About Me

My Photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Geert Wilders should have been allowed into the UK

I wouldn't be beating this issue to death except that I see people such as British MP Chris Huhne attempting to justify the exclusion of Geert Wilders from the UK (and seemingly to advocate censorship of his short film Fitna) on the basis of the harm principle of John Stuart Mill.

Frankly it's difficult to know which to feel more strongly - outrage at the anti-liberal character of Huhne's suggestion in his opinion piece or shock at the simple-minded nature of his argument.

His argument is no more than this:

In my opinion, Geert Wilders' revolting film Fitna crosses [the] line [into incitement to hatred and violence], as its shocking images of violence and emotional appeals to anti-Islamic feeling risk causing serious harm to others.

The key liberal principle was enunciated by John Stuart Mill in his essay "On Liberty", in which he stated that the only legitimate reason for coercing someone against their will was to prevent harm to others. It is precisely the prevention of harm to minorities that justifies the restrictions to Mr Wilders' freedom of speech.


First, there is a huge non sequitur here. Yes, the film does tend to invite very hostile attitudes to Islam by juxtaposing verses from the Koran that appear to demand violent acts against non-believers with images relating to acts of terrorism carried out by Muslims. It's possible, of course, that someone might be inspired by seeing Fitna to take direct violent action against Muslims, but - whatever else the film does - it does not call for this. There is certainly no incitement to any specific violent act or any class of violent acts. Obviously, however the film is interpreted (and it is certainly open to interpretation) it does suggest a very harsh view of Islam and arguably of Muslims as a class of people, but it is Wilder's right to present such a view and it is the right of others to rebut it.

Would John Stuart Mill have tried to suppress Fitna or to have shut up Wilders (or kept him out of the UK)? I very much doubt it.

Mill did not think that the power of the state should be used to stop actions that might produce harm by some indirect process, such as somebody saying something that then leads to someone else harming a third party. He had a very restrictive view of when the state should interfere with speech. His example of when it would be justified was a demagogue addressing an angry mob outside the house of a corn dealer, inciting the mob to lynch the corn dealer, on the basis that "corn dealers are starvers of the poor". But Mill would not have accepted censoring the claim that "corn dealers are starvers of the poor" if it appeared in a newspaper (or by implication a book, or a film, or whatever).

Huhne must know this, or at least he affects to be familiar with Mill's thought. But he does not think it through to realise that Mill would not have favoured censoring Fitna, or, in most circumstances, suppressing Wilders' freedom of speech.

Here's how I think Mill would see it. The state would be justified in (1) stopping Geert Wilders from addressing an angry mob and stirring it up to lynch nearby Muslims. But the state would not be justified in preventing Wilders from (2) entering the UK and putting his views peacefully to the general population (this includes giving a lecture of the usual kind which is not directed at inciting a riot or a lynching). Nor would it, on Mill's account, be justified in (3) banning Fitna.

In case (1), there's no time to respond to the situation other than by stopping him and dispersing the lynch mob. The state needs to have laws to deal with these situations.

In the other cases, cases (2) and (3), Wilders' views can always be argued against; individuals are not caught up in the mentality of a mob, but can think calmly if they are so inclined; any individuals who just might be inspired to lawlessness can be deterred in the same way as any other individuals who are inspired to lawlessness by anything else that might have the same effect (reading a holy book, watching the news, listening to rap music, or the whole gamut of activities that can get people steamed up), and so on. In summary, cases (2) and (3) are remote in every way from the kind of circumstance where Mill would consider the use of state coercion to stop someone's free speech to be justified.

Mill is very clear about this. He spells out that the harm principle is all about direct harms, and that the use of state coercion to stop something not directly harmful is an absolute last resort. He'd count the corn dealer example as direct enough, or as a case where there is just no alternative to state coercion, but he would not generalise it to allowing censorship of the media. He would not extend the example to situations where the imminent prospect of violence does not exist ... and nor can Chris Huhne if he wants to be a good Millian liberal.

I should make a final point before I'm accused of being simplistic myself. With modern technology, there can be situations where speech can incite sufficiently immediate violence even though there's no physical proximity between the speaker and the target of the violence. If there's enough anger or hatred through a community to put potential victims in the way of violence from angry attackers, there can be situations that are relevantly analogous to the corn dealer example. Imagine that the day after the September 11 attacks a popular radio shock jock had declared to an audience full of para-military militia members, "That's it. Get your gun and kill a Muslim now!" This would be getting closer, in the relevant respects, to the corn dealer example. Likewise if someone had been able to send out the same message by cascading texts to the mobile phones of 1000 testosterone-soaked young men who were already known to be armed and to hate Muslims.

I'm giving hypothetical examples here, but of course there have been real examples not far from these. I'm not such a free speech absolutist as to deny that such examples happen, and laws are needed to deter them.

I'm certainly not saying that there can never be cases that where the risk of violence is sufficiently high and imminent for some kind of state action to be necessary. I even acknowledge that it may be difficult to draw a practical line when laws are framed, so a law against inciting violence might have to be drawn more widely than Mill would have approved of. Indeed, I'll go further and say that, although I think Fitna falls clearly on the "don't ban" side of the line, there could be doubts about what Wilders just might say (e.g if interviewed by a shock jock) - he does seem volatile. Sometimes he appears to be testing the tolerance of even liberal-minded people. For that reason, I feel little sympathy for him as an individual.

But Wilders has been in the UK before without stirring up lynchings or riots, and I see no evidence that he has ever crossed the line into any kind of clear incitement that should be cognisable by the law.

And even if a case to the contrary could be made out, it would need to be something far more sophisticated than what poor Chris Huhne offered in his weak excuse for an opinion piece.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are under the impression that they are afraid of him inciting violence against Muslims. I believe they are more worried about violence from Muslims.

Russell Blackford said...

I considered that possibility in my earlier post on this subject. Here I'm just trying to address Huhne's argument. Or do you think that that's what Huhne is getting at, too?

Anonymous said...

It's definitely what Huhne is getting at.
He's running scared of threats made by Lord Ahmed. Threats they very well know will be carried out. It's no small coincidence that Ahmed threatened the house with ten thousand Muslims to protest the film and described the house backing down to his threats as a 'victory for the Muslim community'.
Huhne is grasping at a legitimate explanation to save political face while all the while caving into a minorities demands. A minority they have a history of backing down to. It's the reason you have so easily and eloquently picked apart his ill thought-out reason for forbidding Wilders to exercise his freedom of speech.
The man making the threats, Lord Ahmed, also protested the knighting of Rushdie by claiming the author 'had blood on his hands'. Any blood spilt, surrounding the Satanic Verses, was certainly not by Rushdie.
And the same Lord Ahmed, that in December 2008 while in Pakistan, declared 'Israel and India are jointly massacring the innocent Muslims in Palestine and the occupied Kashmir.' An equally inflammatory comment as the themes explored in Fitna.
Just another case of double standards as a organized minority group undermines democratic principles in their host country by using political correctness and claims or racism or inequality. Europe in particular, needs to understand and combat the use of political correctness to attack democratic principles.

Habibi
Melbourne

Russell Blackford said...

Well, Habibi, that may well be the true reason for the ban - I suspect you're right on that.

But Huhne (in this particular article that I'm discussing) is trying to defend the government's decision on the basis that Wilders is producing hateful material that will cause harm. I guess we're at one on that as well; this is his attempt at a principled argument.

I'd have more respect for him if he honestly said, if this is what he thinks: "We have no choice. There's too much danger that some deranged radical Islamist will try to assassinate Wilders/cause violent riots/stage a terrorist attack in protest/whatever, and that by-standers might be hurt or far worse." At least that would make sense, even it seemed cowardly.

Kenny said...

I think that Chris Huhne's position can be criticised in several ways. In the first place, Mill made it quite clear that violating the Harm Principle was not a sufficient condition for a state acting against an individual. He wrote that “…it must by no means be supposed, because damage, or probability of damage, to the interests of others, can alone justify the interference of society, that therefore it always does justify such interference.”

The idea that Lord Pearson and his colleagues in the House of Lords, who were the intended audience remember, could be compared to an "excited mob" gathered around a corn dealers' house doesn't stand up to scrutiny either.

And in a footnote to Chapter 2 of On Liberty, Mill wrote that expressing an opinion may justify state action, "but only if an overt act has followed, and at least a probable connection can be established between the act and the instigation." As we all know, Lord Pearson showed Fitna to his colleagues (without Wilders), and not one of them has gone out and committed an overt act that harmed another person.

Huhne's interpretation of Mill seems rather superficial. All in all I think it was a very poor effort from him.

The Frozen North

Coathangrrr said...

It doesn't seem that he's working with a Millsian analysis of free-speech, but is instead saying that inciting hatred is a harm that needs to be mitigated, by coercion if necessary. I don't know that I agree with that, nor do I think I agree with an extension of Mills harm principle to secondary harms in cses of free-speech, but I don't see him making a strict mills based argument.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for cutting to the chase Russell, you make a thorough argument against Huhne's ill-conceived citing of Mills as to a reason for banning Wilders. Given the same time frame as Huhne, could you come up with a better argument, if you were so inclined, to defend the position the house has taken? And does Wilders have any recourse over the decision?
I think there's an elephant in the room and they want to label it anything but an elephant. There's a mammoth roaming around Europe and Wilders is the only one who's prepared to call it just that. Uncouth and ill-informed as he is.
I don't agree with most of his policy but he's the prototype for the sort of politicians that will become popular in Europe in the coming decades. Conservative governments have made a comeback in Europe of late which may well be a sign of a significant slide right. Wilders is very well supported in the Netherlands.
Great Britain may well see a rapid rise in support for the BNP, If their elected government continue to disassemble and destroy their rights while sympathizing with a minority that has a history of demanding politely for special treatment. Maybe I've been reading too much PD James, particularly Children of Men. We may well be battling to sustain rights on numerous fronts in Europe.

The easy part is saying it.....

"We have no choice. There's too much danger that some deranged radical Islamist will try to assassinate Wilders/cause violent riots/stage a terrorist attack in protest/whatever, and that by-standers might be hurt or far worse."

And the press ask "Mr Huhne, is that an elephant behind you??"
And Mr Huhne says .......

Habibi

Ibn al-Rawandi said...

Russell,

You did a good job attacking the basis of his argument. But I agree with Habibi. The British caved in an instance of epic cowardice. This accurately displays what goes on in Europe, particularly the UK. Whenever something offensive to Muslims comes about they say; "Nice democracy you have here, it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it". The real reason Geert was censored was because he is absolutely right, Muslims are inspired to violence by their odious texts. This stands in the face of the dogma of the guilt ridden liberals who wish they had never been born, which is that indiscriminate violence from Muslims is actually the victims fault. The combination of Muslim threats and the fact that Wilders is doing away with the long held dogma of the self flagellators demanded censorship. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.

Coathangrrr said...

Ah yes, cue the islamaphobes.

I've forgotten that one cannot have a conversation where Islam is involved without these folks showing up. I do wish the atheist community would speak out more against this sort of thing.

Kenny said...

What sort of thing - exactly? Do tell. And if you want to use that strange word "Islamophobe" then you really ought to begin by letting everyone know just what you think it means. Good luck!

The Frozen North

Coathangrrr said...

What I mean is typified in statements like this:

Whenever something offensive to Muslims comes about they say; "Nice democracy you have here, it would be a shame if anything were to happen to it".

Making broad generalizations about how Muslims threaten democracy every time they are offended is Islamophobia at its finest. It ignores the fact that not all Muslims agree with these sorts of threats, and that these sorts of threats don't always happen when Muslims are "offended."

Islamaphobia, generally speaking, is lumping all Muslims in to one group and then treating them as if they are all radical and out to end Democracy, western society, Christianity, or Jews. It's scaremongering of the worst sort. That's exactly what Wilders does in his movie and it is what many others do when discussing the actions of some group of Muslims.

Kenny said...

I read that statement as being about the politicians in the United Kingdom, not about Muslims at all. I think you're way off track there.

Coathangrrr said...

Whatever the author of the comment may have meant, and I lack any way of knowing what he meant other than his use of words, what he said was that Muslims threaten violence when they are offended.

That was just one example.

Anonymous said...

"Islamaphobia, generally speaking, is lumping all Muslims in to one group and then treating them as if they are all radical and out to end Democracy, western society, Christianity, or Jews. It's scaremongering of the worst sort."
I don't mean to be rude Coathangrr, but it's a lot more difficult to put a meaning to this idiotic word than it is to spell it. You may like to master the previous before attempting the latter.
Very many non-Muslims are fearful of Islam on multiple levels, it's not purely terrorism, political ideology such as a resumption of the Khilafah and the destruction of secularism, or the growing numbers of Muslims and their demands in non-Muslim majority countries. It's a number of things non-Muslims find worrisome about the ideology and Islam has a real trouble allaying those fears. Are any of those fears irrational Coathangrr?? Recent history tells us they're perfectly rational fears in this day and age and as such they're not a phobia.

"Making broad generalizations about how Muslims threaten democracy every time they are offended is Islamophobia at its finest. It ignores the fact that not all Muslims agree with these sorts of threats, and that these sorts of threats don't always happen when Muslims are "offended."
It's not about the Muslims Coathangrr, the word describes the people who irrationally fear Muslims. As you say, 'these sorts of threats don't always happen when Muslims are "offended', but can I legitimately and rationally be fearful based on the fact they sometimes happen???

"what he said was that Muslims threaten violence when they are offended."
I also don't think the author was specifically talking about Muslims in this case but so what if he was. Can you prove that his statement is a fallacy? That Muslims don't threaten violence when they're offended. It's not about all, many, some or few Coathangrr, it's that Muslims are much more likely to threaten violence than all other religious ideologies put together. As they say, not ALL Muslims are terrorists, but MOST terrorists are Muslim.

Habibi

Kenny said...

Could you not say, coathangrrr, that your argument makes the situation UK seem even worse than the original poster says it is? As in: whenever something happens which politicians in the UK think might possibly offend even a small group of Muslims, they display epic moral cowardice, and cave immediately!

Coathangrrr said...

whenever something happens which politicians in the UK think might possibly offend even a small group of Muslims, they display epic moral cowardice, and cave immediately!

There is an exaggeration about how often this sort of thing occurs, but other than that, yes, I think it is horrible. Maybe not as bad as a lot of Fundamentalist activities here in the U.S., but still a horrible precedent to set and to follow.

Coathangrrr said...

I don't mean to be rude Coathangrr, but it's a lot more difficult to put a meaning to this idiotic word than it is to spell it. You may like to master the previous before attempting the latter.

Yes, in fact, you clearly do mean to be rude, and it isn't appreciated. If you wish to have a real discussion then fine, but intellectual dishonesty is anathema to discussions.

Are any of those fears irrational Coathangrr?? Recent history tells us they're perfectly rational fears in this day and age and as such they're not a phobia.

Recent media portrayal of Muslims certainly gives reason to fear all Muslims, but knowing Muslims myself, none of whom want any of those things you claim Non-Muslims rationally fear, it is simply absurd to fear those things from Muslims as a whole group.

I also don't think the author was specifically talking about Muslims in this case but so what if he was.

He said he was talking about Muslims and the conversation was specifically about Muslims, so I'll have to assume he was talking about Muslims specifically.

Can you prove that his statement is a fallacy? That Muslims don't threaten violence when they're offended. It's not about all, many, some or few Coathangrr, it's that Muslims are much more likely to threaten violence than all other religious ideologies put together. As they say, not ALL Muslims are terrorists, but MOST terrorists are Muslim.

It is not incumbent upon me to prove or disprove other's statements, presented without evidence I might add, are false, especially when said statements are of a such outlandish nature as the claim that most terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Muslims.

Kenny said...

Why do you think that is an "outlandish" claim? Don't you think your claim that the original claim is outlandish is itself rather, well ... outlandish?

Trevor Kavanagh has written an article on this topic. It's worth reading. Here's the link

Coathangrrr said...

Why do you think that is an "outlandish" claim? Don't you think your claim that the original claim is outlandish is itself rather, well ... outlandish?

The claim that Muslims as a group threaten violence *every time* they are offended, which is what was claimed, is totally absurd and unless you have some sort of evidence to back up this claim then I will consider it as such.

Anonymous said...

"Recent media portrayal of Muslims certainly gives reason to fear all Muslims, but knowing Muslims myself, none of whom want any of those things you claim Non-Muslims rationally fear, it is simply absurd to fear those things from Muslims as a whole group."

The word you used was Islamophobia not Muslimphobia Coathangrrr, it's not about fearing ALL Muslims, it's a legitimate and rational fear of some parts of Islam. If I feared each and every Muslim on the planet that would be irrational, but I don't, I fear some things about the ideology that is Islam. As I pointed out to you earlier, it's a rational fear due to past and present activities carried out by some Muslims in the name of Islam. Furthermore, some parts of the ideology as written in the Qu'ran and interpreted by various clerics and Islamic scholars also give me a rational fear of democracy and secularism being threatened. Thus it cannot be a phobia. Sorry if you took offense, but I have never been given an acceptable explanation to the meaning of the word 'Islamophobia'.

You try to sidestep the issue by using an argument based on 'ALL' Muslims or they threaten violence 'EVERY TIME'. This is not what's at issue with the use of the word and it's validity. Not ALL Muslims have to carry out terrorist attacks for me to rationally fear Islam. Muslims don't need to threaten violence EVERY TIME for me to be rationally fearful of Islam.
If you want to use the word Coathangrrr, shouldn't you qualify why you think people are being irrationally fearful of Islam? If a Lord of the House, after being threatened by Lord Ahmed that 10 000 Muslims would descend on the house to protest if he didn't vote a particular way, had a fear of Islam. Would he be an Islamophobe?? Like someone else wrote earlier, Good Luck!!

"especially when said statements are of a such outlandish nature as the claim that most terrorist attacks are perpetrated by Muslims."

I've really got to stop reading Asarq Al-Awsat. I have to add that I disagree with al-Rashed, obviously not all terrorists are Muslims.

'Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television wrote in his daily column published in the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, “The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists are Muslims!”'



Habibi

Russell Blackford said...

I don't much like the word "Islamophobia", but I wouldn't mind it so much if it were used consistently in the sense defined by coathangrrr. That phenomenon (Muslimphobia?) does exist.

The problem is when people are dismissed as Islamophobic whenever they criticise any tendencies or strands within Islam, or raise any problem at all about a possible tension between widespread or even core Muslim doctrines and modernity.

Obviously, many Muslims, probably an overwhelming majority in most places, are not individually our enemies. At least, I hope this is obvious.

Lorenzo said...

Islamophobia is a profoundly dishonest term. It seeks to conflate attacks on Muslims-as-a-group with criticism of their religion. This conflation has absolutely nothing positive to recommend it. It is, however, very useful in attempting to shield Islam from criticism, which is presumably the point.

The term is clearly an attempt to piggyback off "homophobia" a term that, as a gay man, I dislike because it is not fear (except in some very particular contexts) but hatred of homosexuals and homosexuality which is the issue.

Given the situation of gay men and women in most Muslim countries, this etymology is particularly offensive.

Coathangrrr said...

Islamophobia is a profoundly dishonest term. It seeks to conflate attacks on Muslims-as-a-group with criticism of their religion. This conflation has absolutely nothing positive to recommend it. It is, however, very useful in attempting to shield Islam from criticism, which is presumably the point.

It is certainly used that way sometimes, but that isn't at all the way in which I am using it. Criticizing Islam is one thing, saying that all Muslims are out to get anyone who criticizes them or offend them is a totally different thing. It is the second that I have a problem with. Although I do find a number of critics of Islam to be rather hypocritical, especially here in the US.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Lorenzo, the term was bought about to shield Islam from criticism.
I don't think all Muslims to be our enemies in an individual sense but as a political/religious ideology, I do think Islam to be the antithesis of western democracy and secularism.

"I don't much like the word "Islamophobia", but I wouldn't mind it so much if it were used consistently in the sense defined by coathangrrr."

That's really having a couple of bob each way Russell. Coathangrrr said 'Islamaphobia, generally speaking, is lumping all Muslims in to one group and then treating them as if they are all radical.....'
In my opinion, this is a sub-standard generalization and has little or nothing to do with fear.

"Criticizing Islam is one thing, saying that all Muslims are out to get anyone who criticizes them or offend them is a totally different thing."

Would you agree Coathangrrr, 'that SOME Muslims are out to get anyone who criticizes or offends them'???

Habibi

Kenny said...

coathangrrr,

Oh come on, don't shift the goalposts! The claim *you* made was: the claim that most terrorist attacks today are perpetrated by Muslims is outlandish.

I suggested that *your* claim was itself outlandish. If you have no evidence to back up *your* claim, that is to say, if you cannot actually refute the assertion that most terrorist attacks today are perpetrated by Muslims, then everyone reading this thread will consider *your* claim as, yes, "outlandish."

Coathangrrr said...

Oh come on, don't shift the goalposts! The claim *you* made was: the claim that most terrorist attacks today are perpetrated by Muslims is outlandish.

Oops, I got things a bit mixed up, I thought you were referring to something else. I'll admit to engaging in some hyperbole. "Outlandish" was a bit much. But I still have yet to see any proof for any positive claims made here about how horrible Muslims supposedly are.

Coathangrrr said...

Would you agree Coathangrrr, 'that SOME Muslims are out to get anyone who criticizes or offends them'???

Well of course, but that's true of some subset of any group. I imagine that that subset of Muslims in England is just better organized than most of those groups.

And let me repeat that it does worry me that governments would capitulate to religionists of any sort in situations like this.

Kenny said...

One of the difficulties is that you have people like Lord Ahmed claiming to speak for the Muslims living in this country. See his Guardian article on Wilders: he denounces the Quilliam Foundation, who appear to be a moderate Muslim voice in the UK, and says that they don't speak for the Muslims in this country, no, no - he does, and whatever he says is for the good of the country, blah blah blah ...

Now, there are several Islamic groups in the UK which have guys in charge who seem to really like the sound of their own voice, and boy have they said some pretty incendiary things over the years. (Melanie Phillips does a decent job of cataloguing these groups, their leaders, and their statements in her book "Londonistan")

So when one wants to try to form an opinion about Muslim thinking in the UK, this is what you're faced with. These are the sort of fellows who usually end up on TV, in study groups, talking to government and so forth on behalf of (in their minds at least) the vast majority of Muslims in the UK. Or perhaps (again in their own minds) on behalf of all Muslims in the UK.

Read Lord Ahmed's article and you'll see what I mean.

When these people speak up, they tend to take the line that something (cartoons of their prophet, some novel or other) which is offensive according to the teachings of Islam is offensive to all Muslims.

Are they guilty of "Islamophobia" then?

Russell Blackford said...

Coathangrrr:
Well of course, but that's true of some subset of any group. I imagine that that subset of Muslims in England is just better organized than most of those groups.

I don't think it's that simple.

It may well be that almost any group of religionists will try to shut down dissent if it actually has its hands on political power. But it's not necessarily true that there's a substantial sub-set of any minority group who will respond to criticism with direct violence or through the state with attempts to shut down criticism. Here in Australia, for example, the evangelical Christians don't do that, and I don't think they do it in the UK, either (perhaps they do have a sub-set in the US, though?). These attitudes really do seem to be sensitive to historical circumstances and to theological doctrines about how the groups understand themselves.

What I see here in Australia is that the evangelical Christians are strong advocates of freedom of speech, including the freedom to criticise religion. Why? Well, perhaps because they very much want to criticise other religions, including Islam, and they realise they can't be free to do that without the same freedom being available to all, including atheists. They also seem to have no impulse to respond to criticism with direct acts of violence - they will demonstrate peacefully, hold prayer meetings, blah, blah, but violent responses are not part of their culture. There may be all sorts of reasons for that. One may be that they accept that their views are foolishness to the world, and their theology invites them to almost take pride in being mocked and so on. So, they not only want to be critical of others; they also wear criticism of themselves with a kind of pride. They might well grow out of the latter in a country like the US where they are the majority, but in a country like Australia where they are the minority they have a good biblical basis to accept the mockery, or whatever, and not try to shut it down.

The moral is that the actual historical circumstances and theological claims of a bunch of religionists matter. At least when they are in the minority, evangelical Christians can take a perverse pride in being persecuted and despised. I don't think that Islam can do that: it seems to go pretty deep in Islam that it should be held in esteem, should fight back physically against its perceived enemies, and should even be politically dominant.

The Catholics may be different again.

I know there's a risk of doing too much armchair sociology of religion, but I think there's also a risk of assuming that what we are seeing "out there" is just human nature, and that there are no theological, or historically-shaped cultural, differences in the attitudes of different religionists to critique or satire of their religions. I don't think it's just a coincidence that it's so often various Muslim groups and Muslim countries that are especially prominent in trying to shut down their critics.

Russell Blackford said...

I should add that the Christian evangelicals aren't so big on freedom of speech when it comes to such issues as pornography. But I take it we're talking in the context of freedom to criticise and satirise religion. At least where they are a minority group, they want that freedom, and they seem to accept that they will come in for mockery, etc., from others ... which they read the Bible as telling them to expect.

Coathangrrr said...

One of the difficulties is that you have people like Lord Ahmed claiming to speak for the Muslims living in this country.

I agree and I think that treating Muslims as a whole as if they are radical and hate democracy simply plays into the power of those groups who are radical and do hate democracy. I am certainly not as well versed on the details of the situation in England as I could be, but I do understand that there are radical Muslims there.

When these people speak up, they tend to take the line that something (cartoons of their prophet, some novel or other) which is offensive according to the teachings of Islam is offensive to all Muslims.

Are they guilty of "Islamophobia" then?


Fundamentalist Christians here in the U.S. tend to do the same thing, and unfortunately the media seems to thrive on giving them and not the moderate or progressive religious folks a large megaphone with which to speak. But, no, it isn't Islamaphobia on that end. There is a distinct difference between the members of a group claiming that they represent the whole group and others claiming the same. The context is completely different

Russell:But it's not necessarily true that there's a substantial sub-set of any minority group who will respond to criticism with direct violence or through the state with attempts to shut down criticism. Here in Australia, for example, the evangelical Christians don't do that, and I don't think they do it in the UK, either (perhaps they do have a sub-set in the US, though?). These attitudes really do seem to be sensitive to historical circumstances and to theological doctrines about how the groups understand themselves.

Fundamentalist Christians here in the U.S. most certainly do have a violent subset that is quite willing to kill and threaten those with whom they disagree. In fact, here in the U.S. the majority of terrorist attacks in the last 10-15 years have been perpetrated by exactly these sorts of people. They are often intermixed ideologically with Racist groups.

I don't know what the religious affiliation of racist groups in Australia is, but I would imagine there is some cross-over between the two if your fundies are anything like ours.

The Catholics may be different again.

It's funny you bring up Catholics because Bill Donahue(not Phil) is the head of the Catholic League, occupies a similar position to Lord Ahmed. He is an arch-conservative Catholic who claims to speak for ll Catholics when that is clearly not the case. There are loads of moderate and, yes, progressive Catholics.

I know there's a risk of doing too much armchair sociology of religion, but I think there's also a risk of assuming that what we are seeing "out there" is just human nature, and that there are no theological, or historically-shaped cultural, differences in the attitudes of different religionists to critique or satire of their religions. I don't think it's just a coincidence that it's so often various Muslim groups and Muslim countries that are especially prominent in trying to shut down their critics.

While I agree that historical and theological factors play a much larger role than human nature, or more that those things are in fact a large part of human nature, I think that a large part of reactionary Muslim groups is a response to the negative actions of the "west" in Muslim countries. But, I'd note to that in the last hundred years we can find groups, in Europe, that were far more violent and virulent than anything we see in the Muslim world or among Muslims around the world. More than that I'd note that nearly every decent sized radical right wing group, and more than a few left wing groups, in the world has a history or present of doing just these sorts of things. The world community of Muslims has moved right as a reaction to outward forces and that movement right, along with the fact that so many wars have been waged against and among Muslims, is one of the prime cause of a lot of the violence we see now. As for the theological framework, you can find that in nearly every religion.

Kenny said...

When these people speak up, they tend to take the line that something (cartoons of their prophet, some novel or other) which is offensive according to the teachings of Islam is offensive to all Muslims.

Are they guilty of "Islamophobia" then? - Kenny

Fundamentalist Christians here in the U.S. tend to do the same thing, and unfortunately the media seems to thrive on giving them and not the moderate or progressive religious folks a large megaphone with which to speak. But, no, it isn't Islamaphobia on that end. There is a distinct difference between the members of a group claiming that they represent the whole group and others claiming the same. The context is completely different - coathangrr

Why don't you have a go at explaining exactly what the difference is.


If all you want to say to someone like al-rawandi is that they are making a "rash generalisation" than that's all you need to say.

But you feel you need to add to that. Why?

I put it to you that whether you realise it or not you *are* using the word "Islamophobe" in the way Lorenzo mentioned earlier.

Why isn't Lord Ahmed an "Islamophobe" when he commits the same logical error as someone you think *is* an "Islamophobe?"

Saying, oh it's different just won't do. That's no argument at all.

And to get back to the point I was making: if those voices are what one hears in the UK whenever an issue concering Islam comes up, and that's the claim they regularly make, and an alternative view from within Islam is very rarely heard, then it's not at all unreasonable for an infidel to think that when something like a novel, or a cartoon of the Islamic prophet, is declared live on TV by a prominent Muslim figure to be offensive to all Muslims because it insults their prophet, or contradicts their holy book, that the novel or cartoon in question does in fact offend Muslims for those very reasons.

This view is often reinforced when one actually reads their holy book, & one sees that they're not making this stuff up. There it is.

Know what I mean?

Kenny said...

Fundamentalist Christians here in the U.S. most certainly do have a violent subset that is quite willing to kill and threaten those with whom they disagree. In fact, here in the U.S. the majority of terrorist attacks in the last 10-15 years have been perpetrated by exactly these sorts of people. They are often intermixed ideologically with Racist groups. - coathangrr

Oh please. You remind me of John Gibson, that strange fellow who worked for Fox News. I remember him one time saying that "the Euros" didn't know what 9/11 was like for America because they didn't know what it was like to be on the receiving end of terrorist attacks.

I mean, come on! That has to go down in the history of journalism as one of the most ignorant statements ever uttered by any "journalist" anywhere.

I emailed that bloke right back after seeing him make that comment on TV. The subject of the email was: two words

The body of the email: F***ing Lockerbie.

Perhaps you'd like to open your eyes, look at the rest of the world, and tell us about the many, many terrorist attacks that have been committed in the last, oh, let's say three years. Comments like yours might sound impressive to ignorant people in America, but all it does to "Euros" like me is show how little you know about the rest of the world. And how little you care.

I wouldn't say that *all* Americans are ignorant, self-centred wankers.

But some are.

Anonymous said...

"Well of course, but that's true of some subset of any group. I imagine that that subset of Muslims in England is just better organized than most of those groups. And let me repeat that it does worry me that governments would capitulate to religionists of any sort in situations like this."

You're trying to incorporate all religionist groups into this discussion Coathangrrr. It's not due to lack of organization, that we're not hearing threats from other religionist groups. They're not making any. The British government isn't capitulating to any other religionist group, it's capitulating to Islam.

Habibi

Anonymous said...

"In fact, here in the U.S. the majority of terrorist attacks in the last 10-15 years have been perpetrated by exactly these sorts of people. They are often intermixed ideologically with Racist groups."

I think they are LARGELY intermixed ideologically with racist groups. How many of these attacks were carried out with reference to or in the name of the Bible or Jesus Christ or the concept of a Christian God? It's akin to calling the Klu Klux Klan a fundamentalist Christian organization.

"It's funny you bring up Catholics because Bill Donahue(not Phil) is the head of the Catholic League, occupies a similar position to Lord Ahmed. He is an arch-conservative Catholic who claims to speak for ll Catholics when that is clearly not the case. There are loads of moderate and, yes, progressive Catholics."

The difference being the response from moderate and progressive Catholics who loudly and honestly don't agree with him.
Although a fundamentalist crack-pot, Donohue seeks equal opportunity and treatment within US society for American Catholics. Ahmed seeks special treatment and to radically alter UK society to suit British Muslims.
There is also the case of the so-called moderates in each group. Catholics have a choice because of the reformation in Christianity. Islam hasn't undergone reformation in any sense.

"I think that a large part of reactionary Muslim groups is a response to the negative actions of the "west" in Muslim countries."

You just need to read the Qu'ran and hadith to see the basic concept of Islam is reactionary. They were reacting to an eternal perceived persecution long before the advent of the 'west'.

"But, I'd note to that in the last hundred years we can find groups, in Europe, that were far more violent and virulent than anything we see in the Muslim world or among Muslims around the world."

None of these groups used their theology and their holy book to back up their murderous and violent actions. Communism and Nazism were backed by an ideology, but it wasn't written by an imaginary friend. This makes theological based terrorism far more dangerous and not simply because of the weight of numbers of Muslims worldwide. These acts are often justified as being the word of God and written and justified in their holy books. It therefore is so much harder to logically disseminate the ideology. What right does man have to question the word of God?

"The world community of Muslims has moved right as a reaction to outward forces and that movement right, along with the fact that so many wars have been waged against and among Muslims, is one of the prime cause of a lot of the violence we see now."

And Muslims have waged an equal number, if not more, wars against others. There are numerous Muslim separatist groups worldwide waging war as we speak. This, I fear, will be happening in Europe in the not so distant future.

Habibi

Coathangrrr said...

Oh please. You remind me of John Gibson, that strange fellow who worked for Fox News. I remember him one time saying that "the Euros" didn't know what 9/11 was like for America because they didn't know what it was like to be on the receiving end of terrorist attacks.

I'm sorry, but you're an idiot. The text you quoted was written specifically in response to a comment about fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. and was not related at all to the conversation about Muslims.

Anon:It's akin to calling the Klu Klux Klan a fundamentalist Christian organization.

And if you knew anything about the KKK you'd know that they are a fundamentalist Christian organization.

The difference being the response from moderate and progressive Catholics who loudly and honestly don't agree with him.

Nonsense, there are plenty of moderate Muslims and groups of Muslims who disagree with violent Muslims. The fact that you haven't heard from them attests to the fact that you haven't looked and that the media doesn't give them air time, not that they don't exist.

I'd continue this conversation, but it is clear that you don't actually know what you're talking about at all.

Russell Blackford said...

Let's all try to play nice.

I think that the Australian evangelical Christians are particularly in shock over the Catch the Fire Ministries case, which woke them up to how narrowly there own free speech hangs on a thread. Evangelicals and especially Protestant fundies want to say all sorts of quite harsh things about rival religions (especially Islam but also about the Catholics and others), but they can't do so if freedom of speech is cut back. I've noticed that in the UK, as well as Australia, they (or some of them) have become quite critical of laws against blasphemy and religious vilification, whereas Catholics tend to be much more supportive of such laws. I do think that the American fundies are a bit of a different breed, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them coming around to standing up strongly for freedom of speech once they understand the implications. Because of America's very strong constitutional protection of free speech, it probably hasn't been much of an issue there, but both Australia and the UK have recently been grappling with religious vilification laws, and the message seems to have sunk in.

By contrast, Catholics in Australia seem to be much more supportive of various restrictions on freedom to criticise religion.

That's different from direct violence of course, but there just isn't as much of a tradition of direct violence by even the most right-wing Christian groups in Australia as has been seen in the US. There has been racial violence in Australia, of course, but I don't blame evangelical Christian groups for it, even though they have much to answer for in other ways. Historically, most of the racist violence apart from that directed at Aborigines has been associated with cultural tensions or economic anxieties (such as fears of Asian immigrants undercutting wages).

E.g., I've never seen a group like Hillsong or Catch the Fire preaching a gospel of violent retaliation against social enemies; nor have I ever heard it from any of the mainstream evangelical or pentecostal groups with which I used to have some intimate associations.

This from someone who's a fairly ferocious critic of those sorts of groups. I can't think of anything equivalent to the Ku Klux Klan or to one of those crazy violent cults like the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. The latter seems from here to be very much an American phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

"And if you knew anything about the KKK you'd know that they are a fundamentalist Christian organization."

In my opinion Coathangrrr, they are and have been a cult that bases some of it's beliefs in the tenets of Christianity.
The term "Cult of Christianity" has a very specific meaning and it was coined by Dr. Alan W. Gomes in his book "Unmasking the Cults".
A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian Faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

"Nonsense, there are plenty of moderate Muslims and groups of Muslims who disagree with violent Muslims. The fact that you haven't heard from them attests to the fact that you haven't looked and that the media doesn't give them air time, not that they don't exist. I'd continue this conversation, but it is clear that you don't actually know what you're talking about at all."

Where did I say 'they don't exist'???
I just mentioned that moderates in Catholicism don't have a problem with being lumped in with the fundies, due to the fact they are very vocal in combatting what the Catholic fundies have to say and distancing mainstream Catholicism from them.
This differs from the moderates in Islam in a number of ways.
Firstly, it's much more difficult to ascertain if fundamental beliefs are shared by both groups of Muslims. Due to the lack of any reformation in Islam, moderate Muslims have a far more difficult job of distancing themselves from fundamentalist Islam.
Secondly, moderate Muslims struggle to criticize fundamentalist Islam, because it is seen by members of both groups, as an attack on Islam as a whole.
And thirdly, those Muslims that hold positions as a spokesman for Islam in the west, often have fundamentalist beliefs. Lord Ahmed in the UK is one such example. In Australia, many of the Sheiks and Imams, hold fundamentalist beliefs which they legitimize with the Qu'ran but claim continuously to talk for all Australian Muslims, mostly unchallenged by the mainstream.
This is why so many non-Muslims struggle to spot the difference and ask what is a 'moderate' Muslim? The moderates are seen as two-faced and using double-speak because while they claim to follow a moderate form of Islam they are reluctant to criticize fundamentalist Islam.

"I'd continue this conversation, but......."

Yeah, whatever Coathangrrrr.

Habibi

Anonymous said...

"Evangelicals and especially Protestant fundies want to say all sorts of quite harsh things about rival religions (especially Islam but also about the Catholics and others), but they can't do so if freedom of speech is cut back. I've noticed that in the UK, as well as Australia, they (or some of them) have become quite critical of laws against blasphemy and religious vilification, whereas Catholics tend to be much more supportive of such laws."

It's an interesting state of affairs Russell, especially in the UK and Australia. If you'll allow me to grossly generalize for a moment, consider the following.
The Protestants are so dilute these days they don't really care about defending their faith, they just would like the opportunity to fiercely criticize other faiths.
The Catholics retain a veneer of faith. They are still defensive of their faith but would like to criticize others moderately. They would probably forego criticism of other faiths if their faith also remained free of criticism.
Islam is fiercely defensive of it's faith and fiercely critical of others.

The Catholics are probably the 'swing vote' in outlawing criticism of religion, The Muslims vote yes and the Protestants vote no. Interesting times.

Habibi

Coathangrrr said...

A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrine system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian Faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.

The books of the bible are nothing if not inconsistent. They continually contradict themselves, as do most religious texts. The central doctrines of christianity are not and can never be based on a central set of beliefs and laws because the bible is inconsistent.

I just mentioned that moderates in Catholicism don't have a problem with being lumped in with the fundies, due to the fact they are very vocal in combatting what the Catholic fundies have to say and distancing mainstream Catholicism from them.
This differs from the moderates in Islam in a number of ways.


Here in the U.S. that isn't the case. There are no moderate or liberal Catholic voices speaking in media. Those groups exist, and the majority of Catholics that I know fall into those groups, but they don't have a significant voice in the public discourse. It may be, and probably is, different in Australia, where I assume you reside.

Due to the lack of any reformation in Islam, moderate Muslims have a far more difficult job of distancing themselves from fundamentalist Islam.

The Christian reformation did nothing at all to mitigate the damage that christians did to non-christians. In my experience post reformation christianity is actually more intolerant than Catholicism on the whole. The fact that the reformation preceded the rise of the enlightenment is mere correlation, not causation. The reformation was brought on by rationalist forces in europe, specifically the sudden availability of the bible in the vulgar languages of the time and thereby the ability for individuals to interpret the bible in whatever way they wished.

Let me make one thing clear here, the reformation was not an improvement upon the traditional irrationalist point of view of the church in Europe, if anything it reinforced that view point. Calvanism and its off shoots are incredibly opposed to the use of reason. So to claim that Islam needs a reformation in the same vein as Christianity means nothing in regards to the Islamic world moving towards a more secular method of government.

Anonymous said...

"So to claim that Islam needs a reformation in the same vein as Christianity means nothing in regards to the Islamic world moving towards a more secular method of government."

It means nothing?? That's being quite absolutist Coathangrrr.

I'm not suggesting they mirror each other, as the Christian Reformation, for example, was launched in reaction to the papacy and specific practices of the Catholic Church. In contrast, Islam has no central authority.
But there are substantial parallels, as the motives and goals of both reformations are similar. The Islamic reformers want to strip the faith of corrupt, irrelevant, or unjust practices that have been tacked on over the centuries. They are looking to make the faith relevant to changing times and conditions.

I don't know if you're familiar with Abdul Karim Soroush. He does make significant parallels between the two and insists that Islam can take a lot from the Christian Reformation.

Soroush argues that modernism represented a successful attempt to challenge the "dictatorship of religion" by increasing the emphasis placed upon unaided reason in the conduct of human affairs. The tension between reason and religion since the Christian Reformation has been "welcome and beneficial for both" and has opened the way for an eventual postmodern reconciliation between the two.

Soroush's thought has wide ranging implications. His work often echoes themes that lay behind the Christian Reformation. He shows how to empower Muslims by establishing a role for the individual, as a believer and as a citizen. Soroush refines, even downgrades, the role of the clergy and redefines, and to some degree separates, the relative roles and powers of the mosque, religious jurisprudence and the state. The adoption of his ideas would signify a stunning shift for the only major monotheistic religion that provides a highly specific set of rules by which to govern society as well as a set of spiritual beliefs.

In a spirit similar to the one that characterized the Christian Reformation, he argues against rigid thinking and elitism. Soroush is a believing Muslim and has no wish to abandon the values of his faith. Rather, he wants to convince his fellow Muslims of the need to face modernity with what he calls a spirit of "active accommodation, imbued or informed with criticism."

Robin Wright has written some fantastic articles on Soroush. I have lifted some of her excerpts here.

Habibi