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The Political Animal

Blasphemy Is not Bigotry

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The President has spoken (at the United Nations). People are praising what they think he got right and what he got not so right. (We ignore here today the people who think he gets most everything wrong. They get too much attention anyway.) On the issue of free speech stemming from the “Innocence of Muslims” video and the paroxysms of (I use the word mindfully ) mindless violence that have followed from it, some people – when they think that President Obama got it right – are, along with the President, wrong. Oh, the basic message about freedom of expression is rightfully stated in the usual way, but a crucial point is mangled and will remain the source of misunderstanding.

It all begins with a categorical misunderstanding. Most problems begin with categorical misunderstandings. (You heard it here.) It is the point I make in my most recent commentary at the Algemeiner, “‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the Faith Fallacy.” Faith doctrines are owed no special respect, and the continuing obeisance to the notion that they are deserving of special regard is, in reality, a source of ongoing conflict over them. This is not a claim derived from atheistic thought. It is an intellectual argument, which is the whole point: faith doctrines are intellectual claims, no matter the desire of adherents to sanctify them. They are due no greater respect than any other intellectual claim, and they are due respect only on their merits.

David Frum, no Obama partisan, cited in complement this passage from the President’s speech to the U.N.

The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims, and Shiite pilgrims. It is time to heed the words of Gandhi: “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, and that is the vision we will support.

Here is the President’s categorical error:

Yet to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see when the image of Jesus Christ is desecrated, churches are destroyed, or the Holocaust is denied.

Criticizing – even ridiculing – a religion, in argument or symbolically (desecrating an image of Jesus Christ) is not the same as denying the Holocaust. I am not privileging anything Jewish here. The Holocaust was an historical occurrence: it is a historical fact. Religious doctrines (and the symbols and figures that represent those doctrines) are not facts. They are sets of ideas. Disagreeing with, and even disdaining, an idea is not the same as denying a historical fact. This is simply a fundamental intellectual error, a categorical confusion, that President Obama has perpetuated in the desire to represent himself and the U.S. in a balanced, ecumenical manner. It would actually have been very easy to achieve coherently the balance the President sought, merely by choosing a symbolic representation (a Jewish Star?) of the Jewish faith rather than a historic calamity that befell the Jewish people.

Of course, the contextual incoherence of that intellectual coherence would have been the reality that unpleasant attacks against Jews are not made on the basis of their faith, but their being, as Jews. Holocaust denial is not a manifestation of intellectual dispute – it is a product of racial prejudice. Christianity and Islam and all the rest of the religions are doctrines and traditions, but not ethnic identities. Disagreement with or even dislike of Christianity, Hinduism, or Islam, however intellectually sound or unsound, is an adverse judgment against someone’s beliefs, not a bigotry against someone’s person.

Jeffrey Goldberg also responded to the President’s speech with some praise and some reservation. I know he fully agrees with me on the absoluteness of the principle. He even cites Hussien Ibish, who is very much to the point:

Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. Without the right to engage in blasphemy, there can be no freedom of inquiry, expression, conscience or religion.

You see the point? Blasphemy is not the blemish on free speech with which we must live. (You want that face? The pimples come with it.) It is the very essence of free speech. Goldberg demurred in a merely personal way:

Blasphemy, as Hussein Ibish argues, is an indispensable human right. I’m not much into blasphemy myself — I generally find it offensive. But as Americans, we are compelled to defend the right of any blasphemer to be an asshole.

This only half gets the point. The blasphemer may be an asshole. Manifestly, many non-blasphemers are assholes. But the blasphemer is not an asshole because a blasphemer. Blaspheming is the very root of disagreement. It is the original “no”: “no” spoken, no shouted, no painted on one’s forehead, no as even the way one lives one’s life. Every great mind is a blaspheming mind.   In the notion of blasphemy, the authoritarian dressed in priestly garb attempts to sanctify the secular (the idea become a faith), close the mind and crush the personality. Every dissenting mind, presuming to disagree, first, before the argument is even articulated, says, “No.” And freedom flourishes.

Blasphemy is not the bastard, the black sheep, the bad seed of freedom. Blasphemy is freedom.

AJA

Categories
The Political Animal

The Freedom to Restrict the Freedom of Others

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Conservative arguments in support of Chick-Fil-A – or more to the point, against those critical of Chick-Fil-A – demonstrate a characteristic contemporary conservative confusion of terms. What better example than Gary Bauer to represent how conservatives do it.

The left’s response to Cathy’s rather innocuous comment has once again exposed the gay rights movement’s intolerance for opposing viewpoints, an intolerance that often produces the very bigotry the movement says it exists to combat.

Though not much of a success at running for President, Bauer has enjoyed some fair success as a player on the American political scene. He is not a stupid man, so one has to believe that he does not really believe this sort of nonsense.

There is the weakness of allergy and then there is the higher order physiological refinement of intolerance. Why, no, I’m not allergic to milk. I am lactose intolerant. My body simply won’t tolerate it. It has, after all, its standards.

Similarly (or maybe not so, but that was a fun side point, and not without its point, for being on the side), there is intolerance and then there is – is there any way to get around it? – Intolerance. If one eschews Intolerance, then one has, it must reasonably be acknowledged, an intolerance for Intolerance. You hate ethnic hatred? Why, you’re just another hater. Hate bigotry? Bigot! It’s all the same thing, right?

You have to wonder if whether the Bauers of the world, when they go to sleep at night, do not, in the moment just before sleep, turn the corners of their mouths up just a bit. Happy dreams!

There has, yes, been some excess in the reaction to Chick-Fil-A’s acknowledged anti-Gay program. No effort should be made by any government to restrict its business operations. It is – I’ve heard this somewhere – a free country, and even a Grand Dragon of the KKK or Louis Farakhan has the right to run a public business establishment as long as the former employs and serves non-whites and the latter Jews. However, the massive criticism of Chick-Fil-A is, first, one must say, eminently warranted, and second, protected behavior itself. Writes Marc J. Randazza at CNN.com,

The First Amendment protects you from government action suppressing your right to free speech. It does not protect you from private individuals’ negative reaction to your speech. As an extreme example: In my younger and more impulsive days, I punched out a guy who offended my then-girlfriend (now wife). He said he was exercising his First Amendment rights. I agreed and told him that I would defend him if the government messed with him, but the First Amendment didn’t protect him from a private punch. I broke a few laws that day, but I didn’t violate the First Amendment.

Similarly, the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism. Sarah Palin infamously took us all back a few steps by ignorantly criticizing the media for its negative commenting on her views. She said, “I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.” This statement is utterly wrong. The First Amendment does not protect you from scrutiny or criticism by the media or others.

Therefore, those claiming that the private calls to boycott Chick-fil-A have any First Amendment implications are wrong. Cathy put his thoughts into the marketplace of ideas, where they may be bought or rejected. He has no First Amendment right to our approval, or to our money for his sandwiches.

It also bears repeating, often enough to produce votes at the chad puncher, that contemporary American conservatism has constructed a conception of freedom and of cultural liberty that is profoundly, definitively negative. Of course, it has its positive formulation: conservatives advocate traditional family life, the sanctity of life, law and order, and so on. However, these cheerier faces have, when turned the other way, a darker visage – they inevitably cannot subsist in their good spirits absent the suppression of other people’s humanity and the restriction of those people’s personal behaviors and enjoyment of public equality in their natural selves. Whatever errors liberalism may fall into in the ongoing war of cultural reformation, attempts to suppress the positive expression of some people to be themselves in themselves is not one of them.

Liberals hate that sort of thing. They’re such haters.

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