The outrage expressed and being expressed by public and private individuals and organizations over the Charlie Hebdo killings and the Perumal Murugan controversy definitely lead one to believe that ours is a liberal and tolerant society.
Most of us love to proclaim: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (Wikipedia reports that these words are “often misattributed to Voltaire.” They were actually written by his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall “as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs”.)
Do we practise what we preach? Let me share my experiences as a commenter on a few blogs.
1. On one very popular blog, I found that, while my positive or neutral comments were approved within a short time on various occasions, one comment, which expressed an opinion completely contrary to that of the blogger and other commenters, was not approved for a few hours. During this time, various positive comments posted by others were approved. My comment was finally approved, but only after about 20 hours, and only after the blogger had published the next post. Obviously, readers’ attention was now almost entirely focussed on the latest post. So much for the blogger’s stated commitment to freedom of speech!
2. I had the same experience on another popular blog.
3. On another popular blog, while my positive or neutral comments were approved within a short time on various occasions, one comment, which expressed an opinion completely contrary to that of the blogger and other commenters, was not approved for a long interval. During this time, various positive comments posted by others were approved. My comment was finally approved, but the blogger’s reply was published almost simultaneously! Obviously, the blogger approved my comment only after composing a reply to my comment!! “We both enjoy freedom of speech, but I enjoy more freedom than you!”
4. Please read this one carefully. This incident doesn’t take the cake; it takes the bakery!! A very popular blogger published a post about how the parents of prospective grooms used to make unreasonable demands in arranged marriages, and described the recent trend of the parents of prospective brides now making unreasonable demands. Another blogger posted a comment which applauded this new trend! I posted a comment (not a reply to this comment) stating that all such unreasonable demands were wrong, irrespective of who made them, and lamenting the fact that the recent trend was being applauded. My comment was published immediately since this blog did not have comment moderation. When I checked a few hours later, I found that the blogger had replied to my comment, agreeing that all unreasonable demands were wrong, but stating that none of the commenters had applauded the recent trend. When I tried to re-read the comment applauding the recent trend, I found it had been deleted. Obviously, the ‘evidence’ had been destroyed!!!
I must state that such behaviour is not restricted to bloggers. I have had many such experiences with people who are not connected with blogging. All these experiences have convinced me that very, very few people genuinely believe in freedom of speech. Most of us (by ‘most of us’, I am referring not only to the ‘fringe elements’, but to all cross-sections of society) believe only in our own freedom of speech and the freedom of speech of those who agree with our own thoughts, beliefs, customs and practices. We may not say so in so many words, but most of us do NOT respect the right of our fellowmen to have thoughts, beliefs, customs and practices that are different from our own.