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I was quite taken by Helen Dale’s argument here:
Helen Dale 23 January 11:08
“I hate to break it to you, but we are not all Charlie.
The reason is simple: Charlie Hebdo was consistent in its support for freedom of speech. Its editors were not just targeted by Islamists: they’d been hauled through the French courts (where they won) and were figures of hate to both the French extreme right and conservative Catholics.
Charlie Hebdo had been out on a limb for years, true to the freewheeling anti-clericalism that owes its origins to the protests of 1968. Charb, its editor, refused to buckle.
The rest of us – with the partial exception of the United States – have buckled. There are widespread restrictions on speech, in France and elsewhere. Australia has 18C, among many others.
“Hate speech” laws are frequently based on the supposition that hate speech has the same effect as the common law offence of incitement. Incitement requires a demonstrable effect on the intended audience. Burning a cross on a black family’s front lawn, for example, amounts to incitement to commit acts of violence against that family.
It’s also important to remember hate speech laws are akin to the definition of “advocating terrorism” in the national security legislation. Because – as George Brandis told me last year – incitement is difficult to prove, governments look for other ways to restrict speech. “Advocating terrorism” in the Foreign Fighters legislation removes the requirement for demonstrable impact.
At the heart of criminalising “hate speech” is an empirical claim: that what an individual consumes in the media has a direct effect on his or her subsequent behaviour. That is, words will lead directly to deeds.
But because this is untrue – playing Grand Theft Auto and watching porn hasn’t led to an epidemic of car thefts and sexual assault – justifications for laws such as 18C and hate speech laws now turn on the notion that offence harms “dignity” and “inclusion”. Obviously, dignity and inclusion can’t be measured, while crime rates can.
Support for dignity and inclusion produces weird arguments – white people are not supposed to satirise minorities, for example. Sometimes, legislation is used – bluntly – to define what is funny.
Allowing what is “hateful” or “offensive” to be defined subjectively, as 18C does – and not according to the law’s usual objective standard (the reasonable person) – means “offence” is in the eye of the beholder. It enables people who are vexatious litigants and professional victims to complain about comments the rest of us would laugh off.
Tim Wilson, Australia’s Freedom Commissioner, has already argued18C ensures an Australian Charlie Hebdo would be litigated to death. Despite the fact 18C refers only to race, Tony Abbott’s justification for backing down on repeal was to preserve “national unity” with Australia’s Muslim community. This conflates religion with race in the crudest possible way.
This conflation is what leads to the coining of nonsense terms such as “Islamophobia”. “Homophobia” actually means something, because being homosexual is an inherent characteristic, not a choice. Islam is an idea, and it is perfectly reasonable to be afraid of an idea.
18C is far from the only potential constraint. The equivalent Victorian legislation explicitly takes in religion as well as race. A smart lawyer would bring suit in Victoria, because Charlie Hebdo would probably be caught there.
The confusion of religion for race is so pervasive – even in the US, where people ought to know better – that French people across the political spectrum have been forced to point out – while France does indeed have “hate speech” laws – they are used to protect characteristics that people cannot change, such as being black or gay.
“We do not conflate religion and race. We are the country of Voltaire and Diderot: religion is fair game” French left radical Olivier Tonneau wrote in response to repeated claims that attacking Muhammad or Islam was racist.
Apart from being unsupported by anything approaching evidence, hate speech laws have serious unintended consequences. Recently, British polling firm YouGov surveyed British attitudes to Muslims and discovered Britons see Islam negatively, but are unwilling to say so.
In other words, governments and law enforcement have to rely on anonymised polls conducted by private firms to find out what people really think.
It’s not maintainable to have partial freedom of speech. The fact that most Western countries now do makes what little freedom we still have harder to defend. Muslims who respect arguments for free speech can’t help but notice our inconsistencies. Anyone who thinks they don’t notice is guilty of treating people who profess a certain faith like children.
We won’t be Charlie until we have purged 18C, its state-based equivalents and the illiberal national security legislation from the nation’s statute books.”
So what do my readers think about this?
One of the things that I have often written about concerns the evils of the politically correct mindset and on that subject and the English riots I just can’t recommend the latest post from Helen Dale (Sceptic Lawyer) enough where she makes some very good points.
I found what Chris Rock has to say so damn true and I love the distinctions that he makes here both right on the money and something that I just wish some of the more rabid minions of the left would take to heart.
As this is a Sunday post I can’t think of a better topic than religion to offer the Sandpit’s readers, especially after I found this piece in the Age this morning telling us that Ted’s government is going to wind back the so called “reforms” made under the previous Labor government.
The amendments will scrap Labor’s reforms, which take effect in August, that give wider investigative powers to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and restrict the rights of faith-based organisations to refuse employment and services to people they believe may undermine their beliefs.
Under the Labor reforms, for instance, a religious welfare agency that refuses to serve a same-sex couple must prove how this action conformed to its faith, or a Catholic school that refused to employ a single mother as a receptionist must show why the job was important to following the school’s faith.
But this so-called ”inherent requirements” test would soon be scrapped, Mr Clark said in an interview with The Sunday Age.
The Attorney-General said Labor’s reforms must be wound back because they were a direct attack on faith-based schools and parents who wanted a religious education for their children. ”We made very clear election commitments and so the issues have been well canvassed,” he said.
”The 2010 legislation is a far-reaching attack on the freedom of faith-based organisations and freedom of religion and belief. The amendments will restore tolerance and a sense of the fair go. Faith-based organisations and political organisations should be free to engage staff that uphold their values.”
The government’s move has angered the Victorian Independent Education Union, which has signalled a campaign to fight the granting of unlimited discrimination rights to religious groups. ”This is a very backward step for the state,” said Debra James, general secretary of the union. ”I think it’s appalling.”
Sarah Rogan, co-convener of the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the Baillieu government’s move was disappointing. ”The existing discrimination is concerning because it separates people based on sexual orientation and gender identity from the rest of the community.”
With regard to this sort of issue I was very struck by something that I saw in a piece by Helen Dale over at the Scepticlawyer blog :
3. You can dress it up any way you like, but the three monotheisms are unequivocal in their condemnation of homosexuality. They’re also unequivocal in their condemnation of a lot of other stuff, too. Their position on homosexuality (and sexual matters generally) is now so recognisably outlandish that it falls into the ‘not even wrong’ category (to pinch a phrase from Lorenzo). The problem is, (a) a lot of people still believe it and (b) a percentage of gays and lesbians want to keep their monotheism and live as normal human beings, not celibates (taking the Catholic position that the sexual act is the sin, not the fact of being same-sex attracted).
4. There have been various responses [from all parties] to this phenomenon, one of which is a tortured attempt to retranslate the Bible/Koran/Torah so that the sexism, homophobia, bigotry etc etc is interpreted in such a way that it isn’t sexist, homophobic or bigoted [this issue also arises when it comes to women, contraception, religious tolerance etc — it isn’t unique to homosexuality; here’s a good example of a gay version]. Some of Kim’s comments on the Troppo threads fall into this category. Another is to just ignore the offending bits (the Uniting and Anglican Churches tend to do this, as does Reform Judaism and some branches of Alawi Islam). Another is to state, baldly, ‘thems the rules, suck it up’ (the Catholic, mainstream Islamic and Orthodox Jewish position). This latter, of course, means some gays and lesbians have no place in a religion in which they desperately want to partake. That is a dilemma of the most horned sort and I am damned glad that it’s not something I have to face or even think about. Atheism has its advantages on that front.
[Addendum: it’s also just occurred to me that maybe we are paying a price for treating religious arguments too gently and their adherents with too much sensitivity. Anyone else who makes similarly unfounded assertions in other areas gets taken to the cleaners pronto in a Western democracy; we seem to treat religion and its adherents with kid gloves. Maybe, on that score, the ‘gnu atheists’ are right, and we need to be much more robust, even if the discussion is hurtful for ‘sincere’ religious believers].
Like Helen I’m an atheist of very long standing, but to be honest I just don’t get the way that there are so many people who either want to get into or work for organisations run on clear religious principles when those people live their lives in a manner that is obviously antithetical to the tenets of that faith. Thus I am perplexed when Catholics who bat for the other team want to remain the the church or atheist teaching graduates want to work for a school run by a Pentecostal church. They know from the outset just what is the price of passage and either you play to the rules of the field or you play elsewhere. Its that simple.
Finally lets not forget that famous quote (from memory BTW) from Oscar Wilde to the effect that “I wouldn’t to be in any club that would have me as a member” which reminds us that free association means not being obliged to accept absolutely everyone who wants to join, especially if they don’t actually share the core values of the organisation.
Listening to the radio this morning I could not help but notice the reports of rioting in England over the government’s decision to significantly increase the fees that students will have to pay for tertiary education courses. This raises a number of significant questions to me, not the least of which is just how many people in our society actually need a university education and just how much of that education should the government subsidise and how much of it should be reimbursed by the student themselves when they are in a well paying job after graduating.
The Deputy PM was forced to admit it was ‘an extraordinarily difficult issue’ and hinted for the first time that Tory pressure might have also played a part in the shift.
‘I have been entirely open about the fact that we have not been able to deliver the policy that we held in Opposition,’ he said.
‘Because of the financial situation, because of the compromises of the coalition government we have had to put forward a different policy.’
He insisted that the Lib Dems had stuck to their ‘wider ambition’ of making sure going to university was handled in a ‘progressive’ way and did not deter poorer students.
Miss Harman was scathing about his claim that public finances were to blame, pointing out that the changes only start in 2012/13 whereas the deficit should be addressed by 2014.
‘This is about him going along with a Tory plan to shove the cost of He onto students and their families,’ she said.
‘We all know what it’s like, you’re at Freshers Week, you meet up with a dodgy bloke and do things you regret. Isn’t it true he’s been led astray by the Tories?’
Mr Clegg reminded that Labour had also attacked tuition fees but introduced them when they came to power and how the previous government had initiated the Browne Review.
‘I know she thinks she can re-position the Labour Party as the champion of students but let’s remember the Labour Party’s record,’ he said.
Miss Harman accused the coalition of hiking up fees while they are ‘pulling the plug on funding and dumping the cost on students’.
The idea that everyone should go to university is much beloved by the minions of the left but when this idea is writ large all they succeed in doing is to devalue the degrees that they create and to generate a huge industry that does nothing much for society in general.
I was very taken by this piece from Helen Dale (Scepticlawyer) when she said this:
1. There are too many universities, and too many people going to university. Many universities are very mediocre, and many of the students who attend them are very mediocre. We seem to have forgotten how to tell people ‘no, you aren’t very clever, you shouldn’t go to university. You are, however, good with your hands. You should get an apprenticeship instead.’ There is, as Stanley Fish points out, nothing wrong with a trade school. Upgrading what were essentially trade schools and turning them into universities was always going to be a bad idea, and now we can’t afford them to boot. And let’s not forget that plumbers make a very good living.
To my mind the issue, even for the poor, should not be that students will eventually have to pay for their own education but that there should be a way that talented students of limited means can gain access to learning that they would other wise be unable to afford.
As for those who are out there destroying other people’s property there is a very simple solution and that is to prosecute them, ensure that they feel the full weight of the law, and expel them from whatever institution they are enrolled at on the basis that they bring those institutions into disrepute.