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Freedom of speech in an era of global communication

Reader comment on item: Cartoons and Islamic Imperialism

Submitted by James Archibald (Canada), Feb 7, 2006 at 16:03

In a talk delivered at the Copenhagen Business School in May 2005, I addressed the issue of freedom of expression in the context of an open information society.[1] Although newspapers are a more traditional form of public media, their content is able "to piggyback on the Internet" and extend their reach to world-wide audiences comprised of people with different and often conflicting values and beliefs. This new communications environment enables interactivity and confers upon people and organizations a certain freedom to express themselves, to communicate in an unfettered manner and "to disseminate competing versions of 'the truth'". This environment is also the province of political or partisan propaganda while at the same time remaining a privileged domain of news and information exchange. The ambivalent use of these media in connection with the Internet raises a nest of problems, not the least of which is the freedom to express opinions and the freedom of the press so fundamental to democratic societies in the West.

It was and continues to be my view that democracies must guard against the dangers of an information society where competing versions of the "truth" are given the opportunity to promote conflicting visions of the world and the rules according to which it should be run. One of the inherent dangers of this new environment is that the globalized media may become a battlefield where the combatants are ideologues bent on winning over the other side and imposing their views on the vanquished.

Islamic neofundamentalists are to be seen as a significant group of combatants in this media war. The "cartoon controversy" serves as a sobering illustration of this trend.

Whatever form it may take, whatever means it takes, neofundamentalists are committed to spreading their message. In his recently publish worked - Globalised Islam - Olivier Roy rightly points to the fact that neofundamentalism of this type "condemn[s] the very concepts of democracy, human rights and freedom". Globalized neofundamentalist movements reject democratic institutions as anthropomorphic and strive to impose a received world order structured along the lines of their own beliefs and values. Those very things against which enlightened democracies have renewed their resolve to protect world (cyber)citizens – terrorism and extremism - are no longer issues to be debated, but true threats to the development of an open information and communication society in which a humanistic vision rights and freedoms might prevail.

Islamic imperialism in the XXIst century clearly constitutes an obstacle to that end and vitiates the fundamental principles upon which the United Nations family has resolved to build an open, secure and tolerant information society.

The "cartoon controversy" serves to warn enlightened humanists worldwide of the real dangers inherent in such conflicts which can so easily be globalized.

[1] "Security and the New Communications Environment"

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