Friday, March 27, 2009

Free Speech?

Well, it had to happen. Being busier than promised this week I've been a bit of an absentee landlord here at Muscat Confidential, and meanwhile the comments section on the previous post wandered tangentially into some pretty pathetic name calling idiocy. Further than usual.

The sort of intellectual debate seen most often in schools for small children.

The question is: Given I am a strong supporter - within the law - of free speech, but at the same time can't stand listening to/reading such patently stupid crap, should I allow such behaviour on what is, after all, my blog?

Yes and no. So:
- I've turned off 'lazy' anonymous commenting,
- I continue to reserve the right to delete comments I think are against the law (see Muscati's recent blog)

Readers should try to think a bit before posting. The children should stop turning almost every issue into some mindless, boring 'expat vs Omani' argument centered on insults, stereotypes, non sequiturs, purposely offensive statements that don't relate to the argument at hand, and downright incorrect horseshit.

Some of the commentators seem to think Oman would be better served if the only expats here were totally obsequious, and that the so-called Omani culture (as defined by them by inference ad hoc ) is 'by definition' correct.

Economic and cultural luddites. Such xenophobic nationalistic nonsense would turn Oman rapidly into a cultural and economic North Korea of the middle east, IMHO. Oman would be wholly dependent on limited oil and gas, and obeying more powerful neighboring states. While it's state of education and business would wither, replaced by imported cheap managers from the subcontinent.

And the rest of you could try to resist baiting them.

The argument is seldom some black and white cartoon version of Expat vs Omani. It is customers and suppliers, Government and residents, business and stakeholders. Comparing the actions and achievements of the powerful against their stated objectives (or even just vs common sense).

As for free speech, I'm a big fan of the US on this one. The benefit of the doubt must always go to free speech and the right to express ideas. (Plus see earlier posts.)

I think the 'West' has got it a bit wrong in their attempts to promulgate democracy. The idea of democracy seems to have been dumbed down to the simple idea that it involves a vote and the 'winners'(by simple majority) get to do what they want.

Er, no.

To me, democracy rests not on the concept of a majority, but on how it defends the intrinsic rights of the minority, the opposition. The majority operates in a straight jacket in the Western Democracies - sewn from the constitution and the rule of law.

A free press and a right to voice and debate ideas in a public forum enables the common man or woman to influence things. A vote without information is useless. I highly recommend wiki for those who want to learn about free speech from a whole load of really smart people who have thought about it and debated it for centuries.

Freedom of speech and truth
First page of the 1644 edition of Areopagitica

One of the earliest Western defences of freedom of expression is Areopagitica (1644) by the English poet and political writer John Milton. Milton wrote in reaction to an attempt by the English republican parliament to prevent "seditious, unreliable, unreasonable and unlicensed pamphlets". Milton advanced a number of arguments in defence of freedom of speech: a nation's unity is created through blending individual differences rather than imposing homogeneity from above; that the ability to explore the fullest range of ideas on a given issue was essential to any learning process and truth cannot be arrived upon unless all points of view are first considered; and that by considering free thought, censorship acts to the detriment of material progress.

Milton also argued that if the facts are laid bare, truth will defeat falsehood in open competition, but this cannot be left for a single individual to determine. According to Milton, it is up to each individual to uncover their own truth; no one is wise enough to act as a censor for all individuals.[8]

Noam Chomsky states that: "If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise."[9] An often cited quote that describes the principle of freedom of speech comes from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (often mis-attributed to Voltaire) "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," as an illustration of Voltaire's beliefs.[10] Professor Lee Bollinger argues that "the free speech principle involves a special act of carving out one area of social interaction for extraordinary self-restraint, the purpose of which is to develop and demonstrate a social capacity to control feelings evoked by a host of social encounters." The free speech principle is left with the concern of nothing less than helping to shape "the intellectual character of the society". According to Bollinger tolerance is a desirable, if not essential, value and protecting unpopular speech is itself an act of tolerance. Such tolerance serves as a model that encourages more tolerance throughout society. However, critics argue that society need not be tolerant of the intolerance of others, such as those who advocate great harm, such as genocide. Preventing such harms is claimed to be much more important than being tolerant of those who argue for them.[11]

There are other important rights too. A judiciary as independent as possible from the short-term influence of the Politicians, for example.

Free speech is a precious thing. But by it's nature this means a lot of bad ideas get voiced. Incorrect ideas. They must be found out and dragged into the daylight of reason and dealt with. Sometimes someone finds an idea offensive. I say tough luck, because otherwise no-one can say anything, as there will always be someone offended by anything. Hell, 46% of voting Americans still voted for Sarah Palin. And in some countries you have to be careful what you name stuffed toys.

To those who criticise the West, and especially the US, because of its foreign policy, or for melting down the whole global economy, or a multitude of other fucks ups (especially in the last 8 years), I say this: when I want to read and hear a critical intellectual analysis of what the US is doing wrong, I can usually get a damn good analysis from ... an American, via the free global media system they created.

When your country allows leaders, comedians and the media to freely criticise your Government like the West do theirs, you can start bitching. Yes, criticise the Americans, or anyone else, but treasure having the power and freedom to do so, and do stop whining. And start addressing and fixing your own problems like grown-ups perhaps.

Think too about what the world would be like if American was run by someone like Kim Il Yung, Ahmadinejad, Chavez, or Mugabe.

I do find a lot of ungrateful selfish ignorant whining offensive. But if some idiot wants to speak out and thereby demonstrate his or her idiocy, its dangerous to stop it. I'd rather we know such people and ideas are out there and perhaps we can better address them.

Free speech also makes for much better comedy.


  1. A good and rather long one on freedom of speech and democracy. UD please tell us will Oman go like UAE "tits-up". Free magazine "Hai" from Times of Oman predicts a big crash in rentals. Is there a big exodus from Oman like UAE?

    Regarding childish fighting, I believe things have become vicious after our friend MR.T has entered the scene. He need to tone down his vitriolic a bit. Hope he will not become angry with me after reading this.

  2. Well done Dragon. It was becoming a bit tedious.

    It is however because of the secrecy, lack of free press and denial that we have such blogs!

  3. here's a nice tale of free speech a little closer to home:

    A theatre company in the West Bank doing an adaptation of Animal Farm. Despite bomb threats and attempted arson. Excellent.

  4. UD:

    Beautifully written, I have to agree that democracy with all its disadvantages is still the better choice.

    Democracy has produced both Bush and Ahmedinajad, but that's the choice of the people and it has to be respected.

    I like the part where you mentioned that democracy is not a fixed system or procedure. Democracy is an idea, the idea of respect of all the rights of a person. Democracy is not West or East.

    I never said that I don't welcome foreigners in Oman, I respect the involvement of expats in the development of Oman. I can't imagine any country without the input of foreigners.

    I believe God created us different so that we can learn better from each other.

  5. Well at least UD hasnt shut down like this poor woman has

  6. Good Essay/Blog Dragon- both serious and humorous. A lot of us are not too familiar with expressing our thoughts outside of our circle of friends, so there is bound to be some problems when we use a forum like this. But, freedom of speech is the important thing. And we get 'feed back' from others.

    In a sewage treatment plant, 'bugs' have the job of digesting the liquid sewage, making it disposable. When they don't have enough garbage to digest, they start eating each other. I guess it is the same on each end of the food chain. Its terrible when work gets in the way of good blogging.

    Hope to hear more from you, and more good comments. Abd

  7. Bravo! I am in love with your sentiments and how you stated them. Perfectly communicated...I wish I only had an ounce of your ability to make meaningful statements.

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  9. Maybe there's no need to see Animal Farm onstage in Oman. 1984's discourse is already embedded in the local culture, so journalists don't need reading Orwell.

    Anyway, it is good to read about the Rule of Law. And the independence of the Judiciary.

    It would be good for potential investors to consider what "legal" guarantees they might have if anything goes wrong in Oman.

  10. Hey Oman,

    That "poor woman" is an embarrassment, naive, out of her depth and making a fool of herself. If yopu'd read it you would cringe. She jumped because she was slagging off highly experienced professionals and she, being inexperienced gave a demo drive an an institute to trainers thatw as appauling. But sisnce when has PDO known anything about driver training or road safety? Another one here for a holiday.

  11. I agree with you UD, and I also think that people should express their opinion and criticism with some respect and open mindedness. Name calling, being offended, and being overly defensive takes people nowhere. It is simply, bickering..

  12. Agree with you fully about freedom of speech UD, but we musn't forget that the US took a break from its own fine traditions for the first 2-3 years after 9-11. Whatever their constitutional and legal rights, a lot of Americans who wanted to criticise Bush administration policy found the prevailing political climate too threatening. Things are back to normal now, but I can't help thinking that had they not had this little 'blip' the American people might not have re-elected JWB.


  13. "...UD please tell us will Oman go like UAE "tits-up". Free magazine "Hai" from Times of Oman predicts a big crash in rentals. Is there a big exodus from Oman like UAE?
    Just Curious

    Good Q JC. I'll do a post. But if rent reductions are in that huge organ of Oman's great Fourth Estate - The Times of Oman, no less - surely it must be true? I also believe the sky will be blue tomorrow, btw ...

    Rest: Thanks for the comments and compliments. Dragons are infamously vain...

    Amber, are you perhaps a Paperbag Princess?

  14. if you are referring to the storybook or cartoon...then I suppose I might be to the extent of being brave, but not so far as tempting a dragon into performing extraordinary acts to tire him out. I meant every word :)

    BUT if you are referring to the urban dictionary definition...I don't have a rockin bod yet...working on that. And the depends on my mood.

  15. Just pulling your leg Amber! (I was only referring to the book though)


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