I shut off the comments to the earlier Helen Thomas post, because the comments pretty much ran off the rails. I mean, talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees..
Look, whatever you may think about the legitimacy of Israel, the arguments of the reconquistas, that’s all irrelevant. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with the issue I was addressing. All of that stuff is a non-sequitur.
Helen Thomas didn’t say the Jews should be stuffed into ovens. Now, maybe she’s a raging anti-semite who believes that’s what should happen. I dunno. I don’t have access to her inner life. All I know is that isn’t what she said.
What she said was that the state of Israel was occupying Arab land, and that the Israelis should return to their countries of origin, i.e. “Germany, Poland…America, and everywhere else.” That’s certainly a minority opinion in the US, but it’s less of one in Europe, and it’s the absolute majority opinion in the Arab world.
So the only relevant question is whether stating that opinion is so outrageous that she should lose her livelihood for stating it. If so, then the implied conclusion is that questioning the legitimacy of the Israeli state is a disqualification from participating in public discourse (and is no doubt prima facie evidence of anti-Semitism to some).
So, lets confine ourselves to what she actually said, and discuss whether denying the legitimacy of Israel is such a horrific opinion that those who express it have to be driven out of public life like some kind of poison troll.
OK, that’s not really true. We knew that Helen Thomas was a pretty opinionated, nasty piece of work, as her questioning of President Bush–when he occasionally deigned to recognize her–showed over his two terms. So, learning this week that Ms. Thomas was of the opinion that Israel had no right to exist, should be disbanded, and the Jews should return to Wurstland and Kielbasastan wasn’t much of a surprise. Her agent acted surprised, though, as did Hearst newspapers–both unconvincingly. Surely they knew what a c– uh, controversial set of opinions she had. They had to. But they went through the tired old kabuki of being shocked at her opinions about Israel…and of letting her go, after suitable mouth noises indicating shock and surprise.
Now, all the right-wingers are happy she’s been fired, and her career is over. Although, at 89, wasn’t her career in the inevitable winding down phase anyway? I find I can’t really join in the celebration at her firing, though.
NineSpeakers, her agent, and Hearst, her employer, are, of course, perfectly within their rights to choose not to work with her. But I don’t particularly rejoice to see them exercise that right. I guess I approach this differently. I didn’t think Don Imus should’ve been fired for the “nappy hos” comment. I didn’t think Opie & Anthony should have been suspended because they let a homeless person come in and make horrible statements about Condoleeza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II. And I don’t think that Helen Thomas should have been fired because she thinks that Israel, as a state, was illegitimately created on Arab soil.
When the La Raza/Reconquista types talk about how the southwestern United States used to be part of Mexico in the 19th century, that people of Mexican extraction have continuously lived there since, and that it needs to go back to Mexico, conservatives immediately reject that argument as having any validity at all in today’s political context. They then turn around and argue that, since Israel was the Jewish state prior to the Romans forcing Jews to disperse in 70AD, and that Jews have lived there continuously since, that gives Israel the right to exist as a modern Jewish state. So, it’s a completely illegitimate argument in Mexico’s case, but perfectly rational in the case of Israel. That means that when Helen Thomas makes the same argument about Israel that conservatives make about Mexico, it’s an intolerably outlandish opinion.
And I find it fascinating that the same people who get themselves in a tizzy about “hate speech”, political correctness, and speech codes are the same people who are cheering on Helen Thomas’ firing. Turns out that they don’t really object to speech codes or political correctness. They just want them enforced on a different set of opinions.
Helen Thomas’ opinion about Israel tells us all something. It provides us with information that we can use in judging her subsequent writings or statements. Now, of course, what we’ve done is send a message to everyone else who might have controversial or nasty opinions to keep them to themselves. So, in the future, people in Ms. Thomas’ position will now be less likely to share those opinions with us, and we will be deprived of insights into their minds that help us judge their veracity and intentions.
Once again, a clear message has been sent out about the importance of narrowing acceptable political opinion. So, apparently there are a lot of people on both the Left and Right who sanctimoniously declare that “the solution to bad speech speech is more speech,” but they don’t really mean it. It just makes them feel good about themselves to say it.
For my part, I think Helen Thomas is a kook when it comes to Israel, just like I think the reconquista folks are kooks when it comes to Mexico. I am hugely uninterested in revisiting geopolitical events that occurred before I was born, whether in 1948, or 1845. And I am completely opposed to using distant historical events as a justification of who gets to live where today. Quite apart from anything else, if pushed to its logical conclusion, it would mean that I would have to turn over my house to the Pala Indians, and spend the rest of my life wandering around the cold, windswept coast of north-central Scotland in a plaid skirt, with maybe an occasional jaunt to Aberdeen for a night of drunken fist-fighting. Mexico lost the southwest. The Arabs lost Israel. Tough.
I just find that I don’t disagree enough with Helen Thomas’ opinion–or anyone else’s–to want to deprive her of her livelihood, or to deprive me of the pleasure of pointing at her and laughing.
Hollywood provides the grist for today’s bit of outrageous verbiage in the words of Sean Penn (I know, I know, shocka). He’s upset about how his buddy and virtual dictator of Venezuela is being treated here he’s ready to jail everyone who speaks out against him. Talking on Bill Maher’s show he said:
Because every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it! And accept it. And this is mainstream media, who should – truly, there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.
Sounds like someone who’d be very comfortable in the Venezuela of today because there they do have a bar by which one goes to prison – but not necessarily for “lies”. Instead it can be for simply speaking out against that kind and benevolent dictator, Hugo Chavez. Tell you what Sean – go down to Venezuela and try to start a media outlet in opposition to the Chavez regime and tell us what happens, mmkay?
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This is worrisome. I just featured a story in which Democrats have slipped a “hate speech” bill into the Defense Appropriations bill in a bid to further eroding our 1st Amendment protections. Now we find out that the Obama administration has supported a UN resolution that is also designed to restrict free speech:
Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.
While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the “Muslim street” and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.
One of the bedrock sentiments of free speech is “I may not like what you say, but I defend until the death your right to say it”. This resolution may not have the force of law, but it is the second example of a disturbing trend with this administration which essentially assaults that sentiment. In both cases, you’re not allowed to say something which government arbitrarily decides is “hate speech” or “negative racial and religious stereotyping”. In the case of the UN resolution, there’s not even any nod to “incitement”.
I find it disturbing that speech codes are beginning to seep into national and international laws and resolutions in contravention of our Constitutional rights. It is and has been one of the dreams of the far left (which seems to have found its way into power) to institutionalize political correctness. The trend has been toward doing just that in much of the world:
The “blasphemy” cases include the prosecution of writers for calling Mohammed a “pedophile” because of his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha (which was consummated when she was 9). A far-right legislator in Austria, a publisher in India and a city councilman in Finland have been prosecuted for repeating this view of the historical record.
In the flipside of the cartoon controversy, Dutch prosecutors this year have brought charges against the Arab European League for a cartoon questioning the Holocaust.
Do we want to become a part of this anti-free speech circus? While I may find Holocaust deniers to be ignorant fools I find no reason to put them in jail because of it. Yet that is precisely what the sort of resolution just supported by this administration leads toward (and something that actually happens in certain European countries). All in the name of politics. While I may not agree with Christopher Hitchens, I certainly believe he deserves the right to be heard when he speaks of his atheism, no matter how acerbic or insulting his speech may be deemed by some. The right of free speech demands he have that ability. Political correctness demands he speak only what is approved and suffer consequences (TBD) if he strays from that narrow pathway.
Controlling speech is one of the first things totalitarians attempt to impose. As stated, while this resolution does not have the force of law, it and the hate speech legislation pending in Congress suggest a trend. It is a trend that should be resisted mightly. It represents steps down the path toward a form of government that is fundamentally opposed to that our founders instituted here and guaranteed with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
UPDATE: Here’s a little test for you - read the article and identify those engaged in “hate speech” or “negative racial and religious stereotyping” or both? And who, based on the premise they should, be punished?
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The Federal Trade Commission has just released a ruling (PDF) that requires bloggers to disclose anything–and I mean anything–they receive as a result of their blogging. Free review copies of books. Trips to oil rigs. Payments. T-shirts. Whatever it is, you better disclose it, or you get slapped with a fine of $11,000 per infraction.
In other words, the government is now putting all web sites, professional or personal, under its thumb for failing to disclose everything they receive from any source. And what are the guidelines for disclosure? Why, none at all. So, assuming you receive a free copy of a book–even if you don’t review it–you must disclose that you received it. How do you disclose it? I dunno. How do you you know if your disclosure is sufficient? I dunno. The FTC, you see, will make those decisions on a “case-by-case” basis.
<sarcasm>I’m sure they’ll be quite fair about it, too. And I’m quite certain that the FTC will never, ever selectively enforce these new rules so that more scrutiny is given to opponents of the current regime than to its supporters.</sarcasm>
The main thing to remember here is that free speech is not nearly as important as protecting the public from some blogger who doesn’t disclose that he got a free review copy of the book to read, in order to write the review. And, of course, you’re all too stupid and venal to protect yourselves from the danger to the republic that freebies to bloggers represent.
But, we already knew that.
More info and quotes here.
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This is fascinating. You’ve probably seen this popping up. It first appeared in LA:
The UK’s Mail Online says:
The right-wing editor of the American Thinker website, Thomas Lifson, wrote today: ‘It is starting.
‘Open mockery of of Barack Obama, as disillusionment sets in with the man, his policies, and the phony image of a race-healing, brilliant, scholarly middle-of-the-roader.’
But the President’s supporters have condemned the image, calling it ‘mean-spirited and dangerous.’
A spokesman from the Los Angeles urban policy unit said that depicting the president as demonic and a socialist ‘goes beyond political spoofery.’
“Mean-spirited and dangerous?” “Goes beyond political spoofery?” Really?
So what was this?
I don’t know about you, but I call it “free speech”. Funny though – now that the shoe is on the other foot, this sort of spoofery is “mean-spirited and dangerous” as far as the left is concerned. And, of course, the first reaction of some is to try to make it a racial thing (the same publication which published the cover above, naturally).
And then there was this from Vanity Fair. Seems there was no problem at all with Joker parodies in July of 2008:
As one of the commenters at Vanity Fair said:
Poor Joker, he doesn’t deserve this. Bush isn’t good enough to wear his face.
Quit whining. Save your outrage for someone who hasn’t seen your act before.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the Letterman/Palin controversy, and the situation in Iran.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.
Is it driven by fear?
Jonathan Turley, writing in the Washington Post, says that much of the West is becoming increasingly intolerant of certain speech.
But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. Ever since 2006, when Muslims worldwide rioted over newspaper cartoons picturing the prophet Muhammad, Western countries, too, have been prosecuting more individuals for criticizing religion. The “Free World,” it appears, may be losing faith in free speech.
Among the new blasphemers is legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot, who was convicted last June of “inciting religious hatred” for a letter she wrote in 2006 to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that Muslims were ruining France. It was her fourth criminal citation for expressing intolerant views of Muslims and homosexuals. Other Western countries, including Canada and Britain, are also cracking down on religious critics.
Tolerance, it seems, is only reserved for speech which praises tolerance. If, instead, the speaker is intolerant of things for which the state believes they should be tolerant, there is no tolerance.
Heh … yeah, fairly convoluted but it certainly appears to be the case. And, of course, not all religions are equal in that regard. Speak of Islam or Muslims as Bardot did in France and face charges. Say similar things about Christianity, and expect your speech to be greeted with … tolerance.
There’s a movement within the UN to ban religious defamation. It is backed by such paragons of religious freedom as Saudi Arabia. Imagine the fate of someone like Christopher Hitchens should such a resolution pass – it would certainly limit his ability, and most likely his desire, to travel, unless he’s willing to risk being jailed in some backwater theocracy for blasphemy and the defamation of religion.
As it turns out, it doesn’t even have to be a backwater theocracy for that to happen any more:
While it hasn’t gone so far as to support the U.N. resolution, the West is prosecuting “religious hatred” cases under anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws. British citizens can be arrested and prosecuted under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it a crime to “abuse” religion. In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was arrested for holding up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” outside the organization’s London headquarters. Earlier this year, the British police issued a public warning that insulting Scientology would now be treated as a crime.
And, of course, you remember the infamous Canadian Human Rights Commission “trail” of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for daring to speak ill of Islam.
And, of course, this caught my eye in Turley’s article:
No question, the subjects of such prosecutions are often anti-religious — especially anti-Muslim — and intolerant. Consider far-right Austrian legislator Susanne Winter. She recently denounced Mohammad as a pedophile for his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha, which was consummated when she was 9. Winter also suggested that Muslim men should commit bestiality rather than have sex with children. Under an Austrian law criminalizing “degradation of religious doctrines,” the 51-year-old politician was sentenced in January to a fine of 24,000 euros ($31,000) and a three-month suspended prison term.
No doubt, then, this is just fine by the Austrians. After all, it is merely the implementation of the “religious doctrine” they feel compelled to protect by suppressing free speech:
A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.
The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl’s mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.
Why should Austria say nothing about this?
“We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls,” he said, according to the newspaper. “We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women.”
That’s right – because pointing out this outrage against children would be considered a “degredation of religious doctrine” and the Gestapo state would prosecute you and put you in jail.
It’s a sad day for free speech when speaking out against blatant child abuse and, more likely, pedophilia, can be considered a crime punishable by jail, isn’t it?
In fact, it is a sad day for free speech when – in the name of “tolerance” and “acceptance” for things which have never been tolerated or acceptable in Western culture – speech is suppressed and punished.
But here we are.