Causing Commotion

By Wiet Debruijn (UWCAC 2016-2018)

There is one luxury that is always taken advantage of, and it is, freedom of speech. Wherever I go I am allowed to say and think what I want and nor will I be prosecuted or held accountable. I know this is  a cliche topic to discuss, however I believe this is a very important, especially now, after the results of the US presidential elections. It is always important to be able to say what is on your mind, but should that still be the case when one is offending thousands with racial slurs and using misogynistic and derogatory terms?
Freedom of speech is my most influential power. With my ideas and thoughts I came into UWC. With the ability to say what I think I have made the friends that I have and inevitably become who I am. This all seems dramatic, but it is important to understand. What is also important to understand is the way in which one must use his or her freedom of speech. One must not abuse this power to offend or hurt others and that is where my big question comes in, should we be allowed to think and say what we want if that means that we are offending others? Last April a german comedian, Jan Böhmermann, read out a satirical poem about Turkish president, Erdogan. In this poem he called him a fascist, accused him of being a goat f***er, and accused him of watching ‘child porn while kicking kurds’. Of course this was Jan’s own opinion, however in Germany there is a law that states that publically shaming politicians can mean going to jail. Jan was all too aware of this law and even began his poem with the words “What I am about to read is not allowed”. Due to Jan’s harsh words and uncalled-for remarks, he might face five years in jail if  the Turkish president decides to press charges. This is an interesting example of how one is not as open to say what he or she feels even if the person one is going against lives in a different continent.

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Of course, Jan knew that he was breaking the law and he knew that he shouldn’t have made such remarks, however he did not expect to get persecuted because it was just his own opinion and his right to say what he wanted. Germany is a free country and people should be open about their ideas and thoughts, even if that means that he uses derogatory terms and chooses to offend others. However, did Jan need to read out this poem on live television? No he did not. He also chose to read out this poem in a time when Germany and Turkey had just negotiated a deal that for every refugee returned from Greece back to Turkey, one will be admitted into the EU from Turkey’s refugee camps. Not only did Jan offend Erdogan he also created tensions between Angela Merkel and Erdogan, who later had to apologize personally to Erdogan about the poem.
Either way, the damage is done and Jan brought out his message and world views, and although Jan might be facing jail time he has created tensions between both countries. Jan’s satire is used to generate a reaction and to cause anger. Though his freedom of speech might have gotten him in trouble, he has proven that judgment and vulgar language grabs attention. People love conflict and will continue to love it. Maybe freedom of speech was just implemented in order to create discussions and to allow people to share ideas whether they are kind or cruel. Jan has certainly made me think of what I want to say out loud and how I want people to remember me. I have become more cautious with how I speak and how open I am with people. I say what I think, but only when I know it is the right time and does not offend anyone too badly. So be careful with how you present yourself because it might get you in prison no matter how ‘free’ a country is.

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