Sunday, February 05, 2006

....and it's good night from him

Mr Bean: Good evening. It's wonderful to be back with you again, isn't it Rowan?

The Archbishop of Canterbury: Indeed it is. And in a packed programme tonight, I'll be talking to a lady who likes Nicholas Parsons...

Mr Bean: ...and I'll be talking to parson who was arrested under the Religious Hatred bill for making lewd jokes about members of the clergy.

Archbishop: After that, I'll explore the limits of free speech in a multi-faith society.

Mr Bean: ...and I'll bang on and on about old "Not the Nine O'Clock News" gags involving the Ayotallah's contact lenses, which weren't very funny at the time.

Archbishop: Then I'll be interviewing a man who thinks that even if you despise what someone says, you should defend to the death their right to say it.

Mr Bean. ...and I'll be interviewing a man who thinks that even Voltaire would have regarded Nick Griffin as a special case.

Archbishop: But first, the news. There were widespread demonstrations throughout the Muslim world after a Danish newspaper printed a series of religiously offensive cartoons. Police say that it's hard to work out the difference between caricaturing the Prophet at a time of heightened racial tension and shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

Mr Bean: One Muslim protester, photographed holding a banner with the slogan "Freedom Can Go To Hell" on it, said that this violation of the West's most sacred taboo was intended "ironically".

Archbishop: Across Europe, newspapers showed solidarity with Denmark by printing cartoons about pedophilia and essays by holocaust deniers.

Mr Bean: In order to show how strongly it believed in freedom of speech, the Daily Mail printed a double-page spread of nude male models with erect genitalia, and asked readers to select the biggest prick in the paper.

Archbishop: The readers unanimously voted for Nick Griffin.

Mr Bean: Nick Griffin had just been cleared by the high court of being a racist, on the grounds that he was very careful to use the word "Muslim" instead of "Paki" in his invective. One comedian argued that if you closed this legal loop hole, you'd also end up criminalising most religious jokes.

Archbishop: Which begs the question, which would give you the bigger laugh: Rowan playing silly vicars in bad Hugh Grant movies, or Nick Griffin banged up in a cell with a couple of big strong black convicts for company?

Mr. Bean: Tony Blair's flagship Religious Hatred bill -- that would have prevented comedians telling religious jokes, such as one that I made 20 years ago involving the Ayatollah's contact lenses....

Archbishop: ....get on with it, Rowan....

Mr Bean: ...was defeated by one vote in the House of Commons, not because free-speech advocates won the argument, but because the Prime Minister went home early. As the late, great Bob Monkhouse said "That was when I realised that God writes better jokes than I do."

Archbishop: And now a sketch about the President of the United States and the former President of Iraq. I play the crazed fundamentalist who approves of torture and sponsors terrorism.

Mr Bean: And I play Saddam Hussein.

128 comments:

Helen Louise said...

Haven't the thought police come and taken you away yet? They should be right in front of the guys in white coats...

Very amusing. I particularly liked the last line, and the fact that you used both Rowans :D

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

Haven't the thought police come and taken you away yet?

I thought maybe they might have, given how long it's been since the previous post....

Louise H. said...

Those Orangemen marches. I knew there must be a decent comparision out there somewhere.

Lars Konzack said...

If you want to see what this controversy of the Danish cartoons are all about then please look into:
http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/698

Judge for yourself. Is this flag-desecration and embassy-burning material? I should think not.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Lars:

The police making an arrest shouldn't be enough to start a riot either. What were those people in in Toxteth thinking, eh?

Juan Cole has a useful country-by-country breakdown of the protests with their local political contexts here. Worth a look if you want to know why they were burning embassies in Lebanon and Syria but not in Egypt, Pakistan, or Iran.

Or you can say that only proximate causes matter and make this another case of Scary Muslim Fanatics Who Just Aren't Like Us (TM). Because that helps, doesn't it?

Lars Konzack said...

Sam:
What you are saying is in fact, that the conflict is not about the cartoons, they are just an excuse. I would certainly like to agree with such a statement.

Sylvia Drake said...

This looks like a job for. . . Confuse-An-American!

Good to see that they haven't come to take you away yet. Actually I do, basically, understand what you're on about from context, aside from Nick Griffin and the contact lenses. I think I largely agree with you, assuming I haven't missed any of your intent through trans-Atlantic confusion.

But Four Weddings and a Funeral wasn't all that bad, was it?

Sam Dodsworth said...

Lars:

I think that is what I'm saying, yes. Without the existing atmosphere of tension between 'Muslims' and 'The West' (both terms of propaganda used by people with an interest creating conflict) those cartoons would never have been commissioned and the riots would never have happened. So it seems obvious to me that, in this case, the context is more important than the actual events.

What really bothers me, though, is the way that incidents like this serve the interests of unpleasant people on both sides of the divide. When conservatives in London and Iran are arguing that {our culture} is besieged by the growing forces of {our ideological opponents} with who there can be no compromise because they want to destroy {our way of life}, it's time to ask who gains from this conflict and who loses.

culfy said...

Interesting you make reference to the contact lenses and Four Weddings and a Funeral as unfunny; is the need to protect something from censorship in direct proportion to its perceived artistic worth? I seem to recall criticisms of The Satanic Verses and Last Temptation of Christ saying "Not only is it blasphemous, but it is also crap" or alternatively "It's a load of old crap which the protestors are hyping up".
In fact, a thought occured to me today; has anyone in the entire history of the freedom of speech debate ever said of a piece of art "While I believe that artistically it is a great piece of work, nevertheless I believe it should be banned"?

culfy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sam Dodsworth said...

has anyone in the entire history of the freedom of speech debate ever said of a piece of art "While I believe that artistically it is a great piece of work, nevertheless I believe it should be banned"?

I've not gone looking, but I expect someone said that about "Triumph of the Will".

I do know that George Orwell comes close in his rather priggish essay on Salvador Dali; although he draws the line at actual censorship:

"One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other... it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.
Not, of course, that Dali’s autobiography, or his pictures, ought to be suppressed. Short of the dirty postcards that used to be sold in Mediterranean seaport towns, it is doubtful policy to suppress anything..."

I don't know if that really invalidates your point, but it does at least show that the question hasn't always been ignored.

culfy said...

Sam

I've tried the link but it doesn't seem to work. Could you repost it, it seems an interesting essay.

Yes, Triumph of the Will has occured to me as an example of an artistic masterpiece but a morally flawed film. I've never actually heard anyone call for it to be banned though.

I notice that even Eric Blair falls down on the anti-censorship line eventually.

Actually, just as I typed the above, it occured to me that the operas of Wagner were banned for many years in Israel which comes closest to what I was talking about.

Charles Filson said...

I think that much that Mapplethorpe did is both great art and highly offensive. I wouldn't approve of banning it, but I think that the same rules should apply to seeing it as to any pornographic display. Like an R-Rated film. I don't like censorship or PC speach. If you prevent people from saying what they think, it doesn't change the way they think. It just makes their feelings harder to spot.

If I see a cartoon of Jesus buggering a child, I don't get mad at the cartoonist. I don't try to ban his work. I certainly don't burn assault him or his paper. I get angry with the priests who spawned this perception of Christianity.

When I think of Islam, I think of violence and death. I think of Jihad and Suicide bombings. Intellectually I realize that these acts are opposed by many Islamic teachers. Yet the perception is still there.
I think it would be a disservice to Islam not to tell Muslims what my perception is. Perhaps they will decide that I am just a hater of Islam, and not ask themselves why. But perhaps they will look at the cartoon of Mohammad (Pbuh) and asked themselves why 'The West' sees a bomb under the Prophet's turban. They will perhaps wonder who has really defamed the Prophet.

Perhaps when Islam looks these caricatures square in the face, they will wonder where the perception comes from, and they will protest the devils who bomb in the name of the prophet, not those who recognize that the bombing is being done in his name.

I think it's better for the Danish paper to say something like "I say, the lobby seems to be on fire." Than to sit quietly while watching the flames spread across the theater.

Martin Wykes said...

Good "Art" that should be banned? Isn't that how people have reacted to "Birth of a Nation"? Alternatively I remember Sartre claiming that good "Art" can't be politically bad i.e. a good Fascist novel can't exist.

Actually I think the media as usual manage to completely miss the point on the Danish cartoon story by asking all the wrong questions. I heard the World Service interviewing a Muslim cleric asking him whether he wouldn't rather have free speech and then asking a European newspaper journalist whether he wouldn't rather have happy Muslims. These sorts of sterile questions seem to be all that the BBC is capable of nowadays. Nobody asks why Danish cartoonists want to draw such cartoons when there are plenty of more interesting things to satirise. Or why sections of the Muslim community have a more heightened sense of blasphemy than is often found in other religions. Or why that sense of blasphemy is externalised to non-Muslims rather than just being exercised on the Muslim community. Or why out of all the poor countries in the world that are exploited by the United States it's only Muslim ones where there are significant numbers of people with a desire to actually take a stand against the United States.

I wonder whether Andrew should have included footnotes explaining about the 1970s British TV comedy references though...

Charles Filson said...

Or why out of all the poor countries in the world that are exploited by the United States it's only Muslim ones where there are significant numbers of people with a desire to actually take a stand against the United States.

Hmmm...I think in this case it is Denmark they are taking a stand against. And just before the Holiday, I think it was Paris that was the Target of Islamic ire. You can pretend this is all the doing of the USA, but something tells me that without the US, Israel would still have been established as a Jewish state right where is is, and Islamic Parisians would still be miffed that they can't wear headscarfs if they have a goverment job. And I have a feeling that the Danish situation would be about the same as well.

The only difference is that Europe would have not have the big mean USA to hide behind. We see this even now with Iran. When the USA stepped back and 'gave European diplomacy a chance', the result is that now Brussels and Paris want Iran remanded over to the Security Council, and it's Chirac that is 'not ruling out' a military solution, and threatening to use Nuclear weapons against terrorist states outdoing Bush in rhetoric.

The problems that Europe has integrating its Muslim population are no more the USA's fault than the World Trade Center disaster was Europe's fault.

Andrew Rilstone said...

This looks like a job for. . . Confuse-An-American!

Nick Griffin


Religious hatred bill


Ayatollah's Contact Leanse


The Two Rowans

culfy said...

Charles:

Do you not think that stopping people from spouting 'hate speech' is a good end in itself? I'm fairly sure that if I was black and someone shouted across the street telling me to 'go back home you ******" their feelings are easy to spot but I'm not sure I would feel better for this. I might feel slightly better that people have to hide hate speech behind discussions of 'integration' or 'immigration'.
I'm also slightly worried by your assertion that "Perhaps when Islam looks these caricatures square in the face, they will wonder where the perception comes from, ". Would you that anti-semitic cartoons in 30s Germany (or indeed in Arabic countries today) show that Jews should wonder where anti-semitic prejudice comes from?

Sam:

I've actually read the Orwell essay on Dali and he doesn't seem to attacking Dali's art itself; more the perception that great art excuses the poor behaviour of artists. I like his idea of a modern day 'benefit of the clergy' which could perhaps be applied to this case; are we excusing the cartoons because they are produced by 'artists' and are 'testing the limits of free speech' whereas a working class oik voicing such sentiments would be condemned as an out and out racist.

American Ronin said...

>Do you not think that stopping people from spouting 'hate speech' is a good end in itself?

If it were humanly possible to identify and expunge hate speech without interfering with any other kind of speech, it would be a different situation. But hate speech is difficult to define, much less supress. Were these cartoons depicting Jesus, I'd be irritated, but I could accept that the cartoonist is free to hold and express his own opinions and go on about my day. And there are no doubt many things that could be said about my religion, ethnicity or dear old mother that someone else could shrug off, but which would throw me into a fighting rage. Every individual has their own standard of what is tolerable. I can't see how it would be possible to stop people from spouting off anything someone else might judge to be hate speech without making the world mute.

>I'm fairly sure that if I was black and someone shouted across the street telling me to 'go back home you ******" their feelings are easy to spot but I'm not sure I would feel better for this.

I do find it interesting that the powerful magic of that word renders you unwilling even to type it. It's an ugly word, but only because of the years of contempt and hatred packed into it. Take away the word and the hate's still there, just as ugly. I personally prefer to have that kind of ugliness out in the open, where I can see it coming.

>I'm also slightly worried by your assertion that "Perhaps when Islam looks these caricatures square in the face, they will wonder where the perception comes from, ". Would you that anti-semitic cartoons in 30s Germany (or indeed in Arabic countries today) show that Jews should wonder where anti-semitic prejudice comes from?

The two situations are not perfectly analogous. There were not, for instance, any radical Jewish sects who had decided that the Torah called for the destruction of German social order. There was no precipitating event coming from the Jewish community in Germany. It's a subtle difference, but not, I think insignificant. The anti-semitism of the Nazi party was rooted in establishing a vulnerable and hateable scapegoat for their national ills. The anti-Islamic sentiment today stems from the fact that a small minority of people calling themselves Moslems have apparently declared war on our entire culture.

Phil Masters said...

This in from the Vatican:

"The right to freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers"

One does wonder what happened to the fine Catholic tradition of precise logical thought.

NickPheas said...

Judge for yourself. Is this flag-desecration and embassy-burning material? I should think not.

Obviously it's all been stirred up out of all proportion, but I get the impression that it's not simply that this is satirising the prophet, but that it's illustrating the prophet, and some of the Madder Mullahs think that all representitive art is Evil.

Which raises the interesting story that some Iranian newspaper plans to run some holocaust jokes. The Danes, who are quite proud of the fact that they got their jews out of the country and not to the camps won't care. The Israelis won't be surprised, and while they'll probably protest won't really care. Perhaps the most offended will be the Madder Mullahs who'll be subjected to get more wicked representational art.

Charles Filson said...

Cuffy

American Ronin said...

What he said.

But also cuffy, in my perfect world, whenever somebody yelled 'go home you blankety blank', everybody else in the vacinity would suddenly burst out laughing and pointing at the offensive speaker as if he had his shirt stikcing out of his trousers and he would slink away shamefacedly. (Wow, what color is the sky in my world?)

I think that Islam needs to be made aware of the perception many of us have of them. What they do with that is up to them. They could try to disprove it by burning embassies and chanting that 7/7 will come again, but they might also find something more constructive to do with the information. I would hope so anyway.

I don't like all of the political cartoons of Bush as a Nazi or a Monkey (well okay, I do think those monkey ones are pretty damn funny.) but when I see them, I at least ask why somebody sees Bush as a Nazi. (Again why they see him as a monkey is pretty clear: http://www.bushorchimp.com/)

Charles Filson said...

While we are on the subject of Nazis...has anybody else ever noticed that Dave Foley looks just like Dr. Mengele?

http://www.daria.no/skole/doc/html/2876.doc-filer/image028.jpg

http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9811/25/bugs.life/foley.jpg

Sam Dodsworth said...

culfy:

It's redundant now, but for the benefit of the many millions of lurkers who are doubtless reading this, the link I meant to post is here:

Benefit Of Clergy: Some Notes On Salvador Dali

It seems to me that Orwell's disapproving of the version of himself that Dali presents in his auobiography. Given the nature of the work, I think that's somewhere between attacking the man and attacking his art.

I'm not too keen on the 'benefit of clergy' idea, myself. Who gets to decide who's an artist and who isn't?

If we must restrict freedom of expression sometimes then I think it's better to base the decision on concrete effects - false advertising, incitement to certain kinds of crime, that sort of thing. I'm not a big fan of obscenity laws but I prefer the British model to the American one for the same reason.

Louise H. said...

Judge for yourself. Is this flag-desecration and embassy-burning material? I should think not.

I would think it was precisely flag desecration material- one symbolically insulting but essentially harmless giving of offence for another.

Sylvia Drake said...

Thank you for the footnotes, Andrew. I had a vague idea about the Religious Hatred Bill, though I hadn't heard that it had gone down so farcically. Even got the Two Ronnies reference 'cos my pa done brung me up right.

I had never heard of Nick Griffin before and, now that I know who he is, shall do my best never to hear of him again.

culfy said...

American Ronin.

Actually, I typed the asterisks as a sort of "insert hateful racial epithet here". I deliberately didn't use nigger on the grounds that it's meaning has so shifted about over the years that I didn't want a semiological debate on whether nigger is actually racist or not. Perhaps I should have specified the precise racial epithet I had in mind, in hindsight it did look like I was being cowardly.

I'm still not sure that it is better to see certain kinds of hate out in the open; if people are calling me a fat bastard behind my back, or people think "what a fat bastard" when they look at me, I'd rather they didn't say it to my face.

Again, it all comes down to context; I know that when I was working in Poland, I would often meet up with colleagues from Ireland and Wales and we had no problem mocking each other's nationalities (I ended up as an English Pouf on the basis that I enjoyed opera and hated football). None of us was offended by this. However, an American colleague who had no idea of context was constantly offending us without realising. The point is, my friend can call me a fat bastard without offending me, my neighbour cannot.


>I'm also slightly worried by your assertion that "Perhaps when Islam looks these caricatures square in the face, they will wonder where the perception comes from, ". Would you that anti-semitic cartoons in 30s Germany (or indeed in Arabic countries today) show that Jews should wonder where anti-semitic prejudice comes from?

The two situations are not perfectly analogous. There were not, for instance, any radical Jewish sects who had decided that the Torah called for the destruction of German social order. There was no precipitating event coming from the Jewish community in Germany. It's a subtle difference, but not, I think insignificant. The anti-semitism of the Nazi party was rooted in establishing a vulnerable and hateable scapegoat for their national ills. The anti-Islamic sentiment today stems from the fact that a small minority of people calling themselves Moslems have apparently declared war on our entire culture.


There is a strain of radical black theology allied with Islam which calls the white race an abhoration and calls for its destruction. Would you, on these grounds, justify caricatures of black people in general?

Martin Wykes said...

The free speech debate in this context is always a distraction. When there's racial abuse in the street it's a result of a shortage of racial tolerance rather than an excess of free speech. Politicians love to curtail free speech so we get more of their speech and less of ours. But how many historical events are shown to have actually turned on free speech or censorship? Would either have prevented the French Revolution or the Second World War?

Charles Filson Said:-

I think in this case it is Denmark they are taking a stand against. And just before the Holiday, I think it was Paris that was the Target of Islamic ire. You can pretend this is all the doing of the USA, but something tells me that without the US, Israel would still have been established as a Jewish state right where is is, and Islamic Parisians would still be miffed that they can't wear headscarfs if they have a goverment job. And I have a feeling that the Danish situation would be about the same as well.

There are two reasons I cite the United States in the context of radical Islamic protests. One is that a majority of such protests are against the "Great Satan" of the United States rather than the "Very Little Satan" of Denmark. The other is that the United States is a superpower and its foreign policy has a huge influence on the rest of the world. Europe still has some influence but that has been declining because we've wasted the last century blowing each other up. The world is as it is today far more as a result of U.S. foreign policy than as a result of any other recent influences.

In this context I might suggest references like Adam Curtis' BBC Documentary "The Power of Nightmares", the book "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins, or the writings of Gore Vidal or Noam Chomsky.

What things would be like without the U.S. is a moot point of "what if" history. But to suggest that things would be very much the same in that case is to suggest that the U.S. with all of its huge defence budget, involvement in foreign wars, trade negotiations and political influencing of foreign countries gets nothing for its money. I certainly don't see the U.S. as an irrelevance in world history. And so it must take responsibilty for building the world we now live in.

Phil Masters said...

Obviously it's all been stirred up out of all proportion, but I get the impression that it's not simply that this is satirising the prophet, but that it's illustrating the prophet, and some of the Madder Mullahs think that all representitive art is Evil.

I'm not sure how many of them get worked up about representational art most of the time, frankly, though I'm sure that some of them try. But I've now heard suggestions that copies of these offending cartoons are now circulating in the Middle East with some images added - stuff like Mohammed with a pig's snout, and a Muslim being sodomised by a dog while at prayer.

At which point, it becomes clear that arguing about how far the original images were a tempest in a teapot is fairl irrelevant. The thing's been hijacked by factions who really, really want to start a fight, and they're the serious problem,

NickPheas said...

I'm not sure how many of them get worked up about representational art most of the time, frankly, though I'm sure that some of them try.

Indeed. Some even go blowing up perfectly good statues as a result, bujt they were Very Mad Mullahs.

I was wondering, and there are obviously people round here to know more theology than I do, perhaps they could tell me, why representational art is OK for Christians.

Judaism doesn't do it. Won't have statues of golden calves in the house, forbids graven images. Certainly not art of a religious subject. No statues of Moses. Fair enough, one of the 10 commandments.

Muslims don't go for religious representational art either, and some of them get very upset by art in general. Same 10 commandments I understand.

Christians though have no problem with the idea of depicting God in art. Barely a catholic or anglican place of worship without a graven crucifix somewhere. Entire art galleries could be filled with images of Jesus as a child, as a preacher, as a victim.

Does it all come down to that 'Iconoclasm and Heresey' card in Civilisation?

American Ronin said...

I'm still not sure that it is better to see certain kinds of hate out in the open; if people are calling me a fat bastard behind my back, or people think "what a fat bastard" when they look at me, I'd rather they didn't say it to my face.

I guess it's a question of taste. I'd prefer not to be called a fat bastard at all, but if someone's going to be calling me a fat bastard, I'd prefer that he do it to my face. If nothing else, that way I'll know when to punch them.

There is a strain of radical black theology allied with Islam which calls the white race an abhoration and calls for its destruction. Would you, on these grounds, justify caricatures of black people in general?

Probably not. But if some cartoonist were to do so, I'd grant that this was his right. And were I a black man, I would look at those caricatures and ponder their source. And then I would be pissed off, not only at the cartoonist, but also at the nutjobs making everyone associatable with them look bad. Which, if I am understanding him correctly, is what Filson is getting at: the protesters are angry at the cartoonist, but not at the radical fringe of Islam that's given him inspiration.

Lars Konzack said...

Nobody asks why Danish cartoonists want to draw such cartoons when there are plenty of more interesting things to satirise.

Well, the Danish media did.

The answer: Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, commissioned twelve cartoonists for the project and published the cartoons to highlight the difficulty experienced by Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen in finding artists to illustrate his children's book about Muhammad. Cartoonists previously approached by Bluitgen were reportedly unwilling to work with him for fear of violent attacks by extremist Muslims.


For more information please read:
Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy

culfy said...

American Ronin said I guess it's a question of taste. I'd prefer not to be called a fat bastard at all, but if someone's going to be calling me a fat bastard, I'd prefer that he do it to my face. If nothing else, that way I'll know when to punch them.


Aha, so therefore justifying violence as an appropriate response to the exercise of offensive speech? Caught You!!!!!!

I guess really what I'm trying to do is find out where we draw the line between satire, fair comment and sheer offensiveness and if one or more are not allowed; why not?

American Ronin said...

I guess really what I'm trying to do is find out where we draw the line between satire, fair comment and sheer offensiveness and if one or more are not allowed; why not?


And again we come back to the problem of subjectivity. I do not believe it is possible for the human race (or, for that matter, a room with ten randomly selected people in it) to reach a universal agreement on where the line is. And in light of this, before my personal beliefs skew libertarian, I would rather err on the side of too much freedom of speech than too little. I'd rather live in a world where I have to tolerate people insulting my faith than in a world where I couldn't express it. I would rather occasionally have to restrain myself from slapping some racist moron in a bar every now and then (or, for that matter, someone who disliked Steinbeck, but that's another story entirely) than have to restrain myself from commenting on anything for fear of having thought-police swoop down on me.

Phil Masters said...

I was wondering, and there are obviously people round here to know more theology than I do, perhaps they could tell me, why representational art is OK for Christians.

(Well, most Christians.)

Judaism doesn't do it. Won't have statues of golden calves in the house, forbids graven images. Certainly not art of a religious subject. No statues of Moses. Fair enough, one of the 10 commandments.

Muslims don't go for religious representational art either, and some of them get very upset by art in general. Same 10 commandments I understand.

Err, no, one of the hadiths, I understand. (Sayings of the Prophet.) Which technically makes it quite debatable. (The Koran is supposed to be exactly as dictated by the angel. The hadiths are acknowledged to be second-hand reportage of the sayings of a mortal, if highly regarded, man, who was capable of being wrong and changing his mind.) Arguing about the content of the Koran is asking for trouble. Arguing about the hadiths is actually a fine ancient tradition within the faith, although opinions and rulings seem to have ossified - err, solidified - over the centuries. Pointing out that this opinion emerged - whether from the Prophet or somebody else - at much the same time that the Christian church was going through its own big icon wars probably wouldn't go down too well in the mosques, though.

In fact, "Islam" has produced some very fine representational, and even religious, art from time to time. Even if the hadith was accepted, the rule was sometimes flexed. The problem seems to be more a massive concern for (obsession with, regard for, hang-up over) the importance and dignity of Mohammed himself. (Old advice to colonial administrators in Muslim territory was apparently that you could argue about God with the natives if you really had to, but questioning anything about Mohammed was a Bad Idea.) To the point where artists who'd happily paint images of his family and followers and the archangels who spoke to him would leave the image of Mohammed himself with a blank face, or a flame instead, and extra-long sleeves so as not to show his hands. There are apparently a few images that show a face, but they're rare.

Christians though have no problem with the idea of depicting God in art. Barely a catholic or anglican place of worship without a graven crucifix somewhere. Entire art galleries could be filled with images of Jesus as a child, as a preacher, as a victim.

Does it all come down to that 'Iconoclasm and Heresey' card in Civilisation?

Or the "Iconoclasts" and "Iconodules" cards in Credo.

Prett much, really, yes. The region had fine traditions of (a) hatred of graven images, and (b) exquisite art. When traditions and beliefs collided, crunched, and synergised, one or the other had to come out on top. Religious images could impress and pull in new believers, but they also tended to compromise the transcendent ineffability of the ineffably transcendent.

In the Christian churches, the iconodules won a contingent overall victory of sorts. In Judaism and Islam, the iconoclast faction held the high ground.

Martin Wykes said...

Lars Konzack said:-

Flemming Rose, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, commissioned twelve cartoonists for the project and published the cartoons to highlight the difficulty experienced by Danish writer Kåre Bluitgen in finding artists to illustrate his children's book about Muhammad. Cartoonists previously approached by Bluitgen were reportedly unwilling to work with him for fear of violent attacks by extremist Muslims.

Thanks for the explanation Lars. I hadn't heard this part of the story. I find it interesting that the British government thinks it's so important to pass laws against blasphemy when in Denmark it's so difficult to find anyone prepared to blaspheme.

Charles Filson said...

Cartoonists previously approached by Bluitgen were reportedly unwilling to work with him for fear of violent attacks by extremist Muslims.

Why would they be afraid of that? Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.

Sam Dodsworth said...

Why would they be afraid of that? Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.

And completely monolithic, apparently. These people are evidently some kind of scary inhuman hive-mind. Not only that, but they've apparently appeared overnight and do scary things for no reason at all, since they have no history. Or is that just an impression I've picked up from somewhere?

Gavin Burrows said...

American Ronin said...

The two situations are not perfectly analogous. There were not, for instance, any radical Jewish sects who had decided that the Torah called for the destruction of German social order. There was no precipitating event coming from the Jewish community in Germany. It's a subtle difference, but not, I think insignificant. The anti-semitism of the Nazi party was rooted in establishing a vulnerable and hateable scapegoat for their national ills.

Not actually true this. With the massive depression that hit the already-vulnerable Germany economy in ’29 pretty much every observer, right or left, assumed there’d be a communist revolution somewhat along the lines of Russia. For fairly obvious reasons German finance wasn’t all that keen on this and started bankrolling the Nazis. As Jewish folks generally tended to be poor and work in sweatshops etc, there tended to be a high proporition of them in the unions and other left groups. Anti-semitism allowed the Nazis to attack an enemy without paying them the compliment of admitting they were an enemy.

(Jewish non-unionists got shipped to the camps. But so did non-Jewish unionists and the “work-shy”.)

culfy said...

There is a strain of radical black theology allied with Islam which calls the white race an abhoration and calls for its destruction. Would you, on these grounds, justify caricatures of black people in general?

This reference to the Nation of Islam is a little disingenuous. Is there anything Islamic about this group apart from the name? (Which is doubtless intended as a red rag to Christians.)

American Ronin said...
Probably not. But if some cartoonist were to do so, I'd grant that this was his right. And were I a black man, I would look at those caricatures and ponder their source.

This seems a little disingenous also, a little like saying “were I a black man I’d just think the same as I do now.” Surely the point is that the context would be so different, you’d be a minority in a society where you knew at least some people were privately sympathetic to such hatred. This seems a little different to me watching demos on the TV from a long way away, composed of people who may or may not have something personal against me but are never very likely to bump into me.

Phil Masters said...
In fact, "Islam" has produced some very fine representational, and even religious, art from time to time. Even if the hadith was accepted, the rule was sometimes flexed. The problem seems to be more a massive concern for (obsession with, regard for, hang-up over) the importance and dignity of Mohammed himself. (Old advice to colonial administrators in Muslim territory was apparently that you could argue about God with the natives if you really had to, but questioning anything about Mohammed was a Bad Idea.) To the point where artists who'd happily paint images of his family and followers and the archangels who spoke to him would leave the image of Mohammed himself with a blank face, or a flame instead, and extra-long sleeves so as not to show his hands. There are apparently a few images that show a face, but they're rare.

Someone wrote into the Guardian the other day saying that during Mohammed’s life his face appeared on coins. This kind of makes sense to me, as you’d only need to establish his universality after his death. Anyone know if there’s any truth to this?

I was amused no end by the furore over the anti-cartoon demonstrations in Britain, with the Government saying they were unacceptable, advocating violence etc. Of course I’m sure that the people attending them were fanatics with whom I’d have nothing in common. But didn’t the Government actually carry out violence, causing untold thousands of deaths, in three wars since they’ve come to power. ‘Bomb the Tube’ is terrorism. ‘Bomb a whole country’ is policy.

Louise H. said...

Not only that, but they've apparently appeared overnight and do scary things for no reason at all, since they have no history.

I think you must be right there. They clearly have no connection with the various so-called Islamic cultures which managed to live in relative harmony with the Jews within their borders for hundreds of years. Or which treasured and copied Greek texts at a time when the Christians were more interested in which should be burned first, the texts or the scholars.

I don't think there are any religions that haven't been used as a rallying cry for intolerance and violence. Nick Griffin's speeches ended with an appeal to keep Britain Christian. Islam's no more vicious a religion than the ones whose adherents killed Hypatia, or Jesus, or Indiri Ghandi. Anyone who thinks that any religion can be classed as simply benign or malevolent isn't paying attention.

Sam Dodsworth said...

louise h:

I was actually thinking of how the apparently-emerging apparent threat of 'Global Islam' has nothing to do with politics or recent history... but you're right, too.

I should also add that I'm offended.

Martin Wykes said...

Charles Filson said...

(re: "fear of violent attacks by extremist Muslims")

Why would they be afraid of that? Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.

There's an important point here. When we're discussing the rights of Muslims we can't just ignore the world's Jihads simply because most of the world's Muslims aren't involved with them. Islam, Christianity Buddhism and virtually all of the world's great religions have both a peaceful tradition and a warlike tradition. Most religions at various times have undergone phases of violence either within their own communities or directed at external ones. At other times peace reigns. What interests me is why these changes occur. What are the reasons for the recent upsurge in the activeness of the warlike tradition within Islam now directed at foreign nations? Presumably it's due to either intrinsic factors (such as spontaneous developments in Muslim theology or society) or extrinsic factors (such as Zionism, globalization or U.S. foreign policy). These are far more interesting and pertinent questions than whether it's a good idea to draw silly pictures of the Prophet.

Charles Filson said...

Today King Abdula had some very constructive things to say about the current unrest. I could come to be a fan of his.

____

Years ago the KKK in America was pretty popular, especially in the south. It was a radical reactionary movement that borrowed credibility from Christianity and other Patriotic Civic organizations. Much as the Islamic terrorists borrow credibility in the middle east from Islam and from the Patriotic idea of a Califate.
As long as people only addressed the KKK when talking about its evils. Those evils could be justified in terms of being neccessary to the good of Christianity/Patriotism etc.
It was when people started to ask the Christian Churches that failed to oppose KKK and the civic organizations that shared membership with the KKK to justify themselves in terms of the KKK that the KKK began to lose support and fall out of favor.
____

Not only that, but they've apparently appeared overnight and do scary things for no reason at all, since they have no history

I'm still waiting for somebody to explain to me what can justify intentionally targeting civilians. War sucks and is bad, but in most cases people try really hard not to kill civilians, and we try to justify war as an evil, but a lesser one than not acting.

So maybe someone can explain this to me. I once asked Andrew to explain the justification behind socialism to me, and although I still prefer a market-driven economy for the sake of the outcome, I can now understand and respect the position of socialists. I don't think you are crazy anymore. Just myopic ;-)

Here's a great chance for somebody to explain to me a justification for blowing up people who are just trying to go about their lives. I can't imagine anything that would make me intentionally bomb a shopping mall or university. I certainly can't imagine anything that would make me go out and dance in the street in front of television cameras when I heard that 3000 people had just been killed. But maybe you can explain this to me.

Charles Filson said...

Martin Wykes said...why violence now...

That's a great point Martin.

In American past the KKK was the result of fear over the loss of a way of life. The south. White superiority and Dominance. Many cultural quirks that were disappearing.

Currently I am suffering the same sort of anxiety over the loss of all the Halmark Holiday's, which are no longer being celebrated in many elementary schools. It's something that was part of my world view disappearing. For some reason I haven't considered blowing anything up over it.

It hurts when your way of life is challenged. I wonder if globalization is at fault. What do you think?

culfy said...

Gavin Burrows said:

culfy said...

There is a strain of radical black theology allied with Islam which calls the white race an abhoration and calls for its destruction. Would you, on these grounds, justify caricatures of black people in general?

This reference to the Nation of Islam is a little disingenuous. Is there anything Islamic about this group apart from the name? (Which is doubtless intended as a red rag to Christians.)


Not disingenuous but probably disinformed; I've always assumed that the Nation of Islam was an Islamic group. I was trying to respond to the suggestion that offensive caricatures suggest that the group caricatured has done something deserving being caricatured.

Louise H. said...

There seems to be a bit of confusion here between explanation and justification. To offer an explanation for the dislike of the West by large segments of the Middle East is not to justify the burning of the Danish Embassy any more than to identify the Treaty of Versailles as a possible factor in World War 11 is to justify the invasion of Poland.

If you aren't interested in explanations then you might as well just chant "Violent savages!" and stick your fingers in your ears whenever you hear any news at all.

It might be more useful to ask why particular unpleasant people are in a position of influence or ability to act now. Which requires some analysis of the world around them (and us).

American Ronin said...

This seems a little disingenous also, a little like saying “were I a black man I’d just think the same as I do now.” Surely the point is that the context would be so different, you’d be a minority in a society where you knew at least some people were privately sympathetic to such hatred.

That's the trouble with that kind of hypothetical question. So let me use an example that applies to me in a non-hypothetical way.

I'm a Christian. I'm even what some people would call an evangelical, possibly even fundamentalist Christian. As an added bonus, I'm a Southerner. As a result, I've gotten pretty used to seeing my religion rather viciously mocked and satirized all over. It irritates me when people dismiss evangelical Christianity as the religion of ignorant hillbillies who fear book-l'arnin' and believe science is the devil's tool.

But what really pisses me off are the people responsible for projecting that image. All those idiots fighting to teach Creationism in schools. Jack Thompson, rabid crusader against video games who has declared himself to be on God's side but doesn't worry too much about making up facts when he denounces The Sims as a playground for pedophiles. And of course the jackass supreme, Pat Robertson, who only takes his foot out of his mouth so he can cram the other one in. With morons like that misrepresenting my faith, I can understand why it's lampooned by those outside it.

Charles Filson said...

Louise H.

Yes, and certainly that is what everybody who has condemmed the attacks have said: that they don't want to hear an explanation, and Muslims are violent savages.

Let's seek the explanation Louise, but hopefully you won't get too angry at our narrow mindedness if some of us choose to condem the violence while we're trying to understand the reason behind the action.

The reason why some people get punched in the face in bars is becasue they are rude and obnoxious. So really they should just stop being that way to avoid the punch in the nose. I get that much. But the next question to ask is, why doesn't everybody punch rude people in the nose? Hopefully you'll let us ask that question to. Or maybe that question is too insensitive to the nose-punchers?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Random thoughts.

I'm still waiting for somebody to explain to me what can justify intentionally targeting civilians.

Nothing whatsoever. It's morally indefensible, and in any case a self -defeating political strategy.

War sucks and is bad, but in most cases people try really hard not to kill civilians, and we try to justify war as an evil, but a lesser one than not acting.

I do seem to remember reading about something rather unpleasant happening in Dresden and Hiroshima, but we're all friends again now so there's no need at all to mention the War. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.

Here's a great chance for somebody to explain to me a justification for blowing up people who are just trying to go about their lives. I can't imagine anything that would make me intentionally bomb a shopping mall or university. I certainly can't imagine anything that would make me go out and dance in the street in front of television cameras when I heard that 3000 people had just been killed. But maybe you can explain this to me.

I don't understand the question, because I don't know who in this forum has been disposed to defend the terrorist attacks on London or New York.

I tried to address the general question of fanaticism in an essay shortly after the 7th July. When someone believes very strongly in an idea, they can sometimes be persuaded to do extreme, crazy and bad things in the name of that idea.
People like John Lennon and Richard Dawkins think the solution to this is to not have any ideas at all, but I doubt that this would work.

I am genuinely not sure about whether or not the fact that bad things are done in the name of a particular idea invalidates the idea itself -- e.g does the fact that there have been violent and destructive anarchists mean that we shouldn't discuss whether we could get by without any leaders?

I think that during the cold war, a lot of people sincerely (and not necessarily unreasonably) thought that communism was really quite bad. Some people probably found themselves hating, not just "communism" but "communists" and therefore "Russians". I can therefore concieve that a sincere but fanatical English or American patriot might have convinced himself that suicide bombing Moscow would be a Good Thing to do. Either the Russian civillians were Evil and deserved to die, or else they were a valid sacrifice in the war against communism. (Our government's defence policy was based on the idea that embarking on a war that would probably destroy all life on earth would be a lessor evil than allowing communism to take over Europe. Which is also a bit fanatical, in my opinion.)

Any widespread movement contains a fringe of nutters; and a slightly wider fringe of people who are inclined to romanticise those nutters; and a slightly wider fringe of people who are rather too reluctant to condemn the people who are romanticizing the nutters, and so on.

I very much doubt that the people carrying banners warning the English that another 7/7 was on it's way were "justifying" terrorism; any more than I think that the the people who stand outside murder trials carrying nooses are really lynch mobs. They are just very angry people trying to say the worst and most shocking thing that they can under the circumstances.

Four people with semtex on the London underground are not "Islam"; nor are 50 people saying "you had it coming", nor are 500 people saying "They may have been psychopaths, but at least they were our psychopaths." And saying "Yes, I can see how you might be quite cross about certain aspects of our foriegn policy" does not in any sense amount to "justifying" or "defending" violent actions.

Phil Masters said...

Any widespread movement contains a fringe of nutters; and a slightly wider fringe of people who are inclined to romanticise those nutters; and a slightly wider fringe of people who are rather too reluctant to condemn the people who are romanticizing the nutters, and so on.

Indeed. You can, hopefully, lock up the nutters, or watch them closely, or keep sharp things away from them, or do something with the police/justice system that stops them doing too much damage. You can argue with or slap down the romanticisers - Mr Blair is trying to pass a law making them illegal, but other people don't think that'd quite work, but anyway, frankly, you can generally call them obnoxious idiots and keep them marginalised. But the third category are generally non-violent in person and at least seemingly reasonable, so dealing with them gets more complicated. Because you have to argue with them, and they've generally got at least some reason to feel like they do, and the arguments get caught up in the complexities and ambiguities of real life.

For example, it's easy to say that proper soldiers don't deliberately attack civilians, whereas terrorists attack little else. But in fact, war involves quite large amounts of what gets hidden behind words like "collateral damage" and usually one or two "war crimes". The assorted dangerous nutters we've had bombing tube trains have, it turns out, spent a lot of time watching videos of civilian casualties from Iraq and other such places. You can say that Sadam Hussein was killing far more of his own people, and so that war was ultimately a lesser evil - and maybe you'd even be "right" (though lesser evils are horribly subjective things) - but a lot of people who are polite and reasonable and not bombing anyone are looking at the same images and getting angry. So if you try to dissuade those people from any sort of sympathy or support for "their" nutters, which you probably should, you can end up seeming to excuse a few thousand (civilian) deaths here and there.

Phil Masters said...

By the way, as a personal judgement - while I don't think that having a few deranged and dangerous supporters invalidates a movement, I think that once they start throwing bombs, the rest of the movement is well advised to shut up for a little while, back off, and re-assess their rhetoric. That usually looks like only sensible tactics, after all; staying visible in the wake of some murder or whatever just ineradicably associates the movement with the maniacs. I also think that it's, well, a matter of tact.

Unfortunately, on the one hand, you get people who are so angry that they don't think that backing off a while is acceptable (and they end up as the "not terrorists, but too tolerant of terrorists" types that Andrew mentioned) - and on the other, you sometimes seem to get a few who quietly think that having a deniable terrorist wing to the movement actually helps in the long run, because they can weaken the other side's resolve by fear while the sweetly reasonable talkers wear them down politely. Which either works (encouraging the next lot of proto-terrorists to try the same argument), or polarises the whole argument into something even more prolonged and bloody.

Phil Masters said...

Not disingenuous but probably disinformed; I've always assumed that the Nation of Islam was an Islamic group.

Well, I'm not up on their theology, but I assume that they're prepared to make the profession of the faith ("There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet"), and they often seem willingly to troop off to Mecca and so on.

Which makes them, by the rules as I understand them, yes, formally Muslims. They may be somewhat heterodox Muslims, to put it mildly; they may or may not be very good Muslims; but the basic definition is set deliberately, consciously broad.

(Which is, presumably, one reason why the Sunnis and the Shi'ites, although they've been fighting and killing each other here and there, on and off, on a small-to-medium scale, for the last twelve hundred years or so, have never got actively genocidal on each other. Neither can say that the other lot aren't actually Muslims. Whereas the Muslim-derived sects who recognise prophets after Mohammed, and who therefore qualify the profession of the faith, are prone to getting seriously persecuted.)

Sam Dodsworth said...

...I think that once they start throwing bombs, the rest of the movement is well advised to shut up for a little while, back off, and re-assess their rhetoric.

Assuming there's something monolithic and organized enough to be a 'movement' in the first place, of course. It worked that way for Fathers for Justice, but 'Islam' isn't any more of a movement than 'Christianity' is - although the natural desire of the news media to create dramatic stories might give the opposite impression.

(That was probably obvious to you, but I thought it needed to be made explicit.)

Phil Masters said...

Assuming there's something monolithic and organized enough to be a 'movement' in the first place, of course.

Well, as I'm just offering free advice on moral and tactical options, it's as good for loose groups as for monolithic organisations. The latter can act on it better, of course, but neither seems inclined to listen to me, so whatever.

Gavin Burrows said...

Andrew Rilstone said...
When someone believes very strongly in an idea, they can sometimes be persuaded to do extreme, crazy and bad things in the name of that idea.
People like John Lennon and Richard Dawkins think the solution to this is to not have any ideas at all, but I doubt that this would work.

I am genuinely not sure about whether or not the fact that bad things are done in the name of a particular idea invalidates the idea itself -- e.g does the fact that there have been violent and destructive anarchists mean that we shouldn't discuss whether we could get by without any leaders?


Just like Louise H makes a useful distinction between explain and justify, I’d make a distinction between idea and ideology. Julian Cope once sang of those “with pure contempt for the picture, just dedication to the frame”. I like to imagine that my ideas have come out of looking at what’s going on in the world and considering it. Maybe or maybe not, depending on how smart I am, some of those ideas could get applied somewhere and may even have a positive effect.

Ideology, it seems to me, comes from within, and seeks to impose itself on the world. One of the fundamentalist groups mentioned in Power of Nightmares declared not only that all unbelievers deserved to die, but that anyone not already in their tiny group should be classed as an unbeliever.

Some ideas may be more prone to get ossified into ideologies than others, but all ideas could become ideologies in the same way that all living things could become fossils. Pointing to the fossil doesn’t deny that the life form was ever alive. You dismiss bad ideas by pointing to the weaknesses inside them. Not by drafting in some nutter who professes to believe in them.

Phil Masters said...
You can argue with or slap down the romanticisers - Mr Blair is trying to pass a law making them illegal, but other people don't think that'd quite work…

I am personally far more concerned that any British citizen can now be banged up for a month without trial, and that this was quite astonishingly regarded as a liberal and moderate compromise, than I am about a disorganised bunch of fanatics and fantasists like Abu Hamza.

Hamza of course had some quite ludicrous views. I would not, repeat not, like him as a dinner guest or to accompany me on a long bus journey. But he’s being banged up, for 7 years I think, on a charge of incitement without any evidence he actually incited anybody to do any harm to anyone whatsoever. Connection with the tube bombers was there none. Meanwhile Tony Blair walks free. While Charles fulminates at imaginary people defending such atrocities, can anyone riddle me that?

You can say that Sadam Hussein was killing far more of his own people, and so that war was ultimately a lesser evil - and maybe you'd even be "right"…

…except that you’d be wrong. (By most independent estimates.)

By the way, as a personal judgement - while I don't think that having a few deranged and dangerous supporters invalidates a movement, I think that once they start throwing bombs, the rest of the movement is well advised to shut up for a little while, back off, and re-assess their rhetoric. That usually looks like only sensible tactics, after all; staying visible in the wake of some murder or whatever just ineradicably associates the movement with the maniacs. I also think that it's, well, a matter of tact.

So are you suggesting that the whole business of government should shut up and back off for a little while? Or just the nations which supported the war?

Phil Masters said...

Hamza of course had some quite ludicrous views. I would not, repeat not, like him as a dinner guest or to accompany me on a long bus journey. But he’s being banged up, for 7 years I think, on a charge of incitement without any evidence he actually incited anybody to do any harm to anyone whatsoever.

He was pretty clearly inciting plenty, on the evidence. Whether or not anyone acted on it may be legally a bit moot - so far as I know, Incitement to Murder was against the law long before Tony Blair came along, and never required that anyone should actually have acted on the words.

Connection with the tube bombers was there none.

Nothing direct. I seem to recall that the airliner shoe-bomber flake passed through that mosque at some point, but I may be mis-recalling.

So are you suggesting that the whole business of government should shut up and back off for a little while? Or just the nations which supported the war?

Well, I think that people who say that "anything's better than leaving Saddam Hussein in power" now have a rather more complicated case to argue, to put it mildly. And it's a fact that some people who thought that the war might be justified at the time are now admitting that, at the very least, the aftermath has been bollixed up so badly that any justifications are moot.

But the issue is slightly different, in that nobody is arguing that Saddam should be removed anymore (because he has been), and nobody is claiming that he had WMDs anymore (because it turns out that he didn't). The people who are just in favour of solving problems militarily in general certainly need to tread carefully for a while (as they seem perhaps to have noticed, in that nobody's invaded Syria or Iran lately).

And to take the rhetorical point a little too literally - the "whole business of government" wasn't what decided that Something Should Be Done About Iraq. That was a coalition of factions and interests, some inside governments and some outside. The people who are running the hospitals and mending the roads and collecting taxes had nothing to do with the case, and so don't need to justify themselves to anyone in this matter.

Phil Masters said...

Connection with the tube bombers was there none.

Incidentally, the uncle of one of them appears to disagree with that, according to ITN.

Certainly there's some evidence of Hamza influencing people who did go out and try to kill people.

Charles Filson said...

Andrew,


I am genuinely not sure about whether or not the fact that bad things are done in the name of a particular idea invalidates the idea itself -- e.g does the fact that there have been violent and destructive anarchists mean that we shouldn't discuss whether we could get by without any leaders?


Here I am at a loss to understand your question, because I am not sure that anybody on this forum, or in the media has claimed that terrorism by Islamists, or the apparent support of those 'nutters' by large groups of other Muslims, invalidates Islam.

I would hope that that would pretty much go without saying. It's a useful way to demagogue those who address this issue, but it's not a good characterization of at least my viewpoint on the issue.

Evil is done in the name of Islam. This isn't the fault of the vast majority of Muslims. That evil can and may be chastised or satirised by the rest of the world, but where I think that there is a problem is when chastising Islamamic extremeists results in bombings and killings and setting fire to things like embassies.

I don't think it is just a problem with the extremists, and I don't think that making excuses is helpful. If pointing out the effect the toleration of Muslim extremeists is having on the western perception of the Islamic religion, leads to violence, I certinaly don't think that we should stop talking about it, chastising it, and satirising it. Especially when those extremists are only able to exist because of the silence and tolerance of others.

Lars Konzack said...

What the result of all this furore regarding the Danish cartoons is difficult to say for the world in general. As regards to Denmark it's is fairly easy. According to the latest poll Socialdemokraterne (Labour) will lose 9 seats in parliament while Dansk Folkeparti (right-wing islamophobic party) will gain eight seats.

It seems as if Jyllands-Posten (the right-wing newspaper which publised the cartoons in the firt place) won the first round even though they had to put their editor on a long vacation.

The only light in the gloom is the establishment of a new Danish network called Democratic Muslims. Their goal is to show that Democracy and Islam goes well together. Because the losers are not only Socialdemokraterne but also the extremist, lying imams of Islamisk Trossamfund (Islamic Belief Society) who happened to tell the world about these cartoons. Nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

Gavin Burrows said...

He was pretty clearly inciting plenty, on the evidence. Whether or not anyone acted on it may be legally a bit moot - so far as I know, Incitement to Murder was against the law long before Tony Blair came along…

Legally moot, perhaps. But I was after a more common-sense definition. I’ve heard loonies in bus shelters should a whole bunch of inflammatory things in my time. While there’s always the chance they might attack you, it seems scarcely credible they’re likely to build up a following. They’re loonies in bus shelters, after all.

Hamza was the soap opera villain of the tabloids, based on his willingness to look and talk the part. (Which he obviously undertook willingly. Hook for a hand? Ever heard of the NHS, boy?) The tabloids kicked the Government, who wanted to signify they were tough on terrorism. No-one at any point believed anything they were saying, save perhaps the fantasist Hamza.

The BBC site you link to reads like characteristic mudslinging to me. Muslims tend to attend mosques, the more extremist ones are not likely to seek out the more moderate places. This doesn’t suggest cause and effect to me, nor proves that Hamza’s windbag rhetoric enabled (let alone planned) any terrorist outrages.

If we had to choose between them I contend the streets would be safer if Hamza was free and Blair behind bars. The fact that that ain’t going to happen doesn’t stop it being obvious.

(On a related matter the recent Terrorism Act’s definition of ‘association’ with terrorists explicitly refuses to confine itself to positive association. Which means that if you stop to argue with some fanatic arguing that the tube bombings were a good idea, you’re committing ‘association’ in the law’s eyes.)

But the issue is slightly different, in that nobody is arguing that Saddam should be removed anymore (because he has been), and nobody is claiming that he had WMDs anymore (because it turns out that he didn't).

Rumsfeld and others are using their obviously failed strategy to now reposition themselves as part of an ongoing, wide-reaching ‘war on terror’. In some ways this even benefits them. By creating a semi-permanent state of emergency they can continue to claim that no-one should question them during times of war, every time they screw up. No end to the war equals no end to the amount of times they can screw up and get away with it. (Just as well for them, the way they’re going.)

And to take the rhetorical point a little too literally - the "whole business of government" wasn't what decided that Something Should Be Done About Iraq. That was a coalition of factions and interests, some inside governments and some outside. The people who are running the hospitals and mending the roads and collecting taxes had nothing to do with the case, and so don't need to justify themselves to anyone in this matter.

The people who collected the taxes seem fairly directly to do with it to me. The aim was that in the long term the Iraqis should be made to pay for the bombs that rained on them, but they were paid for by taxes upfront.

But the main point is that this shifts your argument. If non-fanatical Muslims should “shut up and back off” when fanatical Muslims commit atrocities, then non-fanatical devotees of the British and American governments should do the same after Bush and Blair murdered so many thousands. I really can’t see how you can have it both ways.

Phil Masters said...

I’ve heard loonies in bus shelters should a whole bunch of inflammatory things in my time. While there’s always the chance they might attack you, it seems scarcely credible they’re likely to build up a following. They’re loonies in bus shelters, after all.

Unfortunately, Hamza does have a following. (You know, the ones hanging around outside the court waving placards saying "To hell with your freedom".) He looks to me like a loony in a bus shelter, too, and so do most of his groupsicule - but unfortunately, that particular movement turns out to be a bit more seriously dangerous than a loony in a bus shelter.

Is the solution to this danger to lock Hamza up for seven years? Dunno. But anyway, he'll be up for parole in six months, and out in four at maximum.

No-one at any point believed anything they were saying, save perhaps the fantasist Hamza.

And maybe some of the sort of disaffected nutters who trot along to his mosque and then start looking at do-it-yourself bomb-making instructions.

The BBC site you link to reads like characteristic mudslinging to me. Muslims tend to attend mosques, the more extremist ones are not likely to seek out the more moderate places. This doesn’t suggest cause and effect to me, nor proves that Hamza’s windbag rhetoric enabled (let alone planned) any terrorist outrages.

You said there wasn't any connection between Hamza and the actual bombers; I pointed out that there was a connection. Proof of causality is always harder.

But the main point is that this shifts your argument. If non-fanatical Muslims should “shut up and back off” when fanatical Muslims commit atrocities, then non-fanatical devotees of the British and American governments should do the same after Bush and Blair murdered so many thousands. I really can’t see how you can have it both ways.

I said that was a general principle; the applications are harder. As usual.

There are plenty of non-fanatical Muslims who are managing to keep clear water between themselves and the lunatics, and good luck to them. (Some are pointing out that we get worldwide demonstrations and burning embassies because of a few cartoons in a marginal Danish newspaper, but nothing much new from the same worldwide fraternity of faith when Muslims get actually, you know, tortured or killed, by outsiders or their own governments. In other words, it looks like easy grandstanding.) It's the ones who seem to end up making excuses for the bombers who I think are being (a) obnoxious and (b) tactically misguided. The same way that, say, the "animal rights" movement is full of people who can't bring themselves to disown arsonists and psychopaths, who leave me wanting to go out and spray bleach at the nearest cute puppy.

Likewise, it's possible to say that, for example, Saddam Hussein was a vicious torturing tyrant without being a paid-up Rumsfeld fan. Talking about his removal being a godo thing at this time is, however, tactless at best, yes. It's probably also possible to think that Labour may be the best people, of those on offer, to have running the country, without supporting the Gulf War - but yes, the war dominates the political landscape to such an extent that it makes that case complicated to argue.

But then, not being a Labour supporter in the first place, I don't have to worry about that personally.

Gavin Burrows said...

Unfortunately, Hamza does have a following. (You know, the ones hanging around outside the court waving placards saying "To hell with your freedom".) He looks to me like a loony in a bus shelter, too, and so do most of his groupsicule - but unfortunately, that particular movement turns out to be a bit more seriously dangerous than a loony in a bus shelter.

The clip on the TV I saw there was precisely one supporter hanging around outside court. Makes me laugh when I consider how many sizeable political demonstrations I’ve been on that have had precisely zero media coverage!

I meant more of course that I consider Hamza to be more similar to the loony in the bus shelter than to Bin Laden, let alone George Bush, than I consider him to be exactly the same thing. (Meaning in terms of influence, take that away and they all start to seem pretty similar.) Something openly admitted in the trial, which seems to have had almost no real publicity, was that he regularly met with the security services and was happy to grass others up to them. While I’m sure he was more concerned with grassing up rivals rather than actual extremists, it’s quite likely that was the effect and that was how come he was left alone for so long.

You said there wasn't any connection between Hamza and the actual bombers; I pointed out that there was a connection. Proof of causality is always harder.

I was referring to the BBC site which I don’t think mentioned the bombers. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) I didn’t bother looking at the ITV one you linked to, to be honest, because the uncle of one of them hardly seems an unbiased source.

But yes I don’t like the idea of conviction without any attempt to prove causality. If we establish legal precedent for people we don’t like much we’re simultaenously doing it for people we might like. (Or quite possibly even for ourselves.)

Some are pointing out that we get worldwide demonstrations and burning embassies because of a few cartoons in a marginal Danish newspaper, but nothing much new from the same worldwide fraternity of faith when Muslims get actually, you know, tortured or killed, by outsiders or their own governments. In other words, it looks like easy grandstanding.

Yep, that seems bizarre to me.

The same way that, say, the "animal rights" movement is full of people who can't bring themselves to disown arsonists and psychopaths, who leave me wanting to go out and spray bleach at the nearest cute puppy.

I don’t like the term “animal rights” either (though maybe not for the same reason) but I think you’d have to make a case for saying it’s full of arsonists and psychopaths, I don’t think it can stand as just an assertion. Of course I’m aware that some fairly indefensible things have been done in it’s name, but I don’t know that that spoils the barrow.

I do think movements like animal care should be open and heterodox, I don’t think they should have entrance exams, members only policies or guys in dickie-bows on the door. The inevitable other side of this is that you’re likely to attract at least some people you don’t want to attract. Added to which, as soon as you take on the ‘soured by bad apples’ thing any movement is open to it’s enemies using agent provocateurs and staging things. This may sound a bit like conspiracy theories of the flying-saucers-killed-Princess-Diana variety, but there are examples of this sort of thing happening in modern Europe and America.

Gavin Burrows said...

Twice now I've forgotten to attribute Phil's quotes to him! Yes I do know there are other people here!

All I can say is "Doh!"

Gavin Burrows said...

"...spoils the barrow."

Added to which, I think I might have meant spoils the barrel.

Doh and double doh!

Phil Masters said...

I was referring to the BBC site which I don’t think mentioned the bombers. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

You're wrong. It mentioned Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay - albeit, admittedly, only as having been reported as visiting the Finsbury Park mosque. ("Whitehall" apparently disputes that, possibly because too close a connection would raise the question of why Hamza wasn't arrested sooner.)

It also mentions Richard Reid, who was a bomber, though not one of the 7th July crew.

Yep, that seems bizarre to me.

Especially as it now turns out that the cartoons were published in an Egyptian newspaper months ago - as a subject of criticism, but without triggering any riots.

It seems that this really is just an excuse for that fringe Danish Muslim pressure group to get itself some headlines, and for a bunch of Middle Eastern governments to distract their people and to prove to them that "free speech" is a dreadful thing and they shouldn't be asking for it.

I don’t like the term “animal rights” either (though maybe not for the same reason) but I think you’d have to make a case for saying it’s full of arsonists and psychopaths, I don’t think it can stand as just an assertion.

I didn't say that. Please re-read what I did say.

(In fact, what I think is that the movement is so full of people who've lost all sense of proportion or perspective that its credibility has been completely and irretrievably destroyed. But that's another debate.)

Gavin Burrows said...

This time I will remember to credit Phil with his quotes! (I mean, Phil Masters, it’s even quite a nice name! It has a bit of a ring to it!)

Phil Masters said...
You're wrong. It mentioned Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Germaine Lindsay - albeit, admittedly, only as having been reported as visiting the Finsbury Park mosque.

Oh come on! Nasty Nick Griffin ‘reported’ coppers as saying Stephen Lawrence was a drug dealer. ‘Reported’ sounds a whole lot like hearsay to me.

Phil Masters also said...
("Whitehall" apparently disputes that, possibly because too close a connection would raise the question of why Hamza wasn't arrested sooner.)

Or possibly because there was no basis for it and they didn’t want to get caught out on another ‘vaulting the tube barriers’ fibbie?

Phil Masters then went on to say...
It also mentions Richard Reid, who was a bomber, though not one of the 7th July crew.

If anyone deserves comparison to a loony in a bus shelter, it’s Richard Reid.

Phil Masters later mentioned…
Especially as it now turns out that the cartoons were published in an Egyptian newspaper months ago - as a subject of criticism, but without triggering any riots.

No expert in Middle Eastern politics, but isn’t Egyptian Islam a bit less extreme? The cartoon version of the Koran done a few years ago (drawn as a aid to get kids to read the book, not as any kind of parody or critique) was okayed for publication in Egypt but drew a furore elsewhere in the Middle East.

Phil Masters , not done yet, continued…
It seems that this really is just an excuse for that fringe Danish Muslim pressure group to get itself some headlines, and for a bunch of Middle Eastern governments to distract their people and to prove to them that "free speech" is a dreadful thing and they shouldn't be asking for it.

Well yes, to be sure. It’s a kind of Hate Week, isn’t it? But what really staggers me is that all this is going on when new evidence of maltreatment is revealed in both Iraq and Gitmo. Unarmed kids get beaten on the streets and these guys focus on a bunch of cartoons!

My learned colleague Phil Masters concluded his remarks by saying…
In fact, what I think is that the [animal rights] movement is so full of people who've lost all sense of proportion or perspective that its credibility has been completely and irretrievably destroyed.

Personally I don’t give much of a monkeys about fox hunting. But I would say I’m against factory farming or animal testing for cosmetics. Of course I’ve no idea what you think about those things, but I think the debate should be about those things. Whether you or I might approve of the tactics of fringe elements among animal rights groups seems quite a separate subject to me.

Louise H. said...

Phil,

In fact, what I think is that the movement is so full of people who've lost all sense of proportion or perspective that its credibility has been completely and irretrievably destroyed.

While I entirely agree that the animal rights movement (and the extremist Islam movement) are both frightening and very wrong, I'm not sure that you can describe them as losing a sense of proportion or perspective. Both those imply a mutual starting point that just doesn't exist here. If you believe that animals have equivalent rights to people, or that it is your religious duty to avenge insults to Islam, then how can I say that your actions demonstrate the loss of a sense of proportion? Your reactions may in fact be entirely proportionate to your beliefs. Still wrong though.

Peope who lose perspective are the ones who shoot their neigbours over hedge disputes. People who have the wrong perspective are the ones who send bombs to scientists. They're probably both the same sort of people really, but one's got a belief system and the other's just a nutter.

I have to agree also about the cartoon fuss being stirred up by various Islamic governments for their own ends, but it is worth remembering that the original publication was by a fairly far right paper in Denmark and doubtless intended to further its own agenda as well. No one comes out well in this one (particularly not Jack Straw).

Gavin Burrows said...

Let’s credit Louise H. when she says...
While I entirely agree that the animal rights movement (and the extremist Islam movement) are both frightening and very wrong…

I find it a little alarming you’re careful to append Islam with “extremist” then be so sweeping about the animal rights movement as a whole. Undercover reporters in Huntingdon Life Sciences filmed the (already inadequate) safety regulations being flouted, but somehow this doesn’t seem to result in the idea that all vivisection labs should be shut down. Surely this is quite blatent one-sidedness!

I’d also mention that recent regulations against animal rights ‘extremism’ have actually clamped down on more moderate activity. Public demonstrations have been banned by the police or the courts in absurdly over-the-top injunctions. One demonstration in Oxford was allowed to go ahead, but numbers limited to 200 people!

Of course they’re not passing legislation against digging up people’s bodies or sticking bombs under people’s cars, those things are already illegal! They’re making illegal previously legal stuff. For their part, the more extreme elements among animal rightsers have openly said they feel encouraged by this, as others will be forced to give up or take on methods approaching theirs.

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but I find it genuinely scary when otherwise intelligent-sounding people can act so knee-jerk over this.

…if you believe that animals have equivalent rights to people…

Well that’s a point we agree on! I find it bizarre that people who profess to have an animal-centred view of the world should take on such an anthropomorphised notion as animal rights. Should lions and gazelles start signing codes of conduct?

I have to agree also about the cartoon fuss being stirred up by various Islamic governments for their own ends, but it is worth remembering that the original publication was by a fairly far right paper in Denmark and doubtless intended to further its own agenda as well.

Good point well made. Also try this.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4708216.stm

When two guys fight in a pub over who looked over who funny it’s normally reasonable to conclude both wanted a fight, and neither really cares who looked at who funny.

Peope who lose perspective are the ones who shoot their neigbours over hedge disputes. People who have the wrong perspective are the ones who send bombs to scientists. They're probably both the same sort of people really, but one's got a belief system and the other's just a nutter.

To my mind, the belief system makes it worse. The nutter’s less likely to go after the neighbour’s family, friends and anyone who has a similar haircut to them.

Gavin Burrows said...

Let's try that link again! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4708216.stm

culfy said...

To return to the issue of freedom of speach:

There is a well known group of people in the USA whose hobby it is to picket the funerals of homosexuals with signs saying "AIDS from GOD" and "Die In Hell Faggots". Faced with this do you

1) Accept the right of people to their freedom of speech unbounded by location and think that perhaps gays should start asking themselves questions about promiscuous homosexuals who have multiple sexual partners at a time and do not bother about protection are casting a poor light on their community.
2) Accept the right of people to their freedom of speech and agree that, while picketing at a funeral is a dastardly thing to do, once you start limiting freedom of speech to certain areas, you are going down a slippery slope. At least you can now identify the protestors in real debate, perhaps by holding up placards at the funerals saying "Statistics show that AIDS is as prevalent among Heterosexual communities" and "Traditional Christian Hatred For Gays Based on Missaplication of Ancient Hebrew Ritual Purity Laws Inappropriate To A Modern Day Context".
3) Think, "Hang on a minute, whatever you think about freedom of speech, I doubt that people at a funeral are really in an emotional state ready to confront such hatred. Quite frankly freedom of speech doesn't mean the freedom to shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre, nor does it mean the freedom to shout 'ha! ha! you burned to death' at the funeral of someone who died in a crowded theatre.

If you decide 1 or 2 then I disagree with you but I accept your're being consistent on the idea of free speach. If you go for 3, then you are accepting that their needs to be boundaries placed not only on what people say but on where they say it.

Gavin Burrows said...

Sorry for talking so much today but…

The deficiency of 1. seems to me that you can only accept freedom of speech as absolute if you imagine some absolute boundary between speech and actions. If someone started screaming threats to hit me in my face, in a literal sense they’re only excercising speech, but I’d feel entitled to push them away. If they were saying “somebody should hit you” I’d feel roughly similar.

The deficiency of 2. is to suggest that people who would behave in such a way are open to reason.

The deficiency of 3. is that once you agree to this you’ve opened the floodgates to some very murky waters, there’s no more absolutes to cling on to and life starts to look very, very complicated.

The upside to 3. is that you’re living in the real world.

…I’ll try to shut up for a bit now!

culfy said...

The deficiency of 3. is that once you agree to this you’ve opened the floodgates to some very murky waters, there’s no more absolutes to cling on to and life starts to look very, very complicated.

The upside to 3. is that you’re living in the real world.


But isn't the whole business of making laws about being complicated and working round absolutes.

Else it would a piece of piss to run a justice system; simply announce the 'theft, i.e the taking of something that doesn't belong to you is wrong and if you do it you get five years in prison".

In real life, we tend to accept that someone who steals, say, a penny sweet from Woolworths is not the same as someone who steals £5billion from their companies back accounts.

And that someone who, for example, kills their abusive partner after ten years of ill-treatment is not the same as someone who blows up a random stranger.

…I’ll try to shut up for a bit now!

Please don't. It's nice to have a friend.

Dan Hemmens said...

If you decide 1 or 2 then I disagree with you but I accept your're being consistent on the idea of free speach. If you go for 3, then you are accepting that their needs to be boundaries placed not only on what people say but on where they say it.

It's interesting that you choose to phrase it like that. I would be far more inclined to say "there should be no boundaries on what people can say, only on where they can say it." I fully support the right of Fundamentalist Christians to say "AIDS comes from GOD", I do not think that they have a right to blockade people's private ceremonies.

Dan Hemmens said...

Charles Filson said...

but where I think that there is a problem is when chastising Islamamic extremeists results in bombings and killings and setting fire to things like embassies.

But that's sort of the problem. You say "chastising Islamic extremists", other people say "insulting Islam."

If you want a piece of satire which "chastises Islamic extremists" then you might want to try the Onion's September 11th coverage, which included the rather nice article "Suicide Bombers Surprised to Find Selves In Hell" and "God Angrily Clarified Don't Kill Rule".

The Danish Cartoon, however, did the exact opposite. It implied, strongly, that Islam and Terrorism were the same thing, that "Mohammed had a bomb under his turban." It implies that the danger comes not from extremism, but from Islam its self.

culfy said...

Dan Hemmens said...

Culfy said
If you decide 1 or 2 then I disagree with you but I accept your're being consistent on the idea of free speach. If you go for 3, then you are accepting that their needs to be boundaries placed not only on what people say but on where they say it.

It's interesting that you choose to phrase it like that. I would be far more inclined to say "there should be no boundaries on what people can say, only on where they can say it." I fully support the right of Fundamentalist Christians to say "AIDS comes from GOD", I do not think that they have a right to blockade people's private ceremonies.

Quite right actually, I phrased that badly. Perhaps what I should have said "You accept that there should be boundaries on either what people say or where they say it"

Phil Masters said...

Gavin said:

‘Reported’ sounds a whole lot like hearsay to me.

No doubt. But you're shifting your terms again. You said that the report didn't mention those people. It did mention those people, and in the first couple of paragraphs. Do try to stay focussed.

Phil Masters also said...
("Whitehall" apparently disputes that, possibly because too close a connection would raise the question of why Hamza wasn't arrested sooner.)


(That, by the way, was sloppiness on my part. I seem to recall that Abu Hamza was arrested before last July. Apologies.)

If anyone deserves comparison to a loony in a bus shelter, it’s Richard Reid.

Sorry, but no. The man carried real explosives onto a real aircraft and really tried to set them off.

He may look a bit weird. He may even be suffering from much the same mental illnesses as a bus-shelter nutcase. But the attempted mass murder was real and serious.

Possibly the point there is that a combination of a world-wide cause with some potent rhetoric, an intermittently effective terrorist franchise, and modern explosives, means that even the bus-shelter nutcases now have a non-trivial chance of killing lots of people. If so, how the hell anyone can contain the problem with anything short of a police state is a real problem. But so are the bombs.

No expert in Middle Eastern politics, but isn’t Egyptian Islam a bit less extreme?

The Egyptian government is one of the less egregiously wacked-out regimes in the area, and the society seems to contain more people with a visibly working sense of proportion than some. But there are obsessive Islamists in Egypt who are up there with the craziest of them. Bombings, assassinations, the whole nine yards. (Ref.: "Muslim Brotherhood".) If merely being in the same country as those cartoons was enough to get Islamic radicals out burning embassies, then embassies in Egypt should have been burning months ago.

Personally I don’t give much of a monkeys about fox hunting. But I would say I’m against factory farming or animal testing for cosmetics. Of course I’ve no idea what you think about those things, but I think the debate should be about those things.

No doubt it should be. But so far as I'm concerned, so long as people are out there sending letter bombs and terrorising families, and the other people in the movement are indulging in mealy-mouthed Sinn Fein-style "well of course but you've got to understand" BS, it isn't and it can't be.

(And actually, I try to avoid factory-farmed food myself, for the sake of my own health as much as because I think that hacking chicken's beaks off is wrong.)

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said...
But you're shifting your terms again. You said that the report didn't mention those people. It did mention those people, and in the first couple of paragraphs. Do try to stay focussed.

‘Reported’ sounds so vague a term to me that in all probability I just instantly dismissed it, and promptly forgot all about it. You scan news items for the hard info, don’t you? What I’m focused on is that there’s no real reason to suppose Hamza met or preached to the suicide bombers, let alone incited them. If you’re focused on something else then feel free to say so, but that doesn’t automatically mean I lack focus. It may mean I just have a different one.

Phil Masters said...

Sorry, but no. The man carried real explosives onto a real aircraft and really tried to set them off.

He may look a bit weird. He may even be suffering from much the same mental illnesses as a bus-shelter nutcase.


People with mental illnesses have harmed others before, of course. They’re far more likely to harm themselves than someone else, but them harming others is something that has happened before in history. Up till now, though, there’s been no supposition that they must be part of some world-wide conspiracy of other people with mental illnesses who needed a world-wide ‘long war’ waged against them and the civil rights of everybody else curtailed. That seems to me to be something of a shift.

Phil Masters said...

If so, how the hell anyone can contain the problem with anything short of a police state is a real problem.

To me, of course, the emerging police state you mention is the more pressing problem. I’m reminded of the ‘wheel to crush a butterfly’ analogy. I would also question whether a (non-Islamic) police state woulf fix or exacerbate the problem.

Phil Masters said...

But there are obsessive Islamists in Egypt who are up there with the craziest of them. Bombings, assassinations, the whole nine yards.

The Power of Nightmares documentary suggests that it was the torture of detainees that pushed many fundamentalists over the edge into embracing terrorism.


Phil Masters said...

… so far as I'm concerned, so long as people are out there sending letter bombs and terrorising families, and the other people in the movement are indulging in mealy-mouthed Sinn Fein-style "well of course but you've got to understand" BS, it isn't and it can't be.

At the risk of sounding rude, comments such as this mean I find it hard to believe you’ve been listening to anyone else here. For example Louise H made her distinction between explain and condone a while back, and no-one seemed to disagree, now it’s suddenly become “mealy-mouthed”. If you’re saying ‘You can say what you like, I still think what I think’ then that’s quite up to you. But I frankly don’t understand the point of going through the effort of posting messages to a message board that essentially say ‘I shall ignore everything said in your last message and repeat what I said earlier’. That may just be me…

Dan Hemmens said...
It's interesting that you choose to phrase it like that. I would be far more inclined to say "there should be no boundaries on what people can say, only on where they can say it." I fully support the right of Fundamentalist Christians to say "AIDS comes from GOD", I do not think that they have a right to blockade people's private ceremonies.

At such points I’m always tempted to ask slightly silly questions such as – would it be alright if the fundamentalists stood just outside the churchyard on the public street, shouting at the mourners through megaphones?

My point would be that everything is relative. Everything that happens, happens in a context and you can’t always draw absolutes from it and apply them to a different context. You make a good point about the content of the Danish cartoons, but I think to understand the issue we also have to look at the context they were published in. Denmark is unfortunately lurching to the right and these cartoons were published in a paper that is very much part of that rightward drive, that had previously refused to publish cartoons on Christianity on the grounds they may cause offence. These cartoons were clearly published as a provocation, not from some selfless act of devotion to ‘free speech’, which then worked so well internationally that it backfired.

Sure, they have a ‘right’ to be offensive and provocative, just like I would to insult everybody on this board. But grown-ups also think about their responsibilities.

Gavin Burrows said...

Meant to ask before but forgot. Has anyone here actually tried to argue with one of these ‘AIDS is God’s wrath’ types? How, for example, would they explain away God’s blind eye over the Nazis who needed a very earthly world war to be defeated? Is he supposed to have a soft spot for shiny black uniforms or is he just subject to erratic mood swings?

Answers, as they say, on a postcard…

Charles Filson said...

I have.

I've pointed them at the book of Job they point to Sodom and Gamorrah. It's a rather pointless excercise. They have ignored the great theological truth: stuff happens.

However they do have one valid point. If people were to follow the precepts of the Bible, AIDS would never have become the issue it is today, and if folks started following those rules today, the spread of AIDS would be drastically reduced. After all, sexual monogamy or abstinance is just good taste anyway isn't it? So then shouldn't we mandate this good and useful behavior into law?

I hope you pick up on the sarcasm there. Sexual promiscuity is in bad taste and it can hurt others through the spread of disease. This is, to my mind, a bit analagous to the free speach debate. The cartoons may have been in bad taste, and some damage and harm may have resulted, but this does not call for a blanket restriction of speach, just as the spread of AIDS through non-monogamous sex (along with other means) does not call for a blanket restriciton of extra-marital sex.

I might say that we could allow any person to say what they like but hold them lible for any resulting harm, but this worries me because I could say something completely innoxious, only to have others take it the wrong way. I think that free speach is so important, in terms of protecting our other liberties, that it is much better to error on the side of favoring free speach.

Phil Masters said...

People with mental illnesses have harmed others before, of course. They’re far more likely to harm themselves than someone else, but them harming others is something that has happened before in history. Up till now, though, there’s been no supposition that they must be part of some world-wide conspiracy of other people with mental illnesses who needed a world-wide ‘long war’ waged against them and the civil rights of everybody else curtailed. That seems to me to be something of a shift.

Indeed. And I agree if you're saying that Al-Qua'ida is less of an international conspiracy than the latest excuse for certain mentally damaged people to attack other people. But I think that it and its offshoots are just a little bit more than that, too.

On the one hand, it's a common cause for these people. A solitary nut doesn't generally have his delusions reinforced by other people, and isn't offered a safe house, a set of manuals saying how to cause harm, or a supply of explosives. A large enough radical ideology, on the other hand, can form clumps that provide all those things.

Like I said, franchise terrorism.

Which is why bus shelter nuts, even in this great age of care in the community, still only kill a very few people every year, whereas "Islamic" terrorists can and do kill a few dozen here and there, and hence are a significantly bigger problem.

You can't just treat them as the same problem, even if they turn out to have a near-identical pathology.

To me, of course, the emerging police state you mention is the more pressing problem. I’m reminded of the ‘wheel to crush a butterfly’ analogy. I would also question whether a (non-Islamic) police state woulf fix or exacerbate the problem.

Well quite. Once you start trying more oppression to fix the problem, and it doesn't work very well (because it provokes more in anger than it resolves in nutters taken out of circulation), you tend to end up in a vicious circle.

On the other hand, the actual solutions to the problem (which are huge and difficult and god knows I don't claim to know what all of them are) will doubtless take years to work and prove imperfect along the way, even if they're being tried right now, and I don't think that they are. Meanwhile, more people will be getting killed. And the electorate will be telling politicians that they want this fixed, and the politicians will be telling the police that they want this problem solved, and the police will be telling the politicians that they'd like more powers, and the politicians will be telling the electorate that they're going to take a Firm Stand...

No, I'm not terribly optimistic about this stuff right now.

The Power of Nightmares documentary suggests that it was the torture of detainees that pushed many fundamentalists over the edge into embracing terrorism.

I'm sure that's right. But there were violent fundamentalists (and authoritarian governments) long before the current phase of the game - including in Egypt.

At the risk of sounding rude, comments such as this mean I find it hard to believe you’ve been listening to anyone else here. For example Louise H made her distinction between explain and condone a while back, and no-one seemed to disagree, now it’s suddenly become “mealy-mouthed”.

Ah, no, sorry. My fault for not being clear enough.

I'm all in favour of explanation, and I'm fully aware that it isn't the same as making excuses. If you want explanations of any given violent movement that don't excuse it, I'll willingly join in providing and discussing them.

The problem is that, well, sometimes people do make excuses. Worse, with some movements, you get an activist wing that goes round planting bombs, and a political wing that piously disavows that stuff, declares that it's only offering explanations - and then takes full advantage of the consequences of violence when convenient.

To explain is not to excuse. But equally, to excuse or exploit is not merely to explain.

In truth, this isn't a big factor with Islamic terrorism, though. The violent types are so violent that the political types can't generally go near them with a 10-foot pole without screwing up their political credibility permanently. (Although Hamas may have pulled off a bit of blurring of late.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

Meant to ask before but forgot. Has anyone here actually tried to argue with one of these ‘AIDS is God’s wrath’ types? How, for example, would they explain away God’s blind eye over the Nazis who needed a very earthly world war to be defeated? Is he supposed to have a soft spot for shiny black uniforms or is he just subject to erratic mood swings?

The question "Why did God punish the homosexuals but leave the Nazis unscathed" could presumably be answered at its own level by saying "God had a soft-spot for Hitler because he gassed all they gays." Please don't take me out of context on that one.

Someone who has spent many years engaged in the deep and prayerful study of the Bible might sincerely come to the conviction that God approves of heterosexual monogamy, and disapproves of homosexuality. Such a person might (concievably) think that on days when he is not engaging in acts of charity and campaigning for social justice, that he ought to try to persuade sodomites to leave their sinful life. And he might (at a stretch) come to think that the fact that gay people sometimes get ill is evidence that God doesn't approve of their lifestyle. Such a person -- who has gone FROM a belief in the God of the Bible TO a belief that HIV is a sign that homosexuality is sinful -- would probably be the sort of person you could have a meaningful discussion with.

How many people like that do you imagine that there are in the mobs who picket gay funerals?

Similarly, I think it is very unlikely that many people form the opinion that God made negroes out of mud and neglected to put souls into them, and as a result of this opinion become white supremisits. I think that it is much more likely that people start out with a visceral and irrational dislike of gays or blacks and use arguments very loosly based on traditional theological ideas to rationalise their prejudice.

Actually, "rationalise" isn't quite right. The God who sends AIDS to punish homosexuals isn't an explanation, or a rationalisation, or any kind of argument at all. He's much more like a symbol, a rallying point, a figurehead: an icon who embodies and represents a feeling which a group of people are having.

Criticising them because the behaviour of their God seems inconsistent with some of the attributes of the God of the Christian Bible is a non-sequitur. They've defined God as "that being who disaproves of two men having sex."

People use "God" as a figurehead for nice causes too, of course.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
I think that free speech is so important, in terms of protecting our other liberties, that it is much better to error on the side of favoring free speech.

Though, as said earlier, I don’t think you can see freedom of speech as an absolute I’d agree with this. You’re American, yes? So I don’t know if you’ll have heard about a recent demo in London over the Danish cartoons, which became notorious due to placards saying ‘Death to the Infidels’, ‘We Need Another 7/7’ (London Tube bombing) and other such carefully considered arguments. Despite this demo being numerically insignificant and no outbreaks of actual violence at all, the whole debate seems to have been about whether these people should have been arrested at the time or later. The Government even used them as an example where their anti ‘glorification of terrorism’ bill should become law, despite admitting the fact that the police were investigating them under… um… existing law.

I quite literally have heard nobody making the point that placards don’t actually hurt you, and find that a little worrying really. Fairly obviously, I don’t particularly want, need or desire another London Tube bombing. But in the absence of any real evidence that their frothings were making another such event more likely I’d be inclined to say “let ‘em rant”.

(Another bizarre feature seems to be that there was a later, much larger Muslim demonstration that declared themselves offended by the cartoons but didn’t threaten to kill anyone or burn down any public buildings in order to make this point. They seem to have warranted much less media coverage. Again, if anyone can explain this extremely odd state of affairs I’d welcome answers on a postcard…)

Phil Masters said...
A solitary nut doesn't generally have his delusions reinforced by other people, and isn't offered a safe house, a set of manuals saying how to cause harm, or a supply of explosives. A large enough radical ideology, on the other hand, can form clumps that provide all those things.

I’ve always assumed the Shoebomber to have been acting alone or almost alone, the exact opposite of the military precision of S11. Strategically, there’s a big upside to ‘franchise terrorism’ and having no actual centre of command. If your enemies try to bomb you, the chances are they’ll mostly hit civilians and help your propaganda. But isn’t the downside the loose cannons like the Shoebomber, who bring down all the reprisals without having the big hit of a S11?

Have to confess, though, I don’t really know the details of this case. If anyone does..?

On the other hand, the actual solutions to the problem (which are huge and difficult and god knows I don't claim to know what all of them are)…

You don’t? What am I wasting my time for here, then? I’m off!

(Just kidding.)

The problem is that, well, sometimes people do make excuses. Worse, with some movements, you get an activist wing that goes round planting bombs, and a political wing that piously disavows that stuff, declares that it's only offering explanations - and then takes full advantage of the consequences of violence when convenient.

To explain is not to excuse. But equally, to excuse or exploit is not merely to explain.


Okay, I guess I should have got you earlier with your Sinn Fein analogy. It was of course an open secret that Sinn Fein was the political wing of the IRA. But, as you kind of say yourself, I’m not sure there’s much of a connection between a formalised, hierarchical political group and the kind of nebulous association of people around animal rights or fundamentalist groups.

Folks involved in groups such as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty have been subject to scary levels of police harrasment, plus injunctions trying to charge them tens of thousands of pounds, without any evidence they’re actually connected to the more ‘terrorist’ activity. That’s what alarms me, in fact more than the ‘terrorist’ stuff itself, and that’s what I was trying to say.

I’d also add that political wings of terrorist groups often get by not only by saying they’re offering explanations, but that they’re the only ones offering explanations, that everyone else is in fact on the side of their enemies. Making sure that you look for explanations yourself seems a good way to me to undercut this. (Of course they’ll ingore the fact you’re doing this, their rhetoric is predicated on it, but others may notice.)

Charles Filson said...
They have ignored the great theological truth: stuff happens.

I’d say you have your finger on the nub of the problem there. Added to which, I’m no expert on Christian theology but didn’t this God fellah make something of a point out of free will? “You have free will but make the wrong choice and I’ll waste ya by killing off your immune system you bunch of fags!” seems to me a slightly wonky definition of free will.

Andrew Rilstone said...
Similarly, I think it is very unlikely that many people form the opinion that God made negroes out of mud and neglected to put souls into them, and as a result of this opinion become white supremisits. I think that it is much more likely that people start out with a visceral and irrational dislike of gays or blacks and use arguments very loosly based on traditional theological ideas to rationalise their prejudice.

I take your point here. As John Lydon once sang “always hatred, stupid hatred”. I somehow doubt that if the Fundys managed to achieve their worldwide Caliphate or the BNP managed to kick all the dashed foreigners out of the country neither would then suddenly become sunny, cuddly people. Being a cynical soul, I suspect they might looke bored for a bit then start picking on somebody else.

But if I was to argue against you, I’d say the Bible and most Church history was from a time when racism and homophobia were commonplace and it’s the modern, liberal Church which has the job of reworking and defusing them.

Gavin Burrows said...

So Phil’s ‘two wings to one movement’ argument could be brought down to a ‘two fists’ analogy? If I was to punch you with my right fist and then claim my left fist to be an innocent in this matter, a fist which on no reason should have it’s liberties arbitrarily curtailed by being held down so indiscriminately, a fist which having committed no ill should be allowed to wander free?

Obviously the arguments start when we start on where the analogy should and shouldn’t be applied!

Phil Masters said...

I quite literally have heard nobody making the point that placards don’t actually hurt you, and find that a little worrying really.

In which case, you should have started worrying years ago. I remember an explanation of some law about "Offensive behaviour" or "Behaviour likely to occasion a breach of the peace" or whatever, in which a reporter made up a placard saying "Should we breed like rabbits?" First she took it down to Hyde Park Corner and asked people if they found it offensive, and they mostly said no, it's a point of view, no worse than other stuff round here, whatever. Then she took it to a maternity clinic, and not surprisingly, people she asked there said yes, they'd be very offended at somebody waving this about.

The point being, in terms of the law, that made waving the same placard perfectly legal at Hyde Park Corner, and an arrestable offence at the clinic.

The fact is, the law's never really seen "free speech" as an absolute. It's not just about shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre; it's about preserving the peace.

Of course, the flipside of this is that, as you say, we already have perfectly good laws in place about this stuff, and if Tony Blair is trying to say that we need more, he's just pulling a fast one.

But isn’t the downside the loose cannons like the Shoebomber, who bring down all the reprisals without having the big hit of a S11?

Well, if he'd lucked out with his fuse, he could have done quite a bit of damage. But anyway, any terrorist group likes triggering reprisals, provided that they don't work too well. Recruiting effect.

Folks involved in groups such as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty have been subject to scary levels of police harrasment, plus injunctions trying to charge them tens of thousands of pounds, without any evidence they’re actually connected to the more ‘terrorist’ activity. That’s what alarms me, in fact more than the ‘terrorist’ stuff itself, and that’s what I was trying to say.

Matter of personal taste, probably. Personally, I think the likes of SHAC are such morons that I find it really, really hard to muster any sympathy for them. (Not only do they seem quite willing to be associated with a bunch of thugs, but the net effect of a great victory on their part would be to move all the animal experimentation to countries with far looser animal protection laws, and police forces who could really show them what "persecution" was about if they tried moving over themselves.) But I guess that's narrow-minded of me.

Gavin Burrows said...

Phil Masters said...
In which case, you should have started worrying years ago.

Oh, I was!

I remember an explanation of some law about "Offensive behaviour" or "Behaviour likely to occasion a breach of the peace" or whatever…

Amusing story. On leaving home and trying industriously to conform to the ‘belligerent student’ stereotype I donned my beret and joined in with a picket of a fur shop. The owner called the cops, and explained to them we were annoying him and he felt like marching out and punching one of us. Whereupon they told us that if we didn’t move they’d arrest us for behaviour likely to occasion a breach of the peace’! Presumably hanging around in a manner likely to get hit. (We refused and they backed down.)

… Of course, the flipside of this is that, as you say, we already have perfectly good laws in place about this stuff, and if Tony Blair is trying to say that we need more, he's just pulling a fast one.

I tend to think the same thought as you the other way up, that we suffer from enough legal restrictions already without having more piled on.

…the net effect of a great victory on their [SHAC’s] part would be to move all the animal experimentation to countries with far looser animal protection laws, and police forces who could really show them what "persecution" was about if they tried moving over themselves.

Just interested, would you say the same about people protesting the way workers or patients were being treated? Say unsafe conditions in a factory or hospital? Should we not have abandoned slavery because slaves might get sent elsewhere and be treated worse? The same thing would be true, wouldn’t it?

Even if I were to agree with your characterisation of SHAC and similar groups as “morons”, of course once such procedures are established they do not stay stuck to their original, ostensible targets. A series of anti-stalking laws were passed, with the avowed aim of protecting women menaced by ex-boyfriends etc. They then got extended to animal rights protestors at Huntingdon and elsewhere, with insane and quite extensive restrictions on movements and behaviour. One injunction was passed against the entire membership of an American animal rights group who’d never even been to Britain!

They recently got extended to protestors against a bomb factory here in Brighton. People were remanded in prison for such ‘crimes’ as taking photos of the security guards (who had been currently in the act of taking photos of the protestors). The interim injunction stayed in force for many months, before (thankfully) being thrown out in court. However, Police attitudes towards the campaigners has continued to be quite draconian. At one of their recent demos I went on (in the town centre several miles from the actual factory) people weren’t allowed to leave or join the demo once it had started. People trying to hand leaflets to passers-by were prevented, often with force. When I see such things the prospect of further legal ‘safeguards’ doesn’t make me sleep easier.

http://www.schnews.org.uk/archive/news531.htm

"Should we breed like rabbits?"

I thought you’d never ask! Your place or mine?

culfy said...

Gavin Burrows said

If people were to follow the precepts of the Bible, AIDS would never have become the issue it is today, and if folks started following those rules today, the spread of AIDS would be drastically reduced. After all, sexual monogamy or abstinance is just good taste anyway isn't it? So then shouldn't we mandate this good and useful behavior into law?

I hope you pick up on the sarcasm there. Sexual promiscuity is in bad taste and it can hurt others through the spread of disease. This is, to my mind, a bit analagous to the free speach debate. The cartoons may have been in bad taste, and some damage and harm may have resulted, but this does not call for a blanket restriction of speach, just as the spread of AIDS through non-monogamous sex (along with other means) does not call for a blanket restriciton of extra-marital sex.


Aha. I was reading in 'Free Speech Is No Offence' an essay which argues against the notion that Free Speech should be responsible. It argues essentially that the nature of free speech must allow irresponsibility (e.g The writers of Jerry Springer - The Opera should not have to justify their work as making a serious point on theology, just say that "frankly it's a funny idea"). I was trying to think of other examples where a right is exercised without responsibility (but within the law) and the first one I came up with was sexual promiscuity. Please await my lawyer's instructions regarded your plagrisim.

However if Free Speech is exercised irresponsibly, do we have justification for pointing this out? Is "Really you ought not to draw pictures of Mohammed as it upsets a lot of devout muslims and doesn't really serve a useful purpose otherwise, so if you stopped doing it, we'd be most grateful" an attack on free speech?

Louise H said...

While I would hate to take this long and rambling debate even further astray on its country walk, can I point out that there is not a consensus on the moral and social superiority of sexual monogamy and to pick generalised promiscuity as an example of bad behaviour (which should nevertheless be legally tolerated) is, well, a bit Puritanical. Especially if it is being compared to, say, hurling racist abuse.

Gavin Burrows said...

Also I'd point out the quote's actually from Charles Filson and not me. I have nothing against the sexually promiscuous apart from jealousy.

(Easy to misattribute a quote, I know. Just pointing out for the record.)

Charles Filson said...

Louise H said:

...can I point out that there is not a consensus on the moral and social superiority of sexual monogamy

Oh, I certainly hope that you do. It rather makes my point nicely.

and to pick generalised promiscuity as an example of bad behaviour (which should nevertheless be legally tolerated) is, well, a bit Puritanical

I know that 'puritanical' is such a fun word to demonize a person with, but in this case it doesn't exactly fit. I think 'puritanical' carries an implication of religious-based morality. My statement of good taste is based not on religion or morality, but rather on disease control; public health you understand. Therefore, 'puritanical' is not an apt description. Plus there is this whole issue of my having been sarcastic, that you seem to have somehow missed.

Especially if it is being compared to, say, hurling racist abuse.

So shouting 'you nigger', at a person of Sub-Saharan African decent is far worse than transmitting a potentially lethal disease to an unknowing party through sexual intercourse? I honestly have no idea what your world must be like.

However I think you may have missed my sarcasm and thus my point. Sexual promiscuity if done carefully, with proper protection, is not harmful or offensive. So a law against sexual promiscuity is both unnecessary and probably harmful.
The same is true of speech. Not everybody agrees that a cartoonish depiction of a religious leader is in bad taste. It doesn't always do harm.
In the US, we have a means to deal with this. Speech is allowed by default and if a person feels that speech has harmed them, they can take the case before a civil court. The civil court can then decide if harm was done, and if damages should be awarded.
A Muslim demanding that I not draw a cartoon of Mohammed (Pbuh) is, in fact, puritanical, and probably not a good source for law.

culfy said...

Louise said

While I would hate to take this long and rambling debate even further astray on its country walk, can I point out that there is not a consensus on the moral and social superiority of sexual monogamy and to pick generalised promiscuity as an example of bad behaviour (which should nevertheless be legally tolerated) is, well, a bit Puritanical. Especially if it is being compared to, say, hurling racist abuse.


My fault. I actually meant to say 'Sexual Promiscuity without responsibility, e.g. wilfully ignoring contraception and safe sex'.

Phil Masters said...

Gavin Burrows said...

On leaving home and trying industriously to conform to the ‘belligerent student’ stereotype I donned my beret and joined in with a picket of a fur shop. The owner called the cops, and explained to them we were annoying him and he felt like marching out and punching one of us. Whereupon they told us that if we didn’t move they’d arrest us for behaviour likely to occasion a breach of the peace’! Presumably hanging around in a manner likely to get hit. (We refused and they backed down.)

However, they probably could have nicked you if they'd really wanted. Whether the judge would have got all sarcastic at them if it had ever gone to court is another matter.

Which may sound terribly oppressive, but the fact is, we've got laws about "threatening behaviour" and "breach of the peace". If somebody screams abuse in somebody else's face, or yells "United are w%@*$&s" in a pub full of United fans, they're doing something that probably needs to be stopped. But deciding what sort of behaviour is bad enough to merit arrest is inevitably subjective.

I tend to think the same thought as you the other way up, that we suffer from enough legal restrictions already without having more piled on.

Just for reference, is this a general principle with you, or does it relate solely to this particular area?

Honest question. Anarcho-libertarianism is a perfectly coherent political philosophy. It's just that you'd have to accept the possibility of fur shop owners packing shotguns in that case.

Just interested, would you say the same about people protesting the way workers or patients were being treated? Say unsafe conditions in a factory or hospital? Should we not have abandoned slavery because slaves might get sent elsewhere and be treated worse? The same thing would be true, wouldn’t it?

Not really.

Okay, the first part of the answer has to be "No, I don't think that medical research involving animals is as bad as slavery." Do you?

The second part involves saying that hospitals aren't likely to move abroad, and manufacturing can only do so some of the time. But to the extent that it does, dealing with the consequences is quite tricky. Giving industries good reasons to act virtuously can be as important as shouting at them when they behave badly.

Thirdly - Banning slavery was a great achievement. But I don't suppose that you're talking about the law that slaves couldn't be owned in Britain - that dates back to the Elizabethan period, I believe, though it was usefully re-stated in the 18th century. What people tend to talk about, though, is when we banned slavery anywhere in the world where we could stop it. You know, sending the Royal Navy out to point large guns at slavers and make them cease and desist.

If animal experimentation was taking place in, say, South Korea, or Thailand, or South Africa, would you want the Royal Marines to invade the place to make it stop?

And fourth, looking back a bit further - early Islamic law, for one example, treats slavery as a bad thing, but not something that can be banned. After all, if Muslims hadn't been able to keep slaves, they'd probably have massacred most of the prisoners who they took in war. They also had laws saying that it was illegal to free slaves if they weren't able to support themselves. No turning the poor sods out in the street to starve.

In other words, you could say that those sorts of laws condoned slavery. They also probably saved thousands of lives. Now, good thing or bad thing?

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
I think 'puritanical' carries an implication of religious-based morality. My statement of good taste is based not on religion or morality, but rather on disease control; public health you understand.

I have to admit to wondering if it’s telling you chose that example of public health though, rather than say food preparation.

To momentarily take your side, however, I remember legal cases from a few years ago where people with AIDS were caught sleeping with others without telling them of their condition. This was at least presented at the time as deliberate, a kind of taking others down with you. There were legal cases over it, but there my memory goes a little hazy. Of course this is free speech in reverse, do I have the ‘right’ to stay silent if a piano’s falling on your head? I reckon most folks would answer ‘no’ there, I guess the question is what you do about it.

Phil Masters said...
However, they probably could have nicked you if they'd really wanted. Whether the judge would have got all sarcastic at them if it had ever gone to court is another matter.

To be sure! I’ve heard of many such malicious arrests in similar circumstances and of course they rarely go to court. Being arrested and cooped in a cell isn’t a particularly pleasant experience in and of itself and can often act as (in their terms) a deterrent, a kind of clip round the ear. Added to which the police can now add their own bail conditions. They could have, for example, forbad me from going near the fur shop again which would have meant I couldn’t go down my own town’s high street. (I’ve heard of many similar restrictions.) The charges are then normally dropped just before the trial date.

But deciding what sort of behaviour is bad enough to merit arrest is inevitably subjective.

Well pretty much everything is ultimately subjective! It was really meant more as a funny little anecdote, but I guess the point would be the police subjectively sided with the shopowner and not a bunch of scruffy-looking students. Hardly surprising, of course, but hardly ‘equality before the law’ either. As soon as you concede subjectivity you’re really giving that idea up.

Just for reference, is this a general principle with you, or does it relate solely to this particular area?

Honest question. Anarcho-libertarianism is a perfectly coherent political philosophy. It's just that you'd have to accept the possibility of fur shop owners packing shotguns in that case.


Not quite sure what you’re asking here. But there seems to lurk implicit in your question the idea that there’s some automatic polar opposition between obeying the law as it is and some wacky ‘do what thou wilt’ philosophy. I’m skeptical of a legalistic approach to solving social problems for a number of reasons. I think it professionalises problems and takes solving them out of the hands of regular folks. I think it inevitably orients itself towards those with power and influence (like shop owners over scruffy students) while maintaing a veneer of equality and fair play.

That’s why you get people put in prison for taking a photo of a security guard outside a bomb factory, while the bomb-making continues with impunity. (Something a little more serious than the example I gave.) I don’t think it follows from there that anyone should be able to do anything they feel like at any time, and I don’t think I’ve said anything to suggest that.

While you rightly criticise Blair’s new laws, I have also noticed that people are often quite sussed in their critiques of legislation until it is passed. Then what had previously been politically motivated becomes socially neutral and above criticism – “that’s just the law.”

I don’t think your final comments about slavery really answer what I was asking. (The stuff revealing slavery to be worse than animal abuse seems a particular red herring, what did I say that this is intended as a response to?) I don’t believe it’s much of a defence to find someone else who does something worse, which seemed to be why you were suggesting no-one should criticise what goes on at Huntingdon. If I beat my wife and you beat yours worse, I still beat my wife.

culfy said...

Can I drag this back to freedom of speech?

Just an idea that occured to me the other day, follow me with this one.

Our esteemed host has often expressed his dislike of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. One of the reasons he gives is that Gimli has been turned into an unfunny comic dwarf.

Perhaps I'm assuming here, but I would think this goes beyond saying "Although in my opinion, portraying Gimli as an unfunny comic dwarf was a bad idea, I really respect Peter Jackson's rights to do so." I wwould hazard a guess that Andrew believes that portraying Gimli as a comic dwarf was a really bad idea; that Jackson shouldn't have done this and that if he (Andrew) had any say or influence on the process, he would have prevented it from happening.

Now, does this mean that Andrew is somehow denying PJs undoubted right to make films with comic dwarfs in, or denying the rights of people who want to watch films with comic dwarfs in?

Is there a difference between saying "x is a bad thing artistically to be shown , therefore it should not have been done" and "x is a bad thing morally to be shown, therefore it should not be shown"

culfy said...

Gavin Burrows.
I don’t think your final comments about slavery really answer what I was asking. (The stuff revealing slavery to be worse than animal abuse seems a particular red herring, what did I say that this is intended as a response to?) I don’t believe it’s much of a defence to find someone else who does something worse, which seemed to be why you were suggesting no-one should criticise what goes on at Huntingdon. If I beat my wife and you beat yours worse, I still beat my wife.


Depends on whether you think "x is a bad thing, such a bad thing that it should never be allowed", "x is not a very nice thing, but if it happens, we should ensure we control it" orr "x is not a bad thing, I have no problem with it".

Take abortion for example (and none of this necessarily describes my own views). One argument for legalised abortion is that it prevents women having to go backstreet abortionists and suffer personal damage. I can't imagine that those strongly against abortion on the grounds that the fetus is a human life find this a convincing argument; they might point out that you might as well legalise theft, it's always going to happen and you could control it with Terry Pratchet style Thieves Guilds.

Others might argue that abortion is bad, but that the welfare of the woman overrules this.

It really depends where you draw the line with animal testing.

Charles Filson said...

Gavin,

I didn't choose food preparation because it is not analogous. Perhaps it's useful to this discussion to look at how it is different though.

Food preparation is highly regulated and we have strict laws about exactly what can be done. Everybody seems toagree that this is good. If some particularily tasty foods cannot be prepared because of the restrictions that protect us, we consider this a fair trade off to be safe when we eat out.

Sex is telling, because like speech, it is one of the rights we have with great potential to do harm, yet we all pretty much agree that it is not the place of governments to interfere with it. We feel that, unlike food preparation, if some harm is done through its free excercise it's okay, because greater harm would be done by restricting that excercise.

Some feel that the potential to do harm with a gun is so great that we need to restrict even responsible posession of guns. This is not analogous to speech or sex.

So that is why I chose sex. Perhaps without my attempt at sarcasm my point is easier to understand. I am not advocating the restriction of sexual rights. I am suggesting that like the restriction of sex, restricting speech because sometimes it incites people to burn down embassies, is perhaps in danger of causing more harm than you seek to prevent.

Phil Masters said...

If some particularily tasty foods cannot be prepared because of the restrictions that protect us, we consider this a fair trade off to be safe when we eat out.

Unpasteurised cheese.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said:
I didn't choose food preparation because it is not analogous. Perhaps it's useful to this discussion to look at how it is different though.

Food preparation is highly regulated and we have strict laws about exactly what can be done. Everybody seems toagree that this is good. If some particularily tasty foods cannot be prepared because of the restrictions that protect us, we consider this a fair trade off to be safe when we eat out.


You are really talking about eating out here though, aren’t you? There’s no restrictions on the domestic sale of, say, red kidney beans even though they can potentially kill if not cooked correctly. Your analogy would be to brothels, which in most societies are either highly regulated or illegal. In general people tend to regard private sexual activity similarly to private food making.

NB I’m not making a facetious comment here!

Culfy, I don’t mean this as harshly as it may sound but it’s a little ironic you offer to “drag this back to freedom of speech” then in your second post do anything but. I recognise I was running the risk when I brought ‘animal rights’ up, but I don’t think here is the place to debate the ‘ethics’ of animal experiments or abortion. (Hate both those terms but can’t think of anything better!) Let’s at least do Andrew the lip service of sort of responding to his original post!

Something like the David Irving trial might be a better example. Should he have the freedom to talk such absolute rubbish as a Holocaust denial or not? I don’t have a neat answer, I’m just posing the question. But one thing struck me when the Iranian press used the anti-Islamic cartoons as an excuse to print Holocaust-denying ones. It’s of course irresponsible and inflammatory to give Mohammed the head of a pig, it’s the equivalent of screaming “fuck you!” in a rational debate, it raises the temperature and lowers the sense. But Irving (and presumably the Iranians) know full well there was a Holocaust but find it expedient to waste everybody’s time by trying to deny it. Irving’s telling a straightforward lie for political motivations, which seems to me a step further down the food chain.

culfy said...

Gavin Burrows said

Culfy, I don’t mean this as harshly as it may sound but it’s a little ironic you offer to “drag this back to freedom of speech” then in your second post do anything but.


Ooooh harsh! Consider my wrists slapped. Truth is that the thought in my second post hit me after I'd put the first post down. I'm evil. I'll stick to free speech.

It’s of course irresponsible and inflammatory to give Mohammed the head of a pig,

I agree. Which is why none of the Danish cartoonists did this. The Mohammed with the head of a pig 'cartoon' was a doctored photograph added when the cartoons later circulated in the Arab states.

But Irving (and presumably the Iranians) know full well there was a Holocaust but find it expedient to waste everybody’s time by trying to deny it. Irving’s telling a straightforward lie for political motivations, which seems to me a step further down the food chain.

I find this a dangerous path to step down. How can we say that X obviously does not believe Y but is saying it for political motivations, therefore X should not be allowed to say Y? If someone genuinely believes that the Holocaust is a myth and publishes a book to this effect; is it really the best course of action to lock them up and potentially make a martyr? Even Deborah Lipstadt has attacked the imprisoning of Irving.

Gavin Burrows said...

Culfy said…
Ooooh harsh! Consider my wrists slapped.

Well alright, but don’t let it happen again, boy!

I agree. Which is why none of the Danish cartoonists did this. The Mohammed with the head of a pig 'cartoon' was a doctored photograph added when the cartoons later circulated in the Arab states.

Pedantic answer follows… M’learned friend does not quite have the details marshalled correctly here. When the Danish Muslims objected to the cartoons they prepared a dossier which also included three extra images which they said they’d received as hate mail, included as a sort of context. While some have suggested they cooked these cartoons up themselves, no-one credible has claimed they were trying to pass them off as having come from the Danish newspaper. (Which wouldn’t have got them far in Denmark anyway. You could have just gone to the news-stand to prove them wrong.)

It’s when the furore hit in the Muslim world that this distinction got lost. How much this was down to misunderstanding and how much to wilful misinterpretation is anybody’s guess really. But they didn’t invent the doctored photo.

For the record, though, I would still regard the Danish paper as acting irresponsibly and provocatively. Pig-headed, with or without the actual pig head.

If someone genuinely believes that the Holocaust is a myth and publishes a book to this effect; is it really the best course of action to lock them up and potentially make a martyr? Even Deborah Lipstadt has attacked the imprisoning of Irving.

Do you imagine for one second Irving really believes the Holocaust to be a myth? He’s an accredited historian, after all, a fanatic but not an idiot. I’d suggest his thought process went as follows:
i) There was a Holocaust and what’s more it did a jolly decent job in cleansing society from a whole bunch of hooknosed Marxist troublemakers, and we could do with another one right about now.
ii) If he goes about saying this it might not go down very well, due to some peculiar lack of spleen folks of late have been showing over the subject of mass murder of civilians and the like, gutless lily-livered liberals that they are.
iii) If he pretends there isn’t a Holocaust, or one has been overstated, everyone will know what he means and those as fanatical as him might rally to his flag. But he might get into a bit less trouble for saying it, especially in Britain which doesn’t have Holocaust denial laws.

Irving’s ‘defence’ at the Austrian trial was that he now did accept there was a Holocaust due to ‘recent evidence’ that had come up during the Nineties. Despite the fact that this spectacular conversion didn’t seem to come up during his ill-fated 1998 libel suit against Lipstadt, does anyone here remember compelling new evidence over the Holocaust coming up in the Nineties? Survivors suddenly waking up with a shock – “Wait a second! That wasn’t water coming out the showers! Hold the front page!” If Irving changed his mind over the reality of the Holocaust he did it the week before the trial, and for completely expedient reasons.

Of course you can still believe Irving was plain lying and say it’s a bad move to lock him up for it. (You mention Lipstadt, that would seem to be her position.) My point was merely that a deliberate lie engaged in as a provocation is worse than a mere provocation. “Fuck you, you’re a child molester” is worse than a straightforward “fuck you”.

I don’t honestly have much of an opinion over the legality of Holocaust denial. It could even make sense to see it barred in certain countries, such as Austria, but not in Britain. As I’ve said before, my first concern over such laws is ‘mission creep’ into restriction of other things. If Irving’s not allowed to deny the truth of the Holocaust, does that mean someone could be prevented stating the truth of the firebombing of Dresden? (The subject of Irving’s first book.) The Holocaust has a peculiarly totemic importance in our culture, so perhaps it wouldn’t. But that’s the first question I’d ask.

Charles Filson said...

I completely believe that there was a holocaust. In fact, I believe that there were two and maybe even three holocausts right around the second world war.

The Nazi's killed about 6 million Jews and something like another 1-2million other unfavorable people.

Stalin and the People's Socialists he lead killed about 27 million people in gulags.

Some people argue for a Japanese or Maoist holocaust. Those I don't know enough about to quantify.

That all being said, if a person wishes to publish a book that denies that the holocaust took place, I don't understand why that is a bad thing. Let them publish. Let a few juried journals get a hold of the book. Then let the critics make the guy look like a moron.

This is why I don't favor any sort of sensorship. What if we all just knew that...oh say for instance...the earth was the center fo the Universe. Everybody knows this. It's common knowledge. In fact anybody who says otherwise must be intentionally trying to mislead the people for subversive reasons. So now we outlaw discussion on the subject and imprison any person who says otherwise. Anybody see any problems with this?

I believe that the Nazi holocaust happened. I believe it so strongly that I am willing to let it bear as much challenge and scutiny as people want to put against it. Why is this not a good thing?

I never think that limiting speech, that does not cause direct objective harm, is a good thing.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles talks a good fight here in his free speech polemic. I guess what he’s saying boils down to the notion that bad ideas are best driven out by good ones. Certainly there are much worse things to think in the world. If I was to believe that… oh say for instance… he was not altogether right in this notion I might be better off trying to post some reasoned reply than chasing him around the room with a stick. And here it is. (Err, the reply, that is, not the stick.)

If this is the case I can’t help but wonder just why so many bad ideas are still obstinantly hanging out in the world, like uninvited guests who never actually seem to leave. Holocaust denial may be a special case, due to its advanced services to lunacy it has little credibility outside of a lunatic fringe. But take something like Bush’s adventurism in Iraq, denounced by virtually every informed and disinterested commentator and the overwhelming weight of public opinion. It went ahead anyway, and its proponents are still determinedly insisting on its success and threatening another one.

Or take creationism, a notion driven out of mainstream scientific debate over a hundred and fifty years ago, but which still lurks in the public arena like it has a right to be there, insisting on a fight which by any reasonable compass its already lost many times.

To take a closer-to-home argument for the UK, every single instance of privatisation of public services has resulted in a poorer service for a greater price. Yet the mantra that the private sector always delivers better services more efficiently is as routinely repeated as ever, to the point where it’s become almost a given.

What could be the cause of this strange and sorry state of affairs?

Firstly, I would challenge that the notion that people are all rational beings, poring over the available evidence before arriving at sober and dispassionate conclusions. I reckon this notion is weakened by… oh say for instance… watching people for a bit. People are more often made up of confused and shifting clutches of fears, aspirations and associations. Life might well be easier if this wasn’t so, but it is so – so let’s not kid ourselves.

Secondly, ideas do not compete like Olympic candidates on some level playing field in the public arena. Creationism has scant science behind it but it has some wealthy and important backers who know how to hustle and agitate and can afford to do so. David Irving, ostensibly bankrupted by his lost lawsuit, continues to peddle his fibbery and fakery on a lavish-looking website rather than getting a day job at Tescos or something. According to yesterday’s Guardian, his backers include a Saudi Prince and a former U-boat commander.

I would agree with Charles that the presumption should be towards free speech, that we should (in effect) have free speech apart from when we don’t. But there simultaneously seems to me to be some truth to the twin adage that he who shouts loudest shouts last, and he who shouts loudest is the one who can afford the bigger megaphone.

culfy said...

I would agree with Charles that the presumption should be towards free speech, that we should (in effect) have free speech apart from when we don’t. But there simultaneously seems to me to be some truth to the twin adage that he who shouts loudest shouts last, and he who shouts loudest is the one who can afford the bigger megaphone.

Tell me about it. The amount of times I've engaged with tossers on IMDB's Da Vinci Code who try to claim the book as factual based and then, when refuted, say "but the bible's just as fictional" (as if that's relevant).

Similarly, and more sinisterly, the amount of people who come into contact with David Irving's work and try and parrot his line, without any idea of context, refutations etc. is highly worrying.

The question is, what do you do about it? In a practical way I mean?

Charles Filson said...

Gavin:

The main problem I have with your argument is that it sounds like you are saying that it's okay to limit free speech in areas that we all know are not valid.

The problem with this, is how do 'we all know' that they are not valid? We all know that socialism doesn't work. The more socialist a society has become the weaker it has grown economically, yet some people still want to talk about it. Who gets to decide what subjects are off limits?

Who is this elite that gets to choose what topics are best left alone?

If it is the electorate, then we are saying that long established ideas, held by the majority of people will never be challenged. The world will remain flat and heat will always be a liquid.

What I offer isn't a perfect system, just the best one available to us.

And BTW, I appreciate you using words instead of a stick. :-D

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
The main problem I have with your argument is that it sounds like you are saying that it's okay to limit free speech in areas that we all know are not valid…

Who is this elite that gets to choose what topics are best left alone?


Well yes, that would be the main problem I would have with it too! It certainly leaves the door open to arguing that people aren’t very good at deciding things, so what we need is a benevolent dictator to enforce their will on everyone but nicely. Obviously I wasn’t saying that, but then I wasn’t really proposing anything – just raising the problem as I saw it. From your response I’d gather you see the same (or an essentially similar) problem, but as you can’t see much of a solution either you propose just ignoring it.

Against my ‘biggest megaphone’ argument I’d go out on a limb and suggest things might be a bit better if they were a bit… you know… fairer. Against my ‘people ain’t rational’ argument, I’d more tentatively suggest that maybe if people were able to make more practical decisions over their everyday lives they might get better at it from the exercise.

I’d also say I see a difference between saying “we are very lucky to have freedom of speech and not live in North Korea” and saying “we have a sort of very lopsided freedom of speech, which might be the least worst of the options now on offer”.

culfy said...
Tell me about it. The amount of times I've engaged with tossers on IMDB's Da Vinci Code who try to claim the book as factual based and then, when refuted, say "but the bible's just as fictional" (as if that's relevant).

As well as the ‘biggest megaphone’, the terminally sad with nothing better to do have an almighty pester power. They can post and post to message boards the same rubbish over and over, then when you finally give up on them ever listening to you and walk away they pronounce themselves the victor. It’s as if in the great creationist debate Huxley’s opponents had endlessly chanted “rubs off me and sticks to you” until it was time to go home.

The question is, what do you do about it? In a practical way I mean?

To reprise the essential argument of this post – don’t have a monkeys, mate.

Charles Filson said...

Perhaps we are more or less in agreement here.

I agree that too many people who have no particular qualificaitons have big megaphones. I'm not sure how you would level the playing field short of letting some elitist group or person have the power to decide, and that just isn't going to work well.

I think that the current system balances itself out nicely. We hear some tossers like Dan Brown's apostles get way too much air time, but on the other hand the same forces are what brought about all the progressive changes that have come about in the last...however long.

Sometimes it sounds like people who worked really hard to overturn some status quo now want to close the door on future discussion becuase they currently have stuff the way they like it. It just doesn't work like that. The prevailing wisdom is meant to change with the times.

Dan Hemmens said...

Gavin Burrows:
Denmark is unfortunately lurching to the right and these cartoons were published in a paper that is very much part of that rightward drive, that had previously refused to publish cartoons on Christianity on the grounds they may cause offence.


Actually, to my mind that doesn't make a difference. In fact it only supports their right to publish the cartoons. It's a right wing newspaper in a right wing country, if you can't publish that sort of thing there where can you publish them?

These cartoons were clearly published as a provocation, not from some selfless act of devotion to ‘free speech’, which then worked so well internationally that it backfired.

And again, that's why I think it's even more important to understand that they had a right to publish the pictures. You seem to be implying that it's okay to say terrible or shocking things if you're just making a point about freedom of speech, but not if you actually believe them. To my mind that misses the entire point of free speech.

In a free society, people have the right to hold and express ideas which do not conform to the majority opinion within that society.

Gavin Burrows said...

Charles Filson said...
Perhaps we are more or less in agreement here.

Well not in absolute disagreement, certainly. But you seem to be fluctuating between “least worst of currently possible options” and “maybe it’s not such a huge problem”. I think this is quite a big problem, and even if I don’t have some clever-clever solution to wheel out and stun you all with I think we should acknowledge problems as problems.

I'm not sure how you would level the playing field short of letting some elitist group or person have the power to decide, and that just isn't going to work well.

This ‘solution’ would of course just be more problem. Instead of bigger and littler megaphones just have one great big one. Make the problem so big it’s hard to get it in frame any more!

Dan Hemmens said...
Actually, to my mind that doesn't make a difference. In fact it only supports their right to publish the cartoons. It's a right wing newspaper in a right wing country, if you can't publish that sort of thing there where
can you publish them?

…in a free society, people have the right to hold and express ideas which do not conform to the majority opinion within that society.


Don’t these two statements contradict each other somewhat? The Danish paper’s bold stance in favour of majority prejudice doesn’t impress me as something particularly challenging or heroic. And let’s not forget the same paper refused to print anti-Christian cartoons because they “may cause offence”.

Anyway, who cares about ‘rights’? ‘Rights’ are a smokescreen. The language of ‘rights’ just obscures the fact that they own a printing works and me and you don’t.

Charles Filson said...

Gavin,

I think that you misunderstand me.

We are in aggreement that allowing some elitist group or even a 'majority' poll decide what is off-limits wioul be a big problem.

So you can't limit speech without causing a bigger problem than you have with unlimited speech.

The fact that some people are more listened to than others is a problem, but inequality is inherant in the system. And by the system I mean the system we call 'reality'.

This bugs me. It is a problem that people are sometimes stupid and listen to the wrong people, but I don't think that we can fix this problem; Not wihtout creating an even bigger problem.

Dan Hemmens said...

Don’t these two statements contradict each other somewhat?

No, they don't. "RIght wing papers have the right to be right wing" and "people have the right to disagree with the majority" don't contradict one another at all.

The Danish paper’s bold stance in favour of majority prejudice doesn’t impress me as something particularly challenging or heroic. And let’s not forget the same paper refused to print anti-Christian cartoons because they “may cause offence”.

But that's the thing. Free speech doesn't just mean the freedom to say challenging, heroic things, it also means the freedom to say petty, venal things. "I may not agree with what you say ... blah blah blah"

Anyway, who cares about ‘rights’? ‘Rights’ are a smokescreen. The language of ‘rights’ just obscures the fact that they own a printing works and me and you don’t.

Umm ... isn't it rather difficult to have a discussion about free speech without at some point talking about "Rights".

Gavin Burrows said...

I’ve come to think that there’s some cross-Atlantic culture clash going on between myself and Charles Filson, and the reason that we can’t settle down to agree on this (despite seeming to have much in common) is that we’re coming at it from different directions. There’s a common reaction in America to all this to quote the First Amendment rights. Holocaust denial laws often seem a bugbear, an example of ‘exactly what’s wrong with Europe’, despite the fact that most European countries have no such laws! In Europe, despite Voltaire, there’s the saying “the great consolation in life is to say what you think.”

I’m not sure I can put it all better than that, really.

Dan Hemmens said...
Umm ... isn't it rather difficult to have a discussion about free speech without at some point talking about "Rights".

In some ways Dan seems to be out-Charles-ing Charles here. As much as he’s right, he’s only pinpointing the paucity of discussing something like freedom of speech as an abstract ‘right’. How do such things actually impact our lives? I have the right to freedom of speech in much the same way as I have to relocate to the moon. That doesn’t change the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns a printing works and I don’t. There’s no theoretical contradiction between the two comments of Dan’s I quoted, the contradiction only arises when you start to ask how ‘freedom of speech’ works in practise. The moneyed and influential get to shout, the rest of us to whisper.

Just on the Holocaust denial thing, I remain open to the suggestion that in it’s own context Austria might well need such a law. (Whether it does or not I don’t know, but I could perhaps be persuaded of it.) I can’t see the benefit of such a law in Britain, where pretty much everybody regards Holocaust deniers as fanatics or loonies. The point is such ‘rights’ operate in a context, to ‘universalise’ them from there and declare them ‘self-evident’ is to abstract them.

Dan Hemmens said...

Gavin Burrows:There’s no theoretical contradiction between the two comments of Dan’s I quoted, the contradiction only arises when you start to ask how ‘freedom of speech’ works in practise. The moneyed and influential get to shout, the rest of us to whisper.

I still don't entirely see your point. Yes, the moneyed and influential are better off than the poor and disenfranchised. This is what I belive some people like to call a "no brainer".

You seemed to be implying that, had the Danish Newspaper published their cartoons as part of some high-minded demonstration of their right to freedom of expression, that would be okay, but that because they were actually just having a go at muslims that changes things. It's possible I mininterpreted, but assuming I haven't, I think you're plain wrong.

Derek Bentley wasn't a selfish campaigner against capital punishment, that doesn't mean that you can ignore his particular contribution to the movement.

Charles Filson said...

Gavin,

We may very well have a cultural difference. You seem to desire some sort of fictional egalitarian solution that would make everybody equal. Or perhaps you just want an acknowledgement that such a solution would be ideal?

Somebody will always be more eloquent. Somebody will always have a bigger megaphone. Somebody will always have fame that makes people listen to them, or blond hair and D-cups...or even a printing press. I'm not really sure what your point is.
Are you suggesting that government intervention can equalize all these differences? Or are you suggesting that due to all these differences, putting some areas of speech off-limits is a good idea?

If this is your point I come back to wondering who gets to decide what is off-limits to speech.

And incidentally, I am not quoting first amendment rights. I don't consider the US consitution to be ecumenical. I am explaining why I think that any limitation of the freedom of speech is dangerous.

Phil Masters said...

I have the right to freedom of speech in much the same way as I have to relocate to the moon.

Well, no. You can exercise that right any time. Say what you think in a loud voice in a pub. Write to the newspapers. Post to a blog.

That may sound trivial, and to us perhaps it is. But there are places where saying the wrong thing in any of those contexts would get you beaten up, or murdered - or arrested, tried, and treated as a criminal.

Which isn't just being sanctimonious. The right to say what you like with reasonable hopes of not being injured, arrested, or killed is fairly important, and it's on a continuum with the right to do the same through a printing press or from a party podium. It's a messy sort of right, with countless practical limitations and complications, and it's never 100% complete, and some people do get more use out of it than others - but it's still important.

By the way, if you want a practical rather than a moral justification for that right, try "A free market in ideas is important to the health of society and the economy." And talking of free markets... Printing presses aren't actually that expensive. Blogs and PCs and megaphones are dirt cheap. The problem isn't shouting loud enough; it's getting people to listen. I think that Rupert Murdoch is an evil manipulative bastard, but he didn't start out with his current global chain of newspapers, and if he used them purely to make unpopular political points, he wouldn't have them today. A lot of his power and wealth comes from giving people what they want. The problem isn't that he owns a printing press; it's that he's better at using it than most of us.

Gavin Burrows said...

Dan Hemmens said...

You seemed to be implying that, had the Danish Newspaper published their cartoons as part of some high-minded demonstration of their right to freedom of expression, that would be okay, but that because they were actually just having a go at muslims that changes things. It's possible I mininterpreted, but assuming I haven't, I think you're plain wrong.

No, that’s not what I was saying. Everyone has their agendas, of course. But some are better than others. And, in the current state of affairs, some transmit better than others. I don’t think ‘freedom of speech’ should be used as a smokescreen to cover up those agendas. That’s what I was saying.

I still don't entirely see your point. Yes, the moneyed and influential are better off than the poor and disenfranchised. This is what I belive some people like to call a "no brainer".

Well here you are addressing my point! If you’re saying it’s an obvious one, it seems so to me as well. If you’re saying that’s a reason not to engage with it, I’d disagree. By anaology, if we were caught in a fire the flames and smoke and all might make the fire seem hard to miss. I wouldn’t however, dismiss running away from it as too obvious!

Phil Masters said...
Printing presses aren't actually that expensive. Blogs and PCs and megaphones are dirt cheap. The problem isn't shouting loud enough; it's getting people to listen.

‘Megaphone’ was of course used metaphorically. Personal printers, the things you hook up to PCs, are fairly cheap. Web printing works, the things you print high-run newspapers on, are actually quite expensive.

But to be honest this seems to be dragging things down to pedantry. The point is a minority of people have the technological means to broadcast much more widely than the rest of us. Dan castigated this point as too obvious. I find it hard to believe you’d disagree with it.

I think that Rupert Murdoch is an evil manipulative bastard, but he didn't start out with his current global chain of newspapers…

…no but he started out with a regional chain of newspapers in Australia. It’s hardly a ‘poor boy made good’ story…

…and if he used them purely to make unpopular political points, he wouldn't have them today. A lot of his power and wealth comes from giving people what they want.

The main source of funding for newspapers, even the pay-for ones, is advertising. Newspapers exist primarily to give advertisers what they want. The same is true for most TV stations. And there are several examples of the Murdoch press taking unpopular lines, the Poll Tax, the Gulf War etc.

Charles Filson said...
I'm not really sure what your point is.

Are you suggesting that government intervention can equalize all these differences? Or are you suggesting that due to all these differences, putting some areas of speech off-limits is a good idea?


Nope. As I said (much) earlier I’m very wary of allowing increased government intervention as I always suspect it of leading to ‘mission creep’. But I’m equally wary of kowtowing to some abstract and absolute ‘right’ to free speech, because I think everything happens in a context. The example of Xtian fundies picketing the gay funeral etc. Of course this means I can’t offer a set of firm rules and guidelines to counter yours, so in one sense I don’t have a neatly summarisable ‘point’ in the way you have.

To complicate matters still further I’d accept I often operate with a provisional right of free speech. When you post a message here, I’m not about to reply “Charles Filson should multiply with hamsters” or some such and I tend to avoid the message boards where ‘debate’ does get conducted like that. But if someone were to start posting offensive and inaccurate comments (say about Holocaust denial) I might well respond that dismissively. I think we all make the assumption that not everybody is equally worthy of our time.

Dan Hemmens said...

Gavin Burrows:Well here you are addressing my point! If you’re saying it’s an obvious one, it seems so to me as well. If you’re saying that’s a reason not to engage with it, I’d disagree. By anaology, if we were caught in a fire the flames and smoke and all might make the fire seem hard to miss. I wouldn’t however, dismiss running away from it as too obvious!

Your analogy falls down in the following way: We are not standing in a burning building debating abstract points of philosophy while you tell us we should run for the exits. Even if we accept that the inequalities between the rich and the poor constitute a "fire", you're still missing the step where you tell us how to get out of the building.

Furthermore, a lot of us actually consider the "fire" in this situation to be the gradual erosion of civil liberties by our increasingly authoritarian governments (and some people make the perfectly valid comment that fires keep you warm and comfortable, so might not be that bad after all).

You keep saying "but some people have more resources than other people" like it actually has a bearing on the discussion, and it doesn't. To go back to your own analogy, it's as if we were trapped in a burning building and you kept telling us that the sky was blue or that fresh fruit was good for you.

Dan Hemmens said...

Greg Burrows:But if someone were to start posting offensive and inaccurate comments (say about Holocaust denial) I might well respond that dismissively. I think we all make the assumption that not everybody is equally worthy of our time.

I think you're missing a fundamental point about the concept of "rights", and I think it's one that a lot of people miss. You seem to be under the impression that "the right to free speech" means "the right to say whatever you like, to whoever you like, in whatever circumstances you like, and to suffer no consequences whatsoever." This is of course nonsensical.

If somebody comes over here and starts spouting offensive and inaccurate comments, you are well within your "rights" to ignore or dismiss them. However I trust that you would not want that person to be prevented, by law or the threat of physical violence, from making offensive and inaccurate comments on message boards. And that's sort of the difference.

You can play the "I understand that everything takes place in context" game until the cows come home, because it doesn't actually get you anywhere. Just because there might be a context in which a particular right manifests in a different way, that doesn't render the entire concept of "rights" meaningless.

Phil Masters said...

The point is a minority of people have the technological means to broadcast much more widely than the rest of us. Dan castigated this point as too obvious. I find it hard to believe you’d disagree with it.

No, it's true. It's just that, as Dan said, it's basically orthogonal to questions of "freedom of speech". At most, you're just saying that freedom of speech can be abused. Rupert Murdoch abuses it one way; a cash-poor guy who stands outside a mosque or a synagogue shouting racist insults, abuses it another. I don't disagree with that, either.

If you want to say that this makes the ideal of freedom of speech a bit messy and difficult in practise, I agree with that, too. It's just that by banging on about any one problem in extreme detail, you mostly just seem intent on sidetracking things.

…no but he started out with a regional chain of newspapers in Australia. It’s hardly a ‘poor boy made good’ story…

True enough (again), but then, there are a lot of regional newspaper chains around the world. Not all of their owners turn into dominant multinational media moguls.

I don't think it helps underestimating Murdoch's smarts and focus, is all. Actually, I'm not even sure how much of a dyed-in-the-wool conservative he is. His main interest seems to be making and keeping money - which aligns him with conservative causes, inevitably. But where his means end and his ends begin isn't perfectly clear to me.

The main source of funding for newspapers, even the pay-for ones, is advertising. Newspapers exist primarily to give advertisers what they want.

Yes; readers.

Murdoch goes after them, and his other goals, by taking an essentially conservative line, to be sure. But if the whole UK miraculously converted to the Lib Dems tomorrow, I bet you that Murdoch would tell his papers to hoist the yellow flag the day after.

And there are several examples of the Murdoch press taking unpopular lines, the Poll Tax, the Gulf War etc.

Oh, there's not much point in being an evil manipulative bastard tycoon if you don't exploit things occasionally. No fun at all, and worse, no profit.

I think that Murdoch wants to promote an essentially conservative political consensus because it keeps his taxes down, and he wants to stay in good with his chums on the American political right (and keep them in power) because it saves him from inconvenient regulation. And if and when that sort of political line clashes seriously with his concern with profits, I think that one can expect to see a certain amount of trimming and tactical withdrawal from his papers.

I don't monitor the Sun or the Times these days, but I'd guess that since the Iraq invasion turned into a full-scale political albatross (as opposed to being something which many people hated, but over half the electorate told pollsters they'd support), both have seen their share of prevarication and trimming on the subject.

Gavin Burrows said...

Cor lumme guv! Wot a right pea souper! Can anything be straightened out from this tangled stew of disagreements, miscommunications and tangled associations? Perhaps we should start by eliminating the whole question of extending state power, as we all seem in more or less agreement on that one. There seems a strange lack of people posting here who feel happy and comfortable entrusting their civil liberties into the stewardship of that sincere-looking Mr Blair or that smart-looking Mr Bush, make of that what you will. (I must confess to some wry amusement when Dan Hemmens made this point so forcefully, like it had never come up in the discussion before.) Let’s talk instead about how we exercise freedom of speech.

I also feel that ‘what would be your solutions?’ is a reasonable question, but not necessarily a germane one. To pursue a metaphor little-used in this debate so far (not), what about the proverbial guy who shouts fire in a crowded theatre? No not him, the one who says it when there is a fire! Of course it would be better if he knew where all the exits are, but I’d contend he’s still performing a useful service if he doesn’t. Even if there were no exits, I’d personally still like to stay informed about the fire business rather than it just arriving unannounced. Maybe that’s just me… We say “freedom of speech” so often, it’s become kind of like hoisting a flag. I think we tend to stop and ask how the process actually works too little.

Dan Hemmens said...

You can play the "I understand that everything takes place in context" game until the cows come home, because it doesn't actually get you anywhere.

Dan at times seems to be having such a good time with the straw man he has (half) named after me that I almost feel I’m intruding to come along and comment on any of it. But let’s at least try to make some sense of this.

If somebody comes over here and starts spouting offensive and inaccurate comments, you are well within your "rights" to ignore or dismiss them. However I trust that you would not want that person to be prevented, by law or the threat of physical violence, from making offensive and inaccurate comments on message boards. And that's sort of the difference.

This is the nub of it! As said above, let’s strike out ‘law’ from this. That given, the brief answer is that in certain extreme situations I might well do this. Less likely on message boards, perhaps, and I’d confess I can’t remember the last time I was moved to do this in real life, but I might well do.

Say if Nazis wanted to march through an immigrant area of a town. Nazis often peddle the story that everyone really thinks the way they do, save for the conspiracies of the liberal media. A state bar on them marching might feed this. A sizeable counter-mobilisation which blocked them marching might be harder for them to explain away. Would it interfere with their freedom of speech? Well, yes. Do I care? Not much.

I’d also suggest most of us operate a kind of sliding scale on this sort of thing. Even to say “you can talk all that rubbish if you want but I don’t have to listen” is in a sense a denial of someone’s freedom of speech, in that it makes that freedom quite meaningless. Upping the ante slightly, if I ran a message board or edited a magazine I would be loathe to keep posted explicitly racist, hate-mongering or (especially) hate-mongering dressed up as non-sensical ‘facts’, as I would consider that aiding and abetting. A magazine that peddled particularly virulent hatred I might even attempt to prevent the distribution of.

Of course my preference is towards freedom of speech, if for no other reason than someone might say something I haven’t thought of myself yet. But I do not concur there is some absolute or abstract ‘right’ to it, before which I must kowtow. I would, to varying degrees depending on situation, act against the freedom of speech of certain others at certain times and not lose too much sleep.

Clear enough?

Gavin Burrows said...

PS I suspect much of this merely comes down to mutual respect. Those who do not give out that respect cannot expect to receive it.

Dan Hemmens said...

Gavin Burrows:This is the nub of it! As said above, let’s strike out ‘law’ from this. That given, the brief answer is that in certain extreme situations I might well do this. Less likely on message boards, perhaps, and I’d confess I can’t remember the last time I was moved to do this in real life, but I might well do.

Since Andrew's original post was, in fact, partially about the Government's proposed law banning incitement to religious hatred, it strikes me as a bit foolish to ignore law for the purposes of this discussion.

Even to say “you can talk all that rubbish if you want but I don’t have to listen” is in a sense a denial of someone’s freedom of speech, in that it makes that freedom quite meaningless.

Umm. No. No it doesn't. It does not in any way. It doesn't do that at all. Umm... You're wrong. What you have just said is illogical and factually inaccurate.

Really.

You seem to be using "freedom of speech" to mean something that nobody else actually means.

If somebody organises a demonstration, and you organise a counter-demonstration (like the SPEAK/Pro-Test demo last Saturday in Oxford) then both parties are exercising their legitimate right to free speech, expression, and assembly.

Are you honestly telling me that you can't tell the difference between, for example, organising a counter-rally at a Nazi meeting and actually trying to prevent the meeting from taking place by force or legislation?

Dan Hemmens said...

That given, the brief answer is that in certain extreme situations I might well do this. Less likely on message boards, perhaps, and I’d confess I can’t remember the last time I was moved to do this in real life, but I might well do.

Oh, another point which I don't think I mentionned.

I wasn't sure what you meant here, because you're dancing around it a bit, but I *think* what you're saying is "I can imagine a situation in which somebody might say something which makes me so angry I want to punch them."

Again this has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

Unless what you're actually saying that there are some thing which people could say that you belive they should be prevented from saying by violent means, that people who you think might be *likely* to say these Very Bad Things should suffer the same fate, that anybody caught in possession of these Very Bad Things in a book or pamphlet deserves to be beaten up.

Gavin Burrows said...

This is showing a distinct tendency to get silly…

Dan Hemmens said...
Since Andrew's original post was, in fact, partially about the Government's proposed law banning incitement to religious hatred, it strikes me as a bit foolish to ignore law for the purposes of this discussion.

Seeing as we all seemed to be in agreement on the subject of legislation, continual talk of it might stretch the definition of ‘discussion’ somewhat, and take it – I would contend - in a direction away from usefulness. Maybe when we were done with that we could then all discuss Holocaust denial by mutually emphasising the weakness in the deniers’ argument in that there actually was one. Me, though, I can’t really see the point.

I originally said...
Say if Nazis wanted to march through an immigrant area of a town. Nazis often peddle the story that everyone really thinks the way they do, save for the conspiracies of the liberal media. A state bar on them marching might feed this. A sizeable counter-mobilisation which blocked them marching might be harder for them to explain away. Would it interfere with their freedom of speech? Well, yes. Do I care? Not much.

… then Dan Hemmens said...
Are you honestly telling me that you can't tell the difference between, for example, organising a counter-rally at a Nazi meeting and actually trying to prevent the meeting from taking place by force or legislation?

Dan’s reply would suggest that he believes WW2 veterans were all suffering from some deficiency of the brain, which prevented them from seeing they could just start up a petition against the occupation of Poland. He might find, on reflection, that I was making the difference between the two things, and suggesting the more active option may at times be valid. “I don’t agree” would be a perfectly credible response. “You’re not saying what I’m saying therefore you can’t understand what I’m saying” is not.

These and similar comments suggest to my ever-perceptive senses that this ‘debate’ might have run its course and then some. Dan’s continual misreadings and misrepresentations, which I doubt are wilful, are so endless as to make the whole thing pointless. There is of course something of an irony in someone so fixed on the absolute right of freedom of speech who is simutaneously so unable to do anything approaching listening. But so be it! It only remains for me to say…

…nite nite all.

Phil Masters said...

Even to say “you can talk all that rubbish if you want but I don’t have to listen” is in a sense a denial of someone’s freedom of speech, in that it makes that freedom quite meaningless.

Just to reinforce the rather obvious but important point that someone else has already made:

No. It isn't, at all. And no it doesn't.

Freedom of speech isn't the same as the right to be listened to. It is self-evidently physically impossible for it to be, and anybody who uses it to mean that is just being silly.

If I want to preach about the little purple pixies at the bottom of my garden, I'm free to do so - but nobody is obliged to listen, even if I think they should. And if everyone listened to everyone who thought they should be heard - well, we'd all go deaf and mad, and starve.

Assuming that "freedom of speech", in any useful sense, is automatically restricted if people have the right not to listen is thus blatantly untrue, and arguing from that basis is just setting up a straw man.

Dan Hemmens said...

Dan’s reply would suggest that he believes WW2 veterans were all suffering from some deficiency of the brain, which prevented them from seeing they could just start up a petition against the occupation of Poland.

Umm... what in the name of all that is holy are you talking about?

He might find, on reflection, that I was making the difference between the two things, and suggesting the more active option may at times be valid. “I don’t agree” would be a perfectly credible response. “You’re not saying what I’m saying therefore you can’t understand what I’m saying” is not.

Firstly, "invading a foreign country" is nothing to do with free speech. Secondly, "active versus (presumably) passive responses" has nothing to do with free speech.

If a bunch of Nazis want to have a rally, and you organise a counter-rally which was in fact your original statement, that's not interfering with their right to free speech.

Now if you're saying that it's appropriate to actually try to prevent a rally from taking place through the use of violence then we can probably have a reasonable discussion about free speech versus ... well whatever you're talking about. But otherwise you're just talking nonsense.

Dan Hemmens said...

I can't believe I missed this point:

There is of course something of an irony in someone so fixed on the absolute right of freedom of speech who is simutaneously so unable to do anything approaching listening.

Umm... no.

Because only you subscribe to your ludicrous definition of "freedom of speech". And this is ... well ... sort of exactly the point.

As far as I can gather your main "point" insofar as you have one (and of course I understand that your opinions are actually too complex and realistic and dependant upon context to ever be summarised into something so crude as a mere point) seems to be that "freedom of speech" is a meaningless concept because to truly have freedom of speech, one would need to have limitless resources to broadcast one's message to all the corners of the globe, and everybody would have to listen to you because if one single person did not, your freedom of speech would not be absolute.

Possible I've just misunderstood or misrepresented you, but that seems to be the position you are arguing from. And it's manifestly nonsensical.

Gavin Burrows said...

Are you still up?

Clue: It's the second one.

Now could someone PLEASE turn off the lights?

Gavin Burrows said...

1. I meant "it's the the first one".

2. Never post in haste and irritation.

Nite!

Charles Filson said...

I think we all make the assumption that not everybody is equally worthy of our time.

I totally agree. Where this leads me is to stop listening to somebody who is spewing nonsense. I might even laugh at them. But I don't feel it's my place to tell everybody else they can't listen to this person, or to tell this person they can't talk...because there is always the chance that I could be wrong. It's happened once or twice before.

I’m equally wary of kowtowing to some abstract and absolute ‘right’ to free speech

I don't think I have yet appealed to the abstract. The right of free speech that I am grateful to have as a citizen of the USA, is there for a good reason. I am talking about the reasons it has been codified, not using it's codification as a justification.

Dan Hemmens said...

I meant "it's the the first one".

What's the first what?

I'm still at a loss as to what your point is. You seem to be saying, amongst other things:

1. You can never have absolute freedom of speech, because everybody's freedom of speech is restricted by the fact that not everybody is Rupert Murdoch, and even he does not have absolute freedom of speech because not everybody reads his newspapers. Nobody else in this discussion has talked about "absolute freedom of speech" and nobody else has talked about anything approaching your definition of "absolute freedom of speech."

2. People use the "abstract idea" of "absolute freedom of speech" to "hide behind." I am not entirely certain what we are supposed to be hiding from, unless it's our patriotic duty to beat up Nazis.

3. Because absolute freedom of speech is meaningless, and because you shouldn't "hide behind" "abstract ideas", it's okay to beat people up if they say things that you don't like.

Is that about the size of it?