Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Speech, Protected Actions

I don't want to use this blog as a political platform, per se. My primary purpose here is to connect with writers and readers and those who appreciate literature in all genres, be it Faulkner's immersive southern plantations or Tolkein's hobbit-holes and dead marshes or Herbert's spice-scented political landscapes, or even Sam Harris' biting secular lectures or the DT Suzuki's wonderful insights into Zen Buddhism.

The topic of anti-blasphemy legislation and special protections for religious groups has been coming up quite a bit recently, and, regardless of where I stand on that topic philosophically, it can--and will--impact literature sooner or later. Hence this essay.

Caitlin Kiernan tweeted this article earlier today, and I RT'd it in kind. It is an Op/Ed from USA Today columnist Jonathan Turley (also, a more measured analysis from The Desmoines Register) that gives an overview of a UN resolution co-authored by the US and Egypt regarding religious protection: "...the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any "negative racial and religious stereotyping.") Read that last part again and see if your head has exploded: Egypt, not exactly known for human rights or religious tolerence, has co-authored a resolution with the U.S. (home of Larry Flynt, Scientology, and adopted homeland of Ayn Rand) to define the international stance on free speech and religious protections. And it doesn't seem to be a let's-synthesize-our-ideas thing, it looks to be more of a concession on behalf of the US for whatever political reason.

The resolution, as I understand it, doesn't really have teeth, in that it carries no punitive measures and no body of enforcement (if I'm incorrect, please tell me). But, this has to be taken into context; in the last few years, we've seen violence, murder, and attempts of both done in the name of religion (the fatwah against author Salman Rushdie, the UK riots against Denmark for cartoon depictions of Muhammad, parents who refuse their sick children healthcare because their religion prohibits it, child marriage and abuse in the name of a person claiming they have been appointed as a diety's representative on earth). And that doesn't even take into consideration the "sanctioned" violence in the name of religion: Pakistan v India, Israel v Palestine, Ireland v N Ireland). If you take away people's ability to discuss the hows and whys of bad things like violence and war and crime within context, you kill the discussion before it has even started and you, to some extent, legitimize the activities.

I am not positing that violence is the domain of religion, nor that there is necessarily causation therein. I will say, though, that history has shown that a person or group with the inclination to violence or general nefas often have no problem doing it under the flag of piety. And the reason they do that, I submit, is that religion is given special protections against things that would often be seen as illegal, immoral, or objectionable if done outside of the realm of those protections.

There are oh-so-many reasons that giving religions--any religion--international standing as protected from derision or criticism is a horrible, horrible idea. Not the least of which is the potential for abuse of the "privilege", iterations of which I'm sure any of you could conjure up in horrifying detail.

But, let's take the very American (I can't profess to speak for my friends in the UK, Australia, Candada, etc) staple: Freedom of Speech--the very cornerstone of the Constitution, the first amendment added to the Bill of Rights in 1791. How can the concepts of "not criticizing religion" be synthesized with the Bill of Rights? I submit that it can't, not without outright destroying that document and all it stands for.

Criticize a Christ Scientist for letting their child die because insulin is not allowed? Out.
Protest a Scientology office? Out.
Make a joke about the Pope's funny hat collection? Out.
Debate creationism vs evolution? Out.

All horrible things to lose the ability to do. Not reduced privileges--eliminated rights.

Now, take that into consideration how this affects you, the author/reader. For this, I employ gross O'Reilly/Olbermann-style hyperbole. Why? Because it drives home the point of where this, unchecked, leads.

First of all, put Dan Brown's ass in jail, tout de suite. Salman Rushdie must be extradited to the U.S. and turned over to his accusers. Neil Gaiman, who is in China this month, may just want to stay there (between American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Good Omens, he may only be facing 10-15 if he behaves). Rand is lucky that she's already passed, she'd be first against the wall.

/End hyperbole.

If you care, what can you do? I don't know. I'm not an activist. But, a few places to start may be the Comic Book Defense Fund, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and American Civil Liberties Union...I'm sure there are plenty more places out there you can talk to. I'm not sure what they can/would do, but harrassing your Congresscritters is ALWAYS a good idea. Do NOT let these folks off easy (not just on this topic--ANY topic).

Most importantly, I think, is for all of us to be aware of the discussions that are taking place, and how they affect all of us, and make sure that the people around you are aware as well. It isn't enough to just say "hate speech should be prohibited". If the PATRIOT act and DMCA taught us anything, it is that overly general laws can, and will, be abused by somebody to violate existing law and rule. And such laws tear through skin and attach their sucking tendrils at the bone, and will not be removed.

So, that's my rant. Apologies to anyone offended or bored, but that's what is on my mind today.


Aaron Polson said...

Rant on, my friend. I'll read that free speech any day. Me, I'm all for the comic book defense fund.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

Thanks man...censorship just drives me insane, I needed to vent on that one.

Jamie Eyberg said...

Censorship of any kind drives me nuts (As long as you don't hurt anyone else in the process(. I like to be offended, it reminds me how good we have it.