Speaking at a Washington think tank event a couple of years ago, Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim jokingly said, “In Malaysia, we have freedom of speech, but we don’t have freedom after speech.” Anwar Ibrahim had had major troubles including a long prison term after his falling out with the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for speaking up about corruption within his government.
Indeed, that is the crucial point. Freedom after speech is more important than freedom of speech. To put it in another way, freedom of speech is untenable without freedom after speech.
But what if the freedom of speech is employed to intentionally create chaos and injury? Should there still be freedom after speech? Yes, if we un-entangle the two freedoms. With nations and societies becoming increasingly intertwined and even diverse in many ways, people need to work on defining freedom of speech in a manner that does not restrict freedom after speech.
That brings us to Muslim Americans living within the American socio-legal milieu. Obviously, we saw that while Muslim Americans didn’t appreciate the freedom of speech in this particular case and circumstance, they accepted the freedom after speech as necessary to good social order.
So, there is work to do – to discuss the limits to freedom of speech, so that freedom after speech within those limits can be guaranteed without question.