Taking free speech for granted
Most of the articles on Mirsayafi’s blog were about traditional Persian music and about culture. After his conviction, he told Reporters Without Borders, “I am a cultural and not a political blogger. Of all the articles I have posted online, only two or three were satirical. I did not mean to insult anyone.” His blog, Rooznegaar, is no longer accessible.
In a recent email to Reporters Without Borders, Mirsayafi spoke about his distress: “I am worried. The problem is not my sentence of two years in prison. But I am a sensitive person. I will not have the energy to live in prison. I want everything to be like it was before. I want to resume my normal life and continue my studies.”
This is a sobering reminder that the freedom of speech that Americans have is a tremendous and rare achievement–one that most of the world has not attained. We should not take it for granted. But while the West often pays lip service to free speech, our actions reveal that we have been taking it for granted.
During the Danish cartoon crisis, our leaders did not champion our right to speak freely–they criticized those who “offended Islam.” Years earlier, during the attempt to silence Salman Rushdie, our leaders did not denounce Iranian intimidation and assure Americans that our right to free speech would be protected–they issued meek and empty protests while bookstores were firebombed. That’s to say nothing of the countless other restrictions on free speech we tolerate (or champion), such as limits on political speech through campaign finance laws.