Sunday 26 September 2010

Even Freedom of Speech Has Limits

The newspapers have been filled with outrage over the remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his address to the United Nations General Assembly meeting. The US delegation walked out of the meeting during his address, and they were followed by representatives of other countries. A number of European countries have come out in condemnation of the statements made during his speech.

The whole sequence of events gives me a feeling of déjà vu. It is like an autumnal circus that takes place each year surrounding the UN General Assembly meeting. The Iranian juggernaut rolls into New York City (along with those from many other countries). There is the usual round of talk show appearances and press conferences. It all culminates in Ahmadinejad's address to the General Assembly which criticises the USA and other western democracies. It uses every opportunity to delegitimise the State of Israel and warn of her pending downfall and destruction. The address is traditionally accompanied by a walkout by one delegation or another, and is followed by condemnations from countries who support the concept of mutual respect between nations. Once all the noise has died down for this year, we can expect the same behaviour and reactions next year. Surely there is something flawed in the whole ridiculous episode.

Having the right to address the United Nations and to say what you wish, is a right to freedom of speech afforded to all member nations. As with most rights, the right to freedom of speech is also accompanied by an obligation. The obligation is to use your freedom of speech in a way which does not blatantly make untruthful, disrespectful or inflammatory statements towards other nations. The charter of the UN also requires member countries to respect the human rights of other member countries, including their right to exist as a sovereign country and member of the UN. There is clear evidence that the Iranian president has repeatedly violated this, and with it, the charter of the United Nations. So why is he allowed to continue to behave in this way without any attempt to call him to account?

In spite of his behaviour, Ahmadinejad continues to enjoy the rights that are afforded to nations that abide by the rules of the UN. He is invited to the General Assembly meeting each year and allowed to make his address from the podium. He is given free rein to appear on talk shows and hold press conferences to further promote his vitriol and hatred. Not only is he allowed the freedom to do this, he is also afforded all the attention and the headlines as newspaper editors once again clamber to express alarm at his hateful statements. Each year, he is forced to step up the hate in order to ensure that he will succeed in making the front pages. This year, he decided to encroach upon the "holy of holies" in terms of the American people, the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks on New York City and other locations around the USA.

The fact that Ahmadinejad had the audacity to suggest that the US government had somehow been behind the events of 9/11 in order to support the continued survival of the State of Israel, clearly crossed a red line for the American government and its citizens. Besides making statements which can clearly not be supported by the facts, his accusation is absurd. How the events of 9/11 can be shown to support Israel is beyond my understanding. Other than making this ridiculous accusation, Ahmadinejad did not make any attempt to explain how such action on the part of the American government may have helped Israel. It is almost as if his sole intention was to insult and enrage the Americans and the Israelis. This is the same person who is being allowed to continue to enrich uranium and pursue the development of an extensive nuclear program that could produce nuclear weapons.

The world's reaction on this occasion seems to be the same as before. It will simply make a few comments of objection, and then invite him to address the General Assembly again next year. By not taking more decisive action against this unacceptable and objectionable behaviour, the world essentially sends a message that it is acceptable to behave in this way. I accept that it may not be appropriate to take actions against Iran, as this is likely to punish the innocent people of Iran who have already been cheated at the ballot box to force this man upon them as their president. I do believe, however, that action should be taken personally against Ahmadinejad. This is personal, and the world's response should mirror this fact. The time has come for Ahmadinejad to be banned from addressing the UN, and to be barred from entering the USA and other western democratic countries. We should deny him the headlines which keep him in power in Iran, and which support his evil rhetoric and actions. There are precedents for actions against individual leaders such as Mugabe, and I would not hesitate to place the Iranian president on this list of unwanted and undesirable personalities in the same way.

Many years of trying have shown that a policy of engagement does not work. It affords the opportunity for Ahmadinejad to pull the wool over the eyes of western countries even further. The only results that have been yielded thus far are to strengthen his world standing. Sanctions have not helped the situation in any way, other than to buy Ahmadinejad more time to develop his nuclear weapons under the noses of the inspection teams. Even though action is already very late, it is better now than never. Decisive action is now required, and fast.

If we are to leave our children a world that is safer than the one we live in today, the influence of leaders like Ahmadinejad needs to be killed off without hesitation. It is time for the world to stand up and to take action against those who threaten freedom and mutual respect. By alienating this evil man and making him a persona non grata in all countries that value real freedom of speech, it may help to bring his downfall in Iran where the majority has already shown itself opposed to him.

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