Saturday, November 25, 2006

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Free Speech?

Since we began the Crucible of War project in 2000, one of our main commitments was to go beyond merely producing a video documentary which can only tell a few stories. We wanted to open up our website to be an interactive forum where people from and interested in the Balkans could share their own experiences. Well, you certainly did. Since the site first went up, we have received more than 400 postings and private e-mails.

For those who have the time to peruse the "Share Your Stories" thread, you can get a sense of many of these postings. Some are hopeful. Some are poignant. And some are downright disturbing. In fact, it is the disturbing nature of some of the postings which prompted the following e-mail to us:
Your site was brought to my attention by a friend who spoke highly of your
documentary. She used words such as "wanted to bring peace", "did not show
biases", "embraced all religious sides" to describe your documentary. As a
person who highly believes in peace and equity for all mankind, regardless of
race, creed, religion, nationality etc... naturally, I was interested in
this documentary. I decided to check out the website, only to be so
discouraged by your feedback pages. I am very confused, as your documentary seem to send a positive message of togetherness and tolerance, yet you have allowed many people to post messages that are truly racist, ignorant and go against the basic principles of unity/peace. Yes, many people were deeply affected and
displaced because of the war, and I am sure that these people still have
much healing to do...however, some of the comments posted continue to breed
hatred and fuel feelings of anger and ignorance thus being part of the problem,
not the solution. I am not sure if you have considered not posting such
comments, as I would suggest that the comments should reflect the message your documentary is sending or actually critique of the documentary rather than point fingers and be hateful. Thank you for considering my suggestion.

We considered this suggestion from the time we began our forums. In the end, we decided to only remove postings that contained irrelevant advertising, were one line slurs without any context to them, or were back-and-forth fights where little new was being added to the discussion. We also edit English-language postings for profanities since many anglophone students use our website as a research tool.

We made the difficult decision to allow postings of points of view which we do not share because we feel this is a reflection of reality. What we have tried to portray in the documentary is that war does not end simply because the guns have been silenced and the wartime leaders have been replaced. War is something which remains in the hearts of those who have been affected. All the pain. All the longing. All the hope. All the despair. All the wondering whether it is ever possible to forgive. All the wondering whether this will be the last generation to experience war.

One of the themes we touch on in the documentary is the fact that many who survived the Second World War chose not to discuss the war, to leave it all behind them, to cover up their emotions and "move on." Yet all these emotions were simply lying latent like embers in a crucible and it did not take much for the fire to return. Now there are millions of people who have experienced the 1990s wars in the region. Some also want to leave it all behind them and pretend those lost years never happened. Some are reliving those years every day. And some are trying to find some place in the middle -- a place between remembering the past and planning a new future whether in their homeland or the disapora. Our forum allows them a place to have that dialogue, as painful as it may be, in a safe space. Far be it from us to judge their experiences and attitudes.

No comments: