Speaking Freely: Lynn Hamadallah

Deeplinks 2024-04-16


Lynn Hamadallah is a Syrian-Palestinian-French Psychologist based in London. An outspoken voice for the Palestinian cause, Lynn is interested in the ways in which narratives, spoken and unspoken, shape identity. Having lived in five countries and spent a lot of time traveling, she takes a global perspective on freedom of expression. Her current research project investigates how second-generation British-Arabs negotiate their cultural identity. Lynn works in a community mental health service supporting some of London's most disadvantaged residents, many of whom are migrants who have suffered extensive psychological trauma.

York: What does free speech or free expression mean to you? 

Being Arab and coming from a place where there is much more speech policing in the traditional sense, I suppose there is a bit of an idealization of Western values of free speech and democracy. There is this sense of freedom we grow up associating with the West. Yet recently, we’ve come to realize that the way it works in practice is quite different to the way it is described, and this has led to a lot of disappointment and disillusionment in the West and its ideals amongst Arabs. There’s been a lot of censorship for example on social media, which I’ve experienced myself when posting content in support of Palestine. At a national level, we have witnessed the dehumanization going on around protesters in the UK, which undermines the idea of free speech. For example, the pro-Palestine protests where we saw the then-Home Secretary Suella Braverman referring to protesters as “hate marchers.” So we’ve come to realize there’s this kind of veneer of free speech in the West which does not really match up to the more idealistic view of freedom we were taught about.

With the increased awareness we have gained as a result of the latest aggression going on in Palestine, actually what we’re learning is that free speech is just another arm of the West to support political and racist agendas. It’s one of those things that the West has come up with which only applies to one group of people and oppresses another. It’s the same as with human rights you know - human rights for who? Where are Palestinian’s human rights? 

We’ve seen free speech being weaponized to spread hate and desecrate Islam, for example, in the case of Charlie Hebdo and the Quran burning in Denmark and in Sweden. The argument put forward was that those cases represented instances of free speech rather than hate speech. But actually to millions of Muslims around the world those incidents were very, very hateful. They were acts of violence not just against their religious beliefs but right down to their sense of self. It’s humiliating to have a part of your identity targeted in that way with full support from the West, politicians and citizens alike. 

And then, when we— we meaning Palestinians and Palestine allies—want to leverage this idea of free speech to speak up against the oppression happening by the state of Israel, we see time and time again accusations flying around: hate speech, anti-semitism, and censorship. Heavy, heavy censorship everywhere. So that’s what I mean when I say that free speech in the West is a racist concept, actually. And I don’t know that true free speech exists anywhere in the world really. In the Middle East we don’t have democracies but at least there’s no veneer of democracy— the messaging and understanding is clear. Here, we have a supposed democracy, but in practice it looks very different. And that’s why, for me, I don’t really believe that free speech exists. I’ve never seen a real example of it. I think as long as people are power hungry there’s going to be violence, and as long as there’s violence, people are going to want to hide their crimes. And as long as people are trying to hide their crimes there’s not going to be free speech. Sorry for the pessimistic view!

York: It’s okay, I understand where you’re coming from. And I think that a lot of those things are absolutely true. Yet, from my perspective, I still think it’s a worthy goal even though governments—and organizationally we’ve seen this as well—a lot of times governments do try to abuse this concept. So I guess then I would just as a follow-up, do you feel that despite these issues that some form of universalized free expression is still a worthy ideal? 

Of course, I think it’s a worthy ideal. You know, even with social media – there is censorship. I’ve experienced it and it’s not just my word and an isolated incident. It’s been documented by



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Jillian C. York

Date tagged:

04/16/2024, 23:03

Date published:

04/16/2024, 15:27