By Yara al-Wazir
Imagine how stifling it can be when you’re trying to watch TV and the channel is scrambled. All you hear is noise, the picture is blurred and the objective of the program you were trying to watch is lost. That’s life without free speech: inconvenient and without purpose.
A recent study by Northwestern University in Qatar showed that the percentage of Arabs who believe in online free speech has declined since 2013.
The study, which gives insight into the internet’s effect on political awareness, activity, and participation shows the dark side of turmoil that has been sweeping the region over the past few years
Of all the countries surveyed, the overall average of people who believe in freely expressing their ideas online dropped from 61% to 55%, primarily driven by responses from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Egypt.
Without free speech, I cannot write what I write. I cannot express myself freely, and I would suppress my thoughts and feelings to a point where I would have two options: leave the area that supresses me, or protest.
Understanding the root cause
It’s difficult to go against human instinct. When a baby is upset, it cries out. This example is the very basics of free expression. However, I do understand the difficulties in this harnessing this freedom when it has partly caused the turmoil it has.
Free speech isn’t to blame for the heightened sectarian issues that are spreading across the region, misunderstanding is
On the surface, it’s not difficult to understand the root cause of this decline. After all, what has free speech achieved for the region, apart from political turmoil, economic uncertainty, and further unemployment? But it has got us, as a community, talking. It has increased our political awareness and created a deeper understanding of the world that surrounds us.
Free speech isn’t to blame for the heightened sectarian issues that are spreading across the region, misunderstanding is. So perhaps what we really need is to change the angle of free speech, to not only criticize policies, but keep an open mind when others are freely expressing themselves.
Also, looking at the long-term vision of what greater political awareness can achieve for the community, which if combined with organized action, can create positive results for the community. All the things that millions of crowds protested for are in fact achievable. Change does not happen overnight, but it certainly does not happen at all if we don’t talk about what can happen.
The region needs patience and organization
Along with free speech, the key to sustained positive change in the region is patience and organization. The French Revolution did not start overnight, it did not last a single night, just like change didn’t happen overnight.
Patience is a virtue. Patience, coupled with free speech and organization, is exactly what the region needs to progress. Unless you’d like to continue to watch scrambled TV channels, that is.