Remarks At The First Annual Trygve Lie Symposium On “Fundamental Freedoms” Co-Sponsored By The Kingdoms Of Norway And Sweden, New York, 25 September 2008






Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am grateful for this unique opportunity to speak at the First Annual Trygve Lie Symposium on “Fundamental Freedoms.” And I thank and commend the International Peace Institute and the Governments of Norway and Sweden for organizing this important event.

For this Symposium is a fitting tribute to one of the great statesmen of the 20th century, Mr. Trygve Lie, the first Secretary-General of the United Nations. With firmness and wisdom, he led the United Nations in its early years. In that position, he earned a special place in the heart of all Indonesians. We owe him a debt of gratitude for the support that he extended to our struggle for the most fundamental freedom of any nation, the right to sovereignty and independence.

Since then, Indonesia has become the third largest democracy in the world. We have made our transition from authoritarian rule to a more fully democratic system where the fundamental freedoms—freedom of thought, speech and association, freedom of the press, and freedom from all kinds of oppression, are sacred.
Yet we are also fully aware that fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, are not without limits. Thus no one has a right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded movie house when there is no fire.
Three years ago, a controversy broke out over the publication in a European newspaper of cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. in an extremely irreverent way. To most people in the Western world, the cartoons represented an exercise of the freedom of expression. To many in the Muslim world, it was the height of blasphemy, a ferocious attack on all that a Muslim holds dear and sacred. In the riots that followed in various parts of the Muslim world, 139 individuals lost their lives.
In the face of the danger posed by a possible recurrence of that controversy, the Governments of Norway and Indonesia decided to act—by addressing the fundamental issue of freedom of expression and the social responsibility that must attend its exercise. Thus, the two Governments co-sponsored three rounds of a Global Inter-Media Dialogue attended by mass media practitioners from various cultures and faiths. The latest of these dialogues was held in Bali last May.
In the course of these dialogues, a consensus emerged that it is extremely important for societies to recognize freedom of expression as a basic human right. Any attempt to curtail that right through violence is therefore a crime against human nature. And since all human beings are endowed with that right, it is an essential component of any democratic system.
We in Indonesia, of course, agree with that consensus. Freedom of expression and freedom of the press were the first civic freedoms that we restored when we launched our democratic transition a decade ago. Without freedom of the press, without the freedom to speak and write against corruption and the abuse of power, the pervasive reform of Indonesian society would not have been possible.
But freedom of expression—although a political, social and economic imperative— is not an absolute freedom. That is also the consensus. No freedom is absolute. Freedom of expression is limited by, among other things, the rights of others to a good name. That is why there are laws on libel and slander.
It is limited by the right of society to public order. That is why there are laws against inciting a crowd to riot.
It is limited by the right of communities to the dignity of their beliefs and their cultural ways. Hence, no group or individual should be allowed to make an object of ridicule anything that is sacred to a community’s religion. That would be an act of reckless malice.
But that act of reckless malice, though condemnable, is no warrant for retaliation by massive violence. It is even more condemnable to commit murder and mayhem in reaction to an abuse of the freedom of expression.
The stark lesson that we can and should derive from that experience is that extremes should never be resorted to. They always lead to disaster. We must strive for a judicious balance between the right of free expression and the demands of cultural sensitivity. For that matter, we must balance every right that we enjoy with a matching right to which others are entitled.

That balance, which is so important to interfaith and intercultural relations, is best attained and sustained through dialogue. We must therefore always strive for dialogue—which build bridges of tolerance, mutual understanding and mutual appreciation. We must keep on building these bridges and build them in all directions.
And eventually we will be able to build a better world.

I thank you.