Freedom of Speech is meant to enable debate.  It is NOT meant to enable violence.  It was recognized long ago that while you may have the freedom to say whatever you want, this right ended when you did something like yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.  Any rational person recognized this as a necessary limitation on free speech, as it could lead to a stampede and the actual injury and death of others.

Freedom of Speech was meant to enable debate and allow for differences in opinion.  It was never meant to allow the speaker to create danger, incite violence or advocate murder.  It is one thing to say “I don’t agree with how those who don’t share my religious beliefs live their lives”.  It is a very different thing to say “I think we should kill all the infidels”.  The later is not part of any debate.

Speakers and writers cross the line when the call for brutality or force.  Advocating violence is evil and wrong.  To be more specific, saying or writing that those with different opinions or objectives should be hurt or killed is both evil and wrong.

Over the past couple of decades, countries that enjoy freedom of speech have welcomed millions of immigrants from areas devoid of such rights.  Some of them, unfortunately, abuse their newly acquired rights.  They preach harm and death to the very people that have welcomed them, and in large measure materially support them.  They are doing more than abusing their welcome.  They are actively recruiting and inciting others to violence.  This is not the exercise of a basic right.  This is not very different from crying “Fire” with the intent of harming others.  It is much, much worse.

What To Do

First of all, recognize that free speech does not include the right to tell people to hurt or kill others.  It does not give people the right to say that others should be dead.  Incitement to violence is in fact a crime.  It should be treated as such.  We need to demand that such crimes be prosecuted.

If someone committing this crime is a citizen of another country, they should not be welcome.  There is no law or fundamental right compelling us to import those who seek our destruction.  We need not admit the foxes into the hen house.

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