A Two-Way To Freedom Of Expression

From an ‘Advocacy and Lobbying’ class session of a Media Training a week ago, I took a major lesson which I’m convinced if everyone understood, the world would be a better place. Tolerance. The willingness to allow the existence of beliefs and views even when not in agreement with them. Sure you might counter and criticize, but you must be willing to accommodate another belief or thought should it not be genuinely offensive or a violation of your human right. Sadly I feel that we have failed to grasp this extremely important practice of life. We want our status quo views and choices to be celebrated, we fault the government, rightfully so by the way, for curtailing our freedoms of expression: and yet we go ahead and curtail other people’s.

While in high school, everytime I sat in Divinity 4(a social subject that draws content on religion) class in high school, 2 men, both ministers were mentioned in expounding answer bullets to almost each topic. One that had embezzled funds and another who’d tabled the anti-gay bill in Parliament. I want to focus on the latter. This man was widely celebrated if not worshipped. On every topic that required an exemplary leader point, it was encouraged that he be given as an example. Now, whereas my tolerant self understands that in this culture, it is unheard of and an abomination to be of a different sexual orientation, I’m deeply saddened that an estimated 98% of every class that goes through that curriculum is convinced that an individual whose idea sought to take away the rights of other human beings because their sexual orientation made them uncomfortable is a hero. I hope that the notes have been modified or if schools else where have different points of views because if not, I’m afraid a considerable part of the young citizenry, the leaders of tomorrow who should bring about peace and fight for justice are likely to go through their adult life seeking to suppress, deprive of rights, anybody who might not subscribe to their cultural beliefs. If this be so, I don’t know whether you realize it but we have a problem on our hands.

Still about a week ago, the right honorable speaker of the Parliament of Uganda visited a shrine to “thank her ancestors for her win” which aroused a lot of hullabaloo. Angry emails were sent. Mockery posts were made. TV interviews were had just to “demand” that she apologize to the country ( I’m rolling my eyes while I type this) and the Parliament because “our country is ashamed at that ungodly act” and so on. From what logical point is it required that this country get an apology from one for visiting a shrine, I wondered. I mean, when in your bed at dawn you hear the Imam like an alarm clock calling the worshippers for morning prayers from the mosque near your home; do you demand an apology? No, you don’t. This time of the year, Christians flock Namugongo and cause unbearable traffic. Never has the suburb resident who has 3 kids to drop off to, later pick up from school and a 9 to 5 job to get to demanded an apology. Not once. So my fellow country womyn and men, what business do you have asking Kadaga to apologize to you?

Yes, I know that “womyn” spelling rubs people the wrong way. I’ve seen the comments online. “That is nonsense,” “these feminists just hate men so much they’d rather not have ‘men’ in that spelling.” I say relax your insecurities my friends. Nobody will die when another chooses to spell that word their way. “These feminists” are not your child’s teachers, are they? See, they are not even petitioning the Queen of England to change that English word. So why are you so worked up by another person’s choice to modify a word’s spelling? Imagine how ridiculous we all would be if we flooded Ugandan rapper, Enygma’s timeline getting agitated about his stage name and insisting he spell it as “Enigma.” Or if we’d say, “hey The Mith, your name is ‘myth,’ don’t change it” and “why Winnie Nwagi when your name is Nakanwagi?!” In fact, we then wouldn’t be any different from the people who “bring in for questioning” someone for wearing a t-shirt they don’t like, now would we?

So while we seek our own freedoms of expression from the state, may we remember to accord those same freedoms to our fellow civilians. We can disagree, argue, discuss, rebut; but may we never hold at gun point, insult or seek to take away the rights of others simply because they hold divergent beliefs from ours.Whereas the idea of a homosexual might be to you abominable because your culture and religion have likened it to evil, may you still treat fairly another human being who chooses to take that path because guess what, they too are human beings who have rights same as the ones you so freely demand and enjoy. Whereas you choose to take your shoes off to enter a mosque to worship, may it be acceptable that another human being take theirs off to enter a shrine. Whereas you choose to take the spelling of a word as presented, may you refrain from hate speech towards that one who might modify it in their own vocabulary for whatever reasons.

Laws alone can not secure freedom of expression; in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

-Albert Einstein