Commentary on “Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech”

Credit to…”coastscapes” from zazzle.com

After watching HBO’s documentary Shouting Fire, I can’t say that I was totally surprised but it did help me to reflect on my personal life, and obviously, the real meaning of freedom of speech.

As you might now, I was born in Colombia, a country infamously known for its drug trafficking cartels and a 50-year-old armed conflict between guerrillas and the state.  The country seems to have controlled to some extent these two issues; however, there are still thousands of cases where liberty in all its forms has being taken away from its citizens. Freedom of speech and press exist but sometimes, people pay a great price.

I’m providing this example as the background story of how I was inspired to become a journalist after a very important Colombian political satirist called Jaime Garzon was killed by suspected right-wing paramilitary forces. (Although, the case remains open due to heavy accusations made against army generals that indicate that they were in fact the ones behind his death.)

Garzon was a really good journalist and commentator, who created many political satire shows that were very popular during the 90’s. (Think of a “Colombian Jon Stewart”) In his shows, Garzon highly criticized every aspect of the country’s politics, military and judicial processes, the war on drugs and the social and cultural situation of Colombian society. Myself, and many people in my country believe that he was murdered because he spoke with the truth. He was enforcing his earned right to speak, and yet, in a nation politically modeled by the values of democratic countries such as the U.S, he was brutally assassinated.

Absurdly naive, I looked up to all these American films and television series that proudly portrayed a “free country;” and I wondered if it was truly real. So, when my mother came to New York, and I found myself living in this city, I started to comprehend that although there is some freedom, in fact “you have to fight for it”, as Martin Garbus (First Amendment Atttorney featured on the documentary) said.

I consider myself lucky to have had many different politically opinionated professors at CUNY. (I will not say their names, to protect their privacy. Because hey! You never know if they end up being accused of something.) But this type of influence might seem wrong to many people, (including some of those who appeared in the documentary,) but this positive exposure really opened my eyes, and helped me see both sides of the coin. As a soon-to-be journalist, I can definitely understand better how some mediums undeniably participate in a biased process of misinformation; sometimes even working against the freedoms of its citizens, such as the case of Debbie Almontaser, the Muslim teacher of Yemeni descent that told her story on Shouting Fire.

The only thing I regret is that documentaries like this one are barely funded or promoted in local channels. Hopefully, the internet provides us with an open window of learning, where we can read, listen and watch various versions of a same event. But bear in mind that this wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for a continuous movement of people that still defend the internet. Truly enforcers of the right to protest, to assemble and to speak.

Opposite to what happened to Garzon, people might not be murdered here in the United States for what they say. (And its citizens should consider themselves lucky for that.) But taking away someone’s job, banning him from a place or institution, using McCarthyism tactics or police actions against him just because he says what he believes in , it’s not just totally undemocratic, it also socially wrong.

It’s almost like denying our right to have a mouth.

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