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William K. Wolfrum's picture

Some blasphemous free speech before UN, U.S. & Egypt decide it's a 'Misused Freedom'

At the United Nations recently, the Obama Administration joined Egypt in presenting a non-binding resolution to in the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the freedoms of peoples around the world.

The resolution is A/HRC/12/L.14/Rev.1 [PDF] and titled “Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the Right to Development.” The resolution - which passed unanimously - included this section:

4. Also expresses its concern that incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence, as well as of negative racial and religious stereotyping of religions and racial groups continue to rise around the world, and condemns, in this context, any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, and urges States to take effective measures, consistent with their obligations under international human rights law international human rights, to address and combat such incidents;

The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, applauded the teamwork between his nation and the U.S., stating “freedom of expression has been sometimes misused” and the “true nature of this right” must yield government limitations.

This section has caused an uproar amongst many, including Atheist groups and other civil libertarians that fear the slippery slope of censorship. As I see it, this battle is far from over, but many Muslim nations like Egypt - which already has draconian anti-free speech policies - have put in the heavy lifting to make blasphemy an international crime. So regardless of the “non-binding” part, this is a battle that free-speech proponents need to win.

There’s still hope, mind you. Secretary of Defense Hillary Clinton has spoken out against an effort by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to get the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt resolutions that crack down hard against blasphemy:

“Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies. . . . I strongly disagree,” Clinton said. “The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions.”

Just in case, however, I think it may be best for me to get as much of blasphemy out of my system before I become an international speech criminal. So, let’s misuse some freedoms while we still can:

Blasphemy Bonanza

Catholicism: Nothing quite like having some dude in a fancy robe condemning millions of Africans to death via AIDS because he demonizes condom usage as a sin. One wonders if the Pope has informed his pedophile priests to not use condoms when they destroy the lives of children?

Christianity: It’s amazing that all the scribes back then missed out on seeing a three-day dead dude physically ascend to the heavens after creating a huge ruckus. It’s even more amazing the people are so convinced there really was a Jesus Christ, especially after you learn that his same story had been told many times before.

Judaism: Sure, there was no Jesus Christ. But let’s blame his death on you guys, anyway.

Islam: Nothing quite like having your top prophet marry a 6-year-old to get you to pray five times a day. Seriously folks, have a BLT and a beer and chill the fuck out.

Mormonism: A guy wanders into the woods alone and comes out with a religion. No, it’s not the beginning of a joke, it’s the beginning of the Church of Latter Day Saints. You folks aren’t fooling anyone. We know it’s just a plot for white folks to have an American Jesus while being racist, homophobic and marrying as often as you want.

Scientology: My mistake. This isn’t a religion. It’s a Ponzi scheme.

Jainism: Go ahead, just suck in a microbe already. They don’t give a shit.

Hinduism: Ok, we’re all doing yoga now. So go pray to an elephant or something and leave the rest of us alone.

Buddhism: Smoking a joint will get you as enlightened as you need. The rest of it is just an overwhelming desire to sit.

Rastafari: I said “A joint.” Once you start rapid-firing the cannabis, you start believing this guy is Jesus Christ:

Wicca: Oh for fuck’s sake, you aren’t a witch.

Sikhism: We don’t care what you say or do - we all think you’re Muslim, anyway.
____________________

While preaching for violent acts against any group is never to be tolerated, this issue is about the rights of all - from the lowliest serf to the richest land baron - to be able to speak out, or for, institutions that already have too much control over their lives. If slippery slopes are your thing, this UN non-binding resolution is overlooking an extremely deep chasm.

–WKW

If it makes you feel any better, I'm convinced that if this is passed it'll be one step back, but two steps forward – as soon as someone tries to actually apply the law.

I mean, seriously, once one religion tries to apply this law against believers of a different religion, maybe some people will wake up and realize that belief in the supernatural is a bit weird?

This is what we get for indulging in this sort of logic in order to enact hate crimes legislation.  It's a bogus argument.  The implication of the very concept of a hate crime, namly that some violent crimes aren't acts of hate, puts the lie to this line of reasoning.

But now the stage is set for pursuing initiatives against hate speech, religious blasphemy, etc.  Clinton is right on this issue now, but does she realize she was wrong for co-sponsoring this legislation for the same reasons?

We should prosecute people for crimes, not for their alleged emotional states.

You're just saying that now because you know quinn and I are going to get you for blasphemy against

MEGA-SHARK!!!!

Look, pro-Mega Shark zealotry simply won't change the objective facts here.

Example: If someone murders a gay man specifically because he is a gay man, he is terrorizing the entire Gay community. It's really not a complicated concept.

It's not a complicated concept, but you have to admit that there is a degree of subjectivity, hence our current dilemma. Which acts terrorize communities? Murder? OK, that seems clear. Rape? Gang attacks? Assault and battery? Simple assault? Verbal assault? Blasphemy?

Slippery slope arguments do not invalidate the concepts they are attacking, but they do suggest caution.

Also, when crafting legislation, we should focus more on crime prevention than on so-called "justice", IMO. Of course, we have to be careful there as well, because we don't want to attempt to trade freedoms for security, either.

You're right that it's not complicated, but in this case that's not necessarily a plus.  It's an utterly unsophisticated logic that fails not only to consider the unintended consequences, but even the obvious implications.

If someone murders a gay man, they've murdered someone.  It's illegal.  They should be prosecuted.  That's really not a complicated concept.  Unfortunately, the argument for hate crime laws complicates matters quite a bit.

Your assertion, that the act is an act of terrorism, has some additional implications that aren't being considered.  Even if we stipulate that we can know your hypothetical man's motivations with absolute certainty, it is implied here that the motivations preceded the act.  In other words, that hatred motivated the crime.

But we don't then legislate against hate itself.  There are plenty of examples of people who openly profess hatred for gay people, yet don't commit murder as a result.  So, we clearly can't conclude that hatred leads inexorably to violent acts.  Of course, this blasphemy nonsense is an attempt precisely to regulate acts of speech on the basis of the presumed mental and/or emotional states.

The argument that your example is an act of terrorism is similarly weak.  Unfortunately, it's the same kind of argument for restricting speech that's at play here with the blasphemy argument.  It's also the same argument in favor of banning pornography that was forwarded by Catherine McKinnon.

A violent act against a person of a certain group might indeed cause fear among that group, but it might not.  As individuals, we can sometimes choose whether we should fear or not.  As an example, on might analyze the probable risk of being harmed in an act of terrorism and conclude that the probability is so low, especially when compared to other real and imminent threats, as not be worthy of concern.  I know that this is the way I've come to evaluate it.  Many of my fellow citizens have apparently not performed this calculus.  Regardless, we can see that the intent to terrorize does not result in absolute terror on the part of all targets, even when this is the desired effect.

The logic for restricting supposed hate crimes and hate speech is exactly the same, but it's faulty and unnecessary in both cases.  It's not possible, or even probably desirable, to regulate emotions.  If we legislate against the crime rather than the motivation, we don't introduce poor arguments that become fodder for creeping erosion of fundamental rights, like speech.  You can't kill hate with a law.  People can hate all day long.  What matters is when they act on it.

I would love for humanity to get to the point where we can see that we're all part of the same group.  No black, white, gay, straight, etc.  Only human.  Seen through these eyes, every violent act is an act of hate because every violent act is anti-human.  The very idea that some violent crimes are "hate crimes" and others aren't is baffling to me and seems to point to a lack of big picture understanding.  Special groups like gays don't need to be protected because they're special.  They need to be protected because they are as human as the rest of us.  The very idea of a hate crime preserves the arbitrary dilineation that creates this sense of otherness.

IMHO, Dems would do well to abandon this and other ineffective efforts, like gun control.

You are aware that this has been on the books for about 40 years, right? And that attacks on people for their religion has always been a part of it? Now the LGBT community is, as well.

I get that.  I also get that attacks and speech are different.  And, as I've made clear, I get that the underlying arguments in support of this type of legislation are specious and inconsistent.  As with gun control, there's really no evidence that this sort of legislation has the intended effect.

In fact, one could even view this cynically as nothing but political expediency on the part of Dems.  This does to my point about protecting special groups for their specialness instead of for their fundamental humanity.  The Dems could do real, meaningful things right now to change the very real ways that gay people are treated different: Marriage equality, ending DADT, etc.  But instead, they're going to sign token, feel-good legislation to punish people that would otherwise already be punished just a bit harder.  Meanwhile, they'll abide the status quo under which the LGBT community is treated as a second class.  You're impressed by this?

Larry David approves of this post.

I know you dudes are American and all, and thus place a premium on the freedom to shout and screech about everything all the time, and seem to think this constitutes the pinnacle of human development and equals MAXIMUM FREEDOM, but I gotta say - this stuff doesn't make me sweat all that much. Oh, I GET that religions can be damaging. Really. Gut level, personally, I get it. And it's great to be able to speak my mind on it. But the poster's riffs on each religion, like on Catholicism? Is this the kinda thing I wanna spend much time defending? No. And why? Well... if you played "find and replace" for the word Catholic with the word Gay, argued that gays and their "pride" philosophy and lifestyle led to the deaths of millions, and that gays are linked to pedophiles, and.... well, I think you'd see why I felt the entire set of blasphemies here actually did begin to wander over into "hate" world, if meant seriously. Oh, I'm into speaking truth to the rich and powerful, and many of them - including some real bastards - are religious. I got a good track record on this, so no lessons, please and thank you. But the way the post is written, it just as easily rips, in a fairly abusive manner, both the powerful as well as the sweet little old ladies who do nothing but good and feel its all because of their religious beliefs. And that's one of the problems I have with speech like this. I would also argue - and I think the case is reasonably strong - that while the US has the loudest and longest ranters in favour of free speech, that as a nation, it has lost any deep sense of what freedom is about, and that while serious progressive people spend 1001 hours on idiotic kneejerk American liberal responses to issues like this, they spend only a tiny fraction on creating the capabilities people need to exercise their freedoms. As a result, the American conception of freedom has shrivelled, to the point where LCD rants against brain-dead fundamentalist religion seem to mark the high bar of modern American liberalism. Just as a for instance, their peculiar conception of freedom of speech seems to blind them to the power of money to dominate discussion, the ability of advertising to destroy free speech, and the way these forces have created a constipated ("unfree") cultural and political scene today. In short, "You guys rant too much about the wrong things."

Am I the only one who is totally confused about who is on which side in the various responses to this post? Here's what I got:

  • Wolfrum: Pro-hate-crime, anti-blasphemy-crime
  • DF: Anti-hate-crime, anti-blasphemy-crime, anti-megashark, pro-Larry-David
  • Quinn: Anti-blasphemy, anti-American, anti-constipation, pro-old-lady
  • A-man: Anti-blasphemy, anti-anti-American, pro-punctuation
  • Nebton: Pro-megashark

I'm in for blasphemy, punctuation, anti-American, anti-anti-American, and megashark, but out for old ladies, Larry David, constipation, and hate crime legislation. On second thought, screw megashark. The joke is walking dead. Swimming dead. Whatever. It's dead.

Mega-Shark is our Chuck Norris. You don't want to get him mad. Plus, I think he'll be useful when you get invaded by psycho right-wingers. They'll never be expecting Mega-Shark jokes.

Just to clarify, I'm pro-megashark, anti-blasphemy-crime (except for blasphemy against megashark), semi-anti-hate-crime, anti-Larry-David, pro-old-lady, anti-anti-American, anti-anti-anti-American, pro-walking-dead, and most definitely pro-punctuation!@#$%^&*()[]{}“‘”’¡§¶•ªº¯˘/?¿';:"…«»\|`~,.

Look, characterizing my viewpoint as anything other than 100% pro-good is borderline libelous.

In response to DF's comments about hate crimes up above:

There's a social engineering aspect to the hate crimes legislation that your argument is missing. Not everyone who hates gays goes out and commits a violent act against someone who is gay. But a lot of people who hate gays have the potential to be jurists and to minimize the crime and the punishment based on their personal biases. Our judicial system doesn't allow for that, but human nature occasionally trumps that system.

Putting these crimes in a special class reinforces that they are indeed crimes and that the perpetrators do deserve punishment. Whether you agree this is a necessary step or an original intent of the original legislation, it's a piece of the whole.

It's a valid point, but the assumption here, that legislation will trump this aspect of human nature, is only that.  We can put the that fact that certain acts are illegal in bold, italics, underline it and set it up with a 168 point font, but that won't erase prejudice.  We can strongly, strongly urge jurors and jurists not to let these biases inform their decisions, but neither does that erase human prejudice.  You can require a stiffer penalty under these circumstances, but you can't require a guilty verdict, nor would you want to.

If this is the aim of hate crime laws, is there any reason to believe that this aim is accomplished?  Again, I haven't seen the evidence.  I suspect that, like gun control, this is a feel-good, red-meat issue for the left.  Meanwhile, the Dems will leave meaningful reforms to gather dust.  The LGBT community can continue to languish as second-class citizens under Democratic rule.

I see your points and I don't disagree with their merit. Legislation doesn't automatically erase biases, but over time it can be part of a sea change.

I don't know the exact history of hate crimes legislation, so I'll trust Wolfie's statement that they've been on the books for 40 years. So, 40 years ago, maybe a violent crime committed against an African American for the transgression of being African American might have, in some areas of the country at least, not been treated as the serious crime that it is, not just in the courts, but in the media, in the classroom, in people's kitchens, etc. Today, there is a much lower threshhold of tolerance for this sort of crime. The Civil Rights Act, the Hate Crimes Act, social service, advocacy and government organizations, and a million other little pieces have been working together and seperately to advance our society. It's way too slow, but it's definitely moving in the direction of racial equality, as opposed to being stuck in place or going in the reverse direction.  

So, adding sexual orientation to the Hate Crimes Act might not have the same immediate impact as repealing DADT will, but it's a piece of a whole.

We make decisions about sentencing guidelines all the time based on all sorts of factors that could be considered arbitrary. so I see no harm in hate crimes sentencing guidelines. And, since there's no way the Hate Crimes Act is getting repealed, excluding gays from it is discriminatory.

The harm is that the arguments are specious and are used in favor of curtailing speech.  That's the tie-in to WKW's post.

If excluding gays from the Hate Crimes Act is discriminatory, then why not include gender?  This is actually a much better argument if you think about it.  We have laws to protect children because they can protect themselves in very limited ways.  Statistically speaking, women tend to be physically weaker than men.  Additionally, women, as a group, are victimized more frequently and often more brutally than any other segment of society.  This just went down in my neck of the woods.  15 year old girl gang-raped for hours.  People watched, cheered, joined in.  Why not have laws on the books that punish people for exploiting this?  I realize that the new bill includes gender, but it doesn't seem clear to me that this would result in classifying rape, most often perpetrated by men against women (at least outside of our prison system), as a hate crime.

Why not include special language to address height?  Or weight?  Hell, why not just include every dilineation we can dream up until no one is excluded?  Better yet, we add a whole new legal system on top of the existing one for this very purpose.  We can call it Strong Law or Really Super Serious Law or "Law II: This Time We Mean It."

I understand the need to address these issues, but I also understand that people justify things emotionally that can't be justified rationally.  That's what I see here.  The arguments just don't hold up, the evidence to back them absent.  Will we see conservatives turn the argument around and push to restrict speech that is critical of religion here in the U.S.?  That's essentially what the Muslim community is doing at the U.N.  I'm willing to have that argument, but I want have it on the strongest footing possible.  That will be difficult if they left has embraced the argument for their own purposes.

The other argument I would make against is one I made upthread.  It's more subtle, but I contend that this sort of legislation enshrines a type of thinking that is ultimately damaging because it re-inforces dilineations between people that support the fundamental problem: A lack of empathy.  It's the very foundation of morality.  What happened to Matthew Shepard wasn't heinous because he was gay.  It was heinous because he was a human being.  It's a mistake to think that the people who did this to him did it because he was gay.  That misunderstands the fundamental problem.  They did it to him because they lacked empathy for him.  They failed to recognize his fundamental humanity.  His difference, his sexual orientation, was just the excuse to ignore his humanity.

When we legislate for special groups in this manner, we help re-inforce their specialness instead of re-inforcing their humanity.  It re-inforces their "otherness" in the eyes of those who already see them this way.  I think it's the wrong approach.  IMHO, a moral stand against all crimes against all people is what is required.  Maybe we aren't ready for that, but it's what I advocate.

On the empathy issue and on the issue of all violent crime being hate crime and on the issue of rape definitely being a hate crime, I agree with you 100%.

But on the issue of people deciding things emotionally rather than logically you lose me because what it seems to me that you're saying is that people make different decisions than you would which means you're logical and they're not.

Ultimately, I'm not disputing that our emotions play into our decisions. And they should. As should logic and reason. As with most things, there has to be a balance. But the "why not height, why not weight, why not hair color" devil's advocate argument doesn't do much to sway me. That's akin to asking why gays and religion and gender now but not 40 years ago. Because 40 years ago we were different and we made decisions, legislative and otherwise, accordingly. The sort of raw logical approach to criminal justice that you're advocating seems a little bit utopian. We're dealing with people, and people can't live in a vacuum which divorces reason and logic from emotion and the world such as it is.

Different decisions based on what?  I do think that people find this sort of legislation emotionally satisfying.  So are revenge fantasies.  Neither materially change the situation.  That's the rational analysis.  We want to do something, so we do.  Does it help?  It's not apparent that it does.  Doing something isn't always better than doing nothing.  TARP anyone?

If the logical reasons for doing something aren't to be found, then it's fair to suspect that the decision is perhaps being made to satisfy some emotional need.  Also, it seems odd to take this tack and then call mine the "raw logical approach."  You acknowledge that my approach is logical.  I agree.  I'm struggling to see the logic on the other side.

I find it odd that you're characterizing my position as utopian.  We aren't different now than we were 40 years ago.  It's still homo homini lupus, same as it ever was.  The utopian, in my mind, is the one who acknowledges the fundamental nature of human prejudice, but persists in the belief that this can be legislated away.  It only seems different because it was race then and sexual orientation now.  Again, this is why I make the second argument.  We haven't moved beyond any of this and I contend that we won't as long as we're insistent on carving society up to into these segments.  Include everyone, punish those who transgress.  One tribe, one law.  It's that simple.

The identity politics of the left have more of the burden to bear in maintaining our separateness than the left is typically willing to acknowledge.

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