Kenan Malik in Padaemonium:
I took part on Friday in a debate on ‘The state of free expression after Charlie Hebdo‘ at the Wilderness Festival, with Anshuman Mondal and Tahmima Anam. It was a good debate, but frustratingly short. I agreed with virtually all the issues raised by Tahmima Anam (her main argument, from the perspective of a Bangladeshi-born writer, was that the state is amore dangerous threat to free speech than extremist groups.) But Anshuman Mondal (‘There is almost nothing that Kenan and I agree on’, as he himself put it in the debate’) raised many points to which I would have liked to respond, but had not the time. So, let me pick up here two of the issues he raised.
The problem with the free speech debate, Mondal suggested, is that it has become polarized between those who are for and against free speech when in fact the debate about freedom is much more difficult. Freedom, he suggested, is ‘not a straightforward issue’; One cannot simply be ‘for or against freedom’. Nor can one see freedom merely as an ‘absence of restrictions’. It is also about the ‘assumption of responsibilities’.
I wonder if Mondal would have made the same argument 200 years ago during the debate about the abolition of slavery? ‘Freedom is not a straightforward issue. One cannot simply be for or against the abolition of slavery. We have to be more nuanced in the way we look upon the issue. We cannot simply see it as a matter of an absence of restrictions. Those being offered freedom have to accept their responsibilities too.’