Innocence of Muslims is not a difficult case at all

Innocence of Muslims is one of the hardest cases for liberals I\’ve come across.

Depends what sort of liberal you are talking about I suppose. But to this classical liberal it\’s all really very simple indeed.

We have decided that freedom and liberty trump the giving of offence. Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles of our society, along with freedom of association and equality before the law. These have all been hard fought for over the past millennium and while it\’s a very partial view of our history it is indeed possible to follow the thread through it. Indeed Whig, liberal, history pretty much does this.

There are societies built on alternative propositions: certainly there are some where freedom of speech does not include the ability to call the King a poopyhead nor a prophet a paedophile. Or a figment of the collective imagination, a series of folk tales cobbled together or gay (note, these are indeed all things that have been said, in our society, about a prophet central to one of the religions practiced in it) or whatever it is that one might want to say.

No one has to agree with these things, no one has to accept them, but all have to tolerate their being said. That\’s just what we mean by being liberal, being a liberal society. So why this case should be problematic for a liberal I\’m just not sure. Either you\’re in favour of the freedom of speech, yes even for those who mightily piss off tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of people, or you\’re not a liberal.

Rather case closed at that point.

Agreed, we do permit of two exceptions: libel and the incitement to imminent violence. Other than that, as the Onion has revived the old Salman Rushdie joke:

WASHINGTON—Following the publication of the image above, in which the most cherished figures from multiple religious faiths were depicted engaging in a lascivious sex act of considerable depravity, no one was murdered, beaten, or had their lives threatened, sources reported Thursday. The image of the Hebrew prophet Moses high-fiving Jesus Christ as both are having their erect penises vigorously masturbated by Ganesha, all while the Hindu deity anally penetrates Buddha with his fist, reportedly went online at 6:45 p.m. EDT, after which not a single bomb threat was made against the organization responsible, nor did the person who created the cartoon go home fearing for his life in any way. Though some members of the Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist faiths were reportedly offended by the image, sources confirmed that upon seeing it, they simply shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and continued on with their day.

Myself I think there\’s actually something rather deeper at issue here. We say we\’ve freedom of speech and in the US the Constitution decrees it. Yet there are large parts of the world which don\’t have it: OK, so far, so obvious. What is the real problem perhaps is that those who do not have it really, properly, do not understand what it is. Fair enough given that all too many in our own society don\’t understand it: you can say what you like as long as it\’s not hurtful for example, or racist, or fascist, as various groups try to variously insist at times.

But many really just don\’t get it: the US Government has no power over what some shithead in California decides to say about Islam or Mohammed. It\’s not that they ignore it, or desire it to be said, or encourage it or anything like that at all.

To make an analogy: early 1990s, Moscow officials come to London to try and work out this free market thing. One asks \”Well, who is in charge of bread supplies for London?\”. He simply does not believe the answer \”No one\”. It is so far out of his knowledge of the world that he cannot even conceive that the answer could be correct. If something happens it is because some individual or system plans and makes it happen. Voluntary cooperation through markets on a large scale just cannot be shoehorned into his worldview.

And thus I think it is with many in that wide world about free speech. Given that their own societies do not allow it (and yes, this does apply to those ruling the societies as well as those in them) they simply cannot conceive of a world or a place where this freedom exists. That\’s why they get so confused about it when it happens.

35 thoughts on “Innocence of Muslims is not a difficult case at all”

  1. Confused, I’m not too bothered about. Murderous riots, on the other hand …

    As there is no great difference between Christian and Islamist extremists

    Errm, yes, I think there is a very important difference. Somewhat fewer people die at the hands of Christian extremists.

    Tim adds: I think that needs a little edit: “Somewhat fewer people die at the hands of Christian extremists these days.”

    It’s not, historically, been true at all.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    And thus I think it is with many in that wide world about free speech. Given that their own societies do not allow it (and yes, this does apply to those ruling the societies as well as those in them) they simply cannot conceive of a world or a place where this freedom exists.

    Yes but the problem is for a large chunk of the British population freedom of speech only exists as an ideal that they have no intention of defending. That they are, in fact, offended by when exercised. Mostly on the Left but not entirely so.

    These sort of people have had control of the legislation of this country for some time. Which is why someone was jailed for a Tweet that no one of relevance even saw. This is why Frank Ellis was fired from a tenured academic position, this is why some slapper ranting on the Tube was charged for said rant.

    Britain is no longer such a society. And if Blair and his mates had got his way, this film would have been just as illegal in Slough as it is in Egypt.

    This is why the first call from places like Slate or the New York Times is to punish the man who made the film. And why the Feds seem to have sent in the stormtroopers to arrest him in the middle of the night.

  3. I think the film in question is disgusting racist garbage, but this kind of reaction makes me want to screen it on the side of public buildings.

  4. By the way, I recommend reading the whole of the linked article. The quote from it is a bit unfair – the author spent the rest of the paragraph demolishing it. The article as a whole is stridently in favour of free speech.

  5. “Somewhat fewer people die at the hands of Christian extremists these days.”

    It’s not, historically, been true at all.

    Even when the Christian extremists were at their worst, they were both mostly killing Christians and not in the sheer numbers that are commonplace in modern war.

  6. Tim adds: I think that needs a little edit: “Somewhat fewer people die at the hands of Christian extremists these days.”

    It’s not, historically, been true at all.

    In all the centuries of the Spanish Inquisition they are supposed to have killed something like 4000 people. Or about as many as the Khmer Rouge killed every hour, of every day they were in power, for four years.

    Christian violence existed. It still exists in a weak form. But it has been grossly over stated.

  7. “Fair enough given that all too many in our own society don’t understand it: you can say what you like as long as it’s not hurtful for example…”

    Since when are you not allowed to say anything that’s ‘hurtful’..?

  8. “… this is why some slapper ranting on the Tube was charged for said rant.”

    And has, interestingly, had her trial delayed for a third time. One wonders if the CPS is getting cold feet.

  9. Ed Snack – “That film may be many offensive things, racist it is not. Religion /= race.”

    Given it seems to be the work of an Egyptian Copt I fail to see how it could be racist either. It is not as if there is any noticable difference between your average Egyptian Christian and Muslim worth a damn.

    8 JuliaM – “Since when are you not allowed to say anything that’s ‘hurtful’..?”

    Isn’t that the conclusion of the Twitter fuss? That it is now a crime to say anything that might upset someone famous?

    9 JuliaM – “And has, interestingly, had her trial delayed for a third time. One wonders if the CPS is getting cold feet.”

    God I hope so. But the process is, as they say, the punishment.

    10 Ed Snack – “the Huguenots and Cathars, just as examples, might wish to disagree…if they were around to do so…”

    Norman Lamont might be interested to know the Huguenots don’t exist. As would a part of the South African Rugby team. And there are still Cathars in the north of Italy.

    I didn’t say there was no violence, just not as much as people think.

  10. I grew up in Bahrain, at a time when pork products and alcohol were available, albeit in special sections of the supermarkets. They may still be, I’ve not been there for a while, but I doubt it’s as relaxed as it was in the 70s and 80s. A great place to live – Arabs were my friends etc.

    However, there were nutters around even then – I remember my 8-year-old sister being slapped by a guy in the souk in Manama because she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. (My dad chinned the bloke.)

    On the one hand, you need to respect the culture… On the other, she was 8 ffs.

    The problem is, as it has always been throughout time, that the people who are able to slap a child because she is ‘immodestly’ dressed – and by extension blow themselves up on trains – will tend to win against the reasonable.

    Ultimately, all the nice liberal attitudes in the world are not going to be of much use against an enemy (self-perceived) who hates everything you think, do, say, and stand for, and sees you as weak.

    The strong horse etc – the only way to win this game is by being more bloody and murderous and violent than the oth guy, which we obviously aren’t. Ergo, we cannot win.

  11. 11 smfs, Lamont isn’t a Huguenot name, it’s Shetlandic. (And it’s pronounced LAMont, except by Norman LaMONT.) I can show you the house in Lerwick where he was born. His family had a croft at Madd, to the delight of profilers when he was news enough to profile.

  12. Philip: Quite the opposite – Julian Clary was protestingly martyred for his “fisting Norman Lamont” comment.

  13. @Interested

    Yes. The problem is that it only takes a few hotheads in a population to start a fight and the rest who would never dream of performing violence will keep quiet. Violence wins every time. Look at Northern Ireland.

    Now there is another religious time bomb ticking. I fear for the UK.

  14. Interested

    Ultimately, all the nice liberal attitudes in the world are not going to be of much use against an enemy (self-perceived) who hates everything you think, do, say, and stand for, and sees you as weak.

    More to the point, we no longer believe in those values ourselves. Some Muslims, I think quite rightly, may feel aggrieved that tweeting is a crime, much less questioning the Holocaust is a crime, but that blasphemy is not. Given we usually give in to threats, threats seem the way to go.

    I seriously doubt that any educated British person under the age of 50 thinks that speech ought to be free in the way TW means except in theory. They will say they support the idea, but will then demand people be fired for using words like niggardly.

    14 Chris

    Lamont isn’t a Huguenot name, it’s Shetlandic. (And it’s pronounced LAMont, except by Norman LaMONT.)

    Well I think everyone knows that. But he has always claimed otherwise. The Huguenots spread across Europe. They were assimilated, not exterminated.

  15. I would say that Muslims typically don’t believe that “the USA has no power over over what some shithead in California decides to say”, because, in fact, it’s not true. They know that in practice the US government can find a way to do pretty well whatever it wants, for example to torture Muslim prisoners in defiance of US and international law.

    For what it’s worth, I favour complete freedom of speech in works of fiction, even when they include historical figures. I see no harm in prohibiting blatant falsehoods in works which claim to be factual.

    SMFS: No educated British person of any age thinks people should be fired for using the word niggardly. The suggestion has arisen only from undereducated Americans.

    Chris: I think Lamont, pronounced as you indicate, is a Highland name, and L’amont is a French, possibly Huguenot, name. I have no information about how Norman Lamont’s ancestors came to be in Shetland.

  16. They know that in practice the US government can find a way to do pretty well whatever it wants, for example to torture Muslim prisoners in defiance of US and international law.

    Yes, and here we have somebody being arrested by brown-shirted folk at midnight in utter contradiction to his constitutional rights, and yet you insist that Obama is “highly competent”. Didn’t he vow to defend the constitution when he took office? Or are you going to try to pass that off on my supposed faulty memory, which by the most remarkable coincidence will once again be supported by the results of a cursory Google search?

  17. ‘you can say what you like as long as it’s not hurtful for example, or racist, or fascist, as various groups try to variously insist at times’.
    What of the politically incorrect -‘manhole’, ‘chairman’, gollywogs etc.
    Self censorship is endemic in the UK.

  18. So Much For Subtlety

    PaulB – “They know that in practice the US government can find a way to do pretty well whatever it wants, for example to torture Muslim prisoners in defiance of US and international law.”

    The Obama Administration has had extended inquiries into what went on at Guantanamo. And they have not found any violation of domestic or international law. At least none that would justify prosecution. Which suggests you are wrong. But perhaps you know better than the State Department and Obama’s best legal advice?

    “For what it’s worth, I favour complete freedom of speech in works of fiction, even when they include historical figures. I see no harm in prohibiting blatant falsehoods in works which claim to be factual.”

    Defining factual might be hard though. So much for “I, Claudius” of course. But as we see with American “fact checkers” one man’s falsehood is often another man’s opinion. How can you hope to define which is which?

    “No educated British person of any age thinks people should be fired for using the word niggardly. The suggestion has arisen only from undereducated Americans.”

    I disagree with both claims. Every British person seems to have no problems with the hounding of people out of employment merely for poorly chosen words. I mean, let’s ignore Enoch Powell whose words were worse than poorly chosen. Or Sir Keith Joseph. Let’s pass over the farce that is the John Terry saga – about a comment that no one heard, and no one objected to when it was said. Let’s look at Carol Thatcher. Who was fired. Without anyone much objecting. Not even for an on-air comment.

    And it is precisely the most educated Americans and British people who are the least tolerant. You can say “golliwog” on a building site. You can’t at a university.

    “I think Lamont, pronounced as you indicate, is a Highland name, and L’amont is a French, possibly Huguenot, name.”

    Lamont was just doing a Hyacinth Bucket impersonation.

    24PaulB – “you’ll have to explain that: who has been arrested by brown-shirted folk at midnight?”

    The guy who made the film.

  19. Thank you. According to the Sheriff’s Department Nakoula was not in fact arrested. He agreed in advance to be interviewed by probation officers about a prima facie breach of his probation conditions. In the circumstances, he would hardly want to travel alone to the police station, so they waited until most of the doorstepping press had gone home for the night, then sent some deputies round to escort him. You’ll have to show me where in the constitution that is forbidden.

    SMFS: Obama has chosen not to prosecute anyone from the previous administration for its torture policy. In his shoes I would probably have made the same decision, even though I’m sure Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield are guilty.

    “golliwog” is not a word like “niggardly”. The latter, properly understood, has no racial connotations.

  20. The Obama Administration has had extended inquiries into what went on at Guantanamo. And they have not found any violation of domestic or international law.

    Quelle surprise.

  21. PaulB – “Obama has chosen not to prosecute anyone from the previous administration for its torture policy. In his shoes I would probably have made the same decision, even though I’m sure Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield are guilty.”

    Good for you. Obama did not make that decision alone. The State Department set up a special commission to look into possible wrong doing. Led by John Durham – a man who it would be almost impossible to impugn. If no charges have followed, it is because John Durham has said there is no case.

    “golliwog” is not a word like “niggardly”. The latter, properly understood, has no racial connotations.

    Not sure that isn’t true of golliwog as well but it is beside the point. The more educated Western people are, the more liberal they think they are, but the less liberal they actually are. A work site is a vastly more tolerant place than anywhere requiring a liberal arts degree.

    28ukliberty – “Quelle surprise.”

    Sure, it is all a conspiracy. You are begining to sound like one of those people who rants about Jews.

  22. Alleged criminal investigates self, finds no wrongdoing.

    SMFS, it would be a surprise if they did find something wrong.

    Of course you ignore all the adverse court decisions (yes, not trying the government or its agents for any offences, but finding things wrong in what they did / are doing).

  23. SMFS: What you say about John Durham is untrue. His enquiry was into CIA interrogators, not the Bush administration.

    And, they were never going to prosecute anyone who acted in good faith according to the legal advice they were given, which is a brilliant get out: just find a friendly lawyer (*waves at Yoo & Bybee*). And, secret stuff can be inadmissible; if you don’t have enough admissible evidence, you don’t have a case.

    What many people continue to fail to understand is that Guantanamo and these other detention centres and procedures were deliberately set up to circumvent / evade domestic and international law. To cry, “oh you conspiracy theorist, next you’ll be ranting about the Jew lizard royals” is a bizarrely ignorant and/or transparent attempt to shut down debate.

  24. He agreed in advance to be interviewed by probation officers about a prima facie breach of his probation conditions.

    Which were what, exactly? Being forbidden from making films about Islam?

  25. The terms of his parole included being barred from assuming aliases and using computers or the Internet for five years without approval from his probation officer.

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