April 14, 2006

"While Islam promotes free speech, it is important to recognize that anything that is discriminatory does not qualify under this heading."

So reads a flyer from the USC Muslim Students Union, announcing a panel discussion titled "Islam and the Cartoons: the Responsibilities of Free Speech" (PDF), which Eugene Volokh is discussing here:
I take it that the implication is that criticism of Islam, or critical depictions of Mohammed (or is it any depictions of Mohammed at all?), is unprotected because it's "discriminatory." How about Muslim statements that other religions are misguided; are those "discriminatory," too?

Plus of course there's also the old chestnut about the supposed "differences between free speech and hate speech." Fortunately, modern U.S. First Amendment law does not treat the two as antonyms, just as it wouldn't discuss "the differences between free speech and blasphemy" or "the differences between free speech and sedition." It's a shame that the USC Muslim Student Union takes a different view.
Even though the flyer uses the phrase "free speech," it does not mention the U.S. Constitution or say that the discussion is about the constitutional law or the scope of constitutional protections. The cartoons controversy is not, after all, about government censorship, but about private individuals and groups trying to influence other private individuals and groups. No one writes and says and draws everything that constitutional law would permit, and most of us would be hard pressed to come up with things we could express that would be something the government could censor. There are plenty of hateful, ugly, and hurtful things we can easily think of that we would restrain ourselves from saying even though we have a constitutional right to say them. And I don't mean to appear to be lecturing Eugene Volokh about any of this, because it's an obvious given that, as a conlawprof, he knows this.

I just want to defend the Muslim Students Union here. There is nothing in that flyer that condones violence. I would prefer to see the Union openly condemn the threats of violence and distance their religion from the threats of violence that are plainly at issue in the cartoon controversy. But it is perfectly legitimate to have a private conception of "free speech" that is narrower than the legal definition. And it is is likewise perfectly legitimate to have a private conception of "discrimination" that is broader than the legal definition. Religions tend to have far higher standards for behavior and expression than the government would impose (which is one of the strongest reasons for having a separation of religion and state).

A private group that wants to hold a discussion can define the topic and impose some limitations, including demands that participants discuss the issue rationally and without shouting and deliberately provoking each other. Those who want to range into different issues and fling insults about are free to start their own discussion. Here, the Muslim Students Union may mean to say something like: We want to host a discussion, and we are going to try to keep the discussion civil. We want to talk with you, not provide an occasion for you to show up at our place and taunt us.

I'm thinking of a discussion I set up quite a while ago at the Law School. Some of the women students got the idea that the failure to use the Socratic Method discriminates against women. The male students, they had observed, were more likely to volunteer than female students, so a lawprof who relied on voluntary participation would have a classroom with a disproportionate amount of male speakers. I set up a discussion so that students and faculty could exchange ideas on the subject. Now, some of the students were really upset and even thought that there were teachers who deliberately used voluntary participation as a way to suppress women, a charge I thought was beyond the pale and distracting.

I wrote a flyer inviting students and faculty to the discussion and included a sentence framing the issue for discussion. I stated an expectation that we could have an intellectual discussion of the problem of whether the Socratic Method is needed in order to avoid a disparate impact on female students and that we ought to avoid emotional charges that anyone is deliberately discriminating against women.

One faculty member, a constitutional law professor, came to my office to express outrage that I had imposed that limitation on the discussion. The students should be free to vent emotionally and to air whatever accusations they wanted. Did free speech require that? I was setting up a discussion. I defined the ground rules in a way that I thought would be most fruitful and that would encourage more people to show up and contribute (something I do in the classroom constantly). My colleague could set up another discussion where students were allowed to talk about what bigots individual professors are, but I wouldn't even attend a discussion like that. Would you?

By the same token, I think it's fair for the Muslim students to try to set up a helpful discussion by signaling that the atmosphere is not going to be ugly. That can encourage attendance and a willingness to listen and exchange ideas on the topic chosen. If anyone thinks they've left something out, they can set up another discussion.

67 comments:

Sean said...

I think the question is whether the flyer is expressing an intellectually defensible point of view. It is, as Prof. Althouse says, perfectly defensible to have a narrow conception of free speech (e.g., personal insults, though constitutionally protected, have no place in the comments section of the Volokh Conspiracy). But it isn't intellectually defensible to subsume speech that offends people's religious sensibilities under the rubric "discrimination." If that counts as "discrimination," what doesn't count as "discrimination"?

John Jenkins said...

You're being a little rough on EV. He says that it's a shame that the group in question takes a different view than modern First Amendment law at the end of the second quoted paragraph. His ultimate conclusion is that this will look bad politically for the Muslim community at large, which seems right to me.

He's claiming that they should have that broader understanding of free speech and not the narrower vision they are espousing, but not that they must have such a vision, which opinion I think you're imputing to him.
Certainly, at an event this group is holding they can confine the discussion to what they think is fruitful (even if others think they are wrong about that) because others can certainly have other discussions separately, but that's not what this flyer is about.

The "hate speech" <> "free speech" part is clearly a more general statement. It's plain from the flyer that the authors have a conception of free speech that is downright Orwellian, excluding "hate speech" and "discriminatory" speech.

I don't think a fair reading of their flyer says that "good muslims don't use discriminatory speech/hate speech," which I understand is the reading you're giving it. It demands freedom from criticism in the name of religious freedom, which the latter clearly does not entail. I'm going to have to side with EV on this one.

[As to violence, if we're looking at this in context, knowing the violence that followed the (fake) cartoons, isn't any attempt to invoke the cartoons and the response at least an implicit threat of violence against those who disagree, absent a repudiation?]

Ann Althouse said...

Sean: I think it makes sense that a person could have the opinion that speech discriminates against them. It's not legally sound, but many sane and intelligent people hold opinions like that. Remember the feminists who insisted that pornography discriminates against women. They tried to get that view inscribed into the law and failed, but they privately held that opinon, a minority interpretation of the law. If they want to give a speech and say that's what they think, what's the problem?

CB said...

Many good points, professor, but I have to disagree. The Muslims who are upset about the Mohammed cartoons are claiming, in essence, that the rest of us have an obligation to abide by the rules of their religion, even if they are putting it in terms of discrimination or tolerance. They need to be told, politely but firmly, that in a free and pluralistic society, they cannot impose that obligation on others.

hygate said...

From the looks of the flyer it would appear that they want to have a civil debate about how hate speech, defined as anything they find objectionable, is different from free speech (meaning, I suppose, not protected) and discriminatory and therefore should be banned. In other words free speech for me but not for thee. I'm sure they will all have a great time slapping each other on the back and making statements showing how progressive they are.

knoxgirl said...

They can't exactly boast that "Islam promotes free speech," if in the same sentence they are already warning that any offensive speech will be considered "discriminatory."

The Drill SGT said...

Prof. Althouse,

Though your argument is cogent as usual, my view differs. I see this "discussion" as heading down the same path that many is the Islamic world tread.

1. Speech that offend my religion is offensive.
2. Speech offensive to my group is discriminatory.
3. Speech discriminatory is Hate speech.
4. Hate speech is unlawful.

5. Therefore, speech that offends my religion should be unlawful

jeff_d said...

It is of course appropriate for the sponsors of the discussion to set whatever ground rules they choose, because, as you pointed out, someone who finds such ground rules objectionable can host his or her own discussion. I don't understand Prof. Volokh as suggesting otherwise.

He seems to be criticizing a conception of free speech that is so circumscribed as to be unworthy of the name. Speech that must conform to a religious test is not free. Rather than interfering with the sponsors' rights to define free speech, he is simply pointing out that a discussion along the parameters they have chosen will not be very useful because it will proceed from a false premise.

Volokh is performing a public service in making a distinction that can't be repeated too often: if you wish to curtail speech because you it offends your religion (or for that matter, because it offends you because of your race, sex, orientation or perceived status as a victim of this or that), you are no longer talking about free speech. No matter how much merit your proposed limits may have, they destroy the modifier "free."

This point needs to be made more often, not less.

Steven said...

The cartoons controversy is not, after all, about government censorship, but about private individuals and groups trying to influence other private individuals and groups

That may be part of the controversy, but it's not what it's about. When governments are demanding that other governments prosecute and punish> those who published something, it's about government censorship. When violence and murder is comitted in the context of protesting the publication, it's about extortion.

It's the difference between an insurance salesman pointing out what would happen if there was a fire at your store, and a man whose brother is a made member of the Mafia pointing out what would happen if there was a fire at your store. The words may be innocent. They may even be innocently meant. They're still reasonable to interpret as a threat, regardless of the speaker's intentions. And saying "I'm not making a threat, but . . .", doesn't change the fact that it's still reasonably interpreted as a threat.

Ann Althouse said...

Knoxgirl: "They can't exactly boast that "Islam promotes free speech," if in the same sentence they are already warning that any offensive speech will be considered "discriminatory.""

True enough, but we can see exactly what they are saying: Islam promotes free speech, narrowly construed. That's informative. If you want to go talk to them about their beliefs, they are offering to talk to you.

Drill Sgt: This is why the REAL lesson we need to learn here is the earth-shaking importance of separating religion and state!

I agree with the broad definition of free speech, but it relates to the government. Individuals, like the Muslim students, can say what they want, including trying to convince you not to mock them. What actions of theirs are likely to achieve that end? I would hope it would be a nonviolent, nonthreatening, and have nothing to do with the government.

And, by the way, the threats of violence may make some people forgo open mockery, but suppressing open mockery just creates ill-feeling and drives it underground. If people know you can't take criticism and are quick to anger, they don't say things to your face, they just talk about you behind your back, where you aren't even in a position to argue. It's a very bad approach to gaining respect, even though the public mockery ends.

The open mockery of Christianity we see is in some sense, ironically, an expression of respect. Those doing the mockery are demonstrating that they know Christians are strong enough to take it and decent enough not to strike out.

Pogo said...

I'm not so sure that the separation of church and state is the crux of the issue here.

Increasingly across the EU and now in the US, Islamists are imposing their church on our state through fairly standard left-liberal hate speech and discrimination rulings. They have correctly divined that obedience and dhimmitude can be gained via this method, without resorting to violence (just threatening it occasionally for a reminder).

In accepting of their argument, instead of "politely but firmly" telling them to shove off, you will one day find yourself subject to sharia law. Remember, they don't want to convince us of anything; they want us dead or subservient.

Orwell described this fate under rule of the left rather well.

CB said...

Michelle Malkin currently has an item up on her blog about a college professor who had her students destroy an anti-abortion display. She (the professor) obviously has a "private conception of 'free speech' that is narrower than the legal definition," and thinks that people ought not offend her beliefs. I cannot think of a distinction between the Muslims' position and the abortion advocates' position. So, according to your argument, those who oppose abortion should restrain themselves from saying so. I cannot agree.

Freeman Hunt said...

True enough, but we can see exactly what they are saying: Islam promotes free speech, narrowly construed.

If it's "narrowly construed," then how is it "free"? Even totally oppressive governmental regimes would probably agree with that kind of statement. "We support free speech. Negative speech about us doesn't count." That's lame.

One's private limits to free speech are generally called manners. Based on the flyer the discussion appears to me more about politics (actual free speech) than mere manners.

chuck b. said...

It's not clear to me (and Volokh perhaps) exactly what the students mean by "discriminatory".

PatCA said...

There is nothing in the flyer that directly supports violence, but nothing promotes a peaceful discussion or debate either. The flyer flatly declares that speech that they find discriminatory, the cartoons, do not merit free speech protections; and, additionally, two guest lecturers will lecture on the subject. The conclusion is a fait accompli; the rest is indoctrination.

BTW did they serve pizza in the Soviet reeducation camps? MIght have made the "learning" more palatable too.

Smilin' Jack said...

Those doing the mockery are demonstrating that they know Christians are strong enough to take it and decent enough not to strike out.

No, they are demonstrating their belief that Christianity is weak and feckless.

If you want to go talk to them about their beliefs, they are offering to talk to you.

I have no interest in talking to them about their beliefs, because I believe that their beliefs are nonsense. And if they try to prevent my saying so, I will tell them where they can stuff their beliefs. That will not be a polite discussion, nor should it be.

PatCA said...

"No, they are demonstrating their belief that Christianity is weak and feckless."

I would not go that far... We understand that Christianity buys into the notion of free speech and separation of church and state because those notions were first promulgated by the largely Christian framers of the Constitution--and a 200-year history of successful separation underscores that belief.

Let's look at the MSU situation from another vantage point. I would like to hear a lecture from MSU speakers on successful present day, real life examples that prove their assertion that "Islam promotes free speech." Tell us what it looks like, and maybe we'll understand it better (if it exists).

Nathan said...

It seems to me,and pardon me for viewing this in a simplistic manner, that Volokh is not saying that the Muslim student association has no right to think the way they do - rather he's saying they are wrong.

There's a difference. And Prof. Althouse seems to be focussing on an issue that doesn't seem to be there. Of course the Muslim student Association can protest (non-violently). I don't think Prof Volokh would disagree.

But he (and I) believe that they are wrong in their definition of discrimination and their concept of the valid limitations of free speech.

(Of course, if the protests themselves are supposed to be shows of force intending to intimidate and thereby muzzle other people, that's another situation.)

But I'm a simple guy and maybe I misunderstood.

chuck b. said...

"Most of us would be hard pressed to come up with things we could express that would be something the government could censor."

Well, the gov't, through the courts, will enforce judgments of libel and slander in defamation suits. People in a position to be aware of that take appropriate action to avoid being sued (i.e., self-censorship). That's not the same thing as government censorship, but it produces a similar outcome. And that's reasonable.

The students could have used a better word than discriminatory.

Their website, there at the bottom of the flier, is interesting. So much internal struggle. All kinds of general, open statements followed by qualifiers and limitations. And yet the exhortation to have fun! Islam is a blessing, not a burden. Like they have to remind themselves of that from time to time.

Thorley Winston said...

Let's look at the MSU situation from another vantage point. I would like to hear a lecture from MSU speakers on successful present day, real life examples that prove their assertion that "Islam promotes free speech." Tell us what it looks like, and maybe we'll understand it better (if it exists).

I think the operative words here are “present day.” I’m going to take a WAG that the evidence that would be provided at an event promulgating the thesis that “Islam promotes free speech” would be providing you with selected excerpts from the Quoran and examples from at or before the time of the Crusades.

Interesting sidebar. Apparently the MSU set this up as a counter-event to compete with a much larger panel discussion (as opposed to a lecture) on “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons” that had been scheduled in advance by the CSU Objectivist Club.

paulfrommpls said...

I'm not sure what it is you're defending about this.

Are you simply saying that their clearly ridiculous and anti-respectful logic, about which they are evidently quite dogmatic and which we know continues to lead to violence and threats around the world, is not actually a Constitutional topic? That it's not technically a free speech issue since they're not the government?

Point noted. Anger unaffected.

I don't mean to be snippy or something. But it's very hard to maintain anger at this sort of thing - the main useful response - in the face of our common urge to understand.

paulfrommpls said...

From a Mark Steyn column yesterday:

"As for the gals, I was startled in successive weeks to hear from both Dutch and English acquaintances that they’ve begun going out “covered.” The Dutch lady lives in a rough part of Amsterdam and says, when you’re on the street in Islamic garb, the Muslim men smile at you respectfully instead of jeering at you as an infidel whore. The English lady lives in a swank part of London but says pretty much the same thing. Both felt there was not just a physical but a psychological security in being dressed Muslim. They’re not “reverts,” but, at least for the purposes of padding the public space, they’re passing for Muslim in public."

Europe is discovering it has no defense, should one be needed. Its fate might be up to the attitudes of the newer residents. Seems to relate somehow.

jinnmabe said...

But it is perfectly legitimate to have a private conception of "free speech" that is narrower than the legal definition.

How narrow can your private conception be before it is no longer perfectly legitimate? I think what a lot of commenters are arguing is that the group's conception is so narrow, it cannot properly be called "free" speech (hence the Orwell references). Kind of like, if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread. If you don't have ham or bread, how it is a ham sandwich?

mmmmmmm, ham sandwich.

The Drill SGT said...

The Islamic version of "free speech" seems analogous to the Google view of the "rule of law".

If either are applied, one bends a concept that the western world holds dear to satisfy a totalitarian antiquated narrow viewpoint and then justifies it by "conformance to local law and custom".

ignacio said...

When Islam (okay let's limit it to "Radical Islam") either issues fatwas on those who in any any way speak against its followers' most despicable practices (such as honor-killings or honor-rapes, or the assassinations of such people as Theo Van Gogh or Steven Vincent) or through legalistic maneuvering attempts to play the victim (as in lawsuits against authors such as Oriana Fallacci or Michel Houellebecq), then it has earned our scorn and our perhaps over-simplistic first response to their material. Exactly so, one might react with emotion rather than deep thought to announcements made by the Ku Klux Klan.

Guilty until proven innocent.

(Must I now go int a song and dance about "some of my best friends" or whatever? Isn't to do so exactly the wrong reaction at this time in world history? I think so. So I'm not going to play that defensive game just now.)

Joe said...

The flier says "while Islam promotes free speech..." That statement is not qualified by any other language, and it is simply absurd on its face. The poster who mentioned how European women are now moderating their dress code - out of fear - and how the media, worldwide, are caving in on the depiction of Mohammed issue, shows that the West is on a clear path to dhimmitude. It is so much easier to give in than to fight for our civilization.

Jen Bradford said...

Steven balked at the same quote I did. ("The cartoons controversy is not, after all, about government censorship, but about private individuals and groups trying to influence other private individuals and groups." )

The Danish government was being taken to task by Muslims around the world. The expectation was that the government could (and if it knew what was good for it, should) ban the cartoons or punish the newspaper - or even issue an apology on behalf of a nation, based on something that was printed in a private newspaper! If it was private citizens versus a private newspaper, it would have played out very differently. there would have been no need to defend Denmark or Danes.

JohnF said...

You cannot be permitted logically to say you believe in free speech, but only if the speech is not free.

Pete Hallman said...

Sorry. I simply call bullshit on anyone who tries to explain away imposing ANY limitations ('narrowing'? Sheesh!)on speech, and insisting it can still be called free. I'm admittedly way too dense to follow all the convoluted logic chains being used to justify it, but to a simple guy like myself, speech is either free, or it is not. Pretzel-like twisting of words and rationales has convinced me that Mad Dad was correct: everyone DOES need a pointless hobby.

Al Maviva said...

If you are trying to limit discussion of a contentious problem to the merits of it, and not the ventilation of student feelings about (and all around) the issue, and your fellow law professors have trouble with that, they should perhaps take your conlaw class. They obviously are having a bit of trouble distinguishing between the local Speaker's Corner, and a limited purpose public forum. Moreover, there is a decent enough argument to be made that academic freedom w/r/t free speech includes both immunity for free speech, but also a freedom for an instructor to exclude certain speech in the interest of exposition of a particular topic. In other words, academic freedom includes the instructor's right to teach actual math problems in math class, rather than be faced with a heckler's veto from a guy who wants to discuss the war in Iraq...

knoxgirl said...

...they’ve begun going out “covered.”

WTF!!!! If this is true, then my worst nightmare has indeed begun to come true.

nunzio said...

What would Mohammed do?

Ann Althouse said...

paulfrommpls said..."Are you simply saying that their clearly ridiculous and anti-respectful logic, about which they are evidently quite dogmatic and which we know continues to lead to violence and threats around the world, is not actually a Constitutional topic? That it's not technically a free speech issue since they're not the government?"

I think it's something that they express concern about free speech. But they aren't sold on the strong model of free speech that we love, because they have religious values and are worried that people need to be compelled, lest they speak irresponsibly. I would recommend reaching out to these students and not getting in their face about it. There is an opening here. There is some common ground. We need to prove to moderate Muslims that free speech is good. You don't have to get harsh because they won't accept the strong version of free speech. Accept the common ground and work on making connections. If you say it's all or nothing, and unless you accept mockery, you're as bad as the violent extremists, you are missing an important opportunity.

The Drill SGT said...

Ann,
If the purpose of the event was to broaden understanding from a group that wanted open discussion, it would potentially be useful. However, it seems that the event is simply counter event planned to match this one:
http://www.uscobjectivistclub.com/DanishCartoonLetters.html

On Tuesday, April 11th, the USC Objectivist Club will be holding an event titled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons,” a panel discussion designed to iron out the issues of free speech involved in the publication of such parodies, including Dr. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute and Dr. Daniel Pipes, New York Post columnist, author, and commentator for CNN and MSNBC. Rather than join the panel discussion to rationally present their views on the issue as all have been invited to do, the Muslim Student Union has begun planning a counter-event, entitled “Islam and the Cartoons: the Responsibilities of Free Speech.”

given that, I'm not optimistic. However, since both events took place 3 days ago, we should seek feedback. I have not located any thus far.

paul a'barge said...

"If anyone thinks they've left something out, they can set up another discussion".

Yes, of course. And guess what happens when that other discussion is set up? The Muslim organizations go bezerk, wailing screaming that they're being insulted. And then, these Muslim organizations go into full frontal mode, trying to get the "other discussions" done away with.

I'm sorry, Ann, but there is no such thing as a Muslim organization being tolerant of any discussion that has a component that is critical of Islam.

Harkonnendog said...

"Accept the common ground and work on making connections." Any compromise = giving up the right to free speech. I think your way validates the belief that free speech is not an inherent right, not something we are born with that government only seeks to guarantee, but a privelege government grants.

That is exactly wrong. And if anyone thinks that way they should be told they are wrong, and it should be made very clear to them that nobody, and no group, INCLUDING THE US GOVERNMENT, has the right to infringe upon our God given rights.

Let's be clear here- if the US Supreme Court says it is illegal for me to draw a cartoon of Mohammed that does not mean I don't have the right to draw a cartoon of Mohammed. It only means the US Supreme Court is trying to infringe upon my inherent rights, just as any other group which says I cannot draw or show a cartoon of Mohammed is doing.

Honestly, I find it kind of scary that a law professor doesn't hold to this view, which I thought was commonly believed.

Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: You are not reading my comments with understanding. Calm down and try to read what I'm actually saying, not what you're afraid I'm saying. As a response to me, nothing you're writing makes sense!

I'm not talking about rights. I'm talking about getting along with other people and influencing them so that they will share or at least respect your values, including free expression. A lot of people undervalue freedom because they think people will do bad things with their freedom. So it would be a good idea for us to exercise our freedom taking account of the interests of others to show that that isn't true.

Jen Bradford said...

A lot of people undervalue freedom because they think people will do bad things with their freedom. So it would be a good idea for us to exercise our freedom taking account of the interests of others to show that that isn't true.

This really sounds like wishful thinking to me. The cartoons depicting Muslims as violent were followed by threats of violence - sending innocent people into hiding. The controversy launched protests in which national flags were burnt, and dozens of people were killed in stampedes. Antisemitic cartoons appeared, lampooning the Holocaust.

Pretending this wasn't the case, (or imagining that a more responsible approach could have prevented it) sounds delusional to me. These weren't people who respect my values and simply want me to extend them the same courtesy.

Ann Althouse said...

Jen: You're stereotyping an awful lot of people. I don't minimize the problem of the threats of violence and have said nothing positive about the people who made those threats. What good do you hope to achieve by assuming the Muslim Students Union are part of that problem?

Harkonnendog said...

Ann, I understand you and disagree with you.

1st, "I'm talking about getting along with other people and influencing them so that they will share or at least respect your values..."
The best way to influence someone seeking to limit free expression, this grouop included, is NOT by seeking common ground or rapport. It is by telling them too bad if you don't like it. If you want a fight you'll lose, so get over it.

"A lot of people undervalue freedom because they think people will do bad things with their freedom."
I agree with you about why some people undervalue freedom, and in fact those people are entirely correct. Americans WILL use their freedom to lampoon Mohammed, which some consider a bad thing. Why pretend otherwise? Why try to assure people that freedom of expression is okay because nobody will offend Muslims? People will. People are.

"So it would be a good idea for us to exercise our freedom taking account of the interests of others to show that that isn't true."
It IS true, though. And in fact, what you are saying is that we should practice limiting our own free expression, in order to trick a group of people into supporting free expression so that we will someday be able to practice free expression because those people will support it because after a while they will value it.

You're saying we should not practice free expression so those who don't want us to practice it will say it is okay for us to practice it, someday.

That won't work. In fact it will resort to those people further limiting free expression.

Ann Althouse said...

So, Harkennodog, do you recommend walking up to random strangers and shouting obscenities at them? Do you recommend bluntly telling children that they are ugly? Why not laugh at anyone old and say "You're going to die soon"? If you hold back, you're selling out free speech!

Finn Kristiansen said...

It would be nice if it was not students on some campus debating a "modified" version of free speech, but rather, leaders in the Islamic and Arab world speaking out. This event is just masturbation, with gullible western intellectual types watching, and perhaps, being allowed to fluff.

And while various "moderate" voices of Islam attempt to modify perceptions of Islam here, actual practitioners are blowing each others mosques up in Iraq and India, assuring the world that Israel will shortly no longer exist, and funding the most extreme types of teachings, among other things.

All these little people (moderates) living in the West will not move or shake the Islamic world one bit, as they speak of an open and free Islam that does not at all exist in the places that are considered the most sacred in that world. When Iraqi, Saudi, Iranian and Egyptian voices start speaking up loud, then all of this will be more meaningful and less than idle chatter.

But historically, Islam was as brutal as anything else, and without a true tradition of tolerance, or free choice.

When there are as many Christians, or Jews, or Hindus living in the Arab world as there are followers of Islam living in the West, then we can have a meaningful discussion about tolerance and openness.

jinnmabe said...

A lot of people undervalue freedom because they think people will do bad things with their freedom. So it would be a good idea for us to exercise our freedom taking account of the interests of others to show that that isn't true.

You're right. But the problem is that you can only show them that some people will use their freedom "wisely" (namely, you yourself). They're free to believe that you are the exception. Moreover, you're only the exception, right at this moment on this particular topic. Meanwhile, you've given implicit support to the idea that they get to define "wisely" for everyone else. If you validate someone's belief that a) violence and/or censorship is perfectly fine when it comes to ideas or speech that is "bad" and b) that person gets to be the judge of what is "bad", how is that a good thing? More to point, how can that by any definition be "free" speech?

I appreciate what you mean, and if I were less pessimistic about the success of such "outreach" efforts like those you suggest, perhaps I'd agree with you. But I don't think humans react the way you are expecting them to.

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

"I think it's something that they express concern about free speech."

Although I really, really do want to encourage any and all moderate Muslims out there, I don't think it pays, in the long run, to hold back from a full intellectual exchange of the ideas they're presenting. In this case, when they immediately define away any real latitude for free speech, I think it's only fair to ask, "Do you have an actual committment to the concept of free speech, or is the term just a motherhood-and-applie-pie slogan that you want to appropriate because it makes people feel good when they hear it?"

Jen Bradford said...

Jen: You're stereotyping an awful lot of people.

How do you figure? I was speaking about those people who reacted as I described. I hardly implied that all Muslims reacted in a menacing way.

I think your approach is patronizing to the very people you hope to engage, most of whom accept that offensive things will be said and published about Islam, however regrettably.

AlaskaJack said...

Suppose I want to sponser a panel discussion (with audience participation) on Harkonnendog's view of free speech. If I understand Harkonnendog, my flyer should say something like this: personal insults, mockery and cruel ridicule are welcomed and encouraged.

Will this lead to a civil and rational discussion of H's views? Not likely.

Ann's point, I think, is that the organizers of a panel discussion ought to be able to define the topic that is to be discussed and set minimal ground rules for a civil discussion of that topic. I think that this is what the Muslim group was trying to get at in their flyer. But I admit that they could have used a better choice of words.

Daryl Herbert said...

What good do you hope to achieve by assuming the Muslim Students Union are part of that problem?

You've obviously never gone to an MSU event to listen to one of their invited speakers. I have. The MSU is the problem. It's funded by foreign governments and encourages radicalism and narrow-mindedness. The members are robots who believe whatever the Imam says and whatever makes them feel good about Islam. There is no critical thinking allowed--let alone critical speech!

Unlike you, I've actually attempted to interact with these wackos. If you want to keep believing your liberal fantasies about Muslims being just as friendly and reasonable and pro-freedom as the rest of us, you'll continue to stay away from them.

Ann Althouse, you're subhuman.

No, not really, but that's what the MSU at my school said about Israelis. Sub-human. Not in those exact words. They were described as "beasts on two legs" (as opposed to beasts on four legs, like dogs and pigs--this explanation was elaborated by the speaker earlier) and "devolving past the missing link" (get it?). Those are direct quotes from their speakers at events open to the public and advertised on posters. There was also a fellow who proclaimed that he wanted to do what was necessary to bring about Islamic dictatorship and that the "police" didn't know about him yet. The dumb jerk didn't realize there were three cops standing in the back of the auditorium. Unfortunately, they didn't drag his ass to Gitmo right there on the spot. A few months later, a Muslim near our community shot and killed some Jews in a deliberate terrorist attack.

Unlike you, I've seen these people firsthand, and conversed with them. I've actually exchanged ideas and interpretations of factual situations and whatnot (it turns out those nice Palestinians who exploded in a pizzeria were actually on their way to hitting a military target and blew up by mistake. Who'd have thunk it!).

I've also seen liberal people deliberately whitewash what the MSU was saying. They went out of their way to redact what had been said and make their message as palatable as possible to the campus as a whole. Why? I think it's because liberals think they have to take a certain stance towards Muslim students or else they're Bad_People who should be Suspected_of_Racism.

I'm only upset because I respect your opinion most of the time. If I thought you were no good I wouldn't bother to post. I'm sincere when I ask you to take me up on going to the next few political events put on by the MSU.

Ann Althouse said...

Kirk Parker said..."Although I really, really do want to encourage any and all moderate Muslims out there, I don't think it pays, in the long run, to hold back from a full intellectual exchange of the ideas they're presenting. In this case, when they immediately define away any real latitude for free speech, I think it's only fair to ask, "Do you have an actual committment to the concept of free speech, or is the term just a motherhood-and-applie-pie slogan that you want to appropriate because it makes people feel good when they hear it?""

Kirk, I think the forum is open to a discussion of what free speech should be. You don't need to engage in hate speech in order to discuss whether hate speech should be permitted. These students wanted to present the view that Islam promotes free speech but defines it not to include some speech we think we should be free to engage in. Even if they were saying we think the government should make this speech illegal, we could still have a discussion with them about whether that is true. Even if that speech were in fact illegal and there were no First Amendment to nullify that, we could have a discussion about whether the law is good.

If the forum is constrained so that it is only a lecture about the limited Islamic view of what speech is permitted, that might be too boring to attend, but if there was room for questions, it would be good to start with the question whether people with a religion ought to expect others to follow it and whether they want government to adopt their beliefs as law. That would be a very useful debate that you could get to after the basic point was made.

I read the students as saying, please, give us some respect for appreciating free speech. I think it would be good to talk to them about the details. So many of you are just saying it's hopeless and lumping moderate Muslims together with violent extremists. That's counterproductive and it's also repulsive. Really, some of you need to look at yourselves. You've got yourselves so worked up over this that you don't notice how it looks to others. This is analogous to the way the Islamist extremists behaved over the cartoons, you ought to realize.

Ann Althouse said...

Daryl: Obviously, I'm reacting to the flyer without any personal experience with the group. I have no way to know how accurate your description is. I'm not in California to attend this group's events, so I don't know anything about what they are really like. Here at the University of Wisconsin, I've never seen anything like that. We often have events here about the meaning of Islam, often at the law school, and I've never seen any hate speech like that. The flyer expresses a desire to exclude hate speech, as do you, ironically.

The Drill SGT said...

My experience with the MSU is much the same as Daryl's.

Here is a clip of one of their rallies at UCI where I went to grad school.

http://www.standwithus.com/UCI_incitement2005.asp

overall, I get the vibe that they are a racist (anti-semitic) intolerant group.

PatCA said...

My experience with activist Muslims on campus, too, is negative. It's all about The Jews. The problem is, moderate Muslims here or overseas are not served well or even protected from retaliation by honoring the activist radical fringe. I'm sure most Muslims in the US are in favor of free speech, but they are not driving the political movement.

I don't know about this particular group; perhaps they are the exception and truly seeking dialogue. I still don't get though why you think they are inviting discussion--the flyer clearly says it's a lecture, not a forum or a panel discussion. In fact, they refused to appear at a panel discussion.

All that being said, why not set up such a panel at the law school?

Daryl Herbert said...

I don't want "free" speech curtailed.

I want everyone who's not a Muslim wacko to recognize what the Muslim wackos are actually saying (to listen to their actual words and comprehend their obvious meaning). I'm sick of people making excuses for them or trying to interpret their words in the nicest way possible when no one else gets that sort of benefit of the doubt and it's obvious these people are up to no good.

To the extent that speech is actually used to incite violence (as opposed to merely implying it or expressing support for it), that should be stopped. There are certain limits to speech that can be enforced whilst leaving "free speech" in place. Barring speech offensive to a given religion is NOT one of those limits.

There's nothing I'd welcome more than an open and honest debate, because we'd wipe the floor with those creeps when everyone realized what they were really all about.

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

I'd certainly welcome a discussion, but fear it would be rather short.

Let's revisit what the flyer says:

"While Islam promotes free speech, it is important to recognize that anything that is discriminatory does not qualify under this heading." [emphasis added]

Sorry, but this strikes me as nothing but an Orwellian redefinition of a term that already has widespread public usage. I think I can be forgiven if I fear taqqiyah here. How about of the MSU instead stated something like this:

"While Islam permits the believer a very wide latitude of things that may be said, it naturally does not extend to the full range of licentiousness that is allowed in the secular West."

Then I think we could have an honest, fruitful discussion.

big_wannabe said...

"fighting words" are NOT protected speech, just as yelling "fire!" in a crowded building is not protected.

So we already have a situation where you can be prosecuted for inciting violence with speech.

Since the barbarians are violent at the drop of a turban...

Harkonnendog said...

Ann,
I think you're forgetting the context of these cartoons. They were commissioned specifically to combat the culture of fear in Denmark. People were scared, not of the government, but of individual Muslim citizens.
Given that this fear is real and reasonable, showing the cartoons is not at all comparable to walking up to random strangers and screaming insults at them.
Cheers! (Still a huge fan btw)

Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: I have said many times that I don't think we ought to give in to threats of violence. My point has always been, here, and in other posts, about behaving decently with respect to people in a general way, across the board. That was the basis of my hypos, in response to your assertion that we need to go to the limit of free speech. Clearly we don't and we shouldn't.

Harkonnendog said...

Ann,

"in response to your assertion that we need to go to the limit of free speech. Clearly we don't and we shouldn't."
I guess that's where we disagree. I think free expression is under attack, and (I guess) you don't.

Comedy Central says they won't show a cartoon of Mohammed because they are afraid Muslim will kill people. Borders admits they won't carry a magazine for the same reason. The NYTimes did not admit that was why they didn't show the cartoons, but that was the obvious reason considering they showed Piss-Christ. The cartoons were published in the first place because Danes were self-censoring out of fear.

Given all that, given that so many are already not showing the cartoons specifically because they fear they'll be killed, I don't understand your position. Do you really think there is no danger to free expression right now?

Besides, since when is showing a cartoon of Mohammed "indecent behavior?" Are you really prepeared to allow certain Muslisms to define decent behavior THAT narrowly? Do you understand the implications of that choice? I mean certain Muslims find you showing your face indecent.

Harkonnendog said...

I guess what bothers me most is the "clearly" part of "clearly we don't and we shouldn't." Is it really so obvious that there's no threat? Is it so obvious that this is just a matter of manners? I just think that's crazy. Maybe I'm misreading.

Somebody throw me a friggin' bone here.

Marghlar said...

Oh honestly. Muslims have no proper claim towards having this speech censored, because their personal religious offense can't be the basis of government action. However, that is no reason that we HAVE to publish these things. Here's how it ought to be:

Anyone who wants to can publish the damn things. However, they can and should properly consider whether the risk of alienating any muslim readership might be counterproductive.

Anyone who makes a credible threat of violence, or behaves violently in response to the cartoons, should be vigorously prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

And after that point, can we shut up about complaining that a religious group is offended when others represent their prophet in a way they find sacreligious? They have the right to be offended, and to complain loudly, and to withdraw their business from publications that do this. They don't have the right to sue the people who publish these things, or to threaten them, or to hurt them. End of story.

And they also have the right to advocate for a different definition of free speech than the balance we are currently striking -- and we have the right not to adopt it. And to tell them that they are wrong, and that theirs is a bad idea.

But surely we can be polite about it, right?

Ann Althouse said...

Harkennodog: I agree that free speech is under attack, but I don't agree that the response to that attack is to be openly offensive to large groups of people who are not themselves doing the threatening. It's crude, rude, and ineffective.

Smilin' Jack said...

Ann Althouse said...

I read the students as saying, please, give us some respect for appreciating free speech. I think it would be good to talk to them about the details.


Are you willing to renounce some aspects of our Western conception of free speech? If you aren't, what "details" are there to talk about? If you are, might as well get yourself a burka now...you woouldn't want to offend anyone at the "discussion."

Marghlar said...

Smilin' Jack:

We talk about where to draw the line of free speech in this culture all the time. We constantly fight about it. It's not, by any means, a settled issue right now.

I think Ann was suggesting that she'd like to explain to these kids why their proposed definition is probably a bad idea...so why are you criticizing her for wanting to teach students about the virtues of our constitutional system? Isn't that part of her job, not to mention a really positive thing to do???

You are not going to win anyone over to your side by throwing stones at them. Ann's approach is much more likely to reach reasonable moderates -- and there are some, there really are. Right now they are getting bad training -- the good response isn't too lash out at young people, but to explain the very good reasons why they are going down the wrong path.

These students aren't harming anyone, all they are doing is talking about the law and about notions of respect in civil society. It behooves us to talk back, and to talk back persuasively.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Marghlar. I'm really happy someone hear sees (and admits to seeing) what I'm trying to say.

Smilin' Jack said...

If, say, Jerry Falwell were to come to town and demand that Playboy be banned, or that certain books be removed from the library, would you "talk back persuasively"...or would you just tell him to shut up and go away?

Maybe you guys have time to "talk back persuasively" to all the wack jobs in the world, but I don't. "Shut up and go away" is all I have to say to them, and all I should have to say. If my rights depend on having to persuade anyone of anything, then they're not really rights at all, are they?

Harkonnendog said...

Ann,

You're right that I misunderstood. You think the flyer's mention of free speech had nothing to do with the right to freedom of expression.

I think it did. So really I was objecting to something completely different than what you were talking about... Nice job of making an ass of myself. Well, not the first, nor I'm sure, the last time.

Sorry.

Marghlar said...

Jack:

I guarantee you, if you stop trying to persuade others that your vision of rights is the correct one, others who disagree with you will not. Significant protection of free speech and expression is not an old phenomenon -- we basically didn't enforce the First Amendment for the first hundred years of this republic, and we are still working out a lot of the kinks.

Free speech is a hard value to maintain, in a strong form. People who'd prefer to censor things they don't like, rather than prove them wrong, will never stop trying to get them banned. If the people who believe in strong speech protection don't continue to advocate why it is a good idea, I guarantee you that the right will vanish in all but name within a generation or two.

Indeed, I'd say we are yet a long ways away from where we ought to be. There have been very view Justices willing to say that the Speech and Press clauses mean precisely what they say. In general, free speech frightens many, and is quite controversial even today.

Thus, if I was ever to meet Falwell, I wouldn't just tell him to "shut up and go away." I'd be happy to engage him on the issues, if he was so inclined. I probably wouldn't convince him, but I might convince others who are currently inclined to agree with him.

And it is precisely when dealing with the young and impressionable that this sort of mission is most important. Thus the importance of engaging young moderate Muslims. Seriously, do you really just want to abandon them to the ideas flowing from the Muslim world regarding the virtues of Western values?

Smilin' Jack said...

And it is precisely when dealing with the young and impressionable that this sort of mission is most important. Thus the importance of engaging young moderate Muslims. Seriously, do you really just want to abandon them to the ideas flowing from the Muslim world regarding the virtues of Western values?

I simply don't have the patience to talk with anyone who takes seriously the "ideas" currently flowing from the Muslim world. I wouldn't know where to begin if I did.

Look, I know you guys mean well, and we're basically on the same side. Maybe we just need to agree on a division of labor. Go ahead and educate and persuade all you like; I wish you success, I really do. But there are those who are not educable, who will not be persuaded, who will have to be dealt with by other means than polite discussion. That's where guys like me come in.

So when you're "educating" these moderate Muslims, one thing you should tell them is that for every person willing to talk to them, there are ten willing to fight them if need be (I think the comments here bear that out.)

Much of the current problem arises from the perception in the Muslim world that the West, though materially strong, is weak in will and thus can be overcome. For some of them, any willingness to politely engage them is merely a further sign of that weakness. So those of us whom Ann regards as "rude and crude" also have our role to play.