9.10.06

The ADL, Anti-Semitism and Freedom of Expression

When considering freedom of expression in the US, it seems to me that every hateful bigot has the right to spread his killing words and feel protected by the constitution and by those naive liberals who are trapped in thinking that their first duty is to protect Free expression no matter what...Two recent examples- Michelle Malkin's hateful video on Muslims and the Columbine father accusing the scientific teachings in public schools for being responsible for the shootings - show how hate and bigotry can reach the national stage without provoking any debate other than that of the freedom of expression...It seems as if this principle is an all or none principle.

Well it is actually not when it comes to the criticism of Israel. The cartoon here is from Latuff (Thanks FurGaia)

Tony Judt, a prominent antagonist of the Israel Lobby, was prevented from speaking on october 4th on the lobby in a space rented from the Polish consulate on the basis that he and others, speaking on the Israel lobby, are encouraging anti-semitism. The accusation, which is being defended by Chris Hitchens, came from the ADL, assorted with an implicit threat of legal action.

I think we are going through a process of radicalisation of the public opinion by which honest debates about important matters like the war on Iraq, Lebanon and the situation in the middle east in general are suppressed, information is held from the public by both authorities and news outlets, while everything else from hateful anti-Muslim expressions to provocations and manipulations are unleashed without any reasonable restraint.

In this context, it is very dangerous to leave the debate where it is now, at the level of an unconditional protection of free expression, without trying to regain equal rights for all individuals, to reestablish balance in the public debate and accountablility from our newsmen and women and our leaders.

Freedom of expression was established in a context in which other equally important rights were established; the right to be informed and the duty to inform, the right to exercise one's own civic and democratic responsibilities and the duties that go with them; the right to defend oneself from attacks and the right to be defended against attacks; the right to have access to courts and legislation that protect the citizen and the duty to keep laws and legislations in the sevice of justice. Without the democratic state there can be no democratic virtues. We just have to ask ourselves, are we living the democratic promise in the US right now ? I believe not since George Bush was elected. So lets work to reestablish our basic democratic rights before giving the right to free expression to someone like Ms Malkin.

I would like to quote here Jean Baubérot French historian who teaches the history of Seculairsm at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. Commenting on the recent controversy around the anti-Islamic and offensive publication of Robert Redeker's article and the ensuing controversy, Baubérot writes in Le Monde: '' We are walking on a road lined by two precipices and I am afraid that the intellectuals who defend the freedom of speech of Redeker and the likes are seeing only one precipice and walking backward so horrified from it to fall in the one they did not want to see.''

Defending unconditionally free speech in the actual context amounts to an irresponsible surrender motivated only by fear of what we know to fall in the darkness of what we don't want to face and try to know better.

3 comments:

FurGaia said...

Latuff gets it!

pierre/candide's notebooks said...

It's a mistake to say that freedom of expression was established "in a context in which other equally important rights were established," if by that you mean that freedom of expression is part of a context that may define those freedoms. Regarding the First Amendment specifically, the amendment was established like the other amendments: as ends in and of themselves (as a Kantian, you should appreciate that). In terms of the Bill of Rights more generally, the right to be informed and the duty to inform never were "rights" owed by the state or by anyone else to the individual. They are rights the state may not impede. There is no state or private duty to inform anyone, and when there is, we verge on the totalitarian notion of controlled news and force-fed information. The right to be defended against attacks is fundamental; the right to defend oneself is as well, but with varying degrees of application. Florida last year passed one of those ignoble laws that allow individuals to shoot anyone in "self-defense," but it's the interpretation of self-defense--so broad, so preposterous--that turns that "right" into predation in reverse. The relevant context of free expression's defense it seems to me is this: Considering all the offenses against basic rights taking place right now, how on earth can any form of expression, the most hateful among them, be more dangerous, "subversive" or objectionable than the actual deeds being committed--the open-ended imprisoning, the wars, the neo-fascist tendencies of a presidency on speed--before our eyes? Seeking to "reestablish our basic democratic rights" is essential. But to do so as an either-or proposition ("before giving the right to free expression to someone like Ms Malkin") is to commit the very offense we're trying to overcome. Naive? Only if words and thoughts are more fearful than deeds. They never are. Europe's ambiguous relationship with free expression is the flip side of its long history of accommodating repression in a bigger ideal's name, as reflected in Bauberot's words. And the way to that repression is to set up the debate as an either-or proposition, as he does. It isn't.

Sophia said...

Pierre,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving this lenghty and passionate comment which had me thinking a lot. First of all, I must tell you that I admire where you stand and I think it is a worthy psoition to defend. However, I must admit that I profoundly disagree with you on this issue for the following reasons:

1) You write: ''It's a mistake to say that freedom of expression was established "in a context in which other equally important rights were established," if by that you mean that freedom of expression is part of a context that may define those freedoms.''
Well yes I am speaking of a defining context and I will explicit this context in a moment.

2) You write: ''In terms of the Bill of Rights more generally, the right to be informed and the duty to inform never were "rights" owed by the state or by anyone else to the individual. They are rights the state may not impede. There is no state or private duty to inform anyone, and when there is, we verge on the totalitarian notion of controlled news and force-fed information.''
Well I am glad you bring up this point because I think information is the cornerstone of our modern democracies. Of course the state does not have the duty to inform but then what about when it disinforms and build cases and public consent for wars on the basis of lies and submit the mainstream news media to its tactics of disinformation ? This is an ugly case of ‘totalitarian notion of controlled news and force-fed information’

3) You write: ''The right to be defended against attacks is fundamental; the right to defend oneself is as well, but with varying degrees of application. Florida last year passed one of those ignoble laws that allow individuals to shoot anyone in "self-defense," but it's the interpretation of self-defense--so broad, so preposterous--that turns that "right" into predation in reverse.''
I mean here, of course, respectful defence, via public or legal means and not of having the right to shoot others to defend oneself.

4) You write: ''Considering all the offenses against basic rights taking place right now, how on earth can any form of expression, the most hateful among them, be more dangerous, "subversive" or objectionable than the actual deeds being committed--the open-ended imprisoning, the wars, the neo-fascist tendencies of a presidency on speed--before our eyes?''
Pierre, don’t you see that the more ‘subversive and objectionable’ in your eyes is being advanced in the name of the Freedom of expression ?

5) You write: ''Naive? Only if words and thoughts are more fearful than deeds. They never are.''
Words can make a lot of harm if they are misused or if they don’t describe correctly a certain reality. We live in a virtual world where images and poor words are replacing realities where 9/11, guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are just enhanced ficitions, thanks to the image controlled information.

6) You write: ''Europe's ambiguous relationship with free expression is the flip side of its long history of accommodating repression in a bigger ideal's name, as reflected in Bauberot's words. And the way to that repression is to set up the debate as an either-or proposition, as he does. It isn't.''
I adhere strongly to Europe’s 'ambiguous relationship' with Free expression and I tell you why : Europe’s rights are based on the notion of the Human being and not on the notion of the individual. An individual does not mean a human being. The Human being notion is more encompassing; it encompasses the individual and the tensions that exist between the individual and its kind. An animal can be considered as an individual as long as it is dissociated from any other entity. Human rights in North America give more weight to the notion of the individual and where individual rights might harm our dignity and our humanity; I stand beside our humanity at the expanse of any individual including myself. This must be the defining context of Free expression, in my opinion.

7) You write: ''Regarding the First Amendment specifically, the amendment was established like the other amendments: as ends in and of themselves (as a Kantian, you should appreciate that).''
Even the Kantian in me wouldn’t consider for a moment that Freedom of expression should be considered ‘as end in and of itself’ when it harms the very notion of Human dignity and of Human being and suffocate it under the weight of hate and disrespect.
I admit that I may end up to be wrong and to be the naive one, after all, but this where I stand now.

 
Since March 29th 2006