Forum: Europe needs proper distinction between freedom and rights – The Straits Times

Posted By on December 1, 2020

In support of Professor Tommy Koh's appeal to Europe for tolerance of and respect for the faiths of others, may I suggest that we stop conflating "right" with "freedom" (Freedom of speech: An appeal to Europe, Nov 28)?

Ironically, however, this conflation is also evident in Prof Koh's statement: "The central question is whether freedom of speech includes the right to slander Islam or any other religion."

The words "freedom" and "right" have different meanings. There is no need for such a question because it is akin to asking whether the weight of fruit includes the colour of oranges. But I understand Prof Koh's noble intent in questioning the link between the two.

Unfortunately, it is this continued conflation that confuses and then emboldens many in Europe to assert that freedom of speech entails the right to offend. Many fallaciously conclude that freedom of speech, which implies freedom to offend, equals the right to offend - because freedom and rights are seen as one and the same.

Freedom of speech, action and thought is an undeniable human condition arising from our innate free will. But while human freedom is undeniably innate, the idea that human rights are equally so is debatable.

Thus, since time immemorial, there have been societies determining and then granting or denying their members the rights to exercise whatever innate human freedoms they have.

The criminalisation of Holocaust denial is an excellent example of "the right to exercise the freedom to deny a historical event" being determined and then, in this case, denied by European society. Simply put, if you are free to deny, it does not mean you have the right to do so. That right depends on what your society defines.

Right now, Europe could do with a proper distinction between human freedom and human rights. It could then judiciously determine whether granting its societies the right to offend is the right thing to do, notwithstanding the innate human free will.

Osman Sidek

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Forum: Europe needs proper distinction between freedom and rights - The Straits Times

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