I was almost in a good mood, then I went online

I am probably the last person to want to comment on the state of the nation, whatever that nation may be; or talk about the degeneration of society; or get into fights with people over “one man’s terrorist…” and all that bull. I’m not saying I don’t get into those skirmishes once in a while. I’m just saying, I’m not a fan.

And its not that I don’t know whats going. Of course I have opinions. And even though I may not be the most well-informed when it comes to world politics, I know the gist. I log on to the news apps on my phone – Time, The New Yorker, TOI, HT – and I fill myself in on what’s going on. I watch the highlight reel if you will. And more importantly, I listen to what people say and I try to open my mind to new ideas and perspectives.

And trust me I care. It truly causes me physical pain to read some of the things that people say online. And I want so much to comment or try and add to their dialogue, but its just scary and disheartening how some people refuse to open their minds to any opinion other than their own. Of course I care, but sometimes you get to the point where you would rather just log off and let people just be, as long as they don’t get in your face about it. It just feels sometimes likes there is no way to make a difference in the face of the overwhelming tides of ignorance and hate.

The truth is that the internet has forced us to try and actually come to grips with the idea of “The Freedom of Speech” on a level that I do not think humanity could have ever imagined when we first lauded such ideals. With the exception of a few dictatorial and fascist states everyone in the world believes in the right to free speech or expression or the voice of the people – whatever you want to call it. But how far should we go to protect that right? It seems that every time I go online I come across people who say things that I would find truly reprehensible, if I wasn’t genuinely dumbfounded that someone could be that ignorant or biased or hateful. At what point do we need to step in and draw the line between “the freedom of speech” and “the freedom of hate speech”. Traditionally that line is where it hurts someone. But how can you say that someone spewing hate speech online where anyone can access it isn’t hurting people. Sure maybe he doesn’t pick up a knife or a gun himself, but speech like this antagonizes people who are already frustrated and angry and want someone to blame. You may not be putting the gun in their hand, but you are telling them where to aim.

I actually came across a site today that was dedicated to highlighting the “problem” of “Islamic terrorists”. The site has a ticker widget which shows the supposed number of terrorist attacks that have carried out by Islamic Terrorists since 9/11, a scrolling list of various media articles about Muslims getting arrested, a tab which takes you to various “Mohammed Cartoons” and various propaganda advocating the impeachment of “Obozo” – I ‘m presuming you can figure that one out – Clever as it is (sarcastic eye roll). And why did I go onto a site like this? Because I was looking to pick a fight? Because I wanted to reach out as a “peaceful loving Muslim figure”? No! I went there because this particular blog was on WordPress.com’s list of the “Top Blog Posts” of the day – which it suggested I check out. So basically anyone with a wordpress blog may have landed up here today, now matter how old they are. Wonderful! The blog by the way is called “Creeping Sharia” and I suppose in an alternate universe this person would actually be the exact person that he himself villainizes. I mean is he really that far off from the so called hate mongering terrorist leaders who seduce disillusioned young muslim kids into “fighting for a greater cause” so they can be used as pawns in geo-political battles? I was tempted to share some of the comments that people shared on this blog, to really give you an idea of the level of inhumanity that people like this can bring out in people, but I just cannot make myself do it. I do not want to be responsible for someone who should not be exposed to such material seeing hateful things like that on my blog. If you’re actually interested go see for yourself.

So where does that leave us? Laissez-faire?¬†Freedom for everyone and we’ll just have to deal with the abusers? Enlightened despotism like the old Prussian Czars?

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think anyone does. Its not an easy question.

But its sad that great people have lived lives dedicated to fighting for the right for people to stand up to bullies and despots who have kept them down. Great men like Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru; like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.; like Winston Churchill and Voltaire.

I’m not sure why I really wrote this. Its no great treatise on the human condition. Its not a call to arms for people to fight back against hate. I think its just me trying to say, maybe lets not be so angry. Maybe lets try and be a little nicer online. Just because we can say whatever we want, doesn’t mean that we should.

John Milton, an english poet said “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” Lets just try and remember to more than just exercise the “argue freely” part.

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