Thursday, August 19, 2004

This is a serious post- Censorship versus Freedom of Speech

In researching the disturbing business about the EU laws allowing one of its members to extradite a citizen of another member state for allegations of “hate speech” I came across articles that do show another side to the matter. For instance, as long ago as 1998 Italy resisted Turkey’s government when it demanded extradition of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan whom Turkey claimed was nothing more than a murderer.

The “hate speech” issue here is that Ocalan continued to exhort his followers in Turkey to resist, wherever he stood still long enough to speak to a microphone. The Turkish government was using that as one of many legal strategies for extraditing him.

The European Union presidency (Austria at that time) supported Italy’s refusal to yield up the leader of Kurdish resistance. This was ostensibly on the grounds that the extradition and prosecution would expose him to a possible death sentence. The Kurdish nation had been deliberately divided among Iraq, Turkey, and Syria under the Treaty of Laussane in 1920, and the Kurds have been savagely oppressed in Iraq and Turkey since, which is why Italy and Austria resisted the Turkish demands.

The point is that individuals can make principled stands that resist the corrosive effect of ill-conceived legislation. But the potential for mischief is always present.

I accept the idea that words can do damage. Misinformation and lies can cause people to make bad decisions. Sure. The question is always, “What is the proper response of GOVERNMENT?” Because the definition of “hate speech” is subject to endless interpretation, vicious bastards (even outside of government) can use rules and laws criminalizing “hate speech” to intimidate punish and suppress dissent, which most Americans regard as an irritating but profoundly important fundamental human right.

Here we have to distinguish between GOVERNMENT actions and those of private individuals or even groups of individuals. Most dictionary definitions clearly point to the use of the power of the STATE in criminalizing expressions counter to the state’s interests as censorship. Freedom of speech, and its exercise by individuals and groups, leads inevitably to conflicts that some people want to characterize as censorship. (There is a good analysis of Censorship and Freedom of Speech at this URL:

For instance, when the Dixie Chicks were being widely criticized for using their concert performances as a platform for their personal feelings about George Bush, a lot of people cried “CENSORSHIP!!” Even good Sir Elton John used that term in expressing his concern for their treatment.

Elton John has always commanded my respect and admiration for his compositions, performances, arrangements, recordings, and the undeniable generosity and gentleness of spirit he has shown repeatedly in the many benefit concerts and efforts he has assisted.

But in his concern about what he is calling "censorship" in America, he should keep in mind that all performers have the right to use the stage and the financial clout their fans have provided for them to promote their personal views, to make political statements, to criticize the government, or anything else they wish. I'm not aware of any governmental abuse or repression or suppression of even the most vulgar, tasteless, ugly, vicious, transparently false, or blatantly biased statement by any entertainer, singer, performer, whatnot.

Well, there was Lenny Bruce, but that was a LONG time ago...

But, by the same sacred set of rights by which any entertainer may without government penalty or restriction express views that are unpopular (or popular), vicious, repugnant, or even DANGEROUS, so does each and every other citizen of the country enjoy the same right.

If I tell everyone that the Dixie Chicks are fine musicians but they can’t think their way out of an open toilet stall, it is as much my sacred right to do this, exercising my freedom of speech, as it is the sacred right of the entertainer, exercising HER freedom of speech, to offend ME.

Freedom of speech is STRONG juju. Establishing it, exercising it, explaining it, and defending it have challenged the finest minds of the past two and a half centuries. Neither the entertainer, who enjoys the benefit of a grand stage from which to broadcast his message, nor I who may have access to talk radio shows, blogs, or newspaper editorial pages, or just my mom's canasta club for an audience... NEITHER of us is CENSORING the other, merely exercising our right to speak freely.

To date I have not heard of a single incident of government goons trying to intimidate Dixie Chicks fans, or of any prosecution of the individual Dixie Chicks for sedition, or termination of their public library privileges, or any such thing.

In the current frenzy of the presidential campaigns, it is good to keep in mind some of these distinctions.

George Bush DOES NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY OR ANY LEGAL BASIS FOR SUPPRESSING the ads put out by the Swift Boat Veterans who saying John Kerry lied and mis-represented many important details of his military service. By the same token, John Kerry has no authority to prevent ads and news organizations from publishing absurd allegations about George Bush’s attendance records for the Texas Air National Guard.

This leaves us faced with the awful job of just having to do our own damn homework.

What if the stories you accept are a bunch of lies that have been carefully crafted to reinforce what some cynical bastard thinks you already are inclined to believe?

Gee... Could that really happen?


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