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Free speech in America

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The dome of the Capitol in Washington DC supports the bronze Statue of Armed Freedom [Reuters] by Patty Culhane

This is a day when having freedom of speech is just hard.

I've watched parts of the controversial video clip and like most, I found it beyond disgusting. I don't think the word exists that could express my revulsion for what it depicted.

I just kept thinking this is so awful, so obviously meant to stir up violence and bloodshed. I thought about the souls of those who created it.

How could their religion or their own hatred take them to this place? I don't think I'll ever be able to answer that question.

What I have been trying to explain in my role here at Al Jazeera English is the first amendment, freedom of speech and it hasn't been easy.

Truthfully, I don't think I've done a very good job in my role as explainer of America. I believe that every citizen of every country has some beliefs that are just a part of their national character.

For Americans, the first amendment is at the core of who we believe we are. I'm not being jingoistic. For the record, I don't believe I was indoctrinated at the Democratic National Convention by the slogans, pictures of Abe Lincoln and patriotic music.

First amendment

I believe there is a reason it is the very first amendment in our Constitution. We are taught as children that it is a fundamental right, to be able to say what we believe without retribution.

That of course means we have to accept when people say the exact opposite of what we believe; laws against "hate speech" that are popular in other parts of this world, would just never go over here.

It's never been an easy belief, but the internet makes it so much harder. It used to be, before the technology existed that anyone could make this video, but no one had to distribute it.

There was a system of checks and balance in the established media. I had that experience multiple times as a reporter working in local news.

Someone would tell you the most outrageous things, and you just didn't put them on the air. In fact, you had a responsibility not to.

YouTube has changed the equation. It removes the checks and balances. I understand that is one of the main reasons it exists, to open up the media to everyone.

I have no problem with that, the American media has in many ways let the world down. There has been too much power, concentrated in too few hands.

I can't help but wonder if YouTube shouldn't open the question to its users. If this is really an attempt to open mass media to the masses, maybe everyone should get to decide, if and where it is taken down.

I can't help but think most Americans would say, "Yank it". Whoever made this film has the right under our laws to produce it, but that doesn't mean they get to send it to every corner of the globe digitally.

They don't, and in my opinion everyone involved in sending this out should stop and think about the part they are playing in humanity.

Censoring internet

I haven't been part of what I'm sure have been heated discussion in YouTube's headquarters. I'm sure the argument is that if you start censoring here, what's next?

That is the driving fear when it comes to any discussion of the First Amendment, if you start to peel away this "inalienable right" where does it end?

I think it is telling in the last decade when most Americans have sat back silently as certain rights like privacy have been rolled back; the right to free speech hasn't really been touched.

It is that sacred to Americans.

I don't know if this can really explain what to Americans doesn't need any explanation, but I wanted to try. In case I've fallen short, I'll leave you with the words of Aaron Sorkin who wrote the movie "The American President" and has a remarkable talent putting into words and pictures the best of what this country should be.

In his world, the American President had this to say about freedom of speech and why it is part of who we are:

Everybody knows American isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say; "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest." Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

In short, I believe this vile video does not reflect the views of the vast majority of Americans, but the right to make it, is for many what it means, to be one.


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