Freedom of Speech means something

Ambassador Chris Stevens
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens

I don’t blog often these days, in part because of my role.  However, I am taking a moment to do so to pay tribute to U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens and Career Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, who were killed this week  at their posts in Libya, alongside two other Americans.  All four served their country for the purpose of furthering not only the interests of the United States, but also those of Libya.

Members of the U.S. foreign service do not get paid well, in comparison to those of us in industry.  They do the job out of a sense of duty and service to humankind, with the idea that dialog between peoples is the best way to avoid conflict, that all of our interests are served when differences are resolved peacefully.  These people prevent wars, saving not only American lives, but the lives of those who would be lost or irrevocably harmed through conflicts.

Many people in the Middle East are upset over an “anti-Muslim” film.  I have not seem this film.  While words matter (whatever they are), they are no excuse for violence, especially violence against people who have probably not even seen or heard of the movie!  But many outside the U.S., and perhaps even many inside the U.S., don’t understand the meaning of the freedom.  It’s is easy listen when one isn’t saying something controversial.  Nobody cares about a freedom when we’re all saying nice things.

Freedom of speech is needed by those who speak that which everyone else might find repugnant, outrageous, or simply rude.  It’s the only way to insure in a free society that nobody has the right to judge, in an effort to control a political outcome,  what should be spoken and what shouldn’t.

This freedom is not universally agreed to nor is it absolute.  In the United States, you cannot yell “Fire!” in a movie theater, and in Germany you can’t go around espousing the views of Hitler.  But even when people do espouse such views, you have the right to tell them where to go – but peacefully.  You also have the right to ignore kooks and wingnuts, and sometimes that is the best response.

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