Freedom of Expression between the frontlines

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The hashtag ‘#My Palestinian Sitty’, a phrase coined by the democratic US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, is trending on social media:

My Palestinian Grandma. Lots of Palestinian users both in Palestine and in the diaspora keep uploading pictures of and comments on their grandmothers onto Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and you might wonder, what’s so special about the Palestinian among the grandmothers of the world?

The difference is, Palestinian grandmothers are allowed to be publicly appreciated as human beings for the first time. Or, as Ilhan Omar tweeted: ‘#MyPalestinianSitty is trending and I am overcome with emotions realizing how we are finally humanizing one of the world’s most dehumanized peoples’.

But this is not something just concerning tweeting US-politicians, in many other ways citizens in many countries find themselves confronted with the same problem that made Rashida Tlaib finally decide not to visit her grandmother in Palestine: the only way she would have been allowed to go see her would have been if she had shut up and not talked about anything related to criticism of Israel or even supporting the pro-Palestinian movement calling for boycotting, divesting and sanctioning a state treating unequally a great part of the people living within its borders. And it is not only the US-government that has decided to call the movement antisemitic, despite the fact that many Jews, citizens of Israel or other nations, do support it and are in favour of more just conditions for all people living in the region.
So have France, Britain, and Germany, to name but a few; and citizens, also Jewish citizens, of those countries have been severely sanctioned if they openly voiced their support of the movement or even if they did not agree to publicly distance themselves and denounce it.
Aside from the question where one stands on this issue, the point is also, what these motions of democratically elected governments, which are in fact aiming at silencing a portion of its citizens, are doing to the liberal democracies that the countries have often struggled for a long time to establish as a principle of governance.

What happens to a democracy if its governing body silences part of the electorate by installing severe sanctions if restrictions on Free Speech are disobeyed?
Does this show a mistrust of those governing in the ability of its people to civilly discuss a burning question?
Does this show an unwillingness to concede and honour human rights to everyone and all ethnicities?
Might this also show an unawareness of a country’s colonial past not addressed and processed?
And what does this tabooing of a problem do to other ethnic groups within a democracy, namely those whose humanity and human rights are being called into question?
Will this nurture and strengthen extremism instead of smothering and stifling it?

These are the questions that will be discussed in the next Diwan al Falsafa; lively, but civilly, adhering to the strict time limit of 3 minutes per interlocutor, neutrally controlled by a sand clock.

This diwan’s main language is German, as always contributions to the discussion are also possible in Arabic and English and we will translate as best as we can.

Daniel Bax

The journalist and author Daniel Bax will provide the introduction to this Diwan. The event will be held according to Chatham House Rule. For internal documentary purposes, the event will be recorded.

Friday, September 20 at 19h in Helle Panke, Kopenhagener Straße 9, Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, near S-Bahn Schönhauser Allee

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