Wednesday, September 19, 2012


September 11th, 2012. Eleven years on, the world pauses to remember, ritualistically, a day that changed the world we know. The terrifying acts of a few changed the lives of all. Losses of lives stand as legacies of conscience, and conviction. Borders remain erased as it is clear that we are all united, regardless of passports and policies.

One day on, flags fly at half mast on US embassies and on the lawn of the White House as, once again, remembrance of loss dominates thought and ache of heart. The loss is not over a decade old, however. It is just hours old. It occurred not on US soil, but in a US-supported nation half way across the world. Libya, a nation recently liberated with the courage of its revolutionaries, has lost one of its greatest allies – the Ambassador of the USA to Libya. Though the rebel attacks that shook the US consulate and took the life of its highest diplomat, three other Americans and numerous Libyans, have ended, the ground is still shaking. The vibrations are felt in Afghanistan, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

To defuse the shaking and limit the spread of the flames, YouTube has begun to block access to a particular piece of content. The video? A low-budget, independent film produced in the US, carrying a distinctly anti-Islamic message, provoking anti-American sentiment.

As time passes and details emerge, the role of this poor quality, poor taste film is deemed not to the primary spark that has ignited flames of anti-American protests, and possibly even actual attacks. Still, the movie is out there. It was produced. And its fire is spreading, widely and wildly. From Tunisia to Yemen, American flags burn, alerts on foreign embassies continue, fear of further spread of the fire grows. Lives lost. Foreign relations inflamed.

And now, one week on, a week filled with widespread, often deadly protests regarding the anti-Islamic, indy film, a French magazine - Charlie Hebdo - has taken a decision to take a bold step in publishing cartoons depicting, in various provocative ways, the Prophet Mohammed. Its overtly stated desire in publishing the cartoons? To be outrageous.

The response of French officials? Condemning the publication, the French Foreign Ministry closing embassies and schools in as many as twenty nations countries this Friday, the main Muslim day of prayer, as a precautionary measure. The ground is starting to shake again…

Immediately, sharply, the thought emerges: why? Why provoke further fury? Why invite further spread of the flames?
The argument of both the filmmaker and the cartoonist: ‘free speech’. We live in democratic times – freedom of expression is a right.

Indeed. Freedom of expression is a part of our society. 

However, does freedom give people the right to consciously offend other people, cultures, communities, without consideration of impact, implications? 

Does freedom make recreational journalistic culture-mocking an acceptable course of action? Does freedom allow us to think only of our pleasure, regardless of another's pain?
What ever happened to the principle of "what good will come of this?"

What we must never, ever forget is that with freedom comes responsibility of freedom. Responsibility for actions. And, in cases such as these, reactions.

Being part of the global community brings with it remarkable strength, access and opportunity. The blessings are far too many to count.

In our uber-connected, fast moving, world - a world with ever increasing understanding of differences and yet inter-connectedness, global citizenry should,
one would hope, increase our sensitivity towards the wellbeing of others. We need to be able to count on one another.

Does “because I can” have the right to step on, and over, others?

There is so much more to be gained through stepping up, and reaching out.

Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2012

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