Friday, 26 October 2018

John Ralston Saul The Fight for Freedom of Expression Around the World: A Personal Account

John Ralston Saul delivered his lecture The Fight for Freedom of Expression Around the World: A Personal Account
On October 18, world-renowned author John Ralston Saul delivered the inaugural lecture of the Warren Allmand Lecture Series. The Series, co-sponsored by the Thomas More Institute, and supported by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and the Institute of the Study of International Development, is intended to honour the legacy of the late Warren Allmand, former MP, Cabinet Minister, and tireless proponent for the advancement of human rights. Allmand was also a proud McGill alumnus, graduating in 1957 with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree.
John Ralston Saul, CC OOnt (born June 19, 1947) is a Canadian writer, political philosopher, and public intellectual. Saul is most widely known for his writings on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good; the failures of manager-led societies;[1] the confusion between leadership and managerialism; military strategy, in particular irregular warfare; the role of freedom of speech and culture; and critiques of the modern economic situation. He is a champion of freedom of expression and was the International President of PEN International, an association of writers. Saul is the co-founder and co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national charity promoting the inclusion of new citizens. Saul was international president of PEN International from 2009-2015.
Lecture Topic:
Recent debates about free speech have become increasingly confused. How can one defend the right to freedom of expression in the face of hate speech and an increasingly skewed division between fact and opinion? For John Ralston Saul, it has always been clear in the world of writing that freedom of expression involves two fundamentals: a belief in unrestricted expression, coupled with a commitment to not encouraging hatred between people. This means that those who claim the right to freedom of expression in order to encourage racism or hatred simply have no understanding of the history of freedom of expression. And they neglect what has caused so many public voices, over the last few hundred years, to die in its defense.
Rough transcript of lecture:
It is through language that we express the state as best we can.  People being hung are being hung by me, not the state. If I’m not willing to do it individually, then I should be against in general.
Freedom of expression is central to everything we do. Non democratic states hate it; corporations have difficulty because it is the opposite of advertising; people in politics are uncomfortable with it,  they will say‘’the press is very mean to me’’, but in politics, you have to have thick skin. In conversations with heads of state, you need thick skin.  Anyone, anywhere with power makes them very nervous. Often they could not figure out how to deal with writers, they couldn’t figure out how to buy us.
Il existe une confusion, la liberté d’expression est mal comprise – on pense que la liberté d’expression justifie la haine, la violence, tandis que la gauche croit que c’est un outil pour ceux qui ont le privilège. 
Le mouvement technologique a commencé avec un romanticisme, ce n’est plus le cas. L’internet est moins une voix de l’expression libre qu’outil pour voler l’information libre des citoyens ou une plateform pour des politiques extrêmes. On répond souvent, ‘’donc vous avez des choses à cacher?’’. Moi je réponds, ‘’oui j’ai beaucoup de choses à cacher’’. Ma discussion privé, vous n’avez pas le droit de le savoir avant que je le présente en public.
Je suis allés à des réunions avec des diplomates, qui pour dire certaines choses, devaient sortir de la salle de réunion, car on m’informe qu’ il y a avait 4-5 micros dans la pièce.  Un ambassadeur d’Ankara a mis son téléphone dans une en valise et l’a placé en dehors de la salle de réunion car  le téléphone, ouvert ou fermé, est un micro accessible. Un millier d’écrivains sont emprisonés outués chaque année.  Combien de présidents de banques sont tués? Il ya une paresse des canadiens de prendre la liberté d’expression, de parler en public. Galsworthy, à son époque, voyait déjà les problèmes politiques pour la liberté d’expression.
Unhampered freedom of expression and unlimited freedom implies voluntary restraint, and implies the need to check mendacious and deliberate falsehoods, which means a refusal to use language that encourages hatred. There is no hate literature, this is hate propaganda.  
Quelques piliers de la charte :
1-      déclaration des droits linguistiques pour protéger les langues en danger
2-      déclaration des droits et devoirs sur le web
3-      droit des femmes
4-      la traduction en tant qu’élément de liberté d’expression
We support targeted writers who feel alone, we give them a sense of being listened to. In Moscow, there are posters of the best Russian writers with the blurb ‘’enemies of the state’’. In Central Asia, we visited a writer in prison. After the visit, prison official dressed in a soviet-style uniform invited us to lunch at an Argentinean steak house. Now dressed in a dapper suit, he told how he loved literature and so we managed to get the prisoner’s sentence cut in half. It is hard getting people out of prison. There was a case were a Muslim student downloaded a religious tract with some dubious elements in it and was sentenced to death, we managed to get him quietly taken out of the country. One meeting in Central Asia, the representative loudly shouted at me for most of the meeting. You weren’t there – neither were you.
One writer had his house surrounded by soldiers with machine guns. We had a contact alert the press and when the news quickly got out, there was a public outcry, and this dispersed the gunmen.
In Mexico, with murder of a number of journalists, we met with Mexican Senate to change a law from provincial to federal in order to better protect them.
A writer in Turkey was tortured and horribly beaten to near death. He is still alive and had to flee to England for 10 years after which he went back to Turkey. Three quarters  of the world is unlike Canada, they do not have that degree of freedom of expression. In Istanbul, there are 10 000 people in prison, of which 135 are writers. We visited them in two school buses.  It was very disorganized and we ended up being allowed to drive up too close to the prison and officials started screaming with guards waiving machine guns at us.
There was a writer in Myanmar in prison who refused medication, saying let me out or I die, he was released. With the Rohinga crisis, you have an extreme right wing generals alliance with an unbalanced Buddhist monk who used Facebook to orchestrate the oppression.  43 000 people have died as a result of this. At a meeting with in Honduras with the minister of justice, we became aware that they were behind the violence we were concerned about and at a press conference, there was an attempt to kidnap one of our delegates.
Perdre sa langue, c’est perdre sa liberté d’expression. Il faut faire un effort, les langues autochtones sont en danger. La grande réussite du français au Québec peut aider pour écrire un document de protection de langues autochtones. Les Acadiens ont fait un retour en force, mais les choses sont difficiles au Manitoba et en Ontario. Il y a de vrai luttes au Canada avec 70 langues autochtones en danger; il ya des abus éthique déplorables. C’est notre décision consciente; si on détruit la langue, on détruit la culture.  Il y a 15 ans, il n’a avait aucun désir dans le gouvernement de faire quelque chosel il y a trois ans, ont a annoncé de l’argent réel, mais c’est très tard. On a besoin d’un rôle des citoyens de soutenir ces langues.
We need to support indigenous languages. I can see newspapers such as the Toronto Sun and the Journal de Montréal write that it is a waste of tax payers money. We have experience with the laws on French immersion. My grandson can now take a course on Ojibway. There is a potential mass liquidation of languages going on.
In Newfoundland, there is a classic violation of freedom of expression with the Muskrat Falls Hydro project. A Journalist Justin was given a criminal charge in a dictatorial manner, with the aim of bankrupting him through heavy court costs. It is the biggest freedom of expression problem in a long time. It reminds me of Joseph Hom when corrupt judges attempted to try to bankrupt him. The Halifax trial lasted four hours where he gave a memorable testimony stating that ‘’When I sit down in solitude, the only questions I ask are, what is right, what is just, and what is good for the people’’.
40 % of writers are in prison because of their use of the internet.  In Ethiopia, where the population of 85 million are very poor, the government has one of the world’s most sophisticated internet security systems.
 As a citizen and internet user, you have to begin every day testing yourself to what extent you believe in freedom of expression.
Utilitarianism arguments are prevalent now. The dependence on management is rising, but we are not doing any better. There is a return of monopolies, we need to break up the monopolies. The problem of authoritarianism is linked to the western concept of the nation state which can’t deal with complexity.  As a democracy we should be able to deal with multiple interests. We need to  stop shutting down minority language schools. This is not because of technology, it is because of government decisions.  
Universities need to encourage debate among students. Universities should create places of debates, not racism and hatred. To say that internet sites are not publishers is a lie. We need define hate, we need to do this every day and speak out. At a European diplomatic dinner with my wire, we would hear anti-semitic comments, so we decided to take them to task for this

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