free speech

Tunisian Woman Sent to a Psychiatric Hospital for Participating in Femen

She posted topless pictures of herself to the Femen Tunisia Facebook page she created, so her parents took her to a psychiatric hospital. That may not be the worst thing that happens to her:

The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Tunisia, Almi Adel, a Salafi Islamic preacher, has called for Amina to be "stoned to death" for posting the images. He warned that Amina's action could cause "epidemics and disasters" and "could be contagious and give ideas to other women." Media reports say Tunisian secular law would punish her with up to two years in prison.

I tend to be a little skeptical of Femen because their protests verge on grandstanding and their agenda seems confused or unfocused. Lately, though, I'm starting to wonder if it might be just the right kind of protest for the parts of the world in which the group is most active.

Russia's Past Is Ever Present

The Russian parliament is currently attempting to pass legislation that would criminalize “homosexual propaganda”, whatever that means. Included in the list of banned activities are public displays or events supporting gay rights. Julia Ioffe at The New Republic explores beyond the obvious human rights concerns (which are myriad) to what this means for the future of Vladimir Putin’s Russia:

The president is showing that he is not only not going anywhere, but that he will impose his vision of Russia on all Russians, whether they like it or not. That vision is not, as many think, the neo-Soviet one—though there are elements of it in Putin’s foreign policy—but the imperial one. Putin’s favorite character from Russian history is not Stalin, but Pyotr Stolypin, a brute reformer who served under Nicholas II. Putin is also said to see his greatest achievement as the reuniting of the Russian Orthodox Church, which split shortly after the Russian Revolution into a domestic and Western one. He has overseen a renaissance of orthodoxy and has ushered the church into the halls of power, to the point where it is now widely seen as a Kremlin affiliate. These days, hardly a policy move happens without the church stating its position on it.

Last year’s imprisonment of Pussy Riot for a relatively innocuous demonstration certainly suggests as much.

Russian Court Tries to Ban All Online Videos of Pussy Riot

One government witness testified that videos, including one of an anti-Vladmir Putin song performed in Red Square, were “a disguised call to organize mass riots.”

I assume he continued: “It isn’t at all that we’re scared of a few women and the resonance of their message. Any suggestion that the government is acting out of fear will be considered sedition.”

One Pussy Riot Member Released, Probably Not for Fantastic Reasons

I agree with this analysis by Mark Adomanis. I’m glad Yekaterina Samutsevich is free again, and it sounds like she made a shrewd maneuver by switching representation and tactics, but this just seems like a way for Putin’s government to seem magnanimous and pay some lip service to justice without actually changing in any meaningful way.

The Reality of Anti-Blasphemy Laws

Hussein Ibish, writing for The Daily Beast, gets it exactly right:

This is what anti-blasphemy laws inevitably lead to: the arrest and persecution of religious minorities, including children, in order to “protect sensibilities” of religious majorities. What it shows is that anti-blasphemy laws have nothing to do with “respect” or “sensitivity” to religious sentiments but are all about authority, control and social domination.

Freedom for one religion must mean freedom for all religions.

Vatican Seeks U.N. Anti-Blasphemy Resolution

The Pope is attacking free speech in the name of maintaining harmony between Christians and Muslims. And make no mistake: this is an attack on free speech. Excusing censorship by citing religion, as the Rev. Bryan Lobo, scholar at the Pontifical Gregorian University, does, only compounds it with religious oppression:

“Hatred for another religion which leads to the defamation of that religion’s texts, figures or values,” the Jesuit scholar said, is “totally contrary to the command of Jesus to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

If that’s the rule, can we pass a U.N. resolution against hypocrisy? Because I think I read something about that in the teachings of Jesus.

Button a Couple More Buttons, First Amendment

This asinine post by Joanna Schroeder for The Good Men Project about Free Speech and the recent terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya has so many problems I could spend all day enumerating them. Leaving aside the likelihood that the killings were pre-planned by al-Qaeda and the film itself merely provoked riots that served as a convenient cover, I’ll start with her belief that KKK-sponsored lynch mobs are an appropriate analogue to making an anti-Islamic film:

The fact is, we protect the KKK’s right to spew their hate, but if they were to say, “You need to go lynch John Jones on X street in Y city” we would arrest them, right? You can’t tell people to kill other people and get away with it.

I’ve seen the film in question. It’s terrible on nearly every level you can imagine, but it never promotes violence—against Muslims or anyone else. Here’s a more apt analogy: “The fact is, we protect people’s right to criticize the KKK, but if a black man made an anti-KKK film, and the KKK killed his neighbor, we would arrest that filmmaker, right? You can’t provoke people who might kill other people by criticizing them and get away with it.”

Now on to my favorite part: victim-blaming (sort of). Schroeder quotes an Op-Ed piece by Qasim Rashid for The Washington Post:

To think this vicious cycle can stop simply if extremists stop being extremists is an extreme view itself.

Schroeder’s commentary:

While the extremists are wholly responsible for their deplorable actions against others, we are all responsible for our roles in this deadly cycle.

Nope. Sorry. You can’t have it both ways. Either the extremists are wholly responsible and no one else is responsible at all, or we share responsibility with the extremists.

I’d compare this to warning a woman that while a rapist is wholly responsible for raping her, she is also responsible for dressing revealingly—but that’s actually a poor analogy. No one attacked the people responsible for this awful, bigoted film. A better analogy would be warning a woman that while a rapist is wholly responsible for raping her, her cousin is also responsible for dressing revealingly.

The appropriate response to an act of terrorism is not to blame the people who exercised their right to free speech, regardless of how objectionable we find their particular speech. Don’t blame the First Amendment.

Is the Family Research Council Really a Hate Group?

David Sessions writes a balanced piece on Family Research Council’s claim that Southern Poverty Law Center’s labeling of FRC as a “hate group” incited the August 15 shooting at FRC headquarters:

It seems like common sense that a lobbying group with offices in Washington is in a different category than racist groups like the Aryan Nations, which federal law-enforcement officials consider a domestic terrorist network. Though all hate groups are not equal, it remains difficult to draw a clear line where propaganda that demonizes an entire class of people—gays, African Americans, Jews, Muslims, immigrants—becomes hate.

I don’t know enough about Family Research Council to tell whether they have deliberately obfuscated facts or used pseudoscience to promote their agenda, but their methods probably deserve some criticism. No one deserves violent retaliation, though—which is why the “hate” label needs to go.

It seems outrageous to blame SPLC for the shooting; FRC is just engaging in opportunistic PR. But there’s a larger point to be made on the back of this controversy: we don’t need terms like “hate speech” or “hate crime”. Crime is crime, whether motivated by hate or not. Speech is either legal or not legal (in this country, usually legal), and you either agree or disagree with it. I can’t think of a single benefit we have derived from proliferation of the word “hate.”

Pussy Riot Convicted and Sentenced

Two years in a penal colony for “hooliganism”. Here’s the New York Times’ coverage of the original event.

I can understand Alex Epstein’s point about the nature of the crime, but as far as I can tell no one has suggested that the women entered the church illegally. Branding the crime “hooliganism” seems like an obvious smokescreen for establishment of religion. Nearly everything the court or government officials have had to say about Pussy Riot’s performance has revolved around disrespect to the Orthodox Church, blasphemy, or “inciting hate”:

The stiff punishment was handed down by a Moscow judge, Marina Syrova, who described the women as posing a danger to society and said they had committed “grave crimes” including “the insult and humiliation of the Christian faith and inciting religious hatred.”

Either way, the punishment seems egregious.

Via The XX Factor