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Values

Who Decides What is Acceptable Speech in the Global Public Sphere?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Is free speech a fundamental right and does it have appropriate limits? Pope Francis has provided the most memorable recent attempt at an answer. Yes, there is such a thing as a right to free speech but if you upset people you might have a punch travelling towards your face. But the Pope’s intervention is only one amongst many. In the wake of the recent terrorist outrages in Paris, and the massive responses to it globally, a debate has erupted about the nature of free speech and its appropriate boundaries. It is an intense and global debate, but, as often happens when human emotions are all aquiver, there has been more heat than light. In what follows, I will make an effort to untangle the issues before tackling the question I posed in the heading.

And in doing so, I am going to take two views of free speech. The first is what I call the internal view: free speech considered within the boundaries of specific countries and legal systems. The second is what I call the global view: free speech within the emerging global public sphere.  I begin with the internal view.

Should You Tackle or Avoid Undiscussables?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Ha, what would life be without contradictions?  In every human grouping there are taboo subjects, matters deemed better left alone, words deemed better left unsaid, issues considered better suited to the deep freezers of life. The unspoken injunction is: Don’t go there; don’t touch it. Yet, there are those who think that a group functions better if a way can be found to air taboo subjects. There are also those who believe that true courage is a willingness to discuss the undiscussable, a readiness to take on all issues, no matter how sensitive the subject.

In the sense in which I first encountered the idea, an undiscussable arises as follows. There is often a difference between the values we claim and the values that our actual conduct affirms.  You do it, I do it, we all do it. But it is easier to see it in others.

Why Won’t Babu Move?

Sina Odugbemi's picture

Much of what we do in international development as a field of practice is designed to make Babu move, yet more often than not Babu does not make the move we would like her to make, a move that we are convinced is clearly, evidently, certainly, demonstrably in her overall best interest. As a result, we are, at turns, surprised, frustrated, angry, resigned, cynical even.  The fault is with Babu, we are convinced, and not with us.

As you must have guessed by now, Babu is the prototypical intended beneficiary of many of our development programs and initiatives. Depending on how you pronounce her name, she could be from any of the continents to which most developing countries belong. We work in development largely because we want to improve Babu’s life. We have a passionate concern; we want to do the very best that we can for her. We bring money, expertise and oodles of benevolence to Babu’s hometown. But we know that for the initiative to go well (and produced those magical ‘development results’) we need Babu to play her part. We need her to make a move of some kind. Perhaps we want her to:

The Last Ones To Understand Water Are The Fish

Naniette Coleman's picture

My norms and values are not subtle.  They are time tested, “fact” based and I grip them with the strength of a vice.  I am no different from others; we all value some things, look haltingly at others, and better still refuse to consider the norms and values of some.   We all want to be open, malleable to others views but do not always know how to do it.  Norms and values take on particular importance when we are working to build coalitions with others who do not share our way of looking at things. Minor differences suddenly seem larger than they actually are when we face compromise battles with others.