Friday, February 03, 2006

Meeting the internet and musing on freedom of speech and strange bedfellows

Recently, in an article, a journalist asked "do you remember the first time you used the internet?" Try as hard as I could, I couldn't.

I do remember my first e mail address, though. It must have been in the dying years of the 90s. It wasn't an e mail address like we know them today. It was at the local post office, where for some odd reason, someone somewhere had been visionary enough to link them to the internet. For a relatively small fee (Two hundred naira or so I think it was) , you could open an account with them and receive and send e mails. Does that sound straightforward? It was anything but. We were not let anywhere near the actual PCs- instead there were wooden desks at which you could write out in longhand your e mail and then pass it to the clerk who took it to the back room hidden from view where other clerks proceeded to type and send it for you from the post office address.

Confidentiality was non-existent and all replies to you had to include in the Subject line "for the attention of XY"so that they could be printed off and put in a pigeon hole for you to pick up the next time you visited the post office. It was a bit difficult as at the time I was carrying on a romance across the seas and this method of communication (and the thought of the dour matronly chief clerk reading through my sweet nothings) did tend to stifle the ardour......

And from there, I remember moving on to my first internet cafe- whatever gave me the temerity to think I could, I cannot recall. I remember the sniggering of the staff and the regulars at my one handed typing technique, and my wondering how anyone could ever type so swiftly with two hands without ever going to typing school... I soon became a regular at that cafe and as other internet cafes sprang up across town, I began to note which ones had good connections and which ones always had"their system down", which had generators to battle the frequent power cuts and which didn't, and so became a favoured and discerning customer.....Those internet cafes opened up new vistas for me and I do owe them a lot more than the browsing fees I paid....

Freedom of speech has been on my mind lately, partly because of my earlier post, and partly because of the Bill before the UK parliament to ban incitement to religious hatred, a law which opponents said curtailed the right to freedom of speech. The law sought to extend to religion the protection already offered to people from being insulted or abused on the basis of their race. Interestingly enough, it was opposed by a coalition of die-hard atheists who felt that religious belief deserved no such protections and fundamentalist Christians who felt that it would limit their right to preach to people of other religions or criticize them, the often unnamed other religion of course being Islam. The Bill was defeated and the government (in a farcical moment occasioned by Tony Blair leaving the House before he had voted, and thus allowing the defeat by one vote) had to accept an amended version which distinguished between insulting a religion and inciting hatred against it. While I mused on how freedom of speech could bring together the oddest bedfellows, news broke of the riots against the cartoons said to depict the Prophet Muhammed across the world

I must admit that while acknowledging that my opinions are no doubt shaped by my own personal circumstances as a non-Muslim, I struggled to appreciate the rationale behind the demand that the Danish government should have stopped the newspapers publishing the offending cartoons. I believe that people should respect each other and their beliefs, but I also believe that people have a right to free speech, and fail to see how on earth legislation can enforce respect. Fear and threats will not achieve much either, and can only lead to increasingly polarized positions.

Freedom of speech is obviously a very complex minefield to wade through, with shifting alliances and perspectives...

4 comments:

TRAE said...

that first time using the net stuff was funny. i can relate to a lot of what you were saying. i used the internet for the first time in 2001 when i opened my first email address. it was done for me sha. a year later i really got my hands on it as per operating a PC by myself.

LondonBuki said...

Hello... I remember my first time using the internet... I was a late bloomer, it was September 1998 and I had just moved to England and someone opened the email account for me and actually helped me send my first email ever!!!!... it seemed like Advanced Algebra/Latin rolled in one... Now, in the blink of an eye, I am signed in to messenger, my hotmail, my gmail, my work email addy... LOL!!!!!

tout noir said...

Democracy is only useful if all parties agree to its demands. The West's mistake was not inviting the Middle East to the democratic table earlier - before they created Israel and sowed deep bitterness. Now it's almost too late.

When Muslims see cartoons that poke fun at Mohammed, they riot. When Christians in democratic states see cartoons that poke fun at Jesus, they organize boycotts and sign petitions.

My family is half-Christian and half-Muslim. I cannot stand both religions so I consider myself impartial. Yet, it's difficult for me to sympathize with Muslims. I don't think they have earned the right to be protected from insult. When they check their fundamentalist bigots, the rest of world might perhaps show them a bit more sympathy.

Ore said...

LOL @ Meeting the internet. I can't imagine having someone read through my emails now or have access to my passwords. It's funny how the things we keep private change as technology is incorporated into more parts of our lives.