Archive for the ‘Freedom of expression’ Category

TFF PressInfo # 311 – Nobel Peace Prize Watch launched

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

On March 3, 2015, The Telegraph and a few other major news surces broke the quite extraordinary story that the chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee – the body that decides who is awarded the Prize – former Norwegian PM Thorbjoern Jagland had been demoted; it’s the first time it has ever happened.

It was during his chairmanship the will of Alfred Nobel was ignored most systematically – e.g. by awarding the world’s allegedly most prestigious prize to President Obama, the EU and Chinese human rights (but pro-war) Liu Xiaobo.

It’s about 7 years ago that a small group of Scandinavian scholars decided to investigate how this prize is managed. The basic research can be found in a book by Norwegian lawyer and author, Fredrik S. Heffermehl, The Nobel Peace Prize: What Nobel Really Wanted which was the first major result of the group’s work. It documents how this prize is “prestigious” only for those who either a) have never read Alfred Nobe’s will; b) don’t believe it should be interpreted with respect for his motives and goals and c) have very little knowledge about peace and peace research.

Nobel’s formulation in his will is short and clear – the Peace Prize shall go “to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” He calls such people “champions of peace”. More here.

Thus, the Nobel Peace Prize is not a do-good prize, not a human rights or environmental prize and not a pro-war prize. But it is a reward work for disarmament, anti-militarism and the abolition of warfare and people – be it politicians, scholars, activists – who are pro-peace, champions of peace. The legal challenges that the Nobel Peace Prize Watch has raised over the years can be found here.

The Nobel Peace Prize Watch

Over the years, the criticism of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s work has increased. Seven years ago, I cannot remember that any journalist who interviewed me about the Prize had read the will. Now about 75% of them seem to have before they call.

Fredrik Heffermehl, Oslo, and Tomas Magnusson, Gothenburg, have now established the Lay Down Your Arms Association which was incorporated and registered in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2014 with a Scandinavian and an International Advisory Board. The Association’s first project has been to set up the Nobel Peace Prize Watch where you can acquaint yourself with the Prize, its history, background, the criticism over time, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

The Western freedom of expression hypocrisy

By Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Society is tri-partite: State, Capital, and People with their associations, the Civil Society. There is hard-won and applaudable freedom of expression for People, directed at the State and its feudal predecessors, Clergy and Aristocracy. But how about Capital?

Consider this. Somebody can pay for access to the media – papers, radio, TV – with total freedom of expression of strong views, filling pages and hours of reading space and listening-viewing time; one way. Uncontradicted, nobody writing or voicing contrary views, sowing doubts, coming up with data to the contrary, values, theories against. One-way flow of expression, and not merely a flow of bla-bla words but to induce behavior, even changing behavior; aimed at getting inside readers-listeners-viewers, capturing their spirit to issue new commands to their bodies. Could a tyrant dictator ask for more? Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Francis, Salman Rusdie, and Charlie Hebdo

By Richard Falk

Richard Falk

Prefatory Note
This post is a much modified piece published a few days ago in AlJazeera English, and republished elsewhere on line. As many have now done it tries to enlarge the context in which the Charlie Hebdo events are understood beyond a highlight film clip in ‘the war on terror.’ The alleged link between the Chouachi brothers and Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) allows the attack on Charlie Hebdo to be experienced as the French 9/11, and with this a return of France to a status of post-colonial geopolitical relevance.
Without grasping the relevance of how the dominant treat the dominated within our societies and throughout the world, we are consigning ourselves to many repetitions of the private and public horrors experienced in France on January 7, 2015.

There is some common ground, but not much. The killings in Paris last week were horrifying crimes that expose the vulnerability of democratic societies to lethal vigilante violence, whether facilitated from outside or as a spontaneous expression of homegrown psychopathic alienation. Beyond this naked, morbid reality associated with the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, police officers, and the supermarket hostages there is nothing but darkness, and in that darkness some dangerous monsters lurk.

We can be again thankful for the moral clarity of Pope Francis who a few days ago in the impromptu setting of a plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila shined a light upon the darkness. Unlike those who so ardently wielded the slogan “Je suis Charlie” the Pope understood that free speech without limits is an invitation to indulge the worst negative impulses that will then operate as viruses destroying the vital organs of the body politic.

What Pope Francis underscored was the impossibility of reconciling dignity with hurtful insults, Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 304: Wisdom of expression

By Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

My answer is simple: the issues surrounding the horrific attack on Charlie Hebdo disappeared so fast because the general Western reaction was ill-considered/phony and therefore unsustainable. But there is actually still quite a lot to be discussed.

Secondly, European politicians and media chose – quite uniformly for a professed pluralist society – to not discuss the possible causes. The more convenient interpretation was that the perpetrators were just madmen and people like that should be hunted down and eliminated (like IS in Syria and Iraq).

Without causal analysis we can more easily go straight for more “security”, intelligence, surveillance and more police and military in the streets – in short, symptom treatment.

Further, when we deny human beings any motives we de-humanise them and then they don’t deserve to be heard or treated as humans. Evil is always ‘the other.’

The attack on Charlie Hebdo was not an attack on the entire Western culture, democracy or freedom of expression as such. The perpetrators would hardly know such a concept.

It was an attack at one weekly magazine for what it had misused freedom of expression to do.


Freedom and wisdom of expression can be combined. There are at least 4 reasons why we should be proud of the principle of freedom of expression and therefore be wise enough to not misuse it or make it a weapon against others. Read the rest of this entry »

Misunderstood fundamentalism

By Jonathan Power

January 20th 2015

In his book “Faith and Power” Edward Mortimer, the former foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, when writing about Rishid Rida, the great Islamic intellectual of the first half of the twentieth century, asked himself if Rida was “fundamentalist” since he was an admirer of the militant Wahhabi puritans of Saudi Arabia. “I do not think so”, concluded Mortimer, “although I must admit that the precise meaning of this word when used in the context of Islam eludes me.”

At a time when the West is again aroused – because of the attack on Charlie Hebdo – by the actions of extreme Islamic fundamentalists we should note that it is astonishingly difficult to define fundamentalism either in Islam or Christianity. If it means “an effort to define the fundamentals of one’s religion and a refusal to budge from them once defined then surely anybody with serious religious beliefs of any sort must be fundamentalist in this sense”.

In Christianity there are many strains of fundamentalism. The Catholic Church, which abhors Enlightenment liberalism, is clearly fundamentalist when it comes to Read the rest of this entry »

“Je ne suis pas Charlie.”

By Chaiwat Satha-Anand*

The Paris march for unity on Sunday, January 11, 2015 attracted more than a million people and world leaders including Germany’s Merkel, Britain’s Cameron, Turkey’s Davutoglu, Israel’s Netanyahu, and Palestine’s Abbas, among others. This extraordinary action by leaders and citizens is in response to perhaps the bloodiest week in the last half of a century in France with 17 dead.

It began with the killing of 12 people at a previously little known satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo.” French President Francois Hollande warned that the threats facing France is not over even after the three perpetrators were dead.

The threat is real, however, not only because of information gathered by various intelligence agencies, but also because the violence and what has followed indicates a rift in the way Europe, and in fact the world, is moving in the context of fierce contestation of different ethics/values people are willing to die and for some – to kill for.

This article is an attempt to argue that the motto “Je suis Charlie”, while commendable in terms of solidarity with victims of senseless violence, transform the killing into politics of identity with potentials for further deadly conflict in the present context if certain existing signs are properly understood.

Arguably in response to the killing in Paris, there are reports of Muslims becoming targets of more frequent attacks: women’s veils have been pulled at, pork thrown at mosques Read the rest of this entry »

Could it be the world is getting better?

By Jonathan Power

January 13th 2015.

We have much to be glum about at the onset of 2015- the latest is the killings by ultra Islamists of the cartoonists in Paris. But we are brainwashed with bad news. “If it bleeds it leads”. One plane crash is worth more airtime than news that we are winning the fight against early death.

The World Health Organization has some telling facts. Over the last two decades infant deaths have fallen by a half. Measle deaths by three-quarters and both tuberculosis and maternal deaths by a half. AIDs-related illnesses have been cut by over a quarter. In 1960 one in five children died before the age of 5. Today it is one in 20, and falling.

Developing countries have caught up far more quickly in health than in wealth. For instance, Vietnam has the same health as the US had in 1980 but at present the same income per head as the US had in 1920.

Despite the Great Recession of the last six years poverty has plummeted. Although most of that drop has happened in China and India it has also happened in most Third World countries.

Population growth is slowing. Read the rest of this entry »

In defense of freedom of expression

By Farhang Jahanpour

The Wednesday edition of Charlie Hebdo (a week after the barbaric attack by two deranged terrorists on its premises) carried a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad, with a caption “Je Suis Charlie”, with a tear drop on his face announcing, “all is forgiven”. It is not clear who is forgiven and for what, but if it refers to the terrorists it certainly is not appropriate.

This time the magazine did not publish only 60,000 copies as it usually does, but three million copies, thanks to the generous help that it has received from various sources and also with the help of cartoonists from all over the world.

Richard Malka, a Sephardic Jew, who saw ten colleagues and four of his co-religionists massacred on that dreadful day, was one of the first to call for the magazine to continue functioning. When asked whether they would publish more cartoons of Muhammad, he replied in an interview with France Info radio on Monday: “Naturally. We will not give in, otherwise all this won’t have meant anything.”

Free speech tops all other considerations

This is as it should be, because in the final analysis freedom of expression tops all other considerations, as it is at the root of all other liberties and the quality of life that we enjoy in democratic societies.

More than three million people demonstrated in Paris and other French cities on Sunday, carrying the sign “Je Suis Charlie”. This did not mean that they agreed with everything that Charlie Hebdo stood for, but they wished to uphold the right of that satirical magazine to express itself freely.

Only a few days before the attacks in Paris, Pen America published a disturbing report on “Global Chilling. The Impact of Mass Surveillance on International Writers”, showing that mass surveillance by the United States and other governments had produced a very negative effect on free expression, leading to self-censorship. It further showed that concern about surveillance was almost as high among writers living in democracies (75%) as it was among those living in non-democratic states (80%). It would be tragic if the killing of a few journalists in Paris were allowed to result in greater self-censorship and to curtail freedom of expression.

The terrorists and those who wish to limit freedom of expression by violent means should learn that far from forcing others to silence, their acts will backfire and will have the opposite effect. If the terrorists intended to help the cause of Muslims in the world, it has had precisely the opposite effect and has intensified a climate of suspicion and cultural clash between Islam and the West.

It should be added that the terrorist outrage was not an Islamic act against Christians, Jews and secularists. It was the act of two terrorists against Muslims, Christians, Jews and people of no faith.

That vile act had nothing to do with Islam

In fact, after the carnage and the resulting anger, it is important to remember that Read the rest of this entry »


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