Freedom of Speech is a class issue

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Many people will have been shocked by the shootings in Paris at the offices of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo”. Most will rightly be of the opinion that these shootings were unacceptable. But we must be clear that this is not an issue of “Freedom of Speech”. In the context of Thailand, opposing lèse majesté and the freedom to criticise the monarchy and the dictatorship, can never be equated with defending provocative and racist attacks on Islam in France by Charlie Hebdo.

There is no such thing as a blanket and abstract “Freedom of Speech”. Most people would agree that there is no such thing as the “right” for people to advocate rape, mass-extermination of Jewish people, or child abuse. So Freedom of Speech is relative. I believe that there is no fundamental right to be racist either.

Not only is “Freedom of Speech” relative, but it is achieve by struggle. The powerful people that rule over us never grant Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech has to fought for, against oppressive rulers. This is why it is right to fight for the freedom to criticise the Thai monarchy and the dictatorship. It is progressive and in the interests of Thai citizens who strive for liberation.

So-called “freedom” to be provocatively racist against Islam is the opposite. It is something which helps to justify imperialist wars in the middle-east and islamophobia against oppressed migrant minorities in Europe. It is reactionary and allows the ruling class to use racism to divide us. It is against the interests of the majority of citizens.

Therefore “Freedom of Speech” is fundamentally a class issue.

So is the justification for violence. While our rulers and those who are swayed by mainstream media condemn the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, they remain silent or support drone strikes by Western governments against civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq or Pakistan. But the violence of the oppressed in their desperate attempt to free themselves is always more justifiable than the violence of oppressors.

It is understandable why Muslims wish to fight back against imperialism and oppression and we should stand with the oppressed. But equally, we must strongly argue that such attacks, like the one on Charlie Hebdo, merely strengthen the ultra-right and the racists. They make the struggle against racism, islamophobia and imperialism that much harder.

In the same way, any attempt to plant bombs in a fight against the Thai junta, or even the monarchy, however understandable, would be counter-productive and strengthen oppression. The Thai people must liberate themselves through mass struggles of social movements and political parties.