There is a tempest in a teacup over categorically so simple an issue in principle:  freedom of speech. All western states, America included, have made it a constitutionally granted right. Such unequivocal harmony in considering free speech a fundamental right has left many slack-jawed over violence, chiefly caused by its execution or concretization. Why this discrepancy in free speech as an idea and free speech as a practice? Is the significance attached to free speech disproportionate? Or there exists a swirl in the understanding of free speech?

No denying the fact that freedom of speech is invaluable and irreplaceable once practiced in its true spirit. In spirit, freedom of speech is a mechanism through which people broadcast their differences and dissidences with the intentions of either negotiating differences to the level of reaching common-grounds, or negotiating differences to the level of deciding middle-grounds: That is respecting differences, if failed in obliterating, for the cause of pluralism.

When inscribing free speech as an inextricable right in their constitutions, the European states implicitly enjoined upon the citizens to always exercise their autonomy in expression while being true to its spirit, at the same time. Practice laxity in speech, compromising its spirit, and you risk being on the verge of chaos and disarray.

Take Danish cartoons, Charlie Hebdo cartoons, Innocence of Muslims (movie), you will find scholars’ views all over the board: few taking them as epic manifestations of free speech; few advocating limits in these caricatures; few condemning them for hurting Muslim sensitivities. The first view is led by Dr Yaron Brooks, the president and executive director of Ayan Rand Institute, who consigns all opinions disparaging Danish Cartoons for bruising Muslim sensitivities to the dustbin on the pretext that free speech means freedom to offend. This is, in fact, a prototype of spiritless free speech where it used only to offend. Yes, provoking wrath is a secondary purpose of free speech--- viz. the means---, to reach the primary motif of consolidated common-grounds or mediated middle-grounds---viz. the end. Unfortunately, Dr Brooks, according to him on the crusade of shielding free speech from the onslaughts of apologists propounding limits in free speech, turns free speech on its head by postulating its means as its ends.

The second view, principally spearheaded by western left, argues for limits and balance in the caricatures. For them, provocative caricatures of sanctimonious personages, in the name of free speech, are not less than publicity stunts. They repudiated, in America, the proposal of republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons aimed at showing solidarity with the deceased staff members and cartoonists on the excuse that it would open a Pandora’s box of disorder and violence. Unfortunately, and outrightly, this is sheer political correctness to say the least. Rather than demanding reinstatement of spirit in free speech, they disastrously proposed undercutting speech’s freedom for parochial political point scoring.

The third view, whose chieftain is Professor Tariq Ramadan, lays bare, unequivocally and bluntly, the above milestones of free speech, as propagated in Western circles of media and intelligentsia, as being anti free speech, because the act of dubbing hate-speech as free speech render people unable to discern between the former and the latter. Ramadan holds discriminatory government policies, lack of social cohesion and confinement of Muslims in ghettoes responsible for Muslims’ resort to violence when confronted with cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In addition, he also lashes out at Western media for being selective in their freedom of hate speech in disguise of free speech. As for instance, Sine, a satirist employed by Charlie Hebdo, was sacked for hurting Jewish sensitivities.

Freedom of speech has to be complemented by other factors, like, social, political and economic equity of all demographic groups living in a particular country. If a particular group has already been residing under severe clout of poverty, agony and alienation, then there is no logic in swiping them with free speech. Weakness translates into lesser differences. Lesser differences, in response, minimalize need for free speech because there are fewer issues to be settled down.

In sooth, spiritless free speech and misplaced free speech have arisen to be the nemeses of the real free speech. It is a mean to resolve conflicts. It is not a mean to demean minorities for trivial differences. Unless free speech is divorced from both of the above menaces, there is a smattering of chance people appraising free speech as an inalienable human right. Muslim violence is in no way justified even in the face of hate speech. In the same vein, European stance of Muslims being inherently predisposed to abhor free speech also does not hold any water as they mostly regard anomalous version of free speech as free speech. The West needs to take pedagogical lessons in the maxim “noblesse oblige”. Privilege without responsibility stops being a privilege and same is the dilemma with the free speech today.