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Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

When six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan earlier this month, I heard a number of people expressing exasperation with just how much of a fuss the media was making over it.

In particular, a common objection was that the numerous other people being killed in the conflict don’t tend to receive anything like such devoted press coverage, particularly if they’re foreigners, and particularly if they’re innocent citizens. The tally of war-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the past decade is into the tens, or even hundreds of thousands.

While the loss of these few soldiers was no doubt personally devastating to their own friends and families, it perhaps shouldn’t be shocking to the rest of us to learn than a half-dozen military professionals in a war zone lost their lives.

But when a white person dies, it’s a tragedy; when a village in the Middle East gets carpet-bombed, it’s four seconds of an inch-wide rolling news ticker.

I’m trying to select my words so as to make my point clear, but I worry that I’m not doing a good enough job. Which would be a shame, as somebody else “didn’t make his point very well” while discussing this very subject a couple of weeks ago, and he got himself arrested and charged with a racially aggravated public order offence.

Seems a bit harsh for a moment of inarticulacy.

Actually, what it seems like is tyrannical bullshit. He posted something on his own Facebook wall, the bulk of which calls attention to the plight of innocent Afghani people, and doesn’t mention race or anything race related. Which I suppose was tacitly admitted when the police dropped the racial aggravation charges.

Compare and contrast the backlash he received, from some of the most spitefully point-missing zealots since the Jessica Ahlquist affair:

Fucking sick twat burn his eyes out smelly fukka

Cheeky smelly pakki cunt wants tying to a tree n shooting …Smelly fukker..Lock him up n throw the key away ..Grrrhhhh…SKUM…!!

Dirty smelly greasy bastard needs fuking torturing the dirty paki bastard!!

Remember: these are things being said about the guy charged with a racially aggravated public order defense.

For his part, Azhar Ahmed is still being charged. This time with “sending a message that was grossly offensive”.

Well, maybe it was grossly offensive. I wasn’t grossly offended by it myself, on any personal level, but nobody I love has recently been needlessly killed. I can understand those who have suffered such a tragedy would feel differently. For the most part, I found Ahmed’s message not inexplicably frustrated, with an unnecessary smattering of frothing bile toward the end. He’s an angry 19-year-old. He’s not threatening anyone. He’s not attacking anyone. Even if he was being an insensitive dick, you don’t get to arrest people for being insensitive dicks.

If you think Azhar Ahmed is responsible for criminally damaging soldiers’ morale, get back to me once every member of the armed forces is fully equipped with safety gear and all those in a combat zone have a complete exit timetable. Then we’ll discuss what some teenager scribbled on his own corner of the internet.

People bothered to take to the streets with placards about this. “Jail those who insult our troops“. Is that really who we want to be? Start locking up anyone who pisses us off, even when the ability to shut them out and return to blissful silence is a mere “unfriend” click away?

I accidentally watched the first few minutes of one of the Starship Troopers sequels a few weeks ago, and thought the scene – in which a group of “traitors” were convicted and executed for failing to support the troops and damaging morale – was heavy-handed and lacked nuance. I don’t want to start thinking I ought to be taking crappy dystopian sci-fi more seriously.

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– No damn President of mine is going to celebrate Kwanzaa. At least, no African President.

– This black kid shouldn’t have run from those cops. It’s “illogical”. I mean, it’s not like they were going to hurt him.

– “Mohammed had a thing for little girls.” Any law which locks people up for saying this is repugnant. Any law which has to resort to the technicality that, because Mohammed stayed with his nine-year-old wife until she was eighteen, such comments constitute “incitement”, is batshit insane. And yes, the law can still go hang if that first sentence was replaced by “The Holocaust never happened”.

– Apparently you can be prevented from taking a plane out of London if you’re in possession of the wrong kind of political literature, on the apparent grounds that you might “upset” the other passengers by passing it around among them. Wow, they’re not even pretending this is about legitimate safety concerns any more.

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– The more documents come to light which governments have kept hidden from the people, the more one thing becomes clear. If you support war, no matter how well-meaning your reasons, you are tacitly or obliviously endorsing some seriously fucked-up shit. It’s not a matter of isolated incidents or bad apples. This is what military action looks like.

– Also: government censorship of the internet. That phrase alone should be enough to piss you off, even before you find out exactly what kind of shit elected representatives in the US are trying to pull without having a clue what they’re doing.

– Can men and women ever just be friends? Maybe that’s the wrong question to be asking.

– If your appendix burst, and you were taken to the hospital to have it urgently removed to save your life, and when you got there the surgeons shrugged and said “Eh, don’t wanna, find another hospital and ask them if they’ll do it,” would you be okay with that? Or would you think that people actively engaged in a public service should fucking well do their jobs when someone pitches up with a life-threatening condition? The people running America aren’t so sure.

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There’s an oft-quoted line among free speech advocates, often in response to religious types insisting they deserve special treatment:

Nobody has the right not to be offended.

It’s a succinct way of expressing a basic freedom, and reminding people that you’re not entitled to forcibly inhibit others from saying what they want in a public space, just because it upsets you. It’s a handy little truism.

Only, in Tennessee, it’s no longer true.

Here’s the wording of the relevant Tennessee law, as it was amended last month:

(a) A person commits an offense who intentionally:

(4) Communicates with another person or transmits or displays an image in a manner in which there is a reasonable expectation that the image will be viewed by the victim by [by telephone, in writing or by electronic communication] without legitimate purpose:

(A) (i) With the malicious intent to frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress; or

(ii) In a manner the defendant knows, or reasonably should know, would frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress to a similarly situated person of reasonable sensibilities; and

(B) As the result of the communication, the person is frightened, intimidated or emotionally distressed.

This is a frighteningly low threshold that has to be met before people are guilty of a criminal act. It’s not just addressing death threats or harassing midnight phone calls any more. If it’s something you “reasonably should know” will cause “emotional distress” to someone who might see it, you’re expected to keep your damn mouth shut. If that someone then claims to have been “emotionally distressed” – something there’s really no way to measure except by taking their word for it – then you’ve broken the law.

I’ve heard directly from people who find a drawing of a featureless stick-man labelled “Mohammed” to be unconscionably offensive. I have no doubt that a competent lawyer could make the case that every one of the above points applied to some of the things I’ve posted on my blog, if any religious people ever made the complaint and claimed emotional distress.

Just not visiting my site would be the obvious solution. And in practice, even with this law in place, that’s what most people will do, and what most of the lawmakers would support, in such truly trivial cases. But the law is still frighteningly broad in scope, and leaves ample room for just this sort of abuse.

I’m also unsettled by the phrase “without legitimate purpose” which qualifies the whole thing. The implication that expressing yourself needs to be justified before it can be permitted is chilling. My legitimate purpose is “I will say what I fucking like”.

I’m not aware of any recent events in Tennessee or elsewhere which would suddenly necessitate such a change to the legislation. If you know of any cases of legitimate harassment, against which no action could have been taken under the previous law and which justify the changes, do send me a link.

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Now a cartoon doesn’t even have to have the Muslim prophet in it at all to be refused by multiple newspapers, presumably out of fear of some sort of retribution.

Here it is:

It’s a straight-forward play on the “Where’s Wally?” series of books and other assorted media, with a reference to the fact that depictions of Muhammad are especially controversial at the present time.

It doesn’t actually include an image of Muhammad. But people are scared of the repercussions anyway. And the Muslim extremists who they’re scared of want us to feel like this.

That’s not the only thing they want, obviously. It’s not quite as simple as using this rejection of a cartoon strip as a bellwether for whether or not the terrorists have won. But it’s an interesting state of mind to contemplate; that they genuinely want us to be living in fear of offending them with an entirely innocuous expression of free speech.

I’m still touting defiance as a worthwhile response. I just hope I never have to get scared myself of what will happen as a result of my doing something like this.

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A quick link to an Index on Censorship blog post in which Padraig Reidy is right.

I was part of the Twitter crowd banging on in outrage about Jan Moir, after her hideously fuckwitted outpouring of shite (or “shitepouring”) about the death of Stephen Gately, and calling attention to the offensive levels of what the Daily Mail are calling journalism these days. But I don’t think I ever suggested legal censure.

Moir’s are far from being the only vile dribblings to have come out of that particular rag lately, but my personal response has been primarily to strengthen my resolve not to buy a copy of the Daily Mail. Between that and the occasional 140-character outburst of my own on the subject of what twats these people are, it feels like I’m doing my part to its full extent.

There probably does exist some speech which would deserve to be acted directly against, but you need to be really careful about deciding that something’s crossed that line, if you want to claim that free speech is of any importance to you. It’s not obvious that she’s libelled anyone; all she’s really done is been unpleasant and badly informed. And while I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death my right to quote tired clichés and misattribute them to Voltaire.

So, when I respond to an article like Moir’s by tweeting that I think she should shut the fuck up, that’s only an idle wish, not something I want legally enforced.

In other news, I’ve had an idea for something it might be fun to try out, inspired by a commenter here. peter gore seer said:

The bible generates so much love and hate and soaks all that hate up and gives love that is pure power the bible is printed all over the world.Even atheist read and go and buy and own the bible. Its a living book if you hold the book up in your hand it has power close your eyes and try to feel the energy and love it will never harm you.Perhaps you no another book that does all this I do not.

I replied:

This sounds like a job for SCIENCE!!

If you really think that copies of the Bible somehow emanate this power that you can feel, then A) for the sake of full disclosure you should be aware that I’m laughing at you, and B) it should be fairly easy to set up a blinded test to see whether or not this is a real effect. Could you tell a Bible from an ordinary book, without seeing them, just by detecting the waves of energy and love? Or do you just react emotionally to the Bible when you see it because of the associations it holds for you?

Also, if you really want to test the “it will never harm you” hypothesis, I’m sure we could rustle up a few volunteers to throw Bibles at your head and see how well it stands up to skeptical scrutiny.

Any takers?

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is pretty awesome.

I read her memoir Infidel last year, inspired by the discussion about it on Skepchick, and their summaries of the book here and here. It’s a pretty amazing story, about her upbringing in Somalia and other parts of Africa, deeply entrenched in fundamentalist religion, and how she broke away from it as a young woman and became a philosophical and humanist spokesperson of some significance.

I made a note to myself a few weeks ago that I should comment on this article she wrote, and only just remembered about it. It’s about the recent constitutional ban on minarets – those pointy onion-shaped towers you sometimes get at the top of Islamic mosques – that was voted for in Switzerland, a country currently possessing a total of four such minarets. Like most people seemed to, I decided this was probably a pretty ridiculous over-reaction, but didn’t think a great deal more about it.

I didn’t expect there’d be a significant number of voices in support of the ban that didn’t come from the (probably Christian) conservative right. So Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article, with the headline “Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and inclusion”, kinda caught my eye.

Now, I’m very unsure of my footing here. I know that certain recent events have highlighted some of the dangers inherent in offering an opposing view in response to the position argued by people who are better informed and better qualified than you in every important regard. And yet, here I am, saying that I’ve given it more than a cursory mental glance now, and I’m still not convinced by Ali’s argument.

Part of her point seems to be that the Islam represented by the minarets is a political movement, not simply a personal religious faith, and that this political movement is oppressive and dangerous. She’s written before, and well, on the dangers of accommodating and pandering to religious extremists out of fear of alienating the more moderate majority. In Infidel, she described the tendency of many European politicians to make excuses for Islamic extremists and terrorists, to go out of their way to find ways to blame the West for these acts of terror, and to refuse to condemn any form of any religion, even when taken to such barbaric and deplorable ends, out of some misguided notions of “respect” and “tolerance”. I’m entirely with her on all this, and Islam should absolutely be open to criticism as a political movement.

But she also seems to be saying that allowing the minarets to stand and continue to be built would be an implicit endorsement of Islamic politics, and an assertion that any extremist or supremacist views associated with the minarets deserve equal respect in all public conversation. And I’m just not sure it would. I don’t see how restricting people’s rights to build their buildings, in which they like to air their views, however repugnant those views might be, is a tolerant or liberal act. Am I just being a wacky libertarian here?

She suggests we imagine a similar ban on “the building of an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles as a symbol of the belief of a small minority”. If my spatial awareness isn’t failing me, she’s talking about swastikas. But if someone wants to build a building on their own land, with their own resources, in the shape of a swastika, I don’t know how I can condone forcibly preventing them from doing so. It seems like that would necessarily make me a complete hypocrite with regard to every other time I’ve supported free speech when somebody’s complained about being offended.

I hope that a country like Switzerland would “reject the ideas and practices of political Islam”. But I’m not convinced that people have a right to extend their expression of that rejection, to the point where they’re telling other people what they can and can’t do with their own money, or build on their own land. I don’t need to be reminded how horrifyingly oppressive, misogynist, dictatorial, militaristic, and authoritarian some Islamist teachings are. But surely that’s not a good enough reason for us to start being oppressive and dictatorial ourselves. Find another way to reject their philosophy. One that promotes your own, and explains why it’s better, perhaps.

What are the odds I’m greatly over-simplifying things and missing the bit where all this has already been rebutted? I’m guessing pretty high.

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