What has been dubbed “freedom of speech,” that which is guaranteed to all American citizens through the wishes of the country’s founders, and what has, arguably, been protected, has since constituted the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, and has lent itself almost exclusively to that of Western Society. It is this fundamental right that allows a person to orate or perform the most erroneous of actions, yet it is placed highly within free society because of its necessity, and therefore warrants further, and more thorough examination; for it is the primary instrument by which society can be free. It is the permitting of such peculiar and often offensive acts that comprises the value of the freedom to speak. The freedom to oppose while simultaneously being opposed—in a nonviolent fashion—is the foundation of American society, and is the process by which the expression of people everywhere is able to bring progress and change to the human condition.
Living in the United States permits a different, often ignorant perspective regarding the freedom of all to speak however they please. Those who bring dissent upon they who burn the American flag may be just and good-hearted in intention, and certainly superior in the teachings of civics, but lack an understanding of free speech and the nature with which it operates. They fail to see the beauty in the ashes of the flags. Even the House of Representatives failed to understand in 2005 when they, as reported by Randy Bish in the Tribune-Review, “passed a resolution… designed to overturn a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that flag burning is a protected free-speech right” (Bish). It is the basic understanding that anyone has a protected claim to express themselves so openly and disturbingly—with constitutional protection—that sets Western Society apart. That citizens can set aflame the flag which represents the freedoms that allow them to set aflame that flag is a relationship that makes America stand out from other nations, and what makes America a pinnacle of justice: the freedom of expression in any nonviolent manner for the sake of purity in government and society, and for progression that corrects the wrongdoings of an ignorant past.
If by any measure some poor, misguided soul contemplated desecrating the Syrian flag in Holmes or the Iranian flag in Tehran, those who consider themselves intimate with him should lament the moment such an idea originated from his mind, for surely he would be persecuted just for the intention—the thought. It is the tightening of the grip on countries that are not currently free, by those who dictate freedom that has occurred following the Arab Spring. First it was Iran, but the movement was subdued by shots fired at peaceful protestors, one of which hit a young woman in the face. She died publicly; images of her leaked out to the free world—free speech—causing a backlash of indignation. Next it was Egypt, whose people, with access to Twitter and Facebook, documented their pursuits for freedom, bringing along with their posts condemnation upon Hosni Mubarak, who has since resigned as President and has been brought to trial for his offenses. Then it was Libya. Through the combined effort of NATO and motion picture technology, Muammar Gadhafi is dead. Thus, both Syria and Iran are left to battle for their freedom against what are increasingly belligerent and paranoid regimes.
In October of 2010, it was exposed by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that “veteran political activist Heshmatollah Tabarzadi was sentenced to nine years and 74 lashes for ‘gathering and colluding against national security,’ and ‘insulting the Supreme Leader.’” According to the same organization, a previously suspended “two-year sentence was reactivated” for activist Bahareh Hedayat “for participating in a 2006 gathering to protest laws discriminating against women” (International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran). These convictions come at the same time that the Associated Press reported that “the drive” to censor speech within Iran comes “after social networking sites played such a crucial role in the Arab Spring uprisings.” Iran’s police chief even referred to Google, the search engine from which people find dog sitters and recipes, as an “instrument of espionage” (Associated Press).
It is all too apparent that forms of censorship, whether they are restricting internet access, jailing activists or disrupting and killing peaceful protestors, are used as safeguards to protect the power and ideology of severely oppressive and confused dictators. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Basar al-Assad have no regard for human rights, as displayed by the murder of thousands of innocent Iranians and Syrians, and must be taken as a warning for the United States. To cherish the freedoms that we have bestowed unto ourselves is why we are free, and how we will remain free, and why we are fighters of injustice. This why the United States went from slavery to the end of segregation and public ridicule of racism in just over a century. It is why women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies. It is why more and more states will come to legalize gay marriage in the coming decades. Man is a reformer, and in his conveniently titled lecture Man the Reformer, Ralph Waldo Emerson states that man changes “and [is] a Remaker of what man has made; a renouncer of lies; a restorer of truth and good, [and] every hour repairs [himself]” (Emerson Texts). It is the correction of injustice that depends on freedom of speech and expression; wherever free speech may be condemned, so too are basic human decencies.
Bish, Randy. “Why Is Freedom of Speech a Burning Issue?” Cartoon. Tribune-Review. Print.
Emerson, Ralph W. “Man the Reformer.” Lecture. A Lecture Read before the Mechanics’ Apprentices’ Library Association, Boston. 25 Jan. 1841. Ralph Waldo Emerson- Texts. Emerson Central. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.
“Freedom of Expression and Association – Distortion & Disinformation.” International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, 4 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. .
“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Tightens Grip on Internet in Its ‘soft War’ with the West.” The Washington Post. Associated Press, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2012.