“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2007, a film-making workshop was organized by the Interfaith Cooperation Form during our School of Peace (SOP) program in India. The week-long practicum was led by a well-known Indian filmmaker. Along with sessions on technique, he also showed a variety of short videos he had produced to make us a little more aware of the different styles of video we could work with. One such genre was humor with a political message. The film he showed was a satire of President George Bush (at that time serving in his second term) and his global policies related to the “war on terror.” The Indian-style flic used a popular Indonesian song with new lyrics satirising the president and employing Indian dance to add to the color and humor.
The film was well done and clearly portrayed some of the US policies people in Asia were most uncomfortable with. Participants, including myself, had a good laugh at the antics depicted and the way President Bush was shown.
When the lights were turned back on, the filmmaker asked for our response. Participants enjoyed it and especially like the humorous way President Bush came to life on the film. It was clear that there was little, if any, respect for him or for his global policies.
The laughter continued for a while until one participant who had not yet voiced an opinion raised his hand for attention. Anick was a devout Muslim from Indonesia. With a very pained look on his face he said, “I didn’t like the film at all. I don’t like President Bush and I don’t like his policies, but what will friends in America feel if they see us laughing at their president? We will hurt their feelings and I don’t think that is showing respect for the American people. We have to protect our friendship with them.”
This was a good reminder to me about the importance of using freedom of expression in a responsible way. We have, and can use, freedom of expression whether in the form of words, cartoons, films or music. This is a cherished freedom, and for US citizens it is guaranteed by our First Amendment. But when we use that freedom to insult anything that is held precious by other people, we hurt any positive relationships with them that are also precious and that provide the space we need for good communications.
We need to use our freedoms to talk with each other rather than insult each other because friendships are important and through friendships/communications we can build bridges of understanding and peace.
How we use our freedoms can tell the world what kind of relationship we have with God. Using them responsibly and with love may well open up doors of communications in ways we never dreamed of.
In Colossians 3:17 Paul reminds us that all of our actions and the way we use all of our freedoms must be done in honor of God. “Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.”