Freedom of speech is under threat and censorship is on the rise. This has been a repetitive narrative for centuries. But today’s threat is not only being instigated by dictators and monarchs, as was the case in the past. Instead, it is being stoked up by the very people who are supposed to protect this principle: democratically elected politicians, cartoonists and writers. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”. However, this right is surely not unconditional because of the inherent elements of language. Words, sentences and paragraphs emit effects.They incite emotions in listeners and readers. Language is never neutral. “Language is never innocent,” wrote Roland Barthes, the prominent late literary theorist and philosopher.But far too often it is the case that commentators and politicians give rise to ill-conceived social views through their platforms. In the case of Europe, public figures like Marine Le Pen and Tommy Robinson proliferate racism, Islamophobia and Xenophobia. They tweet and share posts to turn the tide of public opinion against foreigners. Sadly, these extreme views are not just confined to the edges of society. Instead, they are part and parcel of the politics in the mainstreams. For instance, Baroness Warsi, a member of the upper house of the British Parliament, recently claimed that “Islamophobia is a problem in the Conservative Party”. A place for Islamophobia in mainstream political parties suggests that the right to freedom of speech is being used for counter-productive, negative and harmful objectives.These harmful objectives amplified in Britain in the direct aftermath of its Brexit referendum. An anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim atmosphere was created which led to a direct increase in hate crimes targeting minorities. In fact, hate incidents went up by 89 percent in schools and by 23 percent all over the country. While the intention of banning people from making an offensive statement is good, it nonetheless represents a slippery slope because it would hand too much control to governments in deciding what is or isn’t offensiveThis was undoubtedly a blatant misuse of one’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.Closer to home, the situation is very similar to that in Europe. In Pakistan, some religious and political figures are deliberately expressing extremist views to stoke up tension, division and extremism among an already polarised population.These figures express extreme views – both on and offline – which directly target ethnic and religious minorities in the country.Due to the reckless use of our right to freedom of speech, the mandate to curtail freedom of opinion and expression is, unfortunately, becoming stronger. According to the Pew Research Centre, in the USA, for example, 40 percent of millennials believe that governments “should be able to prevent” people from uttering “statements that are offensive to minority groups”.Similarly, 70 percent of the German population agrees that people should be stopped from making offensive statements towards minority groups.Besides these staggering percentages, the even more shocking phenomenon is that both of them are steadfast democratic countries.It is a profoundly depressing fact that public opinion suggests that the situation is so bad that they want their governments to resort to banning such speeches and thereby introduce measures of censorship.While the intention of banning people from making an offensive statement is good, it nonetheless represents a slippery slope because it would hand too much control to governments in deciding what is or isn’t offensive to minority groups.With rights come responsibilities – and in this particular context, one’s responsibility involves not invoking chaos, mayhem and discord. It is therefore understandable why people would want to support government-driven censorship against the exploitation of freedom of speech.Only by using language for the right purpose can we protect the unequivocal right to freedom of speech. However, this isn’t a one-way street. Public figures, therefore, shouldn’t use freedom of speech in a manner that makes it indefensible.To protect the rights bestowed in Article 19 involves enacting Voltaire’s famous quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.The writer isthe authorof Diary of a Foreigner: Thoughts on Brexit, and tweets @MuhammedRaza786Published in Daily Times, June 23rd 2018.