Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Who are the real open-minded?

Greg Michaelson, a student at the University of Alabama, comments on hate speech directed at him because of his conservative views

I'd like to give a shout out to the founder and the several hundred members of the week old Facebook group called "Greg Michaelson is a load of S---." Apparently, there is an increasingly shrill group of students at the University who thinks I'm a load of s---. Why? Because I use "hate speech." No. The irony is not lost on me.

The group was apparently founded last week after someone read my column about non-discrimination. These people who accuse me of using hate speech have some very constructive points to make. For instance, they said I am so ugly that I could never understand the love that two gay people can share. They said I write like a barely literate middle schooler, whoring himself out for attention. About half a dozen went so far as to wish that my children grow up to be gay just to teach me a lesson.

Now, being a younger brother and being rather opinionated, I have developed a fairly thick skin. I don't bring these things up for any other reason than to ask two questions.

First, I'd like to know what in the world hate speech is. Obviously, I don't know. Last week's editorial was my opinion of what a non-discrimination policy should cover. I never said that homosexuals should be discriminated against.

I just said that the policy shouldn't include every conceivable group of people.

I never said that I disapprove of homosexuality. I didn't attack any particular homosexual. I didn't even imply that homosexuality is immoral.

There was nothing even remotely hateful about my argument.

Then came the onslaught. All of the open-minded, good-natured gays and liberals lashed out with all kinds of attacks.

They attacked Christians - though in none of my columns have I ever mentioned being a Christian. They attacked conservatives. They attacked my family. They even threatened violence against me.

Even now, as some read this, they think, "Now you know what it's like - so there."

But again, they have misunderstood. I'm not complaining about the personal and hateful attacks and threats leveled against me. I'm not complaining about the hypocrisy so evident in their own hate speech.

I just want to know what happened to tolerance. This whole argument started (perhaps) as a group of homosexuals wanting to be tolerated. I am more than willing to tolerate them. It seems, though, that the only people deserving of tolerance are those who agree with the liberal, humanist agenda.

If you believe, for instance, that there are moral absolutes that should be applied to all people at all times, then you don't deserve tolerance. In that case, you deserve hate speech.

If you argue - with the vast majority of the people in the United States - that marriage should be between a man and a woman, then you don't deserve tolerance. You deserve to be threatened.

If you stand on your own merit and think that other people should be asked to stand on their own merit - instead of appealing to reverse discrimination programs like affirmative action - then you don't deserve tolerance. You deserve to be called a racist.

If you think that human life is valuable whether it's within the uterus or not, then you don't deserve tolerance. You deserve to be accused of hating women and being closed-minded.

I think it's about time that someone pulled back the veil on all the supposedly open-minded and compassionate liberals. Their compassion extends only to those who share their opinion, and their open-mindedness only to those who are just like them.

Thanks to all those who showed their support through e-mails and kind words this week. I realize that those attacking me represent a small but noisy sub-minority on our campus, and I appreciate the true open-mindedness that I have seen during my time here.

It really has been eye opening to see the rotten underbelly of the "virtuous" left. God help us if former President Hilary Clinton gets control of our nation.

P.S. Last time I checked, the first amendment still protects hate speech. So, please continue with your "Greg Michaelson is a load of S---" page. I, for one, still believe in the Constitution of the United States of America.


The New Heresies

In today's You Can't Say That culture, it's those with reactionary views on race or religion who are censored. But fighting for free speech still matters

Just last week, David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative Party, won praise for saying that he wants an open `grown-up' debate about immigration and how to control it. Then a Conservative candidate suggested that Enoch Powell was right to warn in 1968 about the impact of mass immigration, and the party leadership (with the other main parties behind it) forced him to resign for his `unwise' and `insensitive' language. In other words: `We want honesty and grown-up politics, but You Can't Say That.'

Last month, Dr James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was supposed to give a talk at the Science Museum. Then he gave an interview to The Sunday Times, in which he suggested that there was a racial basis to intelligence, and the museum cancelled the event. Its statement claimed that the museum `does not shy away from debating controversial topics', but insisted that Watson `has gone beyond the point of reasonable debate'. In other words: `We welcome controversy and scientific debate, but You Can't Say That.'

To some of us - even some of us who support open borders - the consensus within the political class that wants to close down debate on an issue like immigration is far more dangerous than the reactionary views of a wannabe Tory MP. As I have written elsewhere on the Nigel Hastilow controversy this week, `Enoch Powell was not right about immigration. But it is wrong to hound out a Conservative candidate for suggesting that he was.' (See A grown-up debate? Not with childish censorship by Mick Hume.) In a similar vein, some of us - including some of us who have campaigned against racism for years - find the fact that a leading liberal-minded scientific institution can seek to place a limit on `reasonable debate' far more worrying than the crankish views of one 79-year-old scientist.

These are just two recent examples of the You Can't Say That culture today, an increasing tendency to try to circumscribe debate sometimes by formal bans, more often by informal pressure. From immigration to global warming, the attitude from the mainstream appears to be not to question or criticise those with unconventional views, but simply to silence them.

I recently discussed these issues at the Battle of Ideas conference, in a session entitled `The new heresies'. The other panellists were Alexander Cockburn, the US-based left-wing commentator and editor of Counterpunch, and Arthur Versluis, author of The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism. Some might think it a little far-fetched to talk of heresies and inquisitions; after all, there is no torture involved. It is important to be sober about these issues and to leave the shrillness to the hysterical witch-hunters. But the `heresy model' may be useful in understanding how far things have changed.

A heretic is not a self-defined political label, akin to declaring yourself a socialist or a green. Instead, heresy is always defined in opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy. The words themselves come from an early Christian leader who defined his own views as orthodox, from the Greek for `right belief', and those of his opponents as heresy, from the Greek for `choice of belief'. The one thing that got you branded a heretic was a desire to choose your own beliefs and dissent from the authoritative dogma. In that sense, it seems fair to talk about new heresies today.

The fact that heresies are defined in this way means that what is deemed heretical changes historically as the orthodoxy alters. We all know that yesterday's heresies can become today's accepted truths, in everything from science to social attitudes. Now, however, we can see another process at work: yesterday's orthodoxies are being redefined as today's heresies. This is obvious, for example, in relation to race, as illustrated above, where attitudes of racial superiority or inferiority that would once have been deemed the norm are now considered completely beyond the pale. Perhaps an even more powerful example is the way that religion itself, particularly Christianity, can now be treated as heretical in British society.

Thus where the church once laid down the law on what was sinful, Christian fundamentalists can now find themselves threatened with prosecution for expressing the opinion that homosexuality is a sin. And where religious authorities once persecuted scientists such as Galileo and fought to keep secular values out of universities, it is now reported that Christian colleges in Oxford have been threatened with the loss of their university status because the education they offer is not `inclusive' enough - that is, they're too Christian.

The flipside of this is that, as previously discussed on spiked, science now often assumes the status of orthodoxy. In one sense it is, of course, good news that science has overcome much of the old superstition and established its credentials as a foundation of a civilised modern society. However, things have now moved beyond that to the point where `The Science' on an issue such as global warming can be used to try to declare the debate closed, and to describe critical views as heretical or even as the lies of `deniers'. You do not need to be a climatologist to see that this deference to The Science as an orthodox dogma has little in common with the scientific traditions of sceptical inquiry, testing and debate.

What particularly angers an old Marxist like me is the leading role played by the left and the liberal establishment in treating ideas as new heresies. As I suggested during the Battle of Ideas debate, some might think we need not worry too much about the silencing of reactionary views. Perhaps we should just say, after Woody Allen in Annie Hall, yes, I'm a bigot, but for the left?

No. I have no time for racial thinking or religion in any form. But we need to remember that freedom is indivisible, and that `free speech' is not the same thing as `me speech'. The precious right to be offensive must involve the right of others to offend our beliefs, too. Free speech and open argument is the way to test and clarify ideas and to get closest to the truth. By contrast, turning ideas of which the mainstream disapproves into heresies means closing down debate and closing minds.

Let's be clear why it is that the left and liberals often want to treat their opponents as heretics to be silenced. The You Can't Say That culture is not a product of their strength and authority, as with the orthodoxies of the past. On the contrary, it reflects the extent to which they have suffered an acute loss of nerve. They do not trust their own arguments. And they do not trust us.

The fact that those preaching today's orthodoxies do not trust their own arguments becomes evident when one looks at what they are up against. To talk of heresies and inquisitions today might give these issues a rather grand, historic image. In reality, however, even relatively feeble opponents can now be damned by the insecure supporters of orthodoxy. The few critics of `The Science' of global warming are generally not Galileo-type geniuses. The reality TV clowns who are made public examples of for daring to use words deemed racist or homophobic represent no movement in society. Yet they have to be stamped upon by the policemen of the You Can't Say That culture.

Why? Above all, it is because the left and the liberal establishment do not trust us. UK government minister David Lammy, considered a rising black star of New Labour, gave the game away when he said that Dr Watson's views on race and intelligence should be suppressed because `they will only succeed in providing oxygen for the BNP'. At first this seemed a strange thing to say; was the minister suggesting there was a British National Party cell operating in the Science Museum? But no, what he meant was that if the public got to hear of a respectable scientist giving a talk about race and intelligence, it could press our (genetically programmed?) racist button and start a pogrom. By the same token, the insecure authorities and their supporters want to declare the debate on global warming closed because they fear that if people were allowed to hear any deviation from the orthodoxy we might be even less willing to do as we are told and change our behaviour.

The problem here is not just government ministers and the state. We are not dealing with jackboot censorship - as indicated by our freedom to publish spiked, and the frequent appearances of spiked's non-conformist writers elsewhere. It is more often a sort of informal inquisition, where a mood of You Can't Say That emerges from below. Indeed, the self-righteous political activists and crusaders - particularly, it seems, the younger ones - are often the most militant wing of the new orthodoxies. Thus it is green activists who have called for `climate change denial' to be made a crime, while black activists demanded that Watson be sacked for expressing his Jurassic opinion on race and intelligence.

The spinelessness of the liberal intelligentsia ensures that, once such a wave of opinion has started to rise, they allow themselves to be swept away. Just a few days before the Battle of Ideas, an event called the Festival of Ideas was held in Bristol (I wonder where they got that idea from?) and James Watson was due to speak. When the Science Museum cancelled his talk, a spokesman for the vice-chancellor of Bristol University (who was chairing, but not organising the festival) said that they still wanted Watson to come to Bristol because the university respected `the right of people to express their views. But we would also expect there to be some robust questioning of Dr Watson on his ideas'. That seemed the right response. Within a couple of days, however, as the pitch of the protests rose, the organisers of the Bristol event had caved in and cancelled the talk. Andrew Kelly of the Festival of Ideas announced that, `While we are a festival that encourages debate, it is clear that James Watson's opinions were unacceptably provocative'. In other words, `We want debate, but You Can't Say That'. Nothing had happened in between times; Watson had said nothing more other than to apologise `unreservedly' for causing offence. But the notion that he was a heretic had simply become accepted, so he had to go.

We can see these trends in context, as the latest form of the free speech debate. And the British left has long had a terrible record on that issue. Twenty-five years ago, when I was at university, the left championed a policy of `No platform' for fascists - a label which they often extended to include Thatcherite Tories. Now that attitude has advanced from the student union to the centre of public life.

Some of us always opposed those policies and stood up for free speech. Not because we believed in rights for racists and reactionaries - but because we believed in the right of the public to listen and judge for themselves, to make our own `choice of belief', whether considered heretical or not. When I was the editor of Living Marxism magazine, a sort-of forerunner of spiked, our slogan was `Question Everything - Ban Nothing'. That was considered somewhat heretical then, and is more so now. All the more reason to stand up for the principle, to help keep free speech and free thinking alive.

One new problem today is that so few people in the UK are prepared to stand up for free speech unconditionally, even in the world of academia and education. As Professor Frank Furedi pointed out in the heresies debate at the Battle of Ideas, the same academics who will protest loudest about the exclusion of a pro-Palestinian speaker are often the first ones to sign up to a boycott of Israeli academics, seemingly without ever noticing the contradiction in their stance.

What we need instead is to inculcate an attitude of genuine tolerance. That ought to mean broadmindedness, and allowing the expression of opinions that you despise. Today, however, those demanding `tolerance' often seem to mean the opposite: an unwillingness to tolerate any view that impinges on the orthodoxy. Thus, in the name of tolerance, we are told that nobody can express `intolerant' views of, say, Islam or homosexuality. As I have argued before on spiked, ours is an age of `intolerant tolerance'.

Genuine tolerance does not mean allowing views you despise to go unchallenged. It ought to involve fierce debate and a ruthless hammering of reactionary opinions of every stripe. It ought to mean, as Voltaire wrote in his Essay on Tolerance, `Think for yourselves, and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so, too'. In place of a closed culture of heresies and You Can't Say That, we need an open-minded attitude of You Can Say That - so long as I can then say that you are talking out of your backside.


Endangered jokes in Britain

The right to crack jokes or be rude about homosexuals could fall victim to new government laws to stamp out "homophobic" behaviour, Rowan Atkinson, the Blackadder star warned yesterday. Atkinson, who mounted a successful campaign in 2004 to water down legislation aimed at criminalising expressions of religious hatred, has returned to the fray to defend the art of gay leg-pulling.

His concern is that Labour ministers are so obsessed with creating laws to stop people being rude about each other that they are putting in danger the right to free speech and, equally dear to his heart, the comedian's craft. In a letter to a newspaper he accused ministers of filling their legislative programme with measures that have "serious implications for freedom of speech, humour and creative expression". Atkinson was referring to measures in the Criminal Justice Bill, currently passing through Parliament, which could mean people who stir up hatred against homosexuals being put in prison for up to seven years.

He said the Government measures, which could be expanded to cover hatred against disabled or transgendered people, seemed to be "infinitely extendable". "Witness the fact that the Government has invited two additional groups - the disabled and transsexuals - to 'make the case' for the proposed legislation to be extended to them. "I am sure that they could make a very good case, as indeed could all those who can claim that they cannot help being the way they are. Men, for example, or women. Or people with big ears."

Atkinson added: "The devil, as always, will be in the detail but the casual ease which some people move from finding something offensive to wishing to declare it criminal - and are then able to find factions within government to aid their ambitions - is truly depressing."

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, has told MPs that such fears are unfounded because he will shortly introduce an amendment to the Bill ensuring that cases can be pursued only when the offending words are specifically intended to pose a threat and are not merely humorous, mocking or abusive. As with an eventual compromise deal struck over the Religious Hatred Bill, there will also be a specific clause to protect the right to freedom of speech. Ministers have firmly dismissed as unfounded claims that playground insults or jokes about gays could be caught by the new offence.

Last night Chris Bryant, the openly gay Labour MP, said Mr Atkinson should relax because the right to make jokes about gays would remain. "I think it is perfectly possible to create a distinction in law between incitement to hatred and having a laugh," he said. Lord Lester, the Liberal Democrat peer who helped draft the compromise wording on the religious hatred law, said it was clear that "politically incorrect jokes at the expense of gay people" should not be banned.


A summary of recent European cringing

By Dan Mandel

In September, I outlined in a piece in the Weekly Standard the pattern of pre-emptive appeasement of Muslim supremacists that has formed in Europe. The pattern consists of discarding rights and traditions or failing to assert their exercise if Muslim extremists object.

As I argued then, this pattern emerged in confluence with some salient instances of violence - the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh following the release of his film on the travails of Muslim women; the 2005 riots following the Danish Muhammad cartoons; and the 2006 killings that followed Pope Benedikt's speech quoting critical comments on Islam by a 14th century Byzantine emperor. The last two months alone have furnished new occurrences that add to the pattern.

First, the September 11 rally against the Islamisation of Europe that Brussels mayor Freddy Thielemans chose not to authorize at the time proceeded, with the result that 154 people were arrested, including Italian EU parliamentarian, Italian Northern League member Mario Borghezio. Borghezio challenged the banning of the demonstration, "It doesn't seem normal to me that on the 11th of September, in a European capital, a demonstration involving European parliamentarians, against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, can be banned."

Then, in October, the Netherlands government abruptly revoked security protection provided to one of its prominent citizens: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch-Somali politician and writer, who has been obliged to live under police protection since 2002 following death threats inspired by her outspokenness on the mistreatment of women in the Muslim community and on her own secularism. (Ali also wrote the script to the film for which Van Gogh paid with his life). Already last year, however, rather than resolutely defending Ali, the government tried to revoke her citizenship while her own neighbours sought her eviction on the ground that their human rights were endangered by Ali's continued presence. Neither civic solidarity nor the law in the Netherlands seems adequate to the task of protecting the life and free speech of one of its prominent human rights activists, who has since made America her home.

The same month in Britain, the Conservative Muslim Forum, a body set up by Tory leader David Cameron to advise the party on Muslim affairs issued a report specifically repudiating Cameron's affirmation that Jews have a right to inhabit and defend a homeland and country embodied in the state of Israel; defended Iran's efforts to seek nuclear weapons and repudiated any association of Muslim terrorism with Islam. What influence this report exerts over the Opposition's policies remains to be seen.

Later that same month, Muslim inmates in a high security British prison launched a lawsuit seeking millions in damages for having been mistakenly issued with a prison menu offering ham sandwiches. Again, it remains to be seen how the British courts deal with it.

Around the same time, a leaked report by the Labour think tank, Public Policy Research, recommended that Christmas be downgraded in favour of festivals from other religions to improve race relations. Stated a shell-shocked Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative spokesman on community cohesion, "[the report's] comments betray a breathtaking misunderstanding of what it is to be British. These proposals could actually damage cohesion. You don't build community cohesion by throwing out our history and denying the fundamental contribution Christianity has played and does play to our nation. As a British Muslim I can see that - so why others can't just staggers me."



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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