‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds? No,’ he answered, when you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let them just grow together until harvest…” Mt 13:28-30.
I want to start this writing with the Bible verse. Though interpretations of this verse may not be primarily for the argument I am trying to make because in telling the parable, Jesus used it to illustrate how good and bad coexist and also about the kingdom of God. But I am using the verse to talk about censorship.
Censorship is a mark of authoritarian rule where such power is used to silence or gag those the state disagrees with. Censorship is the suppression of speech and information from being expressed and accessed which is against human rights. It is elimination of people’s right to freely express and access information. In censoring, good information may be deemed bad and bad information may be deemed good. When the society embarks on uprooting the weed, the wheat may be uprooted, instead, we should advocate seriously for self-regulation. Censorship can be applied in the protection of children from some obnoxious contents that may attack their innocence.
In recent years, censorship has become a political tool when the government or big techs or individuals censor those they are in disagreement with based on political, social or religious interest. Any speech can be termed hate speech probably because it did not align with the purposes of the censoring authority. However, I will not deny the existence of fake news and hate speech used to intimidate and threaten individuals or groups. Yet, governments that seek to impose censorship do so using the excuse of protecting public morality against hate or protection of national security.
The recent tussle between the government of Nigeria and Twitter tells more about censorship. Twitter as a public company priding itself a champion for free speech wrote in a tweet that, “access to free and open internet is an essential human right in modern society.” On several instances, Twitter is accused of double standard for cherry-picking such information that they censor or delete based on interest they want to propagate or censor. Equally, the Nigerian government is wrong to shut down the platform for the whole country simply because the hateful tweet from President Buhari which seemed genocidal, offensive and threatening albeit gloating for past exploits in the 30-month civil war that took the lives of about 3 million Igbo people, was deleted by Twitter. For that tweet, Buhari’s administration has censored about 200 million Nigerians. It is good that the President said what was on his mind. What if he was censored? We may not have known.
Few days ago, it became news that Rev. Fr Ejike Mbaka has been banned from commenting on political matters. While I may agree that Rev Mbaka has on several occasions inserted himself into partisan political matters of the country, which may go contrary to his vocation as a Catholic priest, I do not agree that his right to speak should be taken away.
The public needs voices of caution in the face of anarchy, mal-administration, and indeed under authoritarian rule, the voices from the pulpit matter a lot.
In the Bible, Jonah went to Nineveh with the message, “Forty days more and Nineveh will be destroyed.” The people heard him and with the King’s order, Nineveh wore sack cloth, fasted and atoned from their evil ways. John the Baptist, raised his voice but was beheaded for it. God called Jeremiah and said, “For now, you will go whatever be the mission I am entrusting to you and you will speak of whatever I command you to say, do not be afraid of them for I will be with you to protect you…I give you authority over nations and over kingdoms…” It is never easy to ‘speak truth to power’, (Bayard Rustin first used the phrase in 1942 when he wrote that the role of a religious group was to “speak truth to power.”), especially the powers that be in our current world. In 1919, a eulogy for Senator William Joel Stone, a colleague of his wrote, “I honoured him because he was among the few men who dare to speak truth to the people in the presence of the king and dare to speak truth to the king in the presence of the people.”
Those called by God have a special duty to speak up among nations and governments and should not be afraid to say what is on their minds.
John Stuart Mill in his 1859 publication, ‘On Liberty,’ he argued against censorship and in favor of the free flow of ideas. John asserted that, “because no one knows the truth, censoring an idea may be censoring the truth. Secondly, free competition of ideas is the best way to find truth, and because no one idea is the sum of truth, even those ideas containing only a portion of the truth will help society acquire knowledge. This argument implies that even false ideas is valuable, because they both test the truth and prevent it from slipping into dogma, and because they too may contain a germ of truth worth preserving.”
In democracy, people are encouraged to say what is on their minds because; these ideas could solve the problems of the society. It is only in a tyrannical government that people are not allowed to speak.
Protection against tyranny is not always only to have freedom but also against censoring opinions to prevent dissent and uphold conformity. Conformity is the bane of the growth of a society.
In that case, leave the weed and the wheat because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat. It is through dialogue and speaking up that the society can come together.
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