Free Speech, Corporate Speech

 Posted by on 15 January 2015 at 11:00 am  Election, Free Speech, Islam
Jan 152015

On Facebook, Paul said, “It’s easy to support free speech when you agree with the speaker. The real test is whether you support free speech even when you find the speaker’s views truly offensive (Holocaust deniers, Confederate flag displays, etc.)” He linked to Wikipedia on Laws against Holocaust denial.

Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice replied as follows, and I think it bears repeating:

I am, of course, a strong believer that even offensive speech is entitled to First Amendment protection. But at least here in America we should not be fooled into thinking that that is the biggest free speech fight. It tends to get a lot of press but, as a matter of First Amendment law, that battle has largely been won.

In just the last five years the Supreme Court has upheld the right to sell violent video games to minors, the right to stage offensive protests at funerals, the right to sell depictions of animal cruelty, and the right to lie about having received military honors. None of these were 5-4 decisions. So from a constitutional standpoint, whether to protect offensive speech is increasingly seen as an easy issue.

If you want to see close, bitterly divided opinions from the Court and widespread opposition to free speech from the media and the public, don’t look for cases involving offensive speech, look for cases where the speech is simply persuasive and effective. Tons of people who are happy to let Nazis march through a community of Holocaust survivors (where they are unlikely to persuade anyone to join the Nazi party) are also happy to prohibit corporations from running political ads (which may persuade lots of people).

As it happens, I interviewed Paul Sherman on this very topic of free speech in elections on the 9 January 2013 episode of Philosophy in Action Radio. If you’ve not yet heard it, you can listen to or download the podcast here:

For more details, check out the episode’s archive page.

Aug 262013

This is horrifying… and fascinating: Third of teens in Amman, Jordan, condone honor killings, study says. Here’s the horrifying part:

Almost half of boys and one in five girls in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, believe that killing a woman who has “dishonored,” or shamed, her family is justifiable, a study of teenagers’ attitudes published Thursday revealed. A third of all teenagers involved in the study by researchers at Britain’s Cambridge University advocated so-called honor murders.

Here’s the fascinating part:

A key finding was that support for honor crimes was not connected to religious beliefs, but is far more likely in adolescent boys with low education backgrounds from traditional families.

It’s easy to blame Islam for honor killings and other atrocities… but it’s not clear to me that such is true or fair. Alas, the case cannot be made by pointing to the violence in the founding of Islam or in its texts. The history and texts of Christianity or Judaism bear little resemblance to the ways that these religions are practiced today.

That’s not to say that I regard Islam in any kind of positive way. My point is simply that I don’t regard it as inherently or inexorably worse than any other religion. Like all religions, it’s influence will run from mildly bad to horrifically awful, depending on the ways in which people choose to attend to, interpret, alter, and apply its ideas.

People have free will, and they exercise it in all kinds of strange and unexpected ways… even with regard to their fundamental religious and philosophical beliefs.

Banning the Veil?

 Posted by on 19 December 2012 at 10:00 am  Free Society, Islam, Law, Politics, Religion, Rights
Dec 192012

Might the government of a free society ever be justified in banning the veil? I’m on the fence on the issue. In some cases, I’d say — very tentatively — that such a ban might be justified as a means of protecting rights. How so?

First, I don’t think that the veil could be banned on the grounds that it represents some kind of threat, implicit or otherwise. The veil signals the subjugation of women, not jihad. In contrast, the mere wearing of KKK garb is clearly an unspoken threat in certain circumstances, such as when a parade of clansmen march up and down the street of a new black family in the neighborhood. Such would be cause for vigorous investiation, if not arrests.

The case of the veil is far more similar to the following scenario:

Imagine that people from a certain far-away country keep chattel slaves. This slavery is not merely permitted by law, but encouraged by most of the culture as just and proper. Those slaves are marked not by their skin color, but rather by certain kinds of jewelry — loose manacles that limited movement and a mouthguard that prevents most speech. If seen without the manacles and mouthguard in public, a slave would be severely beaten, if not killed.

Some people from the slave country immigrate to a free nation. In free nation, chattel slavery is absolutely forbidden and regarded with abhorrence. Nonetheless, some of those immigrants bring their slaves with them — and keep them as slaves, out of the sight of the law. These slaves are so ignorant of their proper freedoms that they don’t know that they have rights, nor how to seek assistance from the law. Also, some slaves think that slavery is their proper condition in life, due to being raised with that ideology beaten into them, literally and figuratively. Of those who want to live free, they fear that any attempt at escape would mean death: they know that their owners, aided by other immigrants from the slave country, would seek them and likely kill them.

Law enforcement in the free nation works diligently to identify and free any chattel slaves imported into the country, as well as prosecute the slaveowners. However, because the immigrant community from the slave country is so insular, that government is unable to do so effectively. Slaves — in their manacles and mouthguards — can be seen walking the streets. If these slaves are questioned about their condition by law enforcement or others, they’ll deny that they’re slaves. They’ll say that they’re wearing the jewelry of their own free choice. Some will have a look of fear in their eyes. Others will warmly defend the jewelry as a positive good because they don’t want to move or speak much.

At its wits end and unwilling to tolerate slavery within its borders, the government of the free country bans the manacles and mouthguards as tools and symbols of slavery. They hope that the slaves — freed from the restrictions of their jewelry — will be able to interact with other people in society in normal ways and thereby escape their bondage. Of course, howls of protest are heard from the immigrant community, including from some slaves, about this violation of their rights to wear what jewelry they please.

However, the government argues that to wear the jewelry is to be a slave — symbolically and in fact. The clear symbolic meaning of the jewelry — as well as its isolating effect on a person — cannot be ignored. The manacles and mouthguard are not just some wacky jewelry: they’re part and parcel of a massive violation of rights. In addition, the government cannot know that those who claim to want to wear the jewelry actually want to do so of their own free choice, precisely because the jewelry marks a slave. The word of a person wearing the jewelry might actually be coerced by his or her master. Hence, the government bans the wearing of that particular kind of jewelry.

Is that just and proper? Perhaps so.

A proper government must doggedly protect the rights of all people within its jurisdiction. Apart from murder, slavery is the worst possible violation of those rights. Slavery cannot be tolerated, nor can slavery be voluntary. To speak of the derivative rights of the slave — like the right to wear certain jewelry — is sheer nonsense. Given the violation of his fundamental rights, that can only mean the “right” of his master to force him to wear the jewelry, if the master pleases. Only once the slaves are free people — free from the domination of and violence by another — can the question of their right to wear jewelry be sensibly discussed, because only then can they do so or not of their own choice, rather than by force or permission.

Hence, I doubt that to ban the jewelry would be a violation of rights — or perhaps, it’s a minor and temporary violation of a trivial right for the sake of securing the fundamental liberty. A person must be free of slavery — free of forcible domination by the will of another — before he can be free to choose anything else, including what to wear.

Similarly, millions of women living in Muslim countries and enclaves elsewhere exist in virtual slavery to their fathers, brothers, and husbands at present. Some women embrace that subjugation, yet it’s still indefensible. The veil is part of parcel of that slavery: the veil is a symbol of subjugation, as well as a means of isolating women from the broader culture in which they live. Many women are forced to veil themselves, under threat of violence.

So to speak of the “right to veil” ignores the fact that these women are not yet free to refuse to veil. They must be freed from their subjugation before they can exercise a free choice to veil or not. That might require banning the veil for a time, to allow them to become full-fledged members of the society.

Notably, I don’t think that banning the veil could be justified in the United States at present: most Muslim women are free to veil or not, as they see fit. I’m more sympathetic to bans on the veil in Europe, as the subjugation of Muslim women within Muslim enclaves is a serious problem. Even there, however, other measures might be far more effective — better policing, shelters from women fleeing their homes, posters informing women of their rights, and so on. I’m more inclined to support banning the veil in Muslim countries seeking to westernize — and hence, liberate their women from bondage. It’s a minor measure, and instantly liberating for many women. Alas, such might force women from devout families into complete seclusion, which would be worse. Hence, even in such circumstances, different measures might be more effective.

As I said, I’m up in the air. What do you think?

Islam Makes Women Invisible

 Posted by on 3 April 2012 at 1:00 pm  Islam, Religion
Apr 032012

Feb 242012

In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed judging religions as better and worse. The question was:

Are some religions better than others? Do certain religions encourage rationality more than others? Do some promote better moral systems than others? I am curious both about different forms of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Unitarian, Mormon, etc.), as well as other religions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, etc.). Should rational atheists respect followers of certain religions more than others?

My answer, in brief:

Religions are better or worse in their core doctrines and in their effects on a culture. However, due to the complexity of religions – not merely as ideologies but also as a cultural movements – they can’t be easily judged as better or worse. Also, just because a person claims to be an adherent of a given religion doesn’t tell much about what he believes or practices, nor whether they are honest.

Here’s the video of my full answer:

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In the Facebook Group for Front Range Objectivism, a reasonable person posted the following remarks:

Fabulous discussion last night [at an event where some Front Range Objectivists spoke]. However, I was truly disturbed to meet some among us, who are influential in the Objectivist community, who express prejudice against Muslims in general. I was hoping this kind of racism was going away, but it appears to be alive and well. We alienate reasonable people who might otherwise ally themselves with us when we make statements about all Muslims being terrorists. Yes, there are Muslims who are subversive terrorists. Unfortunately we have one in the White House right now. But we don’t do ourselves any favors by stating that the Koran itself promotes terrorism, and that anyone who is a Muslim wants the world to be run by Sharia law. If you look carefully at the Bible, there are lots of dated and outrageous statements which no good Christian would incorporate into their lives today.

I have been fortunate to have many Pakistani Muslim friends, who are American citizens, who are patriots. Most if them are conservatives, too, and quite closely aligned with the Objectivist philosophy. They are disturbed and alienated by the kind of prejudice I heard last night. And they are voting with their votes and their substantial campaign donations. So am I.

Those themes are common, and I wanted to lay out my own view. So here’s my reply, slightly edited. I could have done better, rhetorically speaking. Still, I think that I articulated my own position reasonably well.

Islam is a chosen religion, not a race. So it’s not “racism” to criticize Islam or Muslims, any more than it’s racism to criticize Christianity or to regard theocratic Christians as a major threat to liberty in the America. It’s not proper to discriminate based on race, because race is unchosen, and has nothing to do with moral character. Religion is chosen, and has a huge impact on a person’s character, values, and actions. A person should be judged for his chosen religion, not given a free pass.

As for how many Muslims are jihadists — or support that — that’s another question. Given that Muslim violence against “the infidel” and others is not strongly and loudly condemned by Muslims in the US (and elsewhere), but instead often excused, condoned, and urged on, I can only regard most Muslims as either active or passive supporters of violent jihad. In contrast, that’s not true of Christians in America. While the political views of most Americans are influenced (for the worse) by Christianity, most American Christians oppose attempts to impose sectarian dogmas by law, and they deplore violence. That’s because Christianity, unlike Islam, has been tempered by the Enlightenment. (Alas, that’s disappearing slowly…)

Muslims opposed to violent jihad are disobeying the explicit commands of their religion. If that’s their true view, however, then they ought to stand up and say that, particularly given the barbaric acts of their fellow adherents. But they’re almost entirely silent. Hence, the rest of us are entitled to assume that they really don’t have a huge problem with fellow Muslims blowing up Jewish children, murdering daughters for being too western, executing gays, stoning rape victims, killing apostates, and so on.

Of course, if you know particular Muslims who support American values… that’s AWESOME. However, just as with Christians, those Muslims ought to abandon their religious beliefs, because they’re wholly incompatible with any concern or respect for individual rights.

Update: There’s a bunch of comments already posted to the copy of this post on the blog of the Coalition for Secular Government.

Muslim Cleric: Some Women Must Be Beaten

 Posted by on 4 April 2011 at 1:00 pm  Islam, Religion
Apr 042011

According to this Muslim cleric, three kinds of women simply must be beaten, and to fail to do so is to violate the commands of God.

But Islam is the “religion of peace,” right?

Soviets, Muslims, and Children

 Posted by on 19 March 2002 at 10:28 am  Islam, Russia
Mar 192002

I can’t adequately describe Jonah Goldberg’s article Biology and Ideology. It’s chilling.

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