Saturday, January 17, 2015

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie: Free Speech and Violence in America and the World

Southern Senator Defends the "Honor" of the South from Insult

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
--The First Amendment, U.S. Constitution

American Bar Association on “Hate Speech”:
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits. Should hate speech be discouraged? The answer is easy—of course!....In this country there is no right to speak fighting words—those words without social value, directed to a specific individual, that would provoke a reasonable member of the group about whom the words are spoken. For example, a person cannot utter a racial or ethnic epithet to another if those words are likely to cause the listener to react violently. 

The ACLU position:
If we do not come to the defense of the free speech rights of the most unpopular among us, even if their views are antithetical to the very freedom the First Amendment stands for, then no one's liberty will be secure. In that sense, all First Amendment rights are "indivisible."... We should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful. At the same time, freedom of speech does not prevent punishing conduct that intimidates, harasses, or threatens another person, even if words are used. Threatening phone calls, for example, are not constitutionally protected.

What are the limits of free speech in America?

What do we do when people use their free speech to deny that other people have a right to free speech?

How do we accommodate a  group  which cleaves to the idea of "blasphemy" and baldly states it will not tolerate the free speech of those who live around them in their adopted countries? At what point does this presence of an intolerant cohort in a tolerant land constitute an invasion or a threat to the existence of the free state?

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously limited the right to free speech with his remark: “The right to free speech does not extend to the right to cry ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”  (When there is no fire.) In this case, speech is a form of action which results inevitably, in physical consequences.  Crying fire means, inevitably, a stampede. Shouting “nigger” does not mean a response in action is inevitable, however much that action may be probable.

When you start down that road, what of the man who stands up on a platform and exhorts a crowd: "Kill all the Niggers!" when there are colored people in the crowd?  The ACLU would say he has that right—it’s the people he’s exhorting who do not have the right to respond with violence. Only if he points to a specific Black man in the crowd and says, "Kill that particular Nigger!" does his speech lose protection.

The ACLU achieves consistency in its absolutulist opposition to any form of restriction of free speech, but absolutism—for all its virtues of consistency—fails in the face of the tangled woof of reality, as is the case for the theater or the crowd with the rope.
Western Europe and America are now faced with the quandary of not wanting to limit the individual  his freedom to express himself, but facing the paradox of having to deal with an individual who wants to express the idea that other people cannot express their own ideas--who rejects free speech as a condition for discussion.

And what is “speech”? 

If burning a flag on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC is an expressive act of free speech, what of the man who riddles with bullets the building which houses Charlie Hebdo in Paris but causes no bodily harm to any person?  Or, how about the man who throws a pitcher of blood on a Planned Parenthood building? If no person is harmed, if the act is “symbolic” then is it “speech”? In the case of Bong Hits for Jesus, unfurling a banner, wordlessly, was not considered protected speech because of who did it,( a student), who, the Supreme Court said, has no right to free speech. So in this country, we say only some people have the right to free speech.

It is probably not a coincidence the right to freedom of religion is juxtaposed with the right to free speech, in the First Amendment. It is, and has been, religion, which has fostered the idea of “blasphemy,” i.e. speech which contradicts Gospel or the official party line of the Church, or, as the religious would say, "God's Will." (Nifty trick that, knowing "God's Will.") Some religions have attempted to restrict not just free speech but free thought: Having "impure thoughts" is something you have to go to confession for and be absolved of.

So now we have crowds in Pakistan rioting over cartoons, after Charlie Hebdo replies to violence with a multi million issue of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad.  Of course, angry crowds are exercising free speech, until they do more than talk.
The problem here, at core, is a war of cultures. You have one culture, that of the fundamentalist, which says free speech is not as important as righteousness. The fundamentalist says, if you draw a cartoon, write a novel or an article which insults Islam, then taking violent action against you is justifiable, escalating from words (or drawings)   to the bullet or the bomb is justified by the Word of the Prophet and of Allah.

In this case, we have no basis for discussion—they are advocating the overthrow of not our government, but the most essential pillar on which our government stands, the tolerance of hearing opposing opinions.  How can you have democracy without hearing all sides? The jihadist with the gun says, “No, you may not say what you are thinking.”

In that scenario, then freedom as it is defined in the American Constitution, ceases to exist. As basic as the right of free speech may be to Liberty, without a government to enforce it, without existence of that government and its values, there can be no Liberty, only the rule of the sword. 

It is, to Mad Dog’s understanding, still illegal in the United States of America to advocate the overthrow of the United States government. (Smith Act US Code 2385) In a sense, to advocate the abolition of free speech is to advocate the destruction of the government which is grounded on free speech. In that sense, the ACLU is dead wrong. A sect which claims it can silence all those who disagree with them is advocating the destruction of the government, the Constitution and all that goes with it. To say we must accept those who advocate against the First Amendment is to say we must meekly accept a beheading of our most fundamental right. Sorry, ACLU, you lost Mad Dog there.

Here in the USA, we have laws against “hate speech.”  In those laws, we have the ascendance of concern for preventing violence over the concern for free speech. But we must realize the power of words to provoke violence is only potent in  people who are not sophisticated enough to simply let words drift off into the air.

Sophisticated Laddies 

How many times has Mad Dog seen “fighting words” escalate in heat and intensity until blows were exchanged?  Often enough, but mostly this happened when the people involved were young and/or unsophisticated greasers. 

Well educated people simply have more training and more options; the ignorant, the untrained simply grow tongue tied and frustrated and lash out with fists, knives, whatever is available. 
The ABA’s position, that “fighting words” ought to be banned is sophomoric. The fact is, every citizen has to be educated in one basic principle: You cannot meet speech with violent physical action. An insult cannot justify a shove, a punch, a knife thrust or a bullet. That is a line even the most simple minded American child must be taught, and that is a line which cannot be crossed, no matter what that kid says about your sister or your mother.("Sticks and stones"...) And the ABA is foolish enough to define “fighting words” as being “without social value.” And then compounds the idiocy by adding that such words would be expected to “provoke” a “reasonable person” into violence. Provoke into violence? A reasonable person? Now that is the definition of a non sequitur: If he is provoked into violence by words, he is by definition, not reasonable.  This comes from a group of lawyers?

You don’t see fist fights in the British House of Commons, because angry M.P.’s have the verbal tools to skewer their opponents, and the training to restrain physical confrontation. Not true of the United States Congress, where an inarticulate, hot blooded, Southerner beat a Northerner into a blood pulp for “insulting” the South. Right on the floor of the Capitol. 

The truth is, the cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo looked to Mad Dog’s eye, not all that different from the cartoons published by the Nazis in the run up to Kristallnacht. The Nazi cartoons were part of a program to stoke up hate. 

Would Mad Dog have allowed them to be published in the USA? 
You bet. 

It wasn’t the cartoons which threw bricks through windows.  Outside of the world of “Roger Rabbit,” cartoons cannot heave bricks, or drop safes on people’s heads.

But that is not to say the Charlie Hebdo cartoons were artful, effective, or anything other than peurile. Mad Dog has not seen a single Charlie Hebdo cartoon which could hold a candle to anything by Herblock. The cartoons Mad Dog has seen are more Three Stooges than Thomas Nast.
Well, at least we spread the hate equitably 

There is, of course, the issue of self censorship. We all engage in this daily, when we avoid using certain four letter words and we we exercise what we think of as "good taste" in polite company to keep the discussion going, rather than derailing it. For Mad Dog's money, that is exactly what Charlie Hebdo does not do: Their cartoons do not stimulate discussion but derail it.  And by evoking stereotypic images which had once been used in the past to stoke hatred, Charlie Hebdo does not bring light, but only heat to the discussion of the role of religion in a civilized society.  

The French have a very different history with respect to church and state. There was Joan of Arc, and the deportations of Jews to the concentration camps, and there is the Catholic Church, which is so important ceremonially, if not psychologically in France, and there is the law which forbids Muslim girls from wearing head scarves in school. 
So maybe this is simply a case of culture gap, but Mad Dog is not a fan of Charlie. Je ne suis pas Charlie, c'est tout.
Was This Hate Speech or Free Speech, Nazi Style?

And now we are going to have New Hampshire legislators packing guns on the floor of the New Hampshire legislature.
That ought to expand the meaning of free speech in the Granite State and give new meaning to Live Free or Die.

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