For starters: I love YEU, and I think the work YEU does is great.
Well, I’m glad to have said that. It feels good to say how I truly feel about YEU. Most readers of this piece, I presume, think about YEU in a similar way and will not oppose the freedom to write and say such things like I just did. However, how would it be if I wrote something less positive about YEU?
Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo freedom of speech has been in the spotlight. In many places in Europe people came together to defend the freedom of speech. But what does freedom of speech mean, and more specifically, what does it mean in youth work?
Right after the attacks many people quoted Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. This is what free speech is meant for, for those opinions people do not want to hear. It is important to protect those voices, because this enables us to criticise kings, governments, political ideologies and indeed, religions.
Personally, I believe there are limits to freedom of speech. But while I consider religion an idea, many other people consider it a fact. The difference between these worldviews can lead to diverging views on whether freedom of speech should be applied to this topic as well. My own limit would be at criticising people based on their race, skin colour or sexual orientation; the things people cannot change. But should my limit be the ultimate limit everybody should adhere to?
During the debates of last weeks I heard many things that crossed the borders I set, for example: all Jews are responsible for whatever Israel does, all coloured people should leave the Netherlands and gay people can’t drive. Although I disapprove of all that was said above, should I still defend people’s right to say it?
On the one side I can deny these people their right to freedom of speech. However, they will still hold the same opinion, but no one will explain them why it does not make sense. On the other side, if I allow them to say this, the victims of their speeches will be hurt and offended; while others may agree with the people who ‘say what they think’ and start saying the same.
The discussion mentioned above has been going on in my country for several years already, and I truly hope our society will be able to protect both its freedoms and its people. But how should we act if people behave in this way in a youth event? I would say that youth events are the best occasions for this kind of speech to come out. These are occasions where people can learn from each other, and if their prejudices are revealed, others can correct them. This is the way in which young people can learn and prepare themselves for society’s debates.
Youth for Exchange and Understanding, in a way, needs misunderstanding as well. When people are in their own group and safe environment, they understand each other, and their prejudices aren’t very clear. It is during the events YEU organises that youngsters meet people they don’t understand, people they’re maybe even a little afraid of. When they learn to understand the other, they can teach their own societies to do the same.
What do you think about freedom of speech in Youth events? And how should YEU deal with debates about ideologies and religions?
YEU Governing Board member