Saturday, December 18, 2004

I'm sure that Bush, while speaking at the panel on "Financial Challanges for Today and Tomorrow", inspired the audience with a lot of confidance in America's futare. Of course, I know it's a bit childish to make fun of spelling mistakes - though I think it's a bit disconcerting that the many, hopefully educated, people involved in the preparation of the forum didn't correct this mistake. And really, a leader of the Free World who can't keep his zipper closed while meeting foreign heads of states, it's getting mighty embarrasing.

However, the sorry bastard award of the month goes to the British National Party, who accidentally hired a black DJ for their Christmas party. So the party was a bit disappointing since the gathered BNPers had to watch what they said in order not to offend the black guy. As a BNP spokesman said, quoted in the article linked to above:

"There was a bit of a cock-up. The chap who booked him didn't realise. The DJ sounded white on the phone."

You wonder what it takes to 'sound black' in these guys' books. Something like Jar Jar Binks, maybe? Which brings to mind, it seems Joan Baez is totally losing it. As Reason's Ron Bailey wrote, at a concert Joan Baez decided to let one of her multiple personalities speak, this time a fifteen-year old black girl from the Southern United States:

"Baez decided to share with us Alice's views on the election. Amazed and horrified I watched a rich, famous, extremely white folksinger perform what can only be described as bit of minstrelsy—only the painted on blackface was missing. Alice, the black teenager from Arkansas Baez was pretending to be, spoke in a dialect so broad and thick that it would put Uncle Remus and Amos and Andy to shame. Baez' monologue was filled with phrases like, "I'se g'win ta" to do this that or the other and dropping all final "g's." Baez as Alice made statements like, "de prezident, he be a racist," and "de prezident, he got a bug fer killin'." Finally, since Bush won the election with 58.7 million votes to Kerry's 55.1 million, Alice observed, "Seems lak haf' de country be plumb crazy." Since Baez was reading Alice's notes, it is evident that she thinks that Arkansas' public schools don't teach black children to write standard English"

The British interior minister Blunkett has resigned, which is welcome news for opponents of authoritarianism - though it is doubtful whether his successor will be any better, and, as Johann Hari points out, he resigns for the wholly wrong reasons.

One of Blunkett's latest moves was to propose making incitement to religious hatred a criminal offense. Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels has been blogging incessantly about this, pointing out, quite correctly, that religion is a body of ideas, which should be open to criticism. Race, sexual orientation or sex itself is not open to choice, deliberation or argument - but religion is. As Ophelia Benson noted in her latest post on the subject, it's not that simple of course - since religion can be extremely fundamental towards one's own identity. Nonetheless, I believe that the law should be opposed - even in case of crypto-racist or not-so-crypto-racist "critiques" of religions. First of all, I'm against banning even incitement to racial hatred (unless the question is about very specific threats against specific people which have a good change of being actually followed up, i.e. the populist equivalent of crying fire in a crowded theatre). Second, while such laws might be initially applied to quite odious views such as, say the BNP's or the Vlaams Bloks', they'll not remain restricted to them. Here is a good opinion piece by Rowan Atkinson about the subject, and here a good article by Nick Cohen in the Guardian, with thanks to B&W from whose newssite I grabbed them.

Incidentally, Nick Cohen refers to a bizarre hit piece on Theo van Gogh, in, of all places, the Index on Censorship, which, one would think, opposes censorship. Nonetheless, one Rohan Jayasekera succeeded in penning down the following bile:

Van Gogh's juvenile shock-horror art finally led him to build an exploitative working relationship with Somalia-born Dutch MP Ayann Hirsi Ali, whose terrible personal experience of abuse has driven her to a traumatizing loss of her Muslim faith.

Together they made a furiously provocative film that featured actresses portraying battered Muslim women, naked under transparent Islamic-style shawls, their bodies marked with texts from the Koran that supposedly justify their repression. Van Gogh then roared his Muslim critics into silence with obscenities. An abuse of his right to free speech, it added injury to insult by effectively censorsing their moderate views as well.

Fortuyn and van Gogh freed the Dutch from responsibility to rationally debate the country's cultural crisis. So without fear of further disturbing already ravaged public sensitivities, applaud Theo van Gogh's death as the marvellous piece of theatre it was.

A sensational climax to a lifetime's public performance, stabbed and shot by a bearded fundamentalist, a message from the killer pinned by a dagger to his chest, Theo van Gogh became a martyr to free expression. His passing was marked by a magnificent barrage of noise as Amsterdam hit the streets to celebrate him in the way the man himself would have truly appreciated.

And what timing! Just as his long-awaited biographical film of Pim Fortuyn's life is ready to screen. Bravo, Theo! Bravo!

Notice the patronizing description of Ayaan Hirshi Ali - "traumatized" by her loss of religious faith - and the bizarre description of what Van Gogh did as "abuse of free speech". The article rightfully drew enormous criticism, to which the Index on Censorship board responded here, and Rohan Jayasakera responded here. Neither responses are particularly satisfying - of course it is wholly within Jayasakera's free speech rights to demand limitations of free speech, but on a website supposedly dedicated to free speech? I, for one, believe it is wholly within someone's free speech rights to call for a reintroduction of slavery, or for a fascist police state, or for Christian or Islamic theocracy - but neither I, nor no-one else, is thereby obliged to provide that person with a platform. This all notwithstanding, Jayasakera makes one good point in his rebuttal:

I do though regret making presumptions about Ayann Hirsi Ali. The film Submission was probably the best thing that van Gogh ever did, provocative or not, so that should be taken into account. To me something seems not right about her association with a political party with policies that are so inimical to her fellow Somalis in the Netherlands, as well as to so many others. But in speaking for her for the purposes of my own argument, I think I was treating her no more fairly than van Gogh did.

I have wondered about the association between Ayaan Hirshi Ali and the VVD, which is a political party I quite intensely dislike myself. This notwithstanding, Hirshi Ali has taken a generally very independent position inside Dutch parliament.

As for a case in point what defending free speech should be about, take the ACLU's defense of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. As the ACLU states:

It is easy to defend freedom of speech when the message is something many people find at least reasonable. But the defense of freedom of speech is most critical when the message is one most people find repulsive. That was true when the Nazis marched in Skokie. It remains true today.

Hats off.

Some new links in the sidebar: the Plaid Adder, a leftist feminist serpent with a good sense of humour and an excellent taste in movies; Long Road to Paradise, containing "comments on politics, technology and current events from a vegan transhumanist socialist perspective" (I'm a hopeless carnivore, but I like the "socialist" and "transhumanist" parts. "J" is at least a vegetarian, though); Karin Spaink's website, mostly in Dutch but with English material as well (Karin Spaink is an eminently reasonable Dutch writer, as well as one of the most eloquent opponents of censorship in the Netherlands); and a few smokers' rights sites, namely FORCES, FOREST, another American pro-smoking site, Smokers United, and

- Merlijn de Smit

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