Whenever I go up to a beautiful woman, kiss her and say ‘Baby, it’s me!’ she always responds with, ‘Who are you?’ This is either borderline creepy or my gal has amnesia – it’s a question that we spend our lives trying to address.
I know I do. Who am I? Intrepid columnist, expert drummer, disappointing lover, doughty crime fighter, blue-haired freak? I’m a sinner and a saint; I do not feel ashamed. By your powers of perception combined, I am Captain Kazi.
Beyond that, I’m American, I’m Bangladeshi, I’m Muslim. A bunch of all-powerful accidents. I didn’t plan them, but they define everything I do. As Salman Rushdie says, ‘In order to know me, you’ll have to swallow a world.’ And this is a dude who has triumphed over amazing setbacks: in spite of looking like he does, he married Padma Lakshmi.
There are ideas, and there are ideas. Your favorite movie being ‘Politically Correct University’ says something, but not as much as your life’s governing design. For me, I love the sound of my own voice. So my governing design, or principal principle, is mankind’s inalienable right to free speech. It’s a problematic concept because modern society’s moving toward a universe where everybody shouts louder than everybody else. There’s a Meatloaf song about it. Worse, part of our sanctification of freedom of speech is an attempt to make unpleasant shouters shut up.
I don’t like this hypocrisy. ‘Let ’em rant’ is my motto. I am completely against censorship of any speech, for any reason whatsoever. This sounds like collegiate naivet’eacute;. And sure it is because who wouldn’t like to stop Chris Cornell from releasing ‘Scream’? We can call it hatemongering against Soundgarden fans.
But when you censor one thing, no matter how valid your excuse, you risk censoring everything in the world. Today it’s Chris Cornell, tomorrow it’s going to be The Bad Plus, and pretty soon all we’ll have left is John Cage’s ‘4’33” – which leaves me with not much to say.
The thing about censoring speech is that you can’t. Speech is information, and information has to be free. The only place where secrets stay secret and silence exists is in Dan Brown novels. Even John Cage performances have people sneezing. I’ve talked about how the Recording Industry Association of America’s lack of understanding this basic human fact is now destroying their current revenue model. In short: they made it easier for someone to steal music than to buy it, and their exploitative royalty systems make it possible to support artists without necessarily buying their albums. And right now we’re in the middle of a seminal free speech/file sharing debate with the Pirate Bay sysadmins on trial, all monkeying around with the famous King Kong defense (Google it).
Downloading Kim Kardashian videos and reading James Joyce’s letters to Nora Barnacle (the latter being more titillating) are much the same. Information was recorded, and we therefore have right of access.
The same dictum applies to information transmission. We must be heard. This is why we speak, write, sing. This is why we live. This is the new reproduction for gene propagation and eternal life. By ‘new,’ I mean since the written word. As compared to dinosaurs, not ‘Heroes: Season 2.’
If you disagree with me, don’t say anything about it to anybody. You’ll have proven your point.
En fin, as we say in Latin or to fishes, here are the two best things about freedom of speech. First, if you decide to let everybody speak their mind, you will see that detritus sinks and the worthwhile remains. Samuel Johnson kind of said this when he spoke about how true literary fame is achieved when you’re read two hundred years after you die. He also invalidated every blogger ever, but that’s neither here nor there.
Second, every censorship attempt fails eventually. I can’t prove it, because if something were truly silenced, then we wouldn’t know about it. But I have enough historical examples to safely make my claim.
I write about free speech today because of thousands of events that happened centuries, decades, years before my birth and after. For me, the most relevant is Feb. 21, 1952. Bangladesh was East Pakistan then, Bangla the language spoken by the majority. Students from the University of Dhaka and Dhaka Medical College were in a peaceful procession and were gunned down by the Pakistani police. Their crime was demanding that Bangla be recognized as a national language.
End result? Bangladesh became independent, Bangla is the fourth most spoken language in the world today and we’re still celebrating freedom and the right to speak our minds in the languages we love. On Feb. 21, every lover of words is a Bengali.
And if you want to be a lover of a Bengali, well, you know how to get in touch.