Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"When You Run on the Streets and People are Killed and Buildings are Burned Down, Those Who Provoke Have Succeeded"

Thus spake Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations (and once-upon-a-time Diplomatic Advisor to Olof Palme, the Swedish champion of Central American left-wing guerrillas and the dictator of Cuba, among others) the other day, and his every sentence was a trove of gems, dropped upon the community of nations—no one more exceptional than any other, except maybe members of the Non-Aligned Movement—like so many nuggets of conciliatory guano from on high the bat cave:

So this issue comes up every now and then, and there are three dimensions to this issue that we always should keep in mind, and sometimes they are difficult to reconcile.  The first one is the basic human rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.  The second one is the respect for the value and beauty of this right, that provocations, a lack of respect towards others, in a world where there is enough of contradictions, antagonism and even hatred, that we should recognize that you have this gift given to us by the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights, but it also implies some type of responsibility to use that in such a way that you don’t cause situations; which brings me to the third point, namely, of course, always strong reactions, condemnations of the violence, as a result of the provocation.  So you have to have to keep in mind, yes, this is the basis for, I hope, most of the countries in the world — the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, since this is in the Universal Declaration — but that this also is a privilege that we have, which in my view involves also the need for respect, the need to avoid provocations, in a world where we have enough of contradictions and hatred; but that when you respond to the provocations, and actually those who wanted to provoke had succeeded with the violence and the results of the violence.  So we need to really make sure that we understand each other on all these three counts, and there, there is a need for dialogue.  We have the Alliance of Civilizations.  You have the fact that so many speeches dealt with this in a very deep way was, in my view, also a way of saying to the other side, yes, you may think that this is horrible to you, but if we infringe on the freedom of speech, we have other problems, but yes, we understand you, that you were provoked, that it was an absolutely unnecessary, stupid way of causing even more hatred among you.  And when you run on the streets and people are killed and buildings are burned down, those who provoke have succeeded.  We shouldn’t fall in that trap of provocation, so that’s the line I think we’ll take.  And the more we talk about this in an open way on the basis of our values, then the better it is.


So, just to get this straight: The freedom of speech that includes the right, oh, let’s say, for argument’s sake, to call the prophet of Islam a defiler of little girls, may derive from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or it may originate with Allah himself, or it may be given to us by the Alliance of Civilizations, or it may come from an Archie comic; who’s to say? Certainly not a conflict-resolutionist and visionary of Peacebuilding such as Mr. Eliasson. And anyway, what does it matter?

What does matter is that it’s a relative right, which may—no, which must—be wrested away from the benighted rest of us who have never belonged to the Non-Aligned Movement by fellow-travelers of the Allah-worshipers who retain the privilege of defiling little girls (and boys) according to their marvelously diverse religious customs.

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