How they see us

In my post about Philip Roth, I pointed out that he characterizes Republicans as “brutal” (unlike Democrats, of course). I just saw the same theme crop up in an article about the insanity that promises to envelope Berkeley’s town council meeting on Tuesday as the town considers rescinding its ill-thought out letter to the Marines. To begin with, there may be a lot of people there:

Hundreds of protesters from across the country and the political spectrum are expected to descend on City Hall with bullhorns, drums, banners and plenty of vitriol in anticipation of the City Council’s debate over the Marines’ recruiting station in town.

The ruckus started last week when the council voted to send a letter to the Marines, calling them “unwanted intruders” for opening the recruiting center on Shattuck Avenue last year. At the same time, the council granted Code Pink a parking space and a sound permit to make it easier for the peace group to conduct protests outside the center.

On Monday, Councilwomen Betty Olds and Laurie Capitelli introduced an item for this week’s meeting, asking the city to retract its statements about the Marines and clarify that the city is against the war, not against the armed forces.

“We’re starting to get people coming in from all over the U.S.,” said Catherine Moy, executive director of Move America Forward, one of several pro-military groups planning an all-day protest Tuesday at Maudelle Shirek City Hall. “People are pretty upset. We want to avoid clashes, but it could be really, really big. We don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

In other words, conservatives want to be there to exercise their free speech rights and they want to keep it peaceful. But that’s not how liberals see the fellow-Americans they’ll be facing across the picket lines:

Peace groups, disgusted that the council would cave in to pressure from the pro-military groups, plan to host their own rally, an “emergency 24-hour peace-in vigil,” complete with singing, drums and dialogue.

“We want to protect our city from the onslaught of the right wing,” said Code Pink spokeswoman Zanne Joi. “We’re facing people who are willing to kill or send other people’s children to kill to get what they want. We understand the reality of that, and we’re prepared to face that in a nonviolent way.” (Emphasis mine.)

We’ve gone beyond Roth’s “brutes” into Code Pink’s killers. As I pointed out in that same Roth post, though, while violent rhetoric does emanate from both sides (the same article mentions the obligatory death threats), the trend has been for the violent acts to emanate from the left, not the right. I wonder what Tuesday will bring.

UPDATE: I’ve switched to a new server, so you can feel free to look around here or check out my new site, which not only has the old stuff, but also will move forward into the future with all my new material.

This is weird — the 9th Circuit issued a correct ruling

The Ninth Circuit, which is the laughing stock of the federal judiciary because it is overruled so often, did something bizarre yesterday: it issued a Constitutionally correct decision. Not only that, the decision meant that a citizens’ group will be able to engage in free speech that is contrary to the type of speech the 9th Circuit prefers. I’m impressed:

An Arizona anti-abortion group’s right of free speech was violated when the state refused to issue specialty license plates with the message “Choose Life,” a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

Reversing a judge’s decision, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Arizona’s License Plate Commission had approved less-controversial plates for other nonprofit organizations, such as associations of police and firefighters and the Wildlife Conservation Council, before turning down the Arizona Life Coalition.

The commission “clearly denied the application based on the nature of the message,” Judge Richard Tallman said in the 3-0 ruling. He rejected the commission’s argument that it was entitled to control the content of state-issued license plates and said Arizona was attempting to restrict free expression.

Opponents of abortion have been trying for years to get states to let them use license plates as mobile billboards for the “Choose Life” motto. Judges’ reaction has been mixed.

A South Carolina law expressly authorizing the plates was struck down in 2003 by a federal appeals court because the state did not allow similar plates for abortion-rights advocates, but another appeals court upheld a similar Tennessee law in 2006. The Supreme Court has not taken up the issue.

Courts have generally frowned, however, on a state’s singling out abortion-related messages for exclusion from license plates. Monday’s ruling comes five days after a federal judge ordered Missouri to issue “Choose Life” plates, saying state law gave officials too much leeway to reject license-plate messages because of their content.

California has allowed nonprofit groups to ask the Legislature to approve specialty license plates by submitting 7,500 paid applications. The fees, minus state expenses, are used by foundations that promote such causes as coastal protection, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Backers of a proposed “Choose Life” plate in California have failed several times to win legislative passage, but won a federal court ruling in 2004 that declared the entire program unconstitutional on the ground that it gave lawmakers unlimited authority to decide which messages to accept. The judge in that case allowed previously approved plates to remain, however, and the state has not established a new specialty-plate program.

Monday’s ruling set legal standards for federal courts in nine Western states, including California. It stemmed from a 2003 lawsuit by the Arizona Life Coalition, which had applied the previous year for a license plate that would display the “Choose Life” slogan with a picture of two children’s faces.

Views from abroad

A Dutch politician described as “radical right-wing” and “extremist”* is about to trigger some new convulsions amongst Holland’s Islamic residents:

The Dutch government is bracing itself for violent protests following the scheduled broadcast this week of a provocative anti-Muslim film by a radical right-wing politician who has threatened to broadcast images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.

Cabinet ministers and officials, fearing a repetition of the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper two years ago, have held a series of crisis meetings and ordered counter-terrorist services to draw up security plans. Dutch nationals overseas have been asked to register with their embassies and local mayors in the Netherlands have been put on standby.

Geert Wilders, one of nine members of the extremist VVD (Freedom) party in the 150-seat Dutch lower house, has promised that his film will be broadcast – on television or on the internet – whatever the pressure may be. It will, he claims, reveal the Koran as ‘source of inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror’.

Dutch diplomats are already trying to pre-empt international reaction. ‘It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend,’ said Maxime Verhagen, the Foreign Minister, who was in Madrid to attend the Alliance of Civilisations, an international forum aimed at reducing tensions between the Islamic world and the West. In Amsterdam, Rotterdam and other towns with large Muslim populations, imams say they have needed to ‘calm down’ growing anger in their communities.

Government officials hope that no mainstream media organisation will agree to show the film, although one publicly funded channel, Nova, initially agreed before pulling out. ‘A broadcast on a public channel could imply that the government supported the project,’ said an Interior Ministry spokesman.

Demonstrations are also expected from those opposed to Wilders beyond Holland’s Muslim community – a number of left-wing activists have already been arrested – and from his supporters. Members of a group calling itself Stop Islamisation of Europe are planning to travel to Amsterdam. ‘Geert Wilders is an elected politician who has made a film, and that he is under armed guard as a result is absolutely outrageous,’ said Stephen Gash, a UK-based member, yesterday. ‘It is all about free speech.’

There were a couple of points in that article that intrigued me.  First, there was Maxime Verhagen’s view of free speech:  “It is difficult to anticipate the content of the film, but freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend.”  In fact, free speeh means precisely that — you get to say what you want to say, even if it offends someone.  This view that free speech can’t be offensive is, of course, identical to the speech codes that stultify American college campuses.  It’s also a complete lie, because those who espouse this point of view don’t mean it.  What they really mean is “freedom of expression doesn’t mean the right to offend me or those I deem beyond criticism.  I, of course, am perfectly free to use my speech to offend you.”

The second thing that intrigued me was the fact that the film is going to include “images of the Koran being torn up and otherwise desecrated.”  Why would the filmmakers do that?  To make a film about Muslim violence is, I think, perfectly valid, since only someone in complete denial could, in a straight-faced way, claim that Muslims don’t have anything to do with many of the convulsions going on around the world today.  The fact is that, whether you’re in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Holland, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Spain, Britain, the United States or myriad other spots around the world, the common denominator when bombs blow up, or free thinkers are murdered, or school girls beheaded, or airplanes collide with buildings is radical Islam.  (Check out The Religion of Peace for more info about this point.)  One can do a perfectly good indictment of radical Islam without lowering oneself to the same tactics employed by Islamists — that is, desecrating the symbols of another’s religion.  As you can see from the footnote, I’m unwilling automatically to accept the Guardian‘s designation of Geert Wilders as “radical right wing.”  However, demeaning what could be a serious film about a real problem indicates that there may be truth to that designation.

And sort of bouncing off of that last point, the rise of the truly extreme right wing in Europe (something Charles Johnson has been dealing with at LGF) demonstrates a very scary point about politics:  If the stable middle refuses to respond to a crisis, a panicked populace will embrace the radical extremes.   Had the mainstream, somewhat leftist European governments taken seriously the Islamist threat and worked harder, not to placate the extremists, but to assimilate its moderate Muslim population, ordinary citizens would not have that sinking feeling of abandonment that leads them to hate-mongering political parties.

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*I don’t automatically accept this description, not because it’s necessarily false (and, indeed, there are signs that it’s true), but because (a) I don’t know anything about the politician’s point of view; (b) Europe’s right and left classifications don’t match ours that closely; and (c) consistent with point (b), above, this article comes from the British Guardian paper and in its view everything that’s not left is far right.

Stupid (or, perhaps, thought-provoking) question of the day

“Scholars” and students at Sapienza University of Rome have so vociferously objected to the Pope speaking there because they disagree with the fact that, 20 years ago, he gave a speech that seemed to support the medieval Church’s silencing of Galileo that the Pope has felt compelled to cancel. The WSJ has the matter just right:

The censoring scholars apparently failed to appreciate the irony that, in preventing the pope from speaking, they were doing to him what the Church once did to Galileo, stifling free speech and intellectual inquiry.

In other words, as do the WSJ editors, I think the University’s conduct is antithetical to free speech and an embarrassment to any institution of learning.

Having said that, I also thought it was appalling that Columbia invited Ahmadinejad to speak there. One could argue that my position in that regard is no better than the behavior on display at Sapienza, as it tries to shut down the Pope. “Let the man speak” should apply to one, as well as the other, right?

But I do think that there is a difference between someone who lacks temporal power and who is speaking about the world of ideas — and who is being pilloried for acts his institution took hundreds of years ago — and someone who heads a government that advocates genocide, the torture and murder of gays and nonconforming women, and the complete stifling of any free speech (and the use of torture and murder to achieve those ends). In other words, I think that Ahmadinejad, by doing what he does, especially stifling all dissent and demanding genocide, has forfeited his right to use America’s speech institutions as a forum to explain, lie about, white wash or do anything else to advance his ideas, atittudes, positions or conduct.

What do you all think? Why are we justified in castigating one situation in which speech is being denied, yet demanding the denial of speech in a different situation?

UPDATE:  Thanks to all who noted that the University didn’t cancel the Pope; he canceled the appearance himself after a threatened boycott.   That error is typical for what happens when I try to blog in the minutes before going to the bus stop to meet the kids.  My apologies and, as you’ve seen, I’ve corrected the post.

Freedom of speech — not — in Canada

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard that Canada’s Orwellian “Human Rights” Commission has accepted a complaint from some irate Muslims regarding Mark Steyn’s allegedly racist temerity when he quoted in a Canadian publication the Islamist supremacist words uttered by Norwegian imams. Steyn has a few words on the subject, the most compelling of which were these:

Here’s my bottom line: I don’t accept that free-born Canadian citizens need the permission of the Canadian state to read my columns. What’s offensive is not the accusations of Dr Elmasry and his pals, but the willingness of Canada’s pseudo-courts to take them seriously. So I couldn’t care less about the verdict – except insofar as an acquittal would be more likely to bolster the cause of those who think it’s entirely reasonable for the state to serve as editor-in-chief of privately owned magazines. As David Warren put it, the punishment is not the verdict but the process. To spend gazillions of dollars to get a win on points would do nothing for the cause of freedom of speech: It would signal to newspaper editors and book publishers and store owners that it’s more trouble than it’s worth publishing and printing and distributing and displaying anything on this subject, and so it would contribute to the shriveling of freedom in Canada.

This is a political prosecution and it should be fought politically. The “plaintiffs” certainly understand that, ever since the day they went in to see Ken Whyte and demanded money from Maclean’s. I want the constitutionality of this process overturned, so that Canadians are free to reach the same judgments about my writing as Americans and Britons and Australians and it stands or falls in the marketplace of ideas. The notion that a Norwegian imam can make a statement in Norway but if a Canadian magazine quotes that statement in Canada it’s a “hate crime” should be deeply shaming to all Canadians.

This morning I spent 20 minutes mulling over a couple of offers for overseas rights to America Alone from the Islamic world. It seems that Muslim publishers from Turkey to Indonesia are more robust than Osgoode Hall law students. What a sad comment on the decayed Dominion.

Meanwhile, as I’ve said before, the best way to show support is to support the beleaguered publishers by taking out a subscription to Maclean’s for you or a friend. US and overseas wannabe-subscribers have told us they’re having a bit of difficulty getting the website form to acknowledge non-Canadian postal codes. If you have trouble, send us the details and we’ll make sure Maclean’s sort it out when the Subscription Dept wallahs return to the office on Christmas Bank Holiday First Thursday After Hogmanay, or whenever folks go back to work in Toronto.

Taking offense, at home and abroad

There is nothing wrong with being a Mark Steyn groupie, not when he writes stuff like this, as part of a larger article about how easily offended people are, both in the West and the (mid)East:

But the point is that the right not to be offended is now the most sacred right in the world. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of movement, all are as nothing compared with the universal right to freedom from offense. It’s surely only a matter of time before “sensitivity training” is matched by equally rigorous “inoffensiveness training” courses. A musician friend of mine once took a gig at an elevator-music session, and, after an hour or two of playing insipid orchestral arrangements of “Moon River” and “Windmills of Your Mind,” some of the lads’ attention would start to wander, and they’d toot their horns a little too boisterously. The conductor would stop and admonish them to bland things down a bit. In a world in which everyone is ready to take offense, it’s hard to keep the mood Muzak evenly modulated.

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East is east, and west is west, and in both we take offense at anything: Santas saying “Ho ho ho,” teddy bears called Mohammed. And yet the difference is very telling: The now-annual Santa lawsuits in the “war on Christmas” and the determination to abolish even such anodyne expressions of faith as the Pledge of Allegiance are assaults on the very possibility of a common culture. By contrast, the teddy bear rubbish is a crude demonstration of cultural muscle intended to cow and intimidate. When east meets west, when offended Muslims find themselves operating in Western nations, they discover that both techniques are useful: Some march in the streets, Khartoum-style, calling for the pope to be beheaded, others use the mechanisms of the West’s litigious, perpetual grievance culture to harass opponents into silence.

Perhaps somewhere in Sydney there’s a woman who’s genuinely offended by hearing Santa say “ho ho ho” just as those New Hampshire atheists claim to be genuinely offended by the Pledge of Allegiance. But their complaints are frivolous and decadent, and more determined groups are using the patterns they’ve established to shut down debate on things we should be talking about. The ability to give and take offense is what separates free societies from Sudan.

Loud, strong, logical, civil speech

As you may recall, Hitler’s thugs made Munich their headquarters in the 20s, and were able to use it as their power base in the early 30s.  Among other, equally unsavory tactics they used to consolidate power was thuggery to suppress speech.  It’s really a simple tactic if you have the stomach for it, and the civil side always loses in this type of asymmetrical “speech” warfare (not that there’s any real speech involved on the fascist side).

Last week’s Islamo-facism awareness week reminded us that the totalitarian’s early tactic of choice, before he gets his hands on real power, is thuggery aimed at free speech.  Big Lizard’s believes that we shouldn’t take this attack on our liberties quietly, but should go out there ready to counter any efforts to shut down speech.  He has a really rousing post here, which describes the problem and suggests many practical solutions.