Last week the Pakistani government denied access to YouTube for a short period because some of the content was deemed offensive.  According to the BBC article, reports said the content included religious cartoons that already caused worldwide outrage.  Once those questionable videos were removed, YouTube was back up in Pakistan.  But regardless of one’s opinion, it brings up the largely debated  issue of responsibility towards society versus the rights of the individual.   Should we have the individual freedom to receive any content we desire or should a sacrifice be made for the larger good of society? 

This issue reminds me of a quote my middle school teacher had on a poster that read something like, “Freedom is not about having the right to do what you want, but having the ability to do what is right.”  I remember that quote having a big impression on me as a 7th grader.  At home, I was always taught a culture of living as a community and that one’s responsibility to the family was more important than your individual desires.  In eastern society, the family unit is not only the parents and children but includes the extended family.  It is a society that lives as a community, not as a collection of individuals.  Yet in a western school, I was taught by my peers that I was “free”.  I remember kids saying, “If your parents ever make you do something, tell them you don’t have to because it’s a free country.”

My father recalls a story from my childhood:  When I was 9 years old, I had a friend who lived across the street and we would often play together after school and on weekends.  One evening my father was working in the garden while we were playing.  He asked me to help him do something, and my friend told me the same thing, “It’s a free country; he can’t make you do it if you don’t want to.”  I was caught in the middle of two cultures.  He says at the time he was shocked at this girl’s response, and now I realize how disrespectful her comment was.  When I asked him what I decided to do, he told me I chose not to help him and continued playing with her.  Thinking of this story today, I feel ashamed.  I had the freedom to choose what is right and I am ashamed I chose the right to do what I wanted. 



Filed under culture, sociology, traditions

4 responses to “freedom

  1. Interesting story and a very important point.

    In an ideal situation, I think we would all like to have the freedom to do whatever we want to do, and again ideally, thinking for the good of the society or our community at large, it’d be best to focus on doing the right thing instead of taking advantage of the freedom. Now, how would we make sure that most people in a free society end up doing the right thing? Or thinking of it differently, is everyone doing the right thing in a society where you don’t have the choice?

    If we exclude the eastern community values that are not necessarily based on force, but in many cases are based on personal desire, I wonder if lack of freedom amplifies this desire to be “wicked”! Imagine a situation where you are forced to act in a certain way, forced to help a family member, forced to follow religious commands, etc., and have no other option (it’s the written or unwritten but generally accepted law of the society you live in). I wonder if it would have a positive outcome in the end. Having the option to watch whatever you want on Youtube or media in general may have more positive long-term impacts in the end. In other words, forbidding something (especially when there is not enough communication involved) tends to trigger a strong desire for the forbidden object, topic, or act which may not even occur to us or may pass us quickly if we have the freedom to choose and have had the freedom for a few generations. One example is that countries with strong censorship end up breaking the world records for number of views on illegal sites every year.

    And I think when it comes to censorship, it’s difficult to judge what is good for the society in certain categories in the long run. May be a healthy society is one with more diversity of thought, beliefs, and ideas; ideas that contradict and criticize one another. May be it’s dangerous, limiting, and in some cases insulting for one society to be allowed to be exposed only to certain things that are judged to be good by certain groups. I don’t know what would be the impact on a society that has never been free before and is suddenly exposed to all sorts of ideas. The long-term effects may be constructive (after a few generations) but I would guess that the first few generations are likely to suffer as there is still a strong desire for doing the wrong thing that was forbidden for so long.

    This is my personal opinion, and I’m not really sure what the correct answer is to be honest. I have heard convincing arguments from the other side as well.

    Thanks for your great post, I really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Fatima

    Shideh, thanks so much for your wonderful insights. There are two sides to every story and each side has it’s own positives and negatives. You bring up some very valid points that I agree with. I don’t think there are many situations or events in history where any extreme has lead to positive outcomes. We must find some middle ground.

  3. loubird

    There are many videos on youtube that are offensive, it is my business to have the freedom to do the right thing and not watch them. I think letting a government decide what is offensive or not, rather than the individual (who is often influenced by the culture) is a bad idea. In fact, there have been some media sources that claim that Pakistan blocked youtube because of videos posted that were critical of Musharraf. I’m not claiming to know the true motivations of the Pakistani gov’t, however, if the latter explanation is true that would prove that governments–when choosing what is offensive–often choose things which limit or threaten their power in some way. Thus any care for the culture of values of the people is often feigned for some ulterior motive.

  4. Fatima

    Thanks for your insights, loubird. You bring up a good point: are governments more concerned with their power or their desire to protect citizens from what is ‘offensive’? I haven’t thought about that before.

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