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Free speech

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In defence of his “right” to say that he doesn’t “respect” claims that he thinks some religions make,1 Johann Hari offers as a universal principle:

The solution to the problems of free speech – that sometimes people will say terrible things – is always and irreducibly more free speech. If you don’t like what a person says, argue back. Make a better case. Persuade people.

Alternatively, you could, like Hari, threaten them with legal action.

But let us assume that Hari’s views have changed since he used the Independent‘s lawyers to threaten a blogger with a libel suit, and that today he is, as the above passage states, a “free-speech” fundamentalist. The response to speech you don’t like, he argues, must always and only be “more free speech”. In that case Hari presumably finds troubling all the official restrictions placed on speech anywhere in the world — not only by Muslim governments but also, for example, by our own beloved liberal democracies.

In England, lamentably, many speech acts are criminal offences, such as those threatening violence or “encouraging” the commission of an offence. We can look forward, I assume, to Hari’s campaign not only to abolish the concept of libel, but to defend everyone’s “right” to say to someone in a pub, “I’m gonna cut your face to ribbons”, or to stand on a street corner and shout: “Murder all Catholics!” Because, as I think we can all agree, the idea of “free speech” means nothing unless it is absolute.

As an example of what principled champions of “free speech” such as Johann Hari are up against, I offer the decadent reasoning of an American:

[P]recisely because speech is never “free” in the two senses required — free of consequences and free from state pressure — speech always matters, is always doing work; because everything we say impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action, we must take responsibility for our verbal performances — all of them.2

Of course, if you give that kind of postmodern nonsense any credence, you’re basically an appeaser of tyrants.

  1. Hari wrote:

    I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him. I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice.

    This, he now pleads rather ambitiously, was part of a “a principled critique of all religions who try to forcibly silence their critics” — though he does not, so far as I can tell, adduce any actual examples of Buddhofascism. And evidently it was not, as he now claims, just a matter of “stating simple facts” (see this comment below).

  2. Stanley Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too (Oxford, 1994), p114.
129 comments
  1. 1  shadowfirebird  February 13, 2009, 2:01 pm 

    The odd word for me here is “respect”.

    Speaking personally (how else?) I respect the idea that man was born of a virgin, and I also respect the idea that we have lived before as goats. It’s just that I don’t necessarily *believe* either of those things.

    Is this man really so shallow as to only respect beliefs that match his own? His language certainly implies that.

  2. 2  sw  February 13, 2009, 2:13 pm 

    Stephen Colbert consistently maintains that his demands for censorship are expressions of his own right to free speech.

  3. 3  sw  February 13, 2009, 2:15 pm 

    On thinking about what I said @2, I already feel I have done an injustice the genius of Stephen Colbert; he consistently maintains that his demands for censhorship are protected by his own right to free speech.

  4. 4  Steven  February 13, 2009, 3:09 pm 

    Of his previous article, Hari whines:

    Every word I wrote was true. […] I wrote an article defending human rights, and stating simple facts.

    From his previous article:

    [T]here is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal. […]
    Nobody has “faith” that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason.

    I think this is something other than “stating simple facts”. Also, I would be intrigued to learn what Hari thinks is the “proof” that “fire hurts”. I made some fire just now, and it didn’t hurt at all.

  5. 5  Steven  February 13, 2009, 3:13 pm 

    Speaking personally (how else?) I respect the idea that man was born of a virgin, and I also respect the idea that we have lived before as goats. It’s just that I don’t necessarily *believe* either of those things.

    Is this man really so shallow as to only respect beliefs that match his own?

    Good point — it is evidently a more combative stance to say “I don’t respect your idea”, instead of simply “I don’t agree with your idea”.

  6. 6  Stuart A  February 13, 2009, 5:48 pm 

    Is this man really so shallow as to only respect beliefs that match his own?

    Good point — it is evidently a more combative stance to say “I don’t respect your idea”, instead of simply “I don’t agree with your idea”.

    What is wrong with this “more combative stance”? As far as I am concerned, the idea that Jesus was born of a virgin is absurd and not worthy of respect. It is contrary to our understanding of the natural world and supported by no serious historical evidence. That does not imply that I can only respect ideas that I agree with, just that some ideas are too ludicrous to warrant it. The implication here seems to be that saying so is not acceptable.

    I agree that on the issue of free speech Hari is a grandstanding hypocrite. And I agree that the idea of free speech is more complicated than he makes out. But the freedom to criticise religious beliefs is, surely, something worth defending, even if you don’t like Richard Dawkins.

    Are you in favour of this change at the UN?

  7. 7  Steven  February 13, 2009, 5:50 pm 

    I meant merely that if one takes the more combative stance, one ought to admit that it is more combative.

  8. 8  Gregor  February 13, 2009, 5:51 pm 

    Johann can start by giving me ‘proof’ that I’m not a brain in a vat/ controlled by Descartes genie. I don’t know that I’m not a brain in a vat, but I do know that Melanie Phillips is an idiot as well as a deplorable human being. Guess what ‘liberal hawk’ wrote praise for Ms Phillips?

    http://johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=313

    ’So what is the source of my admiration? Mostly, it is, if you like, stylistic. She is a tireless political evangelist who relentlessly agitates for what she believes in – part of the great Anglo-Jewish tradition of thinkers who believe that only by transforming the world around them can the world be made safe. She also has, undeniably, the courage of her convictions: did anybody catch her on Any Questions up against the loathesome Tariq Ali a few months ago? The most lazy, ridiculous anti-war babble was being recited by Ali and cheered by the audience. Melanie turned on the audience – an incredibly audacious move – and told them that they were “morally fallen” and that it was a sign of their “decadence” and “decay” that they could applaud a tired old Trot like Ali while Saddam was being deposed. It was impossible not to love her at that moment.’

    Nothing’s impossible. And ‘only by transforming the world around them can the world be made safe’? That demonstrates a religious mindset, which I don’t have. My faith doesn’t seek to ‘transform’ the world. In fact, rather than belief or non-belief in God, wanting to change the world is how I define people as ‘religious’.

    As for his incredibly original ‘Zeus’ point, I met a charming and intelligent Greek chap who claims to be a pagan. Some think he was just doing that to upset his devout wife, but anyway, I’d frankly have more respect for someone with a tasteful temple to Apollo than I would for someone with a collection of ‘Left Behind’ novels. After all, Prometheus Bound or Tribulation Force? Which of these really is ‘preposterous’?

    The question of ‘respect’ is a curious one. It’s always find it funny to see how worked up ‘new atheists’ get about what can’t be proven. There are many ways I’m entirely with the secularists: there is proof for a geological timescale (though incidentally, the Biblical interpretation that the world was 7000 years old was a modern western idea). There is proof for evolution. I would have little respect for arguments to the contrary. But as for Zeus, woodlice, yetis, brains in vats etc, I do not know.

    But this is where Johann seems to ‘draw in the punters’. He gives excruciating tales of brutality carried out by people of faith. People in this category are ‘the religious’. Then he links to ‘Butterflies and Wheels’ and the Richard Dawkins foundation.

    Free speech is a curious issue, because it sounds great, but often it is challenged in the strangest ways. I thought I was very much in favour of free speech, then I saw buses advertising a Saw film. Don’t know which one, but it attempted to entice people to the cinema with the sight of a mutilated, decapitated head on a set of scales.

    Whilst I am specially squeamish, I thought it was deeply selfish and offensive, especially because it would be disturbing for children. And I don’t want to sound all Daily Mail here, but what does it say about our society, that a severed head is the best way to market a blockbuster film? Obviously there has to be some degree of censorship in society.

    Threats of physical violence are also justly illegal, as Steven points out.

    Still, Hari’s own contortions are beyond comprehension, like in this passage:

    ‘By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. Nobody has “faith” that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It’s easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.’

    Yes, faith is choosing to believe without evidence. Entirely agree so far. But then ‘But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It’s easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.’

    I’m afraid I’m really lost. ‘Religious people have faith without proof. So when someone tells them there is no proof they get angry’?

  9. 9  Gregor  February 13, 2009, 5:58 pm 

    ‘Are you in favour of this change at the UN?’

    Speaking for myself, no. I think Johann Hari is right about that. But… Hari reminds me of Karmazinov in The Devils ‘he might write about a ship-wreck, but if you read between the lines, you’d see it is really about how wonderful and sensitive he is’.

    The problem is that i think Hari writes some fairly good articles… but they are always ones I agree with (opposing the war on drugs and shock therapy), so it would look hypocritical saying so. I sometimes agree with the points of his religious articles, but he usually bogs it down with his utter lack of historical knowledge and his shrill tone.

  10. 10  Alex Higgins  February 13, 2009, 6:41 pm 

    “Is this man really so shallow as to only respect beliefs that match his own?”

    (shadowfirebird)

    At the risk of getting defensive, no, he’s not.

    “I do know that Melanie Phillips is an idiot as well as a deplorable human being. Guess what ‘liberal hawk’ wrote praise for Ms Phillips?”

    (Gregor)

    For a more recent assessment of Melanie Phillips by a repentant liberal hawk, go here.

    “I agree that on the issue of free speech Hari is a grandstanding hypocrite.”

    (Stuart A)

    I’m not sure there is a necessary contradiction in Johann’s stated views on the discussion of religion and his resort to the libel laws over an accusation made against him, even if he was wrong to do so. His point here being that he does not wish his opponents in this case to be killed or imprisoned, while they do in fact, wish that of him.

    Two men in India are currently in jail for running Johann’s piece. The wider implications of the idea of freedom of speech in your post, Steven, are worth talking about. Still, I think some grandstanding might be in order here.

  11. 11  Jules  February 13, 2009, 6:43 pm 

    As an admirer of both you and Harri, I’m surprised by the nasty tone of your post, Stephen.

    A writer has been subject to riots, death threats, and an arrest warrant, for expressing his opinion. And you attack… the writer.

    It seems odd to me. Coulnd’t you spare a word of condemnation for the religious fanatics making the threats?

  12. 12  Stuart A  February 13, 2009, 6:58 pm 

    I meant merely that if one takes the more combative stance, one ought to admit that it is more combative.

    OK, I take your point that Hari mischaracterised his original article in the follow-up.

    Hari reminds me of Karmazinov in The Devils ‘he might write about a ship-wreck, but if you read between the lines, you’d see it is really about how wonderful and sensitive he is’.

    Unfortunately I haven’t read The Devils, but I agree with the quote: there is always the sense of pose striking. We are talking here about a person who re-worked an archeological package tour into a survey of “the reality of life under Saddam Hussein”.

    It’s unfortunate for secularism and free speech that their most prominent self-described defenders seem to be people like Hari and Kamm. (Kamm also approves of libel actions when directed at political speech he doesn’t like.)

  13. 13  Stuart A  February 13, 2009, 7:10 pm 

    I’m not sure there is a necessary contradiction in Johann’s stated views on the discussion of religion and his resort to the libel laws over an accusation made against him, even if he was wrong to do so.

    There is definitely a contradiction with his purported absolute stance on free speech. According to the 2009 Hari, the solution to David Toube’s comment was, “always and irreducibly more free speech”. Last year the solution was a legal threat.

    Two men in India are currently in jail for running Johann’s piece. The wider implications of the idea of freedom of speech in your post, Steven, are worth talking about. Still, I think some grandstanding might be in order here.

    I suppose that depends on what you mean by “grandstanding”. What I meant was that Hari was focusing attention rather too much on himself relative to the principle at stake and most particularly the two people imprisoned in India.

  14. 14  Gregor  February 13, 2009, 7:48 pm 

    ‘ Coulnd’t you spare a word of condemnation for the religious fanatics making the threats?’

    Because then the bad folks’ll evaporate? The religious fanatics will log onto Unspeak and then change their minds?

    Some of these recent comments miss what I like about Unspeak.net, which is strangely relevant. Steven often mocks feeble reasoning, bad writing and poor research. Yet he is not a boring ‘moraliser’ the way that most political journalists are. He rarely uses words like ‘moral’, ‘depraved’, ‘just’ etc. There is nothing more crashingly boring than saying isn’t ‘Saddam/ Milosevic/ Hitler evil’? Thankfully there are no ‘will-you-condemn-a-thons’ on Unspeak (http://decentpedia.blogspot.co.....-thon.html). I can say that media coverage of Russia is dishonest and misleading without silly buggers (like there were on Openhouse) saying ‘Oh, so you supported the Chechen war then’? ‘No, I thought it was awful when Bush and Blair were silent’ ‘So you support Russian nationalism then?’ ‘No’. ‘So you think Putin was right to…’

    It is something quite ironic that I’ve noticed: that many ‘new atheists’ are very religious in their outlook: condemning this and that whilst portraying themselves as moral and ethical authorities. Alternatively, atheists/ agnostics who respect moderate religion are often similar to us in their temperate outlook. There is very little we can do about the brutality and cruelty in much of the world. That is a sad fact. But one that many people find hard to understand.

    Alex
    I do respect Johann for being reasonable about the failures in the Iraq war (he has not turned into a Kamm/ Hitchens big baby whilst he is actually younger than them). Still, I do find it a bit rich that someone who praised Melanie Phillips thinks he can lecture ‘the religious’ on rationality. What was most ironic was that she sounded like a caricature Methodist preacher, and this is what Hari approved of.

    Stuart
    I enjoyed reading your website. The Devils (by Dostoyevsky) is full of stunning moments even if it is heavy-going at times.

  15. 15  Dave2  February 13, 2009, 9:22 pm 

    shadowfirebird wrote: “I respect the idea that man was born of a virgin, and I also respect the idea that we have lived before as goats”

    Um… is there no limit to your respect? What about Xenu?

  16. 16  Steven  February 13, 2009, 10:04 pm 

    Jules —

    Coulnd’t you spare a word of condemnation for the religious fanatics making the threats?

    I am happy to make it clear that I think threats of violence are bad. In fact, I don’t think they should be protected as “free speech”.

    StuartA —

    It’s unfortunate for secularism and free speech that their most prominent self-described defenders seem to be people like Hari and Kamm. (Kamm also approves of libel actions when directed at political speech he doesn’t like.)

    It is curious how the self-appointed defenders of “free speech” in our time choose such damnedly poor cases on which to make their heroic stand. (As previously, on the “right” to publish racist cartoons.) Why, it’s almost as though “‘Free speech’ is just the name we give to verbal behavior that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance” (Fish, op. cit., p102).

  17. 17  Tawfiq Chahboune  February 13, 2009, 10:12 pm 

    Steven,

    Like Emma Brockes, Johann Hari is a journalistic miracle. Let me put it in the following charitable way. He never has explained the “discrepancies” regarding his “reporting” from Iraq for the Guardian and the Independent. In one newspaper, he reported that everyone he encountered was too frightened to speak, and so nothing could be reported about Iraq’s hopes and fears for the future, etc. In the other newspaper, with the same events being covered, he “reported” that people were begging him to tell the outside world how Iraqis wanted to be invaded. Moral: only sickos with crushes on Saddam opposed the war and occupation.

    Now, some have come to the conclusion that Hari is a fantastic liar and propagandist. Others merely think that here is a “journalist” who can’t take accurate notes. Whichever it is, one can’t help thinking that the guy is in the wrong business, especially with Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk on the Indie’s staff.

    Strangely enough, Hari dismissed this sudden interest in the “discepancies” in his “reporting” as evidence of, er, “anti-semitism”. Even more strangley, the “decent” lefties over at Harry’s Place never once mentioned any of this when Hari was shouting “fascists” at the anti-war movement. As soon as the war turned into an unmitigated catastrophe and Hari recanted, Harry’s Place started banging away at his “reporting”. When Hari threatened legal action, Harry’s Place did a wonderful impersonation of a jellyfish and took it all back.

    I suggest that three new awards are introduced: First, the Johann Hari Award For Reporting; Second, the Emma Brockes Award For Interviewing. Third, the Harry’s Place Award For Integrity.

    Why is this confused child allowed to write for a serious newspaper? Any answers would be appreciated.

  18. 18  Jules  February 14, 2009, 12:08 am 

    Tawfiq, that’s just rubbish. I have followed Hari’s writing closely (I haven';t read every word) and it is simply nonsense to say he claimed his critics were anti-Semitic. It would be especially odd since (a) he isn’t Jewish, and (b) he has condemned people who smear others at anti-Semitic at great length, leading to vicious attacks from Melanie Phillips, CAMERA et al.

    I have read pretty much everything he ahs written about Iraq, or at least the stuff archived on his site, and I si,ply don';t see the contradictions you are claiming In all of them he said he spoke to some Iraqis, but that it was hard to get people to talk, but those who did expressed similar opinions.

    You seem to be taking your view from Private Eye,m who hatcheted him after he criticised their editor anfd former editor in print for being anti-gay. I was disturbed by their accusations because I quite like Hari’s writing, and when I checked them out, they seemed pretty unpersuasive to me. But I could be wrong.

  19. 19  Steven  February 14, 2009, 12:14 am 

    Now I am reminded of it, I do wonder how Hari managed to furnish an account of the film about Zizek that was so spectacularly false, attributing to Zizek a statement (about Lacan) that was the opposite of what he actually said.

  20. 20  Dave2  February 14, 2009, 12:58 am 

    Steven wrote:

    It is curious how the self-appointed defenders of “free speech” in our time choose such damnedly poor cases on which to make their heroic stand. (As previously, on the “right” to publish racist cartoons.) Why, it’s almost as though “‘Free speech’ is just the name we give to verbal behavior that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance” (Fish, op. cit., p102).

    Perhaps the people you have in mind do indeed “wish to advance” the ugly agendas of e.g. Jyllands-Posten. But isn’t there something to be said for making one’s heroic stand on the ugliest case you can find, viz. the fact that winning such a case makes for a very strong precedent (e.g., the Skokie case)?

    If so, then the move from “S thinks X is a case of free speech” to “X serves the substantive agendas S wishes to advance” is, to say the least, an inference fraught with peril.

  21. 21  Steven  February 14, 2009, 1:18 am 

    I just think they’re really poor cases as test cases for even some reasonably limited ideal of “free speech”. They are certainly ugly collectively, insofar as they tend to point one way (towards “our” right to say nasty things about Muslims), but to my mind a much clearer case on which to take a stand of principle, should one feel the urge to do so, is, for instance, that of David Irving’s Holocaust denial. I admire Hari’s stance on him: that he shouldn’t be locked up but should remain free (the better to disgrace himself).

  22. 22  Stuart A  February 14, 2009, 2:26 am 

    I just think they’re really poor cases as test cases for even some reasonably limited ideal of “free speech”.

    Are you saying that the publishing of those cartoons should have been a criminal offence?

  23. 23  Dave2  February 14, 2009, 3:03 am 

    I admire Hari’s stance on him: that he shouldn’t be locked up but should remain free (the better to disgrace himself).

    But then, by Fish’s standard, doesn’t it follow that you yourself wish to advance the substantive agendas served by Irving’s writings? In other words, doesn’t it follow that you are a neo-Nazi sympathizer?

    Or am I misunderstanding Fish’s point?

  24. 24  Steven  February 14, 2009, 8:20 am 

    No, that doesn’t follow; see pp112-3 (sorry, it’s too long to type out here).

  25. 25  Alex Higgins  February 14, 2009, 10:18 am 

    To reply to Tawfiq (and to declare an interest – Johann is a friend of mine):

    “He never has explained the “discrepancies” regarding his “reporting” from Iraq for the Guardian and the Independent. In one newspaper, he reported that everyone he encountered was too frightened to speak, and so nothing could be reported about Iraq’s hopes and fears for the future, etc. In the other newspaper, with the same events being covered, he “reported” that people were begging him to tell the outside world how Iraqis wanted to be invaded.”

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to here, but as someone who visited Iraq briefly in 2001 with the antiwar charity Voices in the Wilderness, I can suggest what he is talking about.

    The atmosphere in Iraq then was such that no one talked about Saddam Hussein directly or even said his name out loud. We were advised to avoid the topic and if necessary make oblique statements about the ‘President’.

    When Iraqis discussed anything like politics with us, aside from official propaganda events, they used metaphors and spoke in hushed voices. Sometimes it was clear enough what they meant, sometimes not.

    Johann wrote quite a few things at this time which were stupid, of which he is frequently reminded, but this wasn’t one of them.

    Strangely enough, Hari dismissed this sudden interest in the “discepancies” in his “reporting” as evidence of, er, “anti-semitism”.

    That just isn’t true at all. Nor does it make sense – are you one of those people who have developed the odd belief that Johann is Jewish?

    Furthermore, as Jules mentioned, Johann has gone out of his way to write about the organisations and individuals who use bogus accusations of anti-semitism to attack opponents of Israeli government policy.

    “As soon as the war turned into an unmitigated catastrophe and Hari recanted, Harry’s Place started banging away at his “reporting”.”

    Yeah, funny that.

    “Why is this confused child allowed to write for a serious newspaper? Any answers would be appreciated.”

    As a for instance, I would invite you to look anywhere – absolutely anwhere – to find another journalist in Britain who has bothered to go to the Central African Republic in order to report on French military, political and economic involvement in the life of that country.

    I would point you in the direction of his reporting from the Congolese war or from Bangladesh and ask how many reporters you know of in the British or Western press who are doing work like that.

    Johann has not visited Iraq to reprt on the disaster he vocally supported, but it is not from want of asking the editor.

    There criticisms of Johann’s output I would agree with, particularly on religion, but there is a reason why Noam Chomsky (with whom Johann had a silly, public spat back in 2003) got in touch with Johann, said he liked his pieces and asked for more information about Bolivia. It’s because they are some of the best reporting out there.

  26. 26  Alex Higgins  February 14, 2009, 10:41 am 

    “There is nothing more crashingly boring than saying isn’t ‘Saddam/ Milosevic/ Hitler evil’? Thankfully there are no ‘will-you-condemn-a-thons’ on Unspeak”

    I agree, and like Aaronovitch Watch, it’s nice to be somewhere on the Internet where you don’t have to explain every sentence that you are absolutely against this or that atrocity in order to avoid some pseudonymous bore accusing you of loving you some Hamas/Taliban/Saddam/Stalin or whatever.

    As a friend of Johann’s the last couple of days have been a little scary (not as scary as for the staff at the Statesman, who are now out on bail and may face future arrest) and as a fan of Steven’s and Unspeak.net, it was a little weird to then come here and find the course that discussion had taken.

    “What I meant was that Hari was focusing attention rather too much on himself relative to the principle at stake and most particularly the two people imprisoned in India.”

    Fair enough. I can tell you that Johann has been in regular contact with the people at the Statesman since this began. He is not able to actually visit West Bengal at the moment because a warrant has been issued for his arrest. But since he is in a much safer position than anyone in India, it makes sense not to put the focus on them.

  27. 27  Steven  February 14, 2009, 10:48 am 

    What I don’t understand is what purpose, pragmatically, the authors of articles such as Hari’s first one (the one in response to which there were riots and threats of violence, both of which I think are bad things, readers!) think they are going to serve. It seems to me that the monologue goes something like this:

    1 (to benighted savage) Hello, benighted savage! In our splendid liberal democracies, we have a thing called “free speech”.

    2 What’s that you say? You believe in God? Sheesh, what a fucking idiot. And by the way, your “prophet” was basically a paedophile.

    3 No, wait, I’m allowed to say that, because of “free speech”!

    4 See how brilliant our liberal democracies are?

  28. 28  Gregor  February 14, 2009, 12:21 pm 

    I agree with some of what Alex says. Hari offered to let me interview him when I was a student. He is far from being a ‘bad guy’. He is also one of the few left-wingers to actually support a left wing leader: Hugo Chavez. A ‘burgeoning dictator’ as he was called in The Guardian. A burgeoning dictator who wins and loses elections maybe, but a burgeoning dictator anyway.

    If I were not already hogging the forum, I would have written about how Rory Carroll (the Guardian’s Latin American correspondent) tends to refer to real social democrat leaders as ‘populist’ and generally scoff at them. Whilst Chavez deserves some criticism, I notice that the Guardian has also been extremely scathing about the Kirchners in Argentina.
    Even if you ignore the vast evidence that the economy stabilised and grew under Nestor Kirchner (which the Guardian is indeed happy to ignore), according to Privacy International, the Argentinean state is far less intrusive than the British one. Yet ‘leftist’ Guardian writers give no praise for that, instead preferring to publish bitchy articles about whether Mrs Kirchner has had botox injections.

    Anyway I digress. Whilst Hari has written some pretty good foreign reportage, his articles on religion are silly and counterproductive. He seems in this regard to embody John Gray’s ideas that enlightenment liberalism has given rise to a pseudo-Christian concept of teleological history. This is demonstrated by the section I quoted previously about how belief in God will someday be like belief in Zeus.

    And I do agree with Steven that being offensive is counter productive. To say (as Hari did once) that Britain is secular because Christianity is ridiculed is to get the process backwards. It is easy to criticise Christianity in Britain because we live in a vastly secular country.

    I say that Hari should become the Guardian’s Latin American correspondent, and Carroll can take his place along John Rentoul and Simon Carr in the op ed pages of The Independent.

  29. 29  Steven  February 14, 2009, 1:37 pm 

    Is anyone here able to verify the UN story that was the hook for Hari’s first piece? He wrote:

    The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors. […]
    The UN’s Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head.

    This is rather confusing since Hari talks about a UN role that does not exist, the “Rapporteur on Human Rights”. In fact, there are rapporteurs on things like “the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism”, “the human rights of migrants”, “the situation of human rights defenders”, etc etc. There are, perhaps more relevantly, rapporteurs “on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, and also “on freedom of religion or belief”.

    One would assume, then, that by “The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be global guardian of free speech”, Hari means the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue.

    But hang on, in Hari’s newer article, Mr. La Rue’s sex has changed: the rapporteur Hari is talking about is now a “she” rather than a “he”:

    The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has always had the job of investigating governments who forcibly take the fundamental human right to free speech from their citizens with violence. But in the past year, a coalition of religious fundamentalist states has successfully fought to change her job description. Now, she has to report on “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets.” Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it.

    So one must assume Hari is not talking, as he first claimed, about “the UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech”, because that guy is a man. But who is he talking about, then? There is still no UN job called “the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights”.

    In December the GA adopted a resolution on “Combating defamation of religions”, but (at least in this draft that I could find [pdf]) it does not change the mandate of the rapporteur on freedom of expression. The rapporteur whom the resolution tasks to watch out for “defamation” of religion is, in fact, “the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. That rapporteur is indeed a woman, Ms. Asma Jahangir. So maybe that’s who Hari is thinking of. But then, it can’t be, since obviously the position she currently occupies hasn’t ever been that of “the global guardian of free speech”.

    Meanwhile, though, the mandate of the actual “global guardian of free speech”, ie the rapporteur on freedom of expression, was changed “in the last year”, in March 2008. The human rights council’s resolution [pdf] on that, however, contains nothing about investigating “defamation of religion”, although it does task the rapporteur, to “report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination”. (His main job remains, of course, to “gather all relevant information, wherever it may occur, relating to violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, discrimination against, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution or intimidation directed at persons seeking to exercise or to promote the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, so obviously Hari can’t be thinking of this when he writes “Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it”, quite apart from the already-noted fact that Mr. La Rue is not a woman.)

    So what exactly is the real story here?

  30. 30  abb1  February 14, 2009, 4:52 pm 

    Yeah, unfortunately anti-religious radicalism is one of those “infantile disorders”. It’s easy to catch this virus, hard to get rid of it.

  31. 31  Steven  February 14, 2009, 6:38 pm 

    Further to #29 above: at Butterflies and Wheels, a commenter rightly pointed out:

    There is no “UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights”. In fact there are currently 36 Special Rapporteurs, whose various mandates include…”Freedom of Opinion and Expression”, and, yes, “Freedom of Religion or Belief”.

    To which Ophelia Benson (who thinks I “fight dirty”, bless) then replied:

    Yes, and in spring of 2008 the mandate of that special rapporteur was changed to include policing for ‘abuses’ of expression that offend religion.

    Um:

    a) To be precise, as I was above at #29, the special rapporteur on the freedom of expression’s duties were widened to include that to “report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination”, which is not what Benson says;

    b) That mandate contains nothing about a duty to watch out for “defamation” of religion, which is what Hari is claiming is now part of the job definition of whatever rapporteur he is talking about; and

    c) That rapporteur is a man, and Hari in his second article refers to the person holding the imaginary job title of “Rapporteur on Human Rights” as a woman.

    So it remains terribly unclear what exactly he is talking about, if he is not simply conflating two different rapporteurs — the one for freedom of expression, and the one for “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” — and ending up saying a false thing.

  32. 32  Tawfiq Chahboune  February 14, 2009, 6:43 pm 

    The fact that Hari is not Jewish is the very reason that I said it was strange that he cried “anti-semitism” at Private Eye.

    By the way, I think that’s a dirty trick saying that I must believe that Hari is Jewish. Thus distancing yourself from making the charge and leaving the smear in place. Very nice work. All of which reminds me of the time when I wrote that I thought Alain De Botton absolutely awful – actually, Steven himself once did a brilliant piece about him. I received heaven knows how many emails telling me I was an “anti-semite” and all kinds of appalling stuff. I didn’t even know that he was Jewish: I thought he was of French descent. It also shows up people’s prejudices in jumping to (erroneous) conclusions from my name.

    Yes, I found out about Hari’s “dicrepancy” in Private Eye. They’re usually excellent on this kind of stuff – although they made themselves look very silly indeed by running to Emma Brockes’s defence.

    I did follow this carefully and I’ve read Hari’s “rebuttal”, and it doesn’t make any sense at all. Is Richard Ingrams homophobic? He’s certainly said some homophobic stuff in the past and Paul Foot, Ingrams’s closest friend, is on record as saying that Ingrams’s attitude towards gays is outrageous and intolerable.

    Now, for the sake of argument, let us assume Ingrams is a raving homophobe, as the Spitting Image caricature had him. Well, what has that got to do with Hari’s “discepancies”? Granted, this becomes a motivation and is now a mitigating factor that must be kept in mind. Nevertheless, if there is a simple explanation, well, let’s hear it! All we’re left from Hari is cries of “anti-semitism” and homophobia. Throwing accusations around is not proof of anything. At the end, Private Eye’s case has not been rebutted. Hari threatened Harry’s Place with legal action, but did not threaten any suchaction at Private Eye. Interesting, don’t you think?

    This is the same absurd defence Brockes’s media chums have put up: Chomsky is a warped human being, herefore Chomsky must have said the things Brockes reported. (Incidentally, things got even more nasty when Chomsky asked for the taped “interview” to be released. But Brockes had accidentally taped over it!) Similarly, Ingrams is a homophobe and anti-semite, therefore what Hari’s reporting from Iraq is true! The logic here is a wonder.

    I don’t know Ingrams and have never met him (although I greatly admire what he’s done and his Cobbett book is excellent) but his alleged homophobia is almost entirely irrelevant. If Hari could clear up the “discepancies” then we would see that perhaps he is right in thinking that Private Eye has a homophobic grudge against him. Personally, I think their grudge is motivated by the fact that he is a gormless fool, with evidence that he may have made up a story about Iraqis pleading for invasion.

    The last word should be about freedom of speech. As Steven rightly notes, the campaigns liberals choose to join are instructive. If you take a look at Index on Censorship you will see all kinds of far more deserving causes, and ones that democrats and progressives (sorry, Steven, that might be a bit os unspeak there) in the Islamic world need help in. I wonder why these puffed-up “liberals” never choose to help these people and their campaigns. Meanwhile, any egoist who cries Mohammed is a paedophile gets their support. For anyone who doesn’t know, our “liberals” are detested by progressives in the Islamic world. Why? They constantly make their lives ever more difficult and with their stpid “liberal” antics strengthen the forces of reaction and fanaticism.

  33. 33  Steven  February 14, 2009, 6:54 pm 

    Vague insinuations about “allegations” of “discrepancies” in uncited articles written by Hari are very much off-topic and all further such references will be deleted. Thanks. (I would still like to know if anyone can help with #29 and #31.)

  34. 34  Gregor  February 14, 2009, 7:15 pm 

    But hang on, in Hari’s newer article, Mr. La Rue’s sex has changed: the rapporteur Hari is talking about is now a “she” rather than a “he”

    I’ve noticed Hari does that a lot: use ‘she’ and ‘her’ as a generic term. It is cringeworthy and is presumably to show what a big-hearted feminist he is. I don’t think that it is right to use ‘he’ as a gerneric term either, but it does nothing for feminism to say ‘she’.

  35. 35  Chris Schoen  February 14, 2009, 11:52 pm 

    Steven,

    A commenter at B&W has posted a link to the resolution Hari was purportedly referring to, and it seems to be the same as the latter of your two links @29 (that is, the resolution amending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Free Expression).

    Put that together with Gregor’s comment on Hari’s use of gender-neutral pronouns, and–mystery solved?

    It does seem that both Hari and Benson grossly misrepresent the nature of the resolution, which does not change the S.R.’s mandate in the sense of removing or de-prioritizing his or her directives, but merely requests the S.R. include the investigation of cases where “abuse of the freedom of expression” amounts to discrimination. The words “defamation of religions and prophets” do not appear, together, or singly. Nothing has been “turned on its head.”

    Perhaps the UNHRC should consider filing a defamation suit of its own?

  36. 36  Alex Higgins  February 15, 2009, 4:20 pm 

    Hey Steven, getting back to points made at #29 and #31…

    I spoke to Johann about the original article on the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights. He says that most of the information for this piece comes from telephone interviews with bureaucrats working within the UNCHR to implement the new policy. Of these, only Roy Brown was prepared to be named. The interviewees supported Johann’s interpretation of what they are being asked to.

    As Gregor suggests, Johann uses ‘he’ and ‘she’ to describe the role of UN Special Rapporteur in the abstract as the job has been held both by men and women and he didn’t want to stereotype it as belonging to one or the other. Which may end up causing confusion…

    There is more at the Center of Inquiry here.

  37. 37  Alex Higgins  February 15, 2009, 4:47 pm 

    In general it seems here that Johann is getting mixed up with people he has dissociated from publicly for years. Google, for instance, his review of Nick Cohen’s book ‘What’s Left’. He is very different from Cohen, or Oliver Kamm, or the Harry’s Place posters.

    Johann does have a real record, not merely a rhetorical one, of supporting liberals in Islamic communities and countries against chauvinists. He also has a long record of condemning crimes against Muslim peoples committed by the West and its allies – see his accounts from the Gaza Strip, or his articles on Iraq from 2004 onwards, for instance.

    He has done a great deal of reporting from the Global South, from the point of view of those who live there and doesn’t see them as inferiors requiring Western civilisation to recuse them.

  38. 38  Chris Schoen  February 15, 2009, 7:16 pm 

    @36 Alex Higgins wrote:

    “The interviewees supported Johann’s interpretation of what they are being asked to.”

    According to Hari, you mean. I’m not saying he’s lying. I’m saying that the people he chose to speak to at HRC supported his interpretation, in his own subsequent retelling of their conversations. That’s hardly independent confirmation.

    The fact that he gets so much wrong in the two articles (e.g. there is no UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, and there is no mention of “defamation of religions or prophets” in the resolution that amends the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur who actually exists) calls out for some corroboration of the facts by other journalists.

  39. 39  Steven  February 15, 2009, 7:49 pm 

    Thanks, Alex. So the upshot, it seems, is:

    that when Hari twice wrote “the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights”, he actually meant the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;

    that when Hari twice wrote that that job now includes watching out for the “defamation of religions and prophets”, this was simply false;

    that when in his first article he said this happened “recently” he was stretching a bit, given that “recently” in a daily newspaper is usually assumed to be more recent than 11 months ago;

    that when Hari wrote “the job has been turned on its head”, and that the rapporteur “has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors”, and “Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it”, he was reporting as fact what was actually his own “interpretation”; and

    that this grossly distorting and misleading “interpretation” — with its flat-out false claim that the Special Rapporteur’s job is no longer to defend free speech (easily seen to be false with reference to 7/36, as cited above at #29) — nonetheless allegedly attracted the “agreement” of certain telephoned UN officials who chose to remain anonymous, and that is why it was okay to state it as fact with no mention of sources (anonymous or otherwise) or references to actual resolutions of UN bodies.

    Is that right?

  40. 40  Lazynative  February 16, 2009, 1:18 pm 

    I am intrigued to learn that Hari can’t enter West Bengal and that journalists have been imprisoned for publishing his articles there – could anyone provide further details in this?

  41. 41  Steven  February 16, 2009, 2:22 pm 

    Two journalists at the Statesman were arrested (a bad thing) and then released on “interim bail”.

    Incidentally, the thread at Butterflies and Wheels is by now a rather illuminating illustration of the fact that Benson and her chums, the heroic champions of empirical reason and truth etc, don’t care at all that Hari’s account of developments at the UN is, as it seems on the evidence adduced above, utter bollocks (as Chris Schoen has been patiently telling them). The main thing, it seems, is that he is on their side in the struggle against the creeping global scourge of religion etc.

  42. 42  Lazynative  February 16, 2009, 2:44 pm 

    Thanks for that, Interesting, didn’t know about that. It should be added though that the arrest of the Statesman senior staff was a reaction to the public disorder created by the protests by the religious minority in West Bengal. They were arrested after the protests and disturbances not before and it was a reaction of the Indian state which deals with these incidents by trying to elminate any such utterances which create such disturbances, it isn’t a pro-active policy of state censorship. The senior staff were arrested for what seems like less than a day and released o bail; their case will go to court and there is virutally nil chance of them being convicted or spending anymore time in jail.

    I disagree with Indian state policy on this and its general approach; however I feel it is more due to the desire of the state govt to avoid any more incidents where there might be a recourse to police firing and potential deahts and to avoid alienating a constituency that the eFront govt relies on for votes. Unwise in the long run and myopic, yes; informed by a desire to censor anti-religious views because they are anti-religious, no. The paper in question takes a hardline against extremism and fundamentalism of both the Islamist and Hindutva variety.

  43. 43  schauspiele  February 16, 2009, 4:33 pm 

    I’ve noticed Hari does that a lot: use ’she’ and ‘her’ as a generic term. It is cringeworthy and is presumably to show what a big-hearted feminist he is. I don’t think that it is right to use ‘he’ as a gerneric term either, but it does nothing for feminism to say ’she’.

    If it wouldn’t be too much of a thread derail, I’d like to hear more about why using “she” as the universal pronoun is cringeworthy and does nothing for feminism.

  44. 44  Steven  February 16, 2009, 5:14 pm 

    I don’t know, schauspiele — it’s something I do myself, to some people’s annoyance. (I think it’s extremely weird to do it when talking about a specific person who is actually a man, though.)

  45. 45  Hannah  February 16, 2009, 6:32 pm 

    No, I don’t think that is right. Many other people, quite apart from hari, have observed this phenomenon.

    Here’s a report by the International Humanist Union, which monitors religion at the UN very closely, that makes precisely the point Johann made.

    http://www.iheu.org/node/3275

    It notes (from September last year):

    “A resolution “combating defamation of religions” was first introduced by the OIC in 1999 in the old Commission for Human Rights and has been adopted every year since – by the Commission and now by the Human Rights Council. Then in December last year the resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly by a two to one majority. Now while the resolution is not binding on member states, it has created a framework in which it becomes legitimate for States to introduce (or where they have them already – to keep) laws combating defamation of religion: that is, blasphemy laws – laws which, I need not to remind you, some states apply with deadly effect. Rather than moving to eliminate such laws the UN is now complicit in creating an environment in which such laws can thrive.

    In March this year, the Council adopted a resolution which modified the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression to require him (or her) not only to report on violations of that right but to report on abuse of that freedom. In the words of one commentator, “it has turned the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on its head”.”

    PEN – one of the main organisations defending writers’ rights – equally warned about this very danger.

    http://www.englishpen.org/writ.....xpression/

    They wrote: “We, the Undersigned, are particularly troubled by the repeated attacks against the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, and freedom of expression.”
    The other signatories to this letter included:
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egypt
    Adaleh Center for Human Rights Studies, Jordan
    Al-Haq, Palestine
    Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
    Amman Centre for Human Rights, Jordan
    Azerbaijan Journalists’ Trade Union, Azerbaijan
    Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bahrain
    Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Canada
    Cartoonists Rights Network, USA
    Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, Syria
    Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egypt
    Freedom House, USA
    Greek Helsinki Monitor, Greece
    Index on Censorship, U.K
    International Pen, U.K
    Iraqi Centre for Transparency and Anti-Corruption, Iraq
    La Ligue Tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme, Tunisia
    Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
    Massline Media Centre (MMC), Bangladesh
    Media Institute of Southern Africa, Namibia
    Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria
    Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Palestine
    Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Pakistan
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France
    Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Thailand
    The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
    The Arabic Network for Human Rights (Egyptian)
    The Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), Pakistan
    The Network of African Academics for Media Policy and Regulation
    The World Association of Newspapers, France

    (Note that many of these are Muslims, which rather undermines Seven’s fear that they will perceive themselves to be addressed as “benighted savages” and find Johann’s support offensive.)

    If Johann’s is an interpretation, it is one believed in by pretigious and impeccable day to day observers of the UN, and the passing of the resolution has had a direct and practical effect. As Johann reported:

    “Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” – and Brown was ordered to be silent.”

    I emailed Johann (who, like Alex, is a friend of mine) and asked where he got the phrase about the defamation of prophets from. He said he was told by people in the office working directly to the rapporteur that this was how they understood their work, and he checked it with these links:

    http://www.wluml.org/english/n.....157-553927

    http://www.asianews.it/index.p.....8;art=5399

    http://crf.hudson.org/index.cf.....38;id=5390

    On a seperate point, apparently, since the Rapporteur works for the Human Rights Council, he is known as a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, but not The Rapporteur on Human Rights, there are several, this is the one that specialises in freedom of expression. He should have called it ‘a Rapporteur on Human Rights’, not ‘The Rapporteur on Human Rights.’ That was a real mistake.

  46. 46  Chris Schoen  February 16, 2009, 6:52 pm 

    Hannah,

    The fact remains that “defamation of prophets” did not make it into the resolution expanding the charter of the Special Rapporteur.

    We already know that Johann Hari has sources on the HRC who (he says) agree with his interpretation. It’s doubtlessly true that the OIC is trying to promulgate a sharia-based declaration of rights that would impede speech in an illiberal way. This is something to keep our eye on, surely. But–what’s the phrase? The system worked. The resolutions Hari cites do not include the language he says they do. No new principles of jurisprudence have been adopted by the council, nor have any new offenses been established.

    The conflict of interests between Islamic traditionalists and secular liberals is a real one. But Hari’s play-by-play of recent developments is simply not supported by the documentary evidence. Read the actual resolutions, not the press releases put out by advocacy groups. There’s no there there.

  47. 47  Mordaunt  February 16, 2009, 7:19 pm 

    I disagree with Indian state policy on this and its general approach; however I feel it is more due to the desire of the state govt to avoid any more incidents where there might be a recourse to police firing and potential deahts and to avoid alienating a constituency that the eFront govt relies on for votes. Unwise in the long run and myopic, yes; informed by a desire to censor anti-religious views because they are anti-religious, no. The paper in question takes a hardline against extremism and fundamentalism of both the Islamist and Hindutva variety.

    Given India’s history of inter-communal violence (1 million killed at partition, IIRC and plenty more since then) I think there is a fairly substantive public order issue involved. By analogy, I’m pretty sure that if I were to try walking down the Falls Road wearing a t-shirt with the legend “fuck the Pope” I’d be nicked for behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace before you could say “John Stuart Mill” assuming, of course, that the locals did not get to you before the police. The undesirable consequence of this is that it means certain things are unsayable in certain contexts. The undesirable consequence of embracing a policy of free speech fundamentalism would, one imagines, be riots, violence and the death of innocents. Granted this is all a bad thing, but given a choice of undesirable outcomes I say boldly that a certain amount of religious censorship is preferable to innocent people being killed.

  48. 48  Hannah  February 16, 2009, 8:38 pm 

    It seems (a) there is a Special Rapporteur
    (b) his/her job has been changed in a way that requires him/her to monitor criticism of religion by Islamic fundamentalist states
    (c) lots of people are worried about it.

    So the story wasn’t “bollocks”, as Steven claimed.

    Johann quoted the Pakistani representative who pioneered the changes, who does seem to have called for “defamation of prophets” to be banned. But Johann should have made it clear that the proposals he (I think we can safely say ‘he’ in this instance) made were somewhat watered down before they did indeed change the rapporteur’s job to make him issue reports condemning some uses of free speech, instead of guarding free speech, which was the original point of his/her job.

  49. 49  Steven  February 16, 2009, 8:55 pm 

    Hannah, nothing you cite or link to rebuts anything in #39, as far as I can see. I agree with Chris: “Read the actual resolutions, not the press releases put out by advocacy groups.”

  50. 50  Hannah  February 16, 2009, 8:57 pm 

    Oh it cut off the last part of my psot, not sure why.

    Chris, you say: “But–what’s the phrase? The system worked.”

    Did it? Hari reports: “Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” – and Brown was ordered to be silent.””

    You acknowledge that Islamist states are trying to neuter discussion at the UN, and it seems in practice they have succeeded. The chairs of UN meetings seem to agree with Johann, not with you, in that they are stopping criticisms of religion being voiced in UN forums.

  51. 51  Steven  February 16, 2009, 9:12 pm 

    they did indeed change the rapporteur’s job to make him issue reports condemning some uses of free speech, instead of guarding free speech, which was the original point of his/her job

    False, as explained above. Read the mandate.

  52. 52  Roy W Brown  February 16, 2009, 9:46 pm 

    Steven

    I would like to respond to your question in post no. 29.

    It was the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression whose mandate was turned on its head in March 2008. He (yes it is a “he” – Frank Larue. Hari must have been thinking of Asma Jahangir, the SR on Freedom of Religion or Belief) is now required to report not only violations of Freedom of Expression such as the imprisonment or murder of journalists but “abuse” of freedom of expression such as “defaming” religion by, for example, attacking the right of a 53 year old prophet to have sex with a 9 year old girl, or the stoning of women for adultery. This change was adopted at the Human Rights Council following an amendment by Pakistan which, in the words of the Canadian delegation “has turned the SR’s mandate on its head”.

    I have personally felt the heat of this change when trying to alert the Council to the implications of attempts by the Islamic States to introduce their own concept of “Islamic” human rights, based excliusively by sharia law. I have been told that “It is insulting to our faith to discuss the sharia in this forum” – a point of order by Pakistan which the president of the Council accepted. I have also been accused – by Egypt – of “inciting haterd” every time I speak – because I have pointed out the abuse of human rights carried out under Islamic law. You can see my reports on some of these shenanigans – which have been going on for years – on our website at: http://www.iheu.org.

    On another point, the permissible limits to Freedom of Expression in international law are set out in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It is not permissible to incite anyone to violence or murder. But it is permissible to criticise, or even ridicule religious claims. The basic principle is that it is human beings that have human rights, not opinions or beliefs. It is this fundamental principle that is now at risk following the change in the SR’s mandate, and successive resolutions adopted by both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly “Combating Dafamation of Religion”

    Roy W Brown, IHEU Main Representative, UN Geneva

  53. 53  Hannah  February 16, 2009, 10:01 pm 

    Oh, what he said.

    But also Steven, you say is is wrong for Johann to have said “they did indeed change the rapporteur’s job to make him issue reports condemning some uses of free speech, instead of guarding free speech.” It’s the ‘instead of’ that you object to. But surely Johann’s point was that it is impossible to both uphold the right to free speech and condemn its use in so many isntances?

    You might disagree with that view and believe there are legitimate restrictions on free speech when it comes to religion or whatever, but it doesn’t prove Johann’s claim was “false”, merely that you disagree with the premise on which he is arguing. That’s a fair disagreement, not a point of fact.

  54. 54  Steven  February 16, 2009, 10:37 pm 

    Roy Brown —

    He […] is now required to report not only violations of Freedom of Expression such as the imprisonment or murder of journalists but “abuse” of freedom of expression such as “defaming” religion […] This change was adopted at the Human Rights Council

    The word “defaming” or “defamation” does not appear at all in the HRC’s resolution 7/36 of March 2008. Are you claiming that the HRC “adopted” this “change” at some later time? If so, please provide evidence.

    Since some people apparently can’t be bothered to look it up for themselves, I here reproduce clause 4(d) of HRC resolution 7/36 in full:

    To report on instances in which the abuse of the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account articles 19 (3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and general comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which stipulates that the prohibition of the dissemination of all ideas based upon racial superiority or hatred is compatible with the freedom of opinion and expression.

  55. 55  Chris Schoen  February 16, 2009, 10:40 pm 

    Mr. Brown,

    With respect, the text of the resolution does not support your interpretation. It explicitly restricts itself abuses that “constitute of racial or religious discrimination,” and only in a manner which is consonant with Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR.

    No provisions for criticizing the practice of stoning, or for expressing disrespect of the prophet, have been added.

  56. 56  Lazynative  February 16, 2009, 10:42 pm 

    Given India’s history of inter-communal violence (1 million killed at partition, IIRC and plenty more since then) I think there is a fairly substantive public order issue involved. By analogy, I’m pretty sure that if I were to try walking down the Falls Road wearing a t-shirt with the legend “fuck the Pope” I’d be nicked for behaviour liable to cause a breach of the peace before you could say “John Stuart Mill” assuming, of course, that the locals did not get to you before the police. The undesirable consequence of this is that it means certain things are unsayable in certain contexts. The undesirable consequence of embracing a policy of free speech fundamentalism would, one imagines, be riots, violence and the death of innocents. Granted this is all a bad thing, but given a choice of undesirable outcomes I say boldly that a certain amount of religious censorship is preferable to innocent people being killed.

    Yes, true but sometimes it fustrates me. We don’t seem to be able to move beyond the status quo of keeping certain subjects off tabs and increasingly this is exploited by various groups to grab some headlines and mobilise their own community. The attempted censorship of a biography of Shivaji by the Shiv Sena, violence towards the film “Water”,banning of the Satanic Verses and the banning by some states in the Indian union of the Da Vinci Code; is simply refusing to allow certain matters to be discussed even when the intention isn’t to provoke or cause hatred. There is little in Hari’s article that could be said to provoke hatred, religious-minded people could dislike its reasoning or its conclusions but bit of a stretch to say more than that. Unfortunately these days instead of trying to have reasoned debtate about these things, it is easier for people to take to the streets and start disturbances. This limits the maturity of our public discourse.

    The West Bengal state govt should have been a bit firmer in this regard, unfortunately they tend to cave in on these situations, esepcially where the Muslim community is concerned; the shameful treatment of Taslima Nasreen being a case in point.

  57. 57  Steven  February 16, 2009, 10:44 pm 

    Hannah —

    But also Steven, you say is is wrong for Johann to have said “they did indeed change the rapporteur’s job to make him issue reports condemning some uses of free speech, instead of guarding free speech.”

    You are quoting yourself there, not Hari.

    Hari actually wrote that “the job has been turned on its head”; that the S.R. “has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors”; and that “Instead of defending free speech, she must now oppose it”. As far as I can see, on the evidence so far adduced in this thread by everyone including Hari’s defenders, these statements are simply untrue.

  58. 58  Gregor  February 16, 2009, 11:27 pm 

    -‘If it wouldn’t be too much of a thread derail, I’d like to hear more about why using “she” as the universal pronoun is cringeworthy and does nothing for feminism.’

    Well, it offends the inner Vulcan because it is only logical to use ‘they’ if it is an indeterminate sex. If they say ‘he’ I presume they are a tweedy old git; if they say ‘she’ (and it is a man) I tend to think they are trying to be ingratiating.

  59. 59  Chris Schoen  February 16, 2009, 11:40 pm 

    The chairs of UN meetings seem to agree with Johann, not with you, in that they are stopping criticisms of religion being voiced in UN forums.

    I never said they didn’t. I’m not sure why HRC President Costea is going along with this. From the transcripts I’ve read it seems like he’s trying to navigate a fine line where practices like stoning and FGM may be criticized if they are not directly tied to Islam. I’m a little out of my depth on the sort of realpolitik considerations he needs to manage. Or maybe he’s just a hack.

    At any rate, this is a different matter than what the Special Rapporteur was tasked to do, which is what I was commenting on earlier.

  60. 60  Roy W Brown  February 17, 2009, 6:59 am 

    I see that I need to clarify what I said about “defamation of religion”.
    The old HR Commission and now the Human Rights Council have adopted a separate resolution every year since 1999 “Combating defamation of religion”. The full text of the resolution adopted in 2008 can be found here: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/.....S_7_19.pdf
    Similar resolutions were passed by the UN General Assembly in Dec 2007 and Dec 2008.
    The problem has been exacerbated by the success of the Islamic States and the SR on contemporary forms of racism to identify any criticism of Islam or Islamic law with racism under the catch-all label of “Islamophobia”, which is equated with inciting hatred towards Muslims. The combined affect of this three-pronged attack has been to silence any criticism in the Council of any barbarity linked to Sharia law – such as the stoning of women that I mentioned in my previous post.

  61. 61  Roy W Brown  February 17, 2009, 7:02 am 

    I am sorry your system shortened the url of the Council resolution on defamation of religion. If anyone is interested you can find it on www,ohchr.org by looking under human rights bodies, then human rights council, then 7th session, then resolutions.

  62. 62  abb1  February 17, 2009, 9:45 am 

    Roy, I read a piece on your website by Rob Buitenweg (http://www.iheu.org/node/286). He writes:

    If Westerners are prepared to do so [to engage in an empathic understanding of the ideas of others], they may understand that many Muslims’ rejection of modernity and its product human rights is due in part to the imposition of modernity on Muslim countries during the era of colonisation. Abu Zayd and Mohammed Arkoune show that in the eyes of many Muslims modernity is the face of the coloniser and the master, the enemy and the teacher. To regain a true independence Muslim countries has striven for an identity that differs from a Western one (Arkoune 1995: 453-457).

    Westerners and Muslims should also take into consideration their biographical history. History shows, that we, since the birth of Islam in the seventh century, have lived with the idea that the people next door were strange people. Christians on the one hand and Muslims on the other have become inimical towards each other in a process in which theology has been mingled with political power, as Arkoune has said (1995: 453-457). Theological views were developed to gain political power that was used in turn to support theological views. We depicted each other as political and religious enemies. According to Abu Zayd Muslims still are the enemy of the west. Inimical feelings towards Islam have revived in the West, especially since the demise of the Soviet Union.

    Do you suppose something like this might be going on there (to an extent, at least), rather than purely political conspiracy/bullying by the Islamic states, as you insist?

    In which case, could it be that direct attempts at “imposition of modernity” might, in fact, be sorta counterproductive?

  63. 63  Hannah  February 17, 2009, 9:50 am 

    Thanks Roy. So they did indeed resolve “to take effective measures against the defamation of religions,” as your link shows. Your experiences also show how it has had precisely the effect Johann said it did.

    Steven, I think you are missing my point. You seems to be arguing that the Rapporteur can simultanously uphold the right to free speech, and condemn some uses of it. Johann believes that’s impossible, and if you require the same institution to uphold free speech and condemn it, you have turned the job on its head. This is a philosophical disagreement, not a factual one.

  64. 64  Steven  February 17, 2009, 10:53 am 

    Roy Brown —

    I see that I need to clarify what I said about “defamation of religion”. The old HR Commission and now the Human Rights Council have adopted a separate resolution every year since 1999 “Combating defamation of religion”. The full text of the resolution adopted in 2008 can be found here

    No, that does not demonstrate the claim at issue, made by Hari and then you above at #52, that the S.R. on freedom of opinion must now report on “defamation” of religion. This resolution, like the one subsequently passed by the GA to which I referred at #29, does not change the role of the S.R. on freedom of opinion. It mentions only the role of the S.R. on “contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”:

    15. Invites the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to continue to report on all manifestations of defamation of religions, and in particular on the serious implications of Islamophobia, on the enjoyment of all rights to the Council at its ninth session.

  65. 65  Steven  February 17, 2009, 10:58 am 

    Hannah—

    Steven, I think you are missing my point. You seems to be arguing that the Rapporteur can simultanously uphold the right to free speech, and condemn some uses of it. Johann believes that’s impossible, and if you require the same institution to uphold free speech and condemn it, you have turned the job on its head. This is a philosophical disagreement, not a factual one.

    I have not been arguing about what I think the S.R. can or cannot do. I have been arguing about whether Hari’s characterisation of the situation is accurate.

    Let me be clear: if Hari had got the title of the S.R. in question right; and if he had not incorrectly inserted the phrase about “defamation of religion” with regard to the S.R. in question; and if he had said something like: “There now seems to be a tension between what remains the major part of the S.R.’s job — ie defending freedom of expression — and this new duty, viz., reporting on “abuse” of freedom of expression that constitutes racial or religious discrimination; and many people seem to be worried about this tension, and here is what a few of them have been saying”, then I would have raised no objections.

    But this is not what he actually wrote. And what he did actually write is not true.

  66. 66  Torquil Macneil  February 17, 2009, 3:16 pm 

    It would be interesting (to me at least) to have a plausible example of what an ‘abuse of freedom of speech’ such that it ‘constituted religious discrimination’ might be. ‘No Muslims here!’ might look like it fits the bill at first glance, but the abuse there would be the action, not the speech act describing it. Any ideas anyone? If not it would begin to look like something fishy is being smuggled in with the phrase, which would rather support Hari’s thesis.

    One way or the other, though, I am surprised to see that Stanley Fish quotation appearing with apparent approval. It is gibberish, isn’t it? I mean, I haven’t read the book and perhaps the removal of context does it violence, but on the face of it the assertion that speech is ‘never free of consequences’ is just silly. We can all come up with untold examples of consequence-free speech acts, I am sure. It is even sillier to claim that what we say impinges on the world in ways that are ‘indistinguishable’ from the effects of physical action. I can distinguish them very easily and would think that anyone who couldn’t would be, well, mad. I think the prof needs a long lie down.

    [

  67. 67  abb1  February 17, 2009, 4:32 pm 

    Well, someone (Gould?) wrote that from the biological point of view the only purpose of any communication to manipulate others into doing something. In that sense indeed speech is never free of consequences and it impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action. No?

  68. 68  Torquil Macneil  February 17, 2009, 4:53 pm 

    I don’t really see why we should swallow Gould’s view of the nature of speech Abb1, when it runs so counter to our experience and to the available evidence (anecdotally, at least). It looks flimsy to me. Why should we ignore all those instances of speech which are just there to express affection, for example? I think it is doubtful that all speech impinges on the world at all, but even if we allow that it does, it clearly impinges on it in a very different way to physical action. A person who says ‘I hate you!’ certainly impinges on my world but it is very easily distinguishable from the same sentiment expressed physically (perhaps by spitting at me or near me, or hitting me or refusing to let me sit at the front of the bus), not least in the degree of sincerity I am forced to attribute to the speaker/actor.

    Apropos, my daughter has just told me that ‘she loves pink milk’. I already know that and she knows I know that. It strikes me as a speech-act that is entirely free of consequences and it doesn’t seem to have impinged on the world at all. If she had gone to the fridge and glugged all the pink milk, though, that would have been a different matter. It would have impinged seriously, to the tune of 85p up the Swannee.

  69. 69  Chris Schoen  February 17, 2009, 4:55 pm 

    You seems to be arguing that the Rapporteur can simultanously uphold the right to free speech, and condemn some uses of it. Johann believes that’s impossible, and if you require the same institution to uphold free speech and condemn it, you have turned the job on its head. This is a philosophical disagreement, not a factual one.

    I guess this means it was a mistake to simultaneously task the police force with both apprehending suspects, and reading them their Miranda rights (not to mention refraining from beating confessions out of them, or wiretapping them without a warrant, etc.)

    Let’s cool down the rhetoric a little bit here. The resolution does not ask anyone to “condemn free speech.” It asks the SR for Freedom of Expression to report certain “abuses” of speech that comport with Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR, which is binding international law. Please distinguish between what you are sure to be true behind the scenes, and what is actually being enshrined in UN charter documents.

    There’s a good case to be made that there is a Special Rapporteur better suited to this task than the one on Freedom of Expression–namely, the SR on Freedom of Religion. But that’s not what’s being argued. Hari–and Roy Brown–are maintaining that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has been officially tasked by the Council with “seeking out and condemning … defamation of religion.” The documentary evidence contradicts this claim. Can we stop pretending now?

  70. 70  abb1  February 17, 2009, 6:03 pm 

    There is a reason why people who talk to themselves are perceived as insane. I’m afraid your daughter’s communication definitely does have a pragmatic purpose, not to mention expressions of affection that even the birds know impinges on the world.

  71. 71  abb1  February 17, 2009, 6:06 pm 

    It’s probably Dawkins, though, not Gould. Sounds more like Dawkins.

  72. 72  richard  February 17, 2009, 6:32 pm 

    speech is never free of consequences and it impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action.

    Anthropologists* have been noodling over this for a long time: communication is, indeed, never free of consequences, since it has some effect even on the “speaker.” For a great discussion of the workings of political speech, I recommend Webb Keane’s Signs of Recognition – it’s a little jargony and repetitive, but it contains high-quality thinking. I’m not sure speech is, even in the limited sense abb1 offers, indistinguishable from physical action (even when it leads to that action): perhaps that’s different in different cultures.

    * I don’t think we should give any kind of free pass to “hard” scientists where evaluation of speech acts is concerned, unless they are pioneering novel empirical methods for measuring the acts and their effects. AFAIK no such methods have yet been developed, so anthropologists, with their woolly, idealist/rationalist philosophizing, are as reliable as anyone else.

  73. 73  Steven  February 17, 2009, 6:33 pm 

    It is surely true that any speech act that is heard by another person does ipso facto impinge upon the world and have consequences.

    As for “indistinguishable”, I take it that Fish’s argument is not the absurd proposition that any particular speech act is indistinguishable from any particular physical action, so that saying “Hello” is indistinguishable from punching someone in the face, but that there is no general rule that allows us to make a wholesale distinction (ethical, legal) between speech acts and physical actions. I’m not sure whether I agree with that, but it’s less silly than the first interpretation.

  74. 74  Edmund  February 17, 2009, 7:01 pm 

    “It’s probably Dawkins, though, not Gould. Sounds more like Dawkins.”

    Abb1, are you thinking of the statement that communication “is manipulation of the signal-receiver by the signal-sender”? It’s Dawkins, from “The Extended Phenotype”.

    [As a statement it strikes me as a bit daft, but then again I’m a physicist, not a biologist]

  75. 75  Gregor  February 17, 2009, 7:02 pm 

    ‘speech is never free of consequences and it impinges on the world in ways indistinguishable from the effects of physical action.’

    I think this is true. And this is why war crimes tribunals are always very murky.

    See that the Independent is blazing the trail of wonderful journalism. Dominic Lawson tells us ‘Why I blame the Scots for the Banking Crisis’. The Independent evidently thought that this masterwork deserved three titles, with two more given on the website as: ‘Our Amazing Tolerance of the Scots’ and ‘A sorry tale of Scottish shame – and English tolerance’.
    http://www.independent.co.uk/o.....23819.html

    The message is that a few Scottish bankers were unwise and their banks were bailed out by the leaders of a democratically elected British party (which was not significantly challenged by the opposition on this issue). Oh, and some bankers listened to the theme tune of Braveheart (I’m Scottish and I wouldn’t know what that sounded like).

    It is so dumb, I just don’t know where to start. I find it impossible to imagine someone buying the Independent. I could still buy the Saturday Guardian for the book reviews and the radio guide. But really, the Independent is unique in its poor research, its dressing of far right politics in liberal garb and its bad writing.

  76. 76  Chris Schoen  February 17, 2009, 7:19 pm 

    Roy,

    Your account seems to conflate two totally separate incidents. You write @ 52:

    [The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression] is now required to report not only violations of Freedom of Expression such as the imprisonment or murder of journalists but “abuse” of freedom of expression such as “defaming” religion by, for example, attacking the right of a 53 year old prophet to have sex with a 9 year old girl, or the stoning of women for adultery

    (It’s been noted ad nauseum that the bolded phrase is factually incorrect.)

    And then, @ 60

    The problem has been exacerbated by the success of the Islamic States and the SR on contemporary forms of racism to identify any criticism of Islam or Islamic law with racism under the catch-all label of “Islamophobia”, which is equated with inciting hatred towards Muslims. The combined affect of this three-pronged attack has been to silence any criticism in the Council of any barbarity linked to Sharia law – such as the stoning of women that I mentioned in my previous post.

    An incautious reader might take you to mean that it is the SR’s job to protect speech within the council itself, or that any of the resolutions under discussion here (whether 7/19 or 7/36) have directly led to HRC President Costea’s decision (for which I share your distress) to ban criticisms in the council session that tied practices like stoning and FGM to Islam.

    Furthermore, your phrasing (“the success of the Islamic States and the SR on contemporary forms of racism“) implies that the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism has campaigned in favor of “defamation of religion” statutes. This September 2008 article from Le Temps suggests just the opposite:

    On Thursday, Githu Muigai, the Special Rapporteur for contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, found it was not necessary to promote the sociological concept of defamation of religion but rather to adhere to juridical norms when it comes to inciting racial or religious hatred.

    In his report presented yesterday, Githu Muigai repeated the conclusions of his predecessor, Doudou Diène, France’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Speaking for the European Union, Jean-Baptiste Mattéi also applauded the reversal. ‘It is fundamental to make a distinction between criticizing religions and inciting religious hatred. Only the latter … should be banned.’ For France’s Ambassador, freedom of expression is an essential element for democracies. ‘One does not reduce tensions by preventing ideas about religion and belief.’

    Finally, I just want to make a comment about this “9 year-old girl” business. The girl in question was Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, to whom he was betrothed in the commonly accepted manner of the place and time. There is no historical reason to believe that the marriage was consummated before she began menstruating. The references in the Hadith to her age are conflicting and inconclusive, and it is at least plausible that references to a specific age of nine years is meant not literally, but as an indicator of her virginity. It’s rather rich to use the Quran and Hadith as documentary evidence for this supposed act of “pedophilia,” while at the same time mocking the same documents for their mystical accounts of, for example, Muhammad’s channeling of the Quran directly from the angel Jibril, or his miracle of “splitting the moon.”

    I don’t like the contemporary “child bride” practice any more than you do, but casting aspersions on the most sacred figure of over a billion people seems like an awfully ill-conceived way to curtail it. Free speech isn’t worth much if you can’t use it in a way that actually furthers your aims.

  77. 77  Hannah  February 17, 2009, 7:48 pm 

    Wait… so we’re all agreed that the UN is acting +as if+ the change described by Hari has happened, and “religious” matters like stoning women can’t be discussed there?

    And we’re agreed the UN has condemned the “defamation” of religions?

    Re: the name of the job: Johann’s description wasn’t wrong, just like it’s not wrong to call the Home Secretary a cabinet minister,. it was just imprecise. He is a Rapporteur for HUman Rights, as are all the Rapporteurs employed by that wing od the UN, he’s just also a Rappotruet for Freedom of Expression.

  78. 78  abb1  February 17, 2009, 9:01 pm 

    Ah, so he defines communication as manipulation. Anyway, I doubt that anyone would care about the kind of speech that is not communication.

  79. 79  abb1  February 17, 2009, 9:10 pm 

    And we’re agreed the UN has condemned the “defamation” of religions?

    So, does it mean you don’t believe that defamation (without quotation marks) of a religion is possible? What about something like, say, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; should it count as “criticism of barbarity”? Just curious.

  80. 80  Sara  February 17, 2009, 9:13 pm 

    “Hari–and Roy Brown–are maintaining that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression has been officially tasked by the Council with “seeking out and condemning … defamation of religion.” The documentary evidence contradicts this claim. Can we stop pretending now?”

    Pretending?

    Roy Brown has been representing an NGO at the Human Rights Council for five years – and you are setting him straight? You know more about it than he does? You think he’s pretending?

  81. 81  Chris Schoen  February 17, 2009, 9:18 pm 

    Sara,

    I was not directing that “we” at anyone in particular. I’m not accusing Roy, or anyone, of intentional deception or misrepresentation.

    However, there is no documentary evidence for this particular claim (the one you quoted) that Brown and Hari (and others) are making. I’m not trying to discredit their entire project. Just noting that the claim about the Special Rapporteur’s mandate is contradicted by the actual UN documents on file. See for yourself.

  82. 82  Roy W Brown  February 17, 2009, 10:03 pm 

    I thought I had explained but I was clearly not sufficiently precise.

    The requirement to report on defamation of religion (I used scare quotes around “defamation” earlier because defamation of religion is no-where defined and therefore open to interpretation) is not stated explicitly in the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, but arises because defamation of religion and Islamophobia are treated by the Human Rights Council, the OIC and now the UN General Assembly as abuse of freedom of expression.

    I hope that is clear.

    And yes, it has been used against me – however the mandate of the SR and various other resolutions might be worded – to silence criticism of Sharia law and the linking of barbaric practices to Sharia law.

  83. 83  abb1  February 17, 2009, 10:06 pm 

    Hey, anybody can get carried away, even Roy Brown, perhaps. Humanists think for themselves and question authority, don’t they.

  84. 84  Steven  February 17, 2009, 11:50 pm 

    I could still buy the Saturday Guardian for the book reviews

    A man of impeccable taste!

    But really, the Independent is unique in its poor research, its dressing of far right politics in liberal garb and its bad writing.

    It was quite good in the early 1990s.

  85. 85  Chris Schoen  February 18, 2009, 12:26 am 

    Roy,

    Getting clearer, perhaps, but no closer to vindicating your and Johann’s original statement.

    The resolution on defamation of religion, resolution 7/19, does not, in fact, define either defamation of religion or Islamophobia as abuses of free speech. To the contrary, it reaffirms the strict definition of abuse of free expression that is found in Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Steven quoted this once already, but anything worth reading is worth reading twice:

    12. [The Human Rights Council] emphasizes that, as stipulated in international human rights law,
    everyone has the right to freedom of expression, and that the exercise of this right carries with it special duties and responsibilities, and may therefore be subject tocertain restrictions, but only those provided by law and necessary for the respect of the rights or reputations of others, or for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals;

    You write that “defamation of religion” is “no-where defined and therefore open to interpretation.” Be that as it may, neither defamation nor Islamophobia are included in the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. They *do* find expression in the mandate of the the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance–but since *this* Special Rapporteur is not tasked with defending free speech, the supposed conflict of interest that Hari was wailing about, wherein the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression had to do the dirty work of the “Religious Censors” turns out to be less than a figment.

    The point is that there is an firewall, unmentioned by you and Hari, in the resolution changing the SR for F of E’s mandate; namely: the invocation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which remains unchanged and which has the force of International Law. Since the law has manifestly *not* be changed to include a broader definition of religious defamation, Hari’s charge of a “historic marker” at the UN, wherein the SR for F of E “must oppose” protected speech reduces to crying wolf.

  86. 86  Roy W Brown  February 18, 2009, 6:44 am 

    Chris

    I am afraid you are confusing the wording of the resolutions, which I agree is loose and not explicit, with the reality of working in the new environment created by these resolutions. The reality, sadly, is that we are now unable to expose violations of human rights in the Human Rights Council when Islam or Sharia law is used to justify them.

  87. 87  abb1  February 18, 2009, 9:00 am 

    Why can’t these violations be exposed as simply violations of human rights, on the case by case basis, as opposed to “criticism of Islam or Islamic law” (from comment 60)?

    When, say, a retarded person is electrocuted in, say, Texas – is it treated as an opportunity to attack the so-called “Judeo-Christian values”?

  88. 88  Roy W Brown  February 18, 2009, 9:04 am 

    Dear abb1

    I was not aware that in Texas the law was based on the Bible and cannot be changed by democratic means, nor that the government of Texas used biblical law as justification for their barbarity in order to silence critics with charges of blasphemy.

  89. 89  Torquil Macneil  February 18, 2009, 9:25 am 

    I am amazed to find posters on here who claim that they cannot distinguish between the effects of a speech act and the effects of a physical act. How do they get around, I wonder? What were the consequences of my daughter’s lyrical expression of love for pink milk? I really don’t know, but perhaps she does.

    But leaving that side, I am still curious to know if anyone can give a plausible example of what an ‘abuse’ of freedom of speech such that it constitutes an act of religious discrimination might be. This isn’t rhetorical, I really can’t imagine what it would look like. It is important because if, as I suspect, the phrase, is intrinsically meaningless then it is a classic piece of ‘unspeak’ and that really justifies Hari’s article all by itself.

  90. 90  Torquil Macneil  February 18, 2009, 9:32 am 

    Abb1, I think the claim is that if the retarded Texan were executed for explicity religious reasons, mandated by an interpretation of the Bible rather than secular law, then the UN could indeed , under the pertaining conditions, be prevented from criticising or even discussing it because such criticism could constitute defamation of a religion.

    If this is true, it is very bad and a lot of people working within the UN seem to think it is so.

  91. 91  abb1  February 18, 2009, 1:07 pm 

    Are you saying that capital punishment in the west has nothing to do with religion? Google “eye for an eye” “capital punishment” – 83,500 hits. Of course it’s based on the Bible.

    I fail to see any significance in the fact that Texas law can, theoretically, be changed by democratic means. I don’t see any reason to believe that there is an anti-capital-punishment majority in Saudi Arabia.

    Finally, if you choose to attack Texas laws as barbarity stemming from their “Judeo-Christian values”, the Texans most certainly will respond with charges of bigotry. And they will have a point too.

  92. 92  Torquil Macneil  February 18, 2009, 2:09 pm 

    I don’t think that capital punishment in Texas is based on the Bible, Abb1, but that is beside the point. It is not carried out in the name of religious law and it is not defended as a religious practice but as an expression of the proper rule of law in which all natural and other rights of the accccused are respected. That is the difference if we accept the claims that the UN is unable to criticise certain practices that woould usuaally be deemed abuses if they are performed under the aegis of religious authority.

    As to Saudi, who knows? It would be interesting to ask them, wouldn’t it?

  93. 93  Chris Schoen  February 18, 2009, 3:42 pm 

    Roy,

    To the contrary, I accept that the conditions in the council are much as you describe them to be. I’ve read the transcript of the session in which President Costea prohibited religious criticisms by delegates, and I’ve read the documents of the OIC which advocate a new human rights declaration in concord with sharia. None of this is in question.

    But if you scroll up, you’ll see that what I and others have been contesting is the misrepresentation of UNHRC resolutions as establishing mandates which they do not in fact establish. Johann Hari made statements in his pair of articles, later defended by Ophelia Benson and yourself, that were patently untrue, such as that the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has had his mandate changed so that he “must now oppose free speech.” Or that the same Special Rapporteur is now tasked with seeking out examples of “defamation of religion” (which is always in quotes, implying the phrase appears in the mandate). These would be news, if true. But they’re not, as anyone who can read can attest.

  94. 94  abb1  February 18, 2009, 3:58 pm 

    Well, again, it seems that it should be possible somehow to criticize practices without insulting the religion.

    Suppose my family has a tradition; oh, I dunno, let’s say: getting into a fist-fight at the local pub at every opportunity. Suppose you want to convince me to stop it.

    You could, of course, go on telling me that I’m an idiot and a barbarian, along with all my extended family for the last X generations.

    Or you could try to convince me that while I’m a really fine fella in most respects, and my family is a great one too, ending the fist-fights would’ve made us even more perfect. And explain why.

    Now, if your goal is getting off on your (alleged) superiority, then the first method is, without a doubt, the way to go. But if you actually want to achieve something, the second one just might work better.

  95. 95  Steven  February 18, 2009, 5:19 pm 

    Roy —

    The reality, sadly, is that we are now unable to expose violations of human rights in the Human Rights Council when Islam or Sharia law is used to justify them.

    If that is so, then my own view is that it is indeed a troubling development. Unfortunately, Hari has done his cause no favours with what we have here established to be an inaccurate and misleading account of the facts, and that ought to be a disappointment to everyone who shares the underlying concerns.

  96. 96  Hannah  February 18, 2009, 10:25 pm 

    Here is the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council, entitled “Combatting defamation of religions”

    It explicitly mandates the Special Rapporteur to “report of manifestations of defamation of all religions, and in particular of the serious implications of Islamophobia”

    http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/.....S_7_19.pdf

    Kind of resolves the issue, no?

  97. 97  Steven  February 18, 2009, 10:37 pm 

    Er, no. You are still confusing two different special rapporteurs despite the numerous comments above taking pains to distinguish them. The resolution you cite is not talking about the SR on freedom of opinion, about whom Hari made the erroneous claims, but about the SR “on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”, just as does the version of it subsequently passed by the GA and mentioned numerous times already.

  98. 98  abb1  February 18, 2009, 11:08 pm 

    I don’t think it’s a troubling development, necessarily. There is a reason why the thing is called “the united nations” and not “the place for western human rights activists to lecture the Islamic states on their barbarity”. No one would’ve showed up for the lecture. By the virtue of it being the former, at least Mr. Brown has a chance to communicate with Pakistani government officials, albeit in a somewhat limited way. Nothing is perfect.

  99. 99  Torquil Macneil  February 19, 2009, 9:24 am 

    Abb1, you do not think it troubling that the UN might be prevented from exposing abuses of human rights if carried out in the name of Sharia?

    I don’t want to bore on about it too much, but I would still like an example of what might be meant by an abuse of the freedom of speech such that it consituted religious discrimination. Is that just a huge chunk of unspeak or does it mean something concrete? If it is unspeak, it must be smuggling something in, mustn’t it? Something like what Hari is claiming to expose?

  100. 100  Gregor  February 19, 2009, 11:28 am 

    This seems to have inspired an even more bone-headed article on yahoonews. You know the ‘objective’ source:

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/blog/.....icle/2146/

    ‘It is unacceptable for atheist groups to be prevented from forming in universities because faith groups deride them as negative. It is unacceptable that atheist posters and banners are defaced when we would react with outrage if Christian or Muslim posters were treated in such a way. These are real world examples given to me by atheist activists. They have every right to pursue their agenda as they see fit. Prejudice against atheists is as bad as prejudice against anyone else.’

    Are atheist groups prevented from forming in universities? From what I’ve heard they are the most intrusive and bigoted of groups. It is stupid and unpleasant to deface their posters (unless they are offensive) but hardly ‘prevents’ them from forming.

    ‘Tony Blair consistently rejected calls to discuss his deeply-held faith, but this was not evident in his policy making.’

    I seem to remember he wouldn’t shut up about it.

    ‘In a global political system defined by the clash, atheists have discovered something curious. Religious people hate them very much, and they have organised against them with alarming speed and efficiency.’

    Hate them very much? Any evidence? ‘organised against them with alarming speed and efficiency’? Facts are silly things of course. But as well as being stupid and ignorant (demonstrating the self-pity that many ‘atheist activists’ have fallen into) it also shows the dubious politics that seems to define the ‘new atheists’ like Hitchens and Harris:

    ‘Across the western world, religion has been elevated to a unique and entirely unhelpful position – a position which ringfences it against criticism or questioning. The only other qualities in this category are things like race, sexuality and gender. But these are qualitatively different. They cannot be changed. A black man does not choose to be so, nor does a homosexual.’

    So it would be alright to be criticise black people if they could choose to be white?

  101. 101  roger migently  February 19, 2009, 11:37 am 

    …In England, lamentably, many speech acts are criminal offences, such as those threatening violence or “encouraging” the commission of an offence. We can look forward, I assume, to Hari’s campaign not only to abolish the concept of libel, but to defend everyone’s “right” to say to someone in a pub, “I’m gonna cut your face to ribbons”, or to stand on a street corner and shout: “Murder all Catholics!” Because, as I think we can all agree, the idea of “free speech” means nothing unless it is absolute.

    Hari would, then, be very happy with the notorious Hal Turner who, in his Feb 14 blogpost titled “After we kill them; what to do?” says:

    After the pending Second American Revolution results in killing the people who have wrecked this country — yes, you KNOW who I’m talking about — what are we going to do as a nation to move forward?

    There are lots of very very serious things to consider. What to do with the people who are presently living solely on social security? What to do with people who depend solely on medicare? What about the infirm, the retarded, the disabled?

    What to do about the debts incurred by the people we got rid of? Repudiate them? That causes wars.

    As you might imagine, these are serious issues not to be left to haphazard guesswork after the fact.

    I want to form serious working groups; think tanks, to seriously consider these matters.

    Getting rid of the scumbags who wrecked the country is the easy part. We can take them out in under an hour. The REAL hard part is what to do once we’ve gotten rid of them?

    And there is lots, lots more like this … depressingly … In any other country he would have been arrested. Or assassinated.

    But Hari would stand up for him. Perhaps he would say, with that other famous wit, Anon.,

    I disapprove of what you say, and I will defend to your death my right to say so.

  102. 102  dsquared  February 19, 2009, 12:23 pm 

    Just to get this tied down to something concrete, Roy, do you have any objections to the way in which the Universal Periodic Review of Nigeria was carried out the week before last?

    http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodi.....sion4.aspx

    It does seem to me that the role of the sharia courts in Nigeria and the human rights abuses related to sentences passed by them (and the Nigerian government’s strategies for preventing the sharia courts from enforcing sentences of amputation or death by stoning) was discussed in quite significant detail.

  103. 103  abb1  February 19, 2009, 1:48 pm 

    Abb1, you do not think it troubling that the UN might be prevented from exposing abuses of human rights if carried out in the name of Sharia?

    Not really, no, as exposing abuses of human rights is pretty much a sideshow for the UN. The purpose of the UN is to prevent wars, military conflicts between states; to provide a venue for nations to resolve their conflicts peacefully.

    If the game of exposing each-other’s abuses of human rights becomes too vigorous, too passionate and that exacerbate tensions between nations (or groups/coalitions of nations), then the UN has failed. I think it really is that simple.

  104. 104  Chris Schoen  February 19, 2009, 3:17 pm 

    This seems to have inspired an even more bone-headed article on yahoonews:

    And, blammo, there’s the same falsehood, again:

    Recently, the UN’s rapporteur on human rights, who is tasked with protecting freedom of speech, had his job description altered. The council agreed to a Pakistani request for the rapporteur to also tackle “abuses of free expression”, including, rather shockingly, “defamation” of religions and prophets.

    Once claims like these get into the standard rhetorical kit box they are very hard to track down and correct. Which is partly why, Roy and Hannah, it’s distressing for Hari to maintain the truth of it.

  105. 105  dsquared  February 19, 2009, 4:58 pm 

    Actually looking at it, the Saudi Arabia UPR is an even better example:

    http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/....._SAU_E.PDF

    It’s practically *all* about the sharia practices and the extent to which they can be made consistent with UN human rights law. What is the bit that isn’t being discussed here?

  106. 106  Steven  February 20, 2009, 1:02 am 

    Thanks, dsquared. I must say I am finding those reports pretty hard to square with Roy’s characterisation of the status quo.

    Meanwhile, Chris —

    Once claims like these get into the standard rhetorical kit box they are very hard to track down and correct. Which is partly why, Roy and Hannah, it’s distressing for Hari to maintain the truth of it.

    Yes, that is the most depressing aspect of the affair. If it had just been one misleading newspaper column, that would be one thing, but now you can google the key falsehoods and see that this untrue “story” has got all around the internet with people taking it at face value and saying “Isn’t this a terrible thing?”. The wider effect, I imagine, being to intensify fact-agnostic hostility on both sides.

  107. 107  abb1  February 20, 2009, 7:30 am 

    Why, does the report call their religion barbaric? Their “prophet” a pedophile? What – no?

    It’s a waste of paper.

  108. 108  dsquared  February 20, 2009, 1:26 pm 

    Actually, digging around a bit further, what it seems that Roy and HRC are angry about goes back to a discussion of Egypt last year. Basically, there’s a substantial human rights problem with FGM in Egypt (by the way “female circumcision” vs “female genital mutilation” is one to put alongside “pro-choice”/”pro-life”). Some people in the UN HRC wanted to discuss the possibility that if a prominent Egyptian sheikh were to issue a fatwa unambiguously condemning the practice, this would do a lot of good (past fatwas tend to say that it’s not required and indeed not even mentioned in the Koran, but then to talk about local customs, cough mumble, with the result that the local laity still believes it’s a religious duty).

    I think it’s arguable both ways – I can see why people would not want to start trying to do theology in the committee room (compare for example if someone reacted to Catholic child abuse scandals by making an official recommendation that the Pope should abolish celibate priests), but on the other hand, I agree with Chris Schoen that it was very bad chairmanship to simply allow the proposal to be shouted down, and even worse to then make a fiat ruling that nothing similar could be raised.

    But it seems equally clear to me that Roy is overstating things when he now claims that nothing related to sharia can be discussed at all; I understand why IHEU are pissed off, but that doesn’t give them carte blanche to go around saying things that aren’t true.

  109. 109  Chris Schoen  February 20, 2009, 6:49 pm 

    Thanks to Daniel for pulling up those Universal Periodic Reviews.

    If Roy is still reading, I’d be sincerely curious to know if these documents modify your assertion that “”we are now unable to expose violations of human rights in the Human Rights Council when Islam or Sharia law is used to justify them.”

  110. 110  Chris Schoen  February 20, 2009, 7:20 pm 

    I don’t want to bore on about it too much, but I would still like an example of what might be meant by an abuse of the freedom of speech such that it consituted religious discrimination.

    Torquil,

    I think your question might be easier to answer if we take out the word “religious.” Notwithstanding the First Amendment in the US, speech is generally not protected when it incites to violence or discrimination. If someone were to announce, in the media, or before a large crowd, that Jews were greedy, Blacks were violent, Mexicans were lazy, Gypsies prone to theivery, or Gays to promiscuity or spreading of disease–in short, that any identifiable member of a demographic group was a threat simply by virtue of belonging to this group– this could, in the right context, constitute a violation of Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We know that this type of incitement is not a figment from numerous examples, most recently in the case of Jim Adkisson, killer of two Unitarians in Knoxville.

    If it is unspeak, it must be smuggling something in, mustn’t it? Something like what Hari is claiming to expose?

    This fails to account for the fact that no protections of speech have been eroded in the two resolutions under discussion, each of which defer to Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is binding international law. If those provisions become subject to amendment, there is cause for concern. In the meanwhile, no new civil or criminal offenses have been promulgated, and no access to the protections of international law has been impeded.

  111. 111  Roy W Brown  February 21, 2009, 8:24 am 

    In reply to Dsquared (108) and Chris Schoen (109)

    Thank you for giving the example of the Review of Saudi Arabia, it makes my point very clearly. My point, by the way, was not that it is impossible to mention human rights abuse Islamic States in the Council, but to mention that such abuse arises from the application of the Sharia or have anything to do with Islam.

    In the Saudi review, Islam and the Sharia are mentioned only positively, while criticisms of its human rights abuses are nowhere linked to Islam or the Sharia. Even Israel and the United Kingdom failed to mention that:
    Violence against women, the male guardianship system, freedom of movement for women, lack of access to work, study, and health care, and lack of equal standing before the courts, the right to vote or to participate in public affairs,
    had anything to do with Islam or the Sharia.

    Please compare this with the positive statements about the Sharia by Saudi:
    The concept of religious and cultural particularities as correctly viewed in Islam, supplement rather than detract from international human rights standards.
    This is a falsehood which it would not be possible to challenge in the Council since the President’s ruling.

    The UAE recommended that:
    Saudi Arabia continue progress in the promotion of women and children’s rights, in accordance with Islamic Shari’a …

    Algeria recommended “that Saudi Arabia, in examining the recommendations, take into consideration those that are in line with its religious, social and cultural specificities, in particular those emanating from the Shari’a, which adds to general human rights principles without replacing them..”
    Whilst this last statement is clearly false, it would not now be possible to challenge it in the Council

    Egypt recommended “that Saudi Arabia continue its efforts to disseminate a culture of human rights and strengthen its national efforts to protect human rights, while respecting its cultural specificities and the Shari’a;

    I could go on but I think the point is made.

    Please forgive me if I fail to contribute further to this discussion but I am frantically busy with the lead up to the next session of the Council starting 2 March and the Durban Review Conference in April.
    If you are interested in the work of IHEU in the Council, please take a look at http://www.iheu.org

  112. 112  Steven  February 21, 2009, 12:16 pm 

    Thanks, Roy. That doesn’t actually make your earlier point, phrased in #86 as “We are now unable to expose violations of human rights in the Human Rights Council when Islam or Sharia law is used to justify them.” I’m glad you are retreating from that claim.

    Your new point appears to be that, while such violations of human rights are indeed still routinely discussed in the HRC, one is not allowed to use them to wage a polemical campaign against some monolithic conception of Shari’a law and Islam in general. Is that right?

    Please compare this with the positive statements about the Sharia by Saudi:
    The concept of religious and cultural particularities as correctly viewed in Islam, supplement rather than detract from international human rights standards.
    This is a falsehood which it would not be possible to challenge in the Council since the President’s ruling.

    I don’t really understand on what grounds you feel able to say this is a “falsehood”: it is plainly a matter of interpretation within Islam itself. Or is it the case that you consider yourself better qualified than the Saudi delegate to pronounce on what is the “correct” view of Islam? And if you are, is it your view that the HRC is the appropriate forum for you to prosecute a dispute about the “correct” view of Islam?

  113. 113  Roy W Brown  February 21, 2009, 3:34 pm 

    Steven, you ask:
    “one is not allowed to use [human rights violations} to wage a polemical campaign against some monolithic conception of Shari’a law and Islam in general. Is that right?”
    No, Steven, it is not. I take it you are simply attempting to be provocative.
    Nor is it merely a matter of interpretation within Islam itself. It is based on a reading of the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam, adopted unanimously by the Foreign Ministers of of the Member States of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

    One of the points we wished to bring to the attention of the Council, and for which I was silenced, was that it is a falsehood to say that the Cairo Declaration, which articles 24 and 25 say is based exclusively on the Sharia, that the Islamic Shari’a shall be its only source of reference, and which makes no mention of any internationally accepted human rights instruments, is not an alternative to the UDHR but complementary to it.

    May I suggest that you – and any of your readers who are interested – read our written statement on this subject at http://www.iheu.org/node/3162 – where it is fully discussed.

  114. 114  Steven  February 21, 2009, 4:09 pm 

    The Saudi delegate to the UPR on Saudi Arabia whom you accused at #111 of perpetrating a “falsehood”, of course, made no mention of the Cairo Declaration, but spoke in very general terms about Islam “correctly viewed” — so it remains confusing to me how what he said can be characterized as a “falsehood”.

    Thanks for the link to your organisation’s statement, which speaks in its article 12 about what happens “under Shari’a law in many countries”. I am glad to see that the latter phrase implicitly acknowledges that “Shari’a” as politically instituted is not the same thing everywhere, and is indeed a matter of interpretation.

    That is what the Saudi delegate, too, was explicitly saying in point 10 of his statement:

    Saudi Arabia acknowledges that there are some human rights violations attributable to individual practices. Many of these violations fall within the context of domestic violence, to which confusion between the true Islamic Shari’a and customs and traditions is a contributing factor.

    You might disagree with that in light of your own careful study of Islam and Shari’a law, but I don’t see how you can call his ideas about Islam “correctly viewed” or “the true Islamic Shari’a” simply false.

  115. 115  Steven  February 21, 2009, 4:35 pm 

    If you do reply again, Roy, it would be interesting to know if you can confirm dsquared’s account at #108, which seems to be in conflict with your latest comment. Either you are in the business of encouraging more liberal interpretations of Shari’a, as dsquared’s story seems to suggest, or your position is that Shari’a is not a matter of interpretation and can never be compatible with “western human rights”, which seems to be your argument at #113. Thanks.

  116. 116  Chris Schoen  February 21, 2009, 4:43 pm 

    Roy,

    I really am having trouble believing what I am reading. When all is said and done, what you and the IHEU are bemoaning is not an inability of the UN to identify and criticize human rights abuses, such as FGM and stoning, but rather the right of your NGO to espouse an anti-Islamic ideology on the floor of the Human Rights Council.

    Cry me a river, Roy!

    It is one thing to say that many countries in the OIC are guilty of human rights abuses–that they do bad things. This is a simple fact. It is entirely another thing to assert, as though it were a fact, that the committing of human rights violations is an intrinsic feature of Islam. This is a value judgement, one that you are welcome to, of course, but one that I would argue actually impedes the work of human rights campaigners.

    You and your organization could be a lot more forthcoming about what your intentions are, rather than wrapping them up in false claims that there has been a coup at the UNHRC which has made it impossible to criticize human rights violations in Muslim countries. I’m glad we can all agree now that this is simply untrue. I would be nice if Johann Hari could make some kind of retraction, though, since it appears to be a growing belief that human rights violations can be discussed in the UN anymore because they might hurt Muslims’ feelings.

  117. 117  abb1  February 21, 2009, 8:01 pm 

    Maybe it’s a clever imposter. If not, this has been very informative, I must say.

  118. 118  Gregor  February 23, 2009, 10:42 pm 

    How odd, Hari has listed Steven Poole in a list of ‘some of the most interesting’ responses. Yet the hyperlink goes to a different website:

    http://johannhari.com/archive/article.php?id=1451

    Instead of verifying any of the questionable statements in his article, Hari’s first response seems to have been to praise himself, and he concludes:

    ‘If you are outraged by religious assults (sic) on free speech and want to do something about it, please join the National Secular Society or volunteer for Butterflies and Wheels.’

    Volunteer for Butterflies and Wheels?

  119. 119  Chris Schoen  February 24, 2009, 4:46 am 

    Gregor,

    I think the volunteer bit was because Ophelia put out a cattle call for help archiving posts, something like that.

    I wrote Johann a couple of days ago about those bad links. Frankly, I just don’t have enough traffic at my place for him to need to take me very seriously. But Hannah and Alex are his pals. Maybe they could grease the rails?

  120. 120  C. Reaves  February 24, 2009, 12:59 pm 

    Steven,
    In response to the Stanley Fish quotation you wrote “Of course, if you give that kind of postmodern nonsense any credence, you’re basically an appeaser of tyrants.” Perhaps I am being dense, but can you please explain how you come to that conclusion?

    If by speaking openly against a tyrant you would get yourself killed, is your modified speech appeasement? I think not. Speaking your mind in the presence of a tyrant would seem to be an unsophisticated and self-defeating way to oppose the tyranny. Opposition must survive, and opposition is not appeasement. In fact, censoring one’s speech might be considered a tactic in opposition.

    Additionally, although Dr. Fish has said many controversial things during the acquisition of his postmodernist label, I do not think this paragraph is one of them. I, too, believe no speech is free from consequence and that we are all responsible for our own words. I do not understand why you label that position “postmodern nonsense”.

  121. 121  C. Reaves  February 24, 2009, 1:43 pm 

    Of course it may be that I simply can’t recognize the irony, and by calling it postmodern nonsense you are actually saying that it isn’t postmodern nonsense.

  122. 122  Steven  February 24, 2009, 4:40 pm 

    “Irony” might be a bit flattering, but I was being sarcastic.

  123. 123  Alex Higgins  February 24, 2009, 8:52 pm 

    Chris,

    I’ll see if I can mention the broken links, though Johann is going to Africa this week for a fortnight.

    Following the argument on this thread has been informative, though I still haven’t looked into it enough. I defend Johann against accusations of despicable-ness but not on every point of fact.

    Dsquared has weighed in on the other side and that generally means I’m wrong.

  124. 124  Chris Schoen  February 25, 2009, 12:08 am 

    Thank you Alex.

    I reserve “despicable-ness” for far worse transgressions than journalistic over-zealousness. But Johann will do a great deal to esteem himself in my eyes by at least addressing the questions raised about the accuracy of his report about the UNHRC. It would at least put to the test his theory that the best remedy for bad speech is more speech–an argument you most often hear issuing from perches of privilege.

  125. 125  Gregor  February 25, 2009, 12:40 pm 

    I wouldn’t say Hari is despicable, and think using ad hominem attacks is counter productive. But he is basically, not a very good journalist. Occasionally he has written well-researched pieces of foreign journalism. But generally it is a mixture of hearsay, received wisdom and naivety.

    What does he have today, the day after the ‘opposition’ supported Jack Straw’s decision to oppose the freedom of information act because it would be ‘dangerous’ for the British people to read the minutes of the pre-Iraq war meetings? Maybe write about how the war has npot just been disastrous for Iraq but also British ‘democracy’. Why do that when he could parrot a terrorist?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/o.....31288.html

    He handily ignores the fact that Alexander Litvinenko was a criminal (with links to organised crime in Italy, Russia and the Ukraine) and repeats open-mouthed Zakayev’s rubbish. He also ignores the fact that Lugavoi was not extradited because Britain does not have an extradition treaty with Russia. And, incidentally, Litvinenko met Lugavoi at a party hosted by Berezovksy.

    Nothing is so complex in Hariland:
    ‘Our government has made the bleak calculation that a dissident being murdered in central London doesn’t weigh much against keeping the lights on.’

    We could always open an extradition treaty and send Berezovsky back home, but that is unthinkable in this country that is often appalling in its treatment of refugees.

  126. 126  dsquared  February 25, 2009, 4:37 pm 

    I don’t agree that Hari is a bad journalist – he’s a very good writer and is at least intellectually honest, which alone is enough to put him in the top quintile. His weakness is that he’s a little too keen on his own prose style, and success came to him very early indeed in life, before he had time to learn good habits. The combination of these two factors tends to lead to sloppiness – nine times out of ten, when he screws up it’s because something’s come across his desk and he’s not checked it before reacting to it.

  127. 127  Gregor  February 25, 2009, 5:31 pm 

    Actually I shouldn’t have called Zakayev a ‘terrorist’, because terrorist is a pointless word. But he is certainly far from the peace-loving human rights activist Hari portrays him as.

    Furthermore, Hari does not point out that a Chechen has been arrested for killing Israilov, and Chechens were thought to be the killers of Politkovskaya. Yes, the wars on Chechnya were horrific and avoidable, but to speak of ‘the Chechens’ as Hari does ignores that the second Chechen War was largely a civil war. And whilst the oaf Yeltsin is never mentioned, the entire trouble there was largely his fault. After Yeltsin both Russia and Chechnya were controlled by Machiavellian figures, and it is a complex situation.

    I also notice that hari continues his obsession with 1/3 of Chechens being killed. Apparently 1/3 were killed en route to Siberia and 1/3 killed on the way back. The deportations were certainly immensely evil, but did anyone count the casualties? Hari previously wrote of:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/o.....47608.html

    ‘Vladimir Putin’s 1990s bombardment of Chechnya, which caused the death of a third of the entire population.’

    Well, Vlad the Bad only became President on 31st December 1999. Then Amnesty international has far lower figures for the combined fatalities in BOTH Chechen wars, but Hari has never been very good on facts.

    And he never mentions Medvedev in this recent article. he seems to think Vlad is still in charge.

  128. 128  Steven  February 26, 2009, 10:47 pm 

    Hari’s false story is now grist to the mill at the Nation:

    the UN Council on Human Rights has directed its rapporteur to busy himself not with attacks on freedom of speech but with “abuses of free expression,” including “defamation of religions and prophets.”

  129. 129  Chris Schoen  February 27, 2009, 3:33 pm 

    Hari’s false story is now grist to the mill at the Nation.

    And now, too, at Pharyngula.



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