Thursday, September 20, 2012

Quote of the Day


Even jerks have the right to free speech, but they are still jerks.
-- Salman Rushdie in an interview with Jon Stewart [Video embedded below]. The New Yorker has excerpted Rushdie's latest book Joseph Anton about his life after The Fatwā.

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4 Comments:

  1. pramod said...

    I actually don't buy this. My view is that free speech is intended to protect legitimate political, social and scientific dissent. It's not meant to be a free pass to say whatever, damn the consequences.

    I'm certainly not suggesting that Rushdie persecution was justified (it wasn't!) but quotes like this which seem to adopt a black and white PoV serve to muddy the waters around an already contentious issue.

  2. sacredfig said...

    @pramod

    Not sure what the difficulty is here. No credible defendant of free speech would say that they're defending a "free pass to say whatever, damn the consequences.

    The point is merely that governments (or alternative power structures) must not decide what can or cannot be said. Implicitly, they must not have the power to decide what can or cannot be thought. And need it be said, they certainly cannot arrogate to themselves the right to indulge in intimidation, violence, torture or murder to deal with opinions they don't agree with, no matter how odious.

    This does not mean that defendants of free speech welcome verbal abuse, harassment, discourteous behavior or other assorted impolicy.

  3. pramod said...

    @sacredfig, Am I correct in understanding that you are arguing against libel laws and hate speech crimes as well?

    Taking a step back, I think the reason we want to protect "free" speech is that we'd like to encourage the expression of dissentive and/or unpopular opinions/facts in cases where these opinions/facts are constructive. Also, historically governments have (mis-)used the considerable power at their disposal by harassing/jailing/abusing political dissenters. We'd like to prevent that from happening.

    Coming back to the present day, with the caveat that the following is a subjective opinion, I think people who today are asking for protection under the banner of free speech appear to be: (i) racists and homophobes like Ron Paul and similar Republican factions in the US (ii) people like Harris and Dawkins who for unknown reasons appear to take joy in regularly and repeatedly expressing their Islamophobia and (iii) ephebophiles and other similar sex offenders who claim that the distribution of sexualized images and videos of minors is somehow protected by free speech.

    Do want to dogmatically stick to the position that free speech must be protected at whatever cost including the expressions above? Do we think that it is impossible to protect the expression of legitimate and constructive dissent while simultaneously preventing the expression of harmful/hateful opinions? I think the answer to both these questions is negative and countries like the UK have done a good job of outlawing various kinds of "hate speech" while allowing constructive dissent to flourish.

    I hope this clarifies my original comment, which was arguing against the dogmatic position that one must protect all free speech, regardless of intent or truthfulness, which is what I read Rushdie as saying.

  4. ahannaasmi said...

    @pramod: I do not quite understand the point you are trying to make, since your second paragraph seems to completely contradict the first. Ignoring for now your rather baffling categorization of Dawkins in a league of homophobes and ephebophiles, why exactly do you think the speech of people like Dawkins needs to be restricted? For pointing out the dire state of science eduction in Muslim faith schools in the UK? Or for asking a cleric on television if he was prepared to deny that the penalty for apostasy in Islam was death? What are you going to ask for next: no criticism of the caste system?

    "I think the answer to both these questions is negative and countries like the UK have done a good job of outlawing various kinds of "hate speech" while allowing constructive dissent to flourish. "

    I'll point out two things here: 1)Even the laws of the UK (which you praise, and which are somewhat more restrictive than the US) did not find any fault with the statements made by Dawkins. 2) Nevertheless, the UK's free speech laws, especially its libel laws, are quite famously, a royal mess. Have a look here and here for examples hitting rather close to the cause of science.