A caricature of Kali holding a pack of cigarettes, amongst other objects, graced the pages of the New Zealand Herald—and infuriated many Hindus worldwide. Amongst Her worshipers, Kali is highly revered, and Her image is intended for worship in temples and devotee’s homes, not trivialized in commercial media that removes Her image out of its intended context. Many have spoken up on the issue, demanding that the media show more respect toward people of other cultures and religions. Rajiv Chaturvedi, a member of the Hindu Council of NZ, sums up the issue with the statement:
The illustration of Goddess Kali published in New Zealand Herald cannot be attributed to ignorance and has nothing to do with the article on dairy owners that it was accompanying. It seems to be a malicious desire to cause mischief by the cartoonist and the editor. They hurriedly removed the caricature from their internet version and this indicates they realized they had been caught, but instead of an apology and owning up, they just hoped no one will notice.
This issue brings to question what should be covered under free speech and what should not. I am still forming my own concept of the nature of freedom of speech, though I have some general beliefs about it. Freedom of speech is an important tenet to democratic political ideology of the post-Enlightenment Western world, and is so important in my native country of the United States that it is featured prominently in first place on the Bill of Rights. It is a catch-phrase in modern day politics and discourse, ranging from the potty-mouthed youngster who asserts “This is America, I can say whatever I want,” to prim statesmen addressing far-reaching legalities of what is covered under freedom of speech and what is not.
Freedom of speech by the modern understanding has been grossly taken out of its original context, which was to protect citizen rights to criticize their government. As summarized by P.A. Madison on the Federalist Blog:
“Freedom of speech and of the press served one purpose in America: To remove the fear of the common law doctrine of seditious libel so citizens could freely speak or publish without license their grievances against public policy or conduct of public officials.”
As I feel P.A. Madison did a fine job of giving an in-depth review of the origin and original meaning of the freedom of speech in American politics, I won’t re-invent the wheel here. For those interested in reading the full article, a link is given below:
I feel that people enjoy making offensive, vulgar, and rude speech and media because it grabs other people’s attention. When celebrities exhibit shocking behaviour, they earn a place on the front cover of tabloid magazines. In the case of the offensive Kali caricature, the New Zealand Herald would not have received nearly as much attention if it had simply posted hum-drum, run-of-the-mill articles and images. The same hate speech vs. free speech issue on a much larger scale came up several years ago when a Danish cartoonist published satirical, anti-Islamic cartoons, earning himself attention on an international scale that he would have otherwise never had.
Freedom of speech is not all bad, though. It can be a wonderful tool toward positive, constructive social change. One can speak out against injustice, seek change in the world around, and still cultivate thame (harmony). I strongly agree that innovative ideas are worth discussing, even if they are unorthodox and on the fringe of current social norms. But with the right to freedom of speech comes the responsibility of speaking ethically. A point can easily be made, even a point others consider to be outrageous, without making personal attacks, disrespecting others, or being generally vulgar and rude.
What are your thoughts on freedom of speech? Should it be limited or unlimited? Feedback on this topic would be much appreciated!