Free Speech Arithmetic: A Shell Game for Liberals

Shubh Mathur

Shubh Mathur is an anthropologist whose interests include human rights, nations and borders, the death penalty, minorities, immigration and Muslim communities in the United States. Her first book, The Everyday Life of Hindu Nationalism, was published by the Three Essays Collective press.

Any number can play. Numbers vary according to the current moves. Players include but are not limited to the following:

  • The state
  • The oppressed community/nationality
  • The dominant society
  • Mainstream media
  • Liberals
  • Misfits

The moves and scoring:

1. The controversy can be initiated in two ways. First, some members of the oppressed community/nationality express intolerant opinions. Liberals who sympathize with the oppressed are required to condemn these opinions and stigmatize the entire oppressed community/nationality. Second, a liberal makes insulting comments/writes insulting book/makes insulting film about the oppressed, who are consequently outraged. All liberals are required to support the insulting remarks/book/film. score: Liberals 0 Oppressed 0

2. The feeding frenzy. Mainstream media takes up the story, portraying the oppressed as intolerant/lacking a sense of humour/ mistreating women. Claims to stand for free speech and women’s rights. Liberals fail to point out that mainstream media has never cared when women of oppressed community/nationality were raped by soldiers/police/thugs belonging to the dominant community; also that mainstream media had never cared about the political freedoms of the oppressed who are jailed, tortured and killed routinely for dissenting from the message approved by the state and dominant society.

State (not yet on the field but begins scoring) 5; mainstream media 2; liberals 0; oppressed 0

free speech3. The state continues and steps up repression of political activity by oppressed community/nationality. Mainstream media ignores it. Their narrative remains unchallenged. Dominant society ignores repression. Most liberals may not even be aware it is happening. The oppressed are too angry to speak.

State 5; mainstream media 2; dominant society 2; liberals 0; oppressed 0

4. The state declares itself in support of those supposedly targeted by the intolerance of the oppressed. Mainstream media joins in. The dominant society joins in. The oppressed close ranks against all criticism of any of their members. Those among the oppressed who oppose the original intolerant comments are silenced. Liberals are silent or demand token statements against “intolerance” by the oppressed.

State 5; mainstream media 2; dominant society 5; liberals 0; oppressed 0

5. At an advanced stage of the game, the state’s stooges among the oppressed fuel the fire by making still more intolerant statements. Mainstream media offers this as proof of the intolerance of the oppressed. The dominant society drinks it up. Liberals and the oppressed are barely talking to each other, much less challenging the duplicity of the mainstream media.

State 5; mainstream media 2; dominant society 5; liberals 0; oppressed 0

6. Leaders among the oppressed condemn intolerance. Mainstream media ignores them. The dominant society ignores them. Liberals ignore them. The state stores this away for future use.

State 10; mainstream media 2; dominant society 5; liberals 0; oppressed 5

7. Women political activists from the oppressed nationality speak out against intolerance and the way the mainstream media has twisted the story for its own purposes. Mainstream media, dominant society and liberals ignore them. The state saves it for future use. They will be made to pay in due time for getting it right and making a public statement about it.

State 10; mainstream media 5; dominant society 5; liberals 0; oppressed 5

8. The state moves in and arrests members of the oppressed who have been accused of intolerance. They will be tortured and railroaded. In a milder version of this move, they will only be publicly humiliated and ridiculed.

State:10; oppressed 0

9. Thugs from militant intolerant groups in the dominant society continue to threaten artists, celebrate violence. The state makes no comment and takes no action against them. Mainstream media makes no comment. Liberals try and oppose this intolerance but are hopelessly confused about its extent and origins. The dominant narrative about the intolerance of the oppressed remains in place.

State 20; mainstream media 10; liberals 0; oppressed 0

10. The state declares victory for freedom of expression. It uses #6 statements by leaders of the oppressed to discredit them by suggesting that they support #s 3 and 8. Mainstream media and the dominant society pat themselves on the back, even as the violence and intolerance of their own kind closes in on them. Liberals have been eliminated from the game. The oppressed hunker down to weather the new wave of repression unleashed by the state.

State 20; mainstream media 10; dominant society 0; liberals 0; oppressed 5

The final result is always the same. The state wins. Repression remains unchallenged. Mainstream media wins ratings. The oppressed lose. The dominant society thinks it has won but is losing big time. Liberals are not even in the game.

Game changer: liberals and the oppressed learn to trust each other and their mutual critiques. They expose the duplicity of mainstream media and show the dominant society the danger of ignoring the intolerance of their own kind. The state is checkmated and can no longer play divide-and-rule.

Everyone wins.



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