A few days ago, I read one of my articles to my mother. It was a less-than-impartial piece about just how small the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was, with some uncomplimentary comments regarding the far left and Islamist extremists. After making comments about the dorkiness of my picture, she read on and began to look quite serious- “You’re going to get yourself put on a list; Be careful with what you write.” she said to me, quite sternly. I took her comment as a joke, replying promptly with “The NSA is ‘watching everyone’, right? What interest do they have in a sixteen year old kid with a big mouth and a soft spot for Israel?” She didn’t find my retort amusing. “I mean another list. You know… the other team. It only takes one warped person to come down to your school and hurt you, or worse…”
My mother was referring to terrorists- the kind that viciously beheaded the Drummer Lee Rigby for supporting the military charity ‘Help for Heroes’ earlier this year. I would like to think that she is merely expressing the reservations of a mother about the safety of her child, but I cannot help but see a different angle to her concerns. The effectiveness of terror is not measured in the number of deaths that it causes or the physical harm that it effects. The very purpose of terrorism is to surpress the expression and thoughts of a people through fear, and when it scares people it becomes a formidable tool. Fear is the result that terrorists wish to achieve, and it is manifested when people become scared to speak and express themselves. When people become scared to criticise, scared to stand up and say ‘no’ to an idea or to a person, when people are scared to propose their own thoughts and instead, nod along and submit to what scares them the most; such is the method and aim of the terrorists, that inject themselves into our public conscience using only the mechanism of fear and not the merit of their ideology. The light of freedom- the freedom to express, to speak- flickers a little every time someone questions our right to speak our minds. It will be extinguished when fear makes us surrender that right.
Voltaire was one of the greatest philosophers of the 18th Century, if not of all time. He is attributed to the famous quote, “I am not in agreement with what you say. But I will fight until the death for you to have the right to say it.” That quote is, in essence, the hallmark of our right to the freedom of speech. Our society is based on the freedom of discourse and our liberty to disagree. The line that is drawn on all sides, left and right and center and challenged only by the most extreme fringes of the political spectrum, is that the right to speak freely and engage in debate is to be held sacrosanct. Those who oppose it can do legitimately so only by virtue of that right existing. Yet terrorism seeks to tear away that right not through political debate- it tries to make us surrender it by fear. Terrorists do not wish to kill us all- they wish to kill enough of us to make us feel vulnerable, scared, and eventually give up our rights as a consequence of that. With that, terrorism is the greatest form of tyrrany.
If we look to the East, in Saudi Arabia for example, free speech is not perceived in as much of a tolerant and self-restraining way. Perhaps one could sum up their attitude with “Sir, I do not agree with what you say; And you will be beheaded if you dare to say it.” That is the vast ocean that seperates ‘them and us’. In that we treasure our right to free speech, they are barbarians to us for rejecting it. In that we say whatever we wish we become, in their eyes, heathens. And so we see terrorists with that belief that kill some innocents for the sake of scaring the others into silence. ‘Give them what they want so they won’t hurt us!’ is their intended effect. And if we give them what they want, if we give them silence, we will slowly concede all of our other rights because there will be nobody to speak out against that. Because our right to say ‘no’ is the first line of defence against oppression. To forswear one of our most sacrosanct rights as a consequence of our fearing those who wish to impose themselves upon us, our fear of their instruments of violence, is to profane the memory of those who died to both earn and defend it. It is to permit violence as a means of entering political discourse and to validate a rejection of everything we stand for.
If my thoughts in this world were to be unheard, regardless as to whether or not I am right or wrong, I would be as silent as I would be in the grave. The difference between us and the dead is that we still have our lifetime to spend productively, trying to make the world better in our own way and with our own contribution- or waste away in subservience, silence and idleness. If the silence of death is the most imminent thing in the world, the right to be heard is surely then the most natural right of the living.
And with that, I will continue to write my madness and disseminate my musings through the vast virtual ocean that is the internet. I accept that I may be wrong (because only an idiot agrees with a 16 year old all the time, even I don’t agree with me all the time.) but I will not relinquish my right to speak because I value the sacrifices made to earn that right- the victims of terror die in vain when their deaths become a device, to be used by their killers to subvert the world they left behind. If we are terrified of terror, than all we achieve is the capacitation of terrorism.
One of the greatest things about Israelis is that despite the combined strength of all the hateful and ignorant people that hate them, they refuse to capitulate. They do not hide their accent or nationality when they go abroad even if it might endanger them as it did with the Israelis murdered in Bulgaria in 2012. As did their ancestors in the exile, they live with fortitude and resilience, refusing to relinquish their right to speak. That is, even when millions stand stridently against them and their nation. I can only hope that my compatriots and all those that value democracy can take their brave example. To relinquish our rights because of fear is merely to empower and legitimise fear as a weapon- and when fear is empowered, it is lethal to freedom and those who love it.