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Your Freedom of Speech

Afraid. That is what I recall feeling on a fine summer night   in Oxford. We had just settled down with our pints outside the pub having a conversation about the situation in the Middle East, when the lady from the next table started butting in. She ignored me because of my nationality and asked my friends if they thought it was right that muslims should come to her country and blow people up. The lid blew off when I greeted someone in Turkish -my mother tongue. Even though I have always made a point of being loudly critical of nationalist sentiments back home, being yelled at by a stranger about speaking her  effing language in her effing country triggered a nasty feeling. It put me in my place. When the patrons and staff of the pub came to intervene she shrieked: “This man’s a radical! He’s talking radical stuff!” My blood rushed through my temples, pounding like a drum as I waited someone to respond: “Oh yeah? What did he say?” The thought of being tried with a charge of terrorism in a public trial outside a pub in Oxford terrified me. I am not ashamed to admit it.

Thankfully the tide of public opinion was on my side this time. At some other pub I might not have been so lucky. Last night as I read everyone who’s opinion I respect, who’s friendship I cherish, racing to stack the tallest tower of soap boxes, shouting on top of their lungs: “This is the darkest hour of democracy!” I tremble once again. What if I don’t condemn the attack louder than everyone else? What if I don’t apologise for Islam stooping lower on my knees than everyone else, like Charbonnier never did? Would my defiance be used to justify that imperialist war or this discriminating policy? I do not have the dignity nor the courage of white men. I would rather live.

As the language of standing erect against terrorists gushes out of a shaft and washes over me, I watch stupefied as commentators try to determine for whom to save the biggest synonyms of the word ‘coward’. Is it to be those spineless terrorists, who are terrified of freedom? Or these yellow bellied, lily livered pansies in the media who have surrendered to their demands by censoring the pictures in their own pages?

I come from a part of the world which is perhaps rightfully mocked for the tendency of it’s men to commit terrifying acts of martyrdom to prove their bravery. The promise, allegedly is that they will also get to impress a thousand virgins with their virility in the after life. Being familiar with the routine of blood thirsty men who have silenced everyone who disagree with them, unshaken in the belief that they are standing united against a common enemy, I can’t help but ask myself: What retribution will we wake up to? Will there be hell to pay? What will it be this time?

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