- Behind the Iron Curtain: Soviet space art (gallery) Kadish Morris, Guardian
- The year I left the Soviet Union Alex Halberstadt, New Yorker
- Free speech, libel, and privacy rights Mark Hemmingway, RealClearPolitics
- 8 out of 10 Texans already live in cities and metropolitan areas Steven Pedigo, Dallas Morning News
Yesterday, the Chair of the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis wrote an ominous letter to the CEO of Google. For the second time, the Chair is leaning on Google to police and remove “dangerous climate misinformation” on YouTube. The letter doesn’t threaten direct legal action against Google, but it nonetheless raises serious concern because it runs so counter to the free speech tradition and the value of a robust internet.
According to the Chair, “YouTube has been driving millions of viewers to climate misinformation videos every day, a shocking revelation that runs contrary to Google’s important missions of fighting misinformation and promoting climate action.” The Chair states her own unequivocal commitment to “promoting ambitious federal policy that will … eliminate barriers to action, including those as pervasive and harmful as climate denial and climate misinformation.” It’s hard not to see the veiled threat here.
Note the letter’s subtle casting of the consumers of information as passive actors that must be protected, rather than rational actors who choose what information to consume, a choice they’re entitled to make. She says “YouTube has been driving millions of viewers to climate misinformation” and that Google should “correct the record for millions of users who have been exposed to climate misinformation.” This language strips accountability and action from the viewers, as if they are a captive audience held down and forced to view climate denial videos with eyelid clamps like a scene from A Clockwork Orange. But if that content is promoted and viewed, that’s because there’s a consumer demand for it. The passive language used in the letter exemplifies the paternalism that often lurks behind censorship: for their own welfare, we must protect the public from information they wish to consume.
Note also the absolutism woven into the letter. Google cannot both be committed to climate action and committed to an open culture of public discourse. In the war for humanity’s survival, one priority must dominate above all others.
The letter also relies on the tired tactic of impugning speakers’ motives. Anyone who expresses “climate misinformation” on YouTube just wants “to protect polluters and their profits at the expense of the American people.” It’s impossible for an absolutist to consider that views opposed to her own might be sincerely held. Plus, research has shown that political views frequently do not line up with individual self-interest. Only a shallow thinker or someone with an agenda assumes a political viewpoint is rooted in a selfish motive.
As for the constitutional implications of the letter, there is no question that the federal government cannot impose on Google the duty to remove “climate misinformation” or “climate denial” content. False speech is not exiled from the sanctuary of First Amendment protection. Of course, some false speech can be penalized, such as libel, slander, or fraud. But these are circumstances where there’s some other legally cognizable harm associated with the false statement for which recovery is warranted. There is no general rule that false speech is unprotected.
Government should never be in the position of arbitrating truth. Particularly in the context of hotly debated political controversies, allowing government to label one side as gospel and penalize dissidents opens the door to legally enshrined orthodoxy. As Justice Robert Jackson said 80 years ago: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” That’s what the power to ban “climate misinformation” entails.
Indeed, government refereeing of truth will almost always shade toward discrimination against disfavored viewpoints. For example, there is “misinformation” out there on both sides of the climate debate. Those who peddle wild doomsday predictions are just as unhinged as those denying the realities of climate change. Yet the Chair does not propose to censor such misinformation.
When I see such zealous effort to shut someone up, I can’t help but ask myself why the censor is so afraid. The targeting of this speech is likely only draw attention to it. Why worry about the hacks? I’ve always believed what John Milton expressed centuries ago in the Areopagitica: “Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” Of course, that doesn’t mean that falsehoods lack convincing power, but truth in the end has the edge. Rather than pick the winner in advance, we do much better by letting truth emerge through open debate, bloodied but victorious.
- “To speak on everything in the world, including everyone’s elections” Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
- Foucault on the courageous practice of speaking truth to power Deborah Clark, Footnotes to Plato
- The idea of Global Britain ignores reality (and an imperial past) Robert Saunders, New Statesman
- “No nation in Europe today is as good at self-deprecation as the Slovaks” Donald Rayfield, Literary Review
A channel to counter Islamophobia
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are supposed to have discussed the idea of setting up of a television channel to counter ‘Islamophobia’. In a tweet, the Pakistan PM said that it was decided that the three countries would set up a BBC type channel which will raise Muslim issues and also counter Islamophobia.
The role of Sikh public figures, in the UK and Canada, in countering Islamophobia
It would be pertinent to point out that prominent Sikh public figures in Canada and the UK have played a pivotal role in countering hate towards Muslims. This includes the first turbaned Sikh Member of Parliament (MP) in British Parliament, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Labour MP from Slough), who criticised British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for highly offensive remarks Johnson had made, in an opinion piece written for The Telegraph in 2018, against Muslim women wearing burqas.
Johnson had stated that Muslim women wearing burqas look like ‘letter boxes and bank robbers’. Dhesi sought an unequivocal apology from the British PM for his remarks.
The Labour MP from Slough stated that if anyone decides to wear religious symbols, it gives no one the right to make ‘derogatory and derisive’ remarks. Dhesi also invoked the experiences of immigrants like himself, and those hailing from other countries, and the racist slurs which they had to contend with.
The leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, Jagmeet Singh, has also repeatedly spoken against ‘Islamophobia’. In 2017, when Singh was still a candidate for the NDP leadership, he was accosted by a heckler, who confused Singh’s religious identity and mistook him for a Muslim. The woman accused Jagmeet Singh of being in favor of imposing the Shariah (Islamic law defined by the Quran) and a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a tweet, Singh had then clarified his stance, saying:
Many people have commented that I could have just said I’m not Muslim. In fact many have clarified that I’m actually Sikh. While I’m proud of who I am, I purposely didn’t go down that road because it suggests their hate would be ok if I was Muslim
On September 1, 2019, Jagmeet Singh’s brother, Gurratan Singh, a legislator from Brampton East, was accosted after speaking at a Muslim Fest in Mississauga and accused by Stephen Garvey, leader of the National Citizens Alliance (NCA), of adopting a ‘politically correct approach’ towards issues like ‘Shariah’ and ‘Political Islam’. Gurratan responded calmly, stating that Canada could do without racism. In a tweet later on, Gurratan, like his brother, said that he would never respond to Islamophobia by pointing out that he was not Muslim. Jagmeet Singh also praised his brother for his reaction.
Guru Nanak’s 550th anniversary
That these Sikh politicians in the diaspora are standing up against Islamophobia at a time when Sikhs are preparing to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Sahib, the founder of the Sikh faith, is important. Guru Nanak Sahib was truly a multi-faceted personality – social crusader, traveler, poet, and even ambassador of peace and harmony in South Asia and outside. The first Guru of the Sikhs always stood up for the oppressed, be it against Mughal oppression or social ills prevalent during the time.
Today, Sikhs in the UK, Canada, and the US who have attained success in various spheres are trying to carry forward the message of tolerance, compassion, and standing up for the weak. While being clear about its distinct identity, the Sikh diaspora also realizes the importance of finding common cause with members of other immigrants and minority communities and standing up for their rights. This emphasis on co-existence and interfaith harmony has helped in creating awareness about the faith.
A good example of the growing respect of the Sikh community is not just the number of tributes (including from senior officials in Texas as well as the Federal Government) which have poured in after the brutal murder of a Sikh police officer, Sandeep Singh Dhaliwal, in Houston, Texas (Dhaliwal happened to be the first Sikh in the Harris County Sheriff’s office), but also a recognition of the true values of the Sikh faith, which include compassion, sacrifice, and commitment to duty. While Sikhs still have been victims of numerous hate crimes, in recent years there is an increasing awareness with regard to not just Sikh symbols, but also the philosophical and moral underpinning of this faith.
While countering Islamophobia is important, it can not be done in silos. It is important for minority communities to find common cause and be empathetic to each other’s needs. Setting up a TV channel may be an important symbolic gesture, but it’s overall efficacy is doubtful unless there is a genuine effort towards interfaith globally.
- Was Hitler driven by a fear of Anglo-American capitalism? Robert Gerwarth, Financial Times
- Hong Kong’s long struggle against Beijing Melvin Barnes Jr, Origins
- My mother, the ex-Communist Arnold Kling, askblog
- Hizballah’s puzzling quiet Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
I am on the road. I’m in Utah, actually, for a wedding. I drove here with my little family. From Texas. It’s a beautiful drive. But long. I’ll have more American pop-sociology soon enough. In the mean time, here’s Irfan on an important topic, and one that’s gone almost cold in libertarian circles:
Thanks for mentioning this post of mine. I hope people will take a look at the comments as well as the post itself. One hears so much loose talk about “anti-Semitism,” and the insult implied by talk of “dual loyalties.” But it’s not a criminal offense in the United States to believe or assert that Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks, or imply that Muslims side with Al Qaeda or ISIS. The President encourages people to believe and say such things, and they do, from the federal executive down to the local level.
Meanwhile, the State of New Jersey is seeking to make it a criminal offense to assert that Palestinians have a right of self-defense against attackers who happen to be Jewish: $250 fine, six months in the county lock up. In this universe, either there is no such thing as a Jew who aggresses against a non-Jew, or if it happens, non-Jews are not to resist in such a way as to “harm” their attackers.
As for “dual loyalties,” here is an undeniable, demonstrable fact that no one engaged in the “dual loyalties” debate has managed to address: American Jews have the right to maintain dual citizenship, US and Israeli, to enter the Israeli military, and to serve under Israeli commanders. Those commanders have the authority to order those under their command (including American “Lone Soldiers,” as they’re called) to shoot at anyone deemed a threat under rules of engagement that cannot be questioned by anyone outside of the chain of command. The potential targets include Americans like me (or Rachel Corrie, or Tariq Abu Khdeir). No soldier has the right to refuse such an order. You get the order? You fire at will–to kill.
If an American serving under foreign command faces the prospect of shooting an American in a foreign country, exactly what description are we to give that situation but precisely one of dual loyalties? The soldier holding the weapon has one loyalty to a foreign commander, and one to the United States (or else to the principle of rights), which proscribes shooting a fellow citizen under questionable circumstances. How he resolves the dilemma is up to him, but you’d be out of touch with reality to deny that he’s in one. Is it really “racist” or “anti-Semitic” to identify this blatantly obvious fact? Apparently so.
If the New Jersey bill passes, my merely raising the preceding issue out loud, even as a question–iin the presence of someone who might report me to the police–makes me a criminal suspect, subject to arrest and prosecution. Though I teach at a private university, and the bill seems to apply only to public universities, the wording is extremely vague and ambiguous, and in case, even on the narrow interpretation of its scope, it implies that I lose my rights of free speech if I move to a public university or (perhaps) if I engage in a speech act while being present at a public university.
As someone who’s already been arrested on campus for “saying the wrong thing” (where the offended parties weren’t the usual left-wing snowflakes) this whole censorship thing is starting to get old pretty fast. If the passage of this bill wouldn’t mark a descent into fascism, with a rather large assist from the pro-Israel lobby, what would? If a constituency threatens to imprison you for exercises of free speech and academic freedom in the name of a sectarian state, are you really obliged to pretend that it’s not doing what it practically admits to be doing?
Dr Khawaja blogs at the always-excellent Policy of Truth.
Nike’s decision to scuttle the Betsy Ross flag shoe design says so much about how touchy we’ve become as a society. Maybe Nike’s being too politically correct, maybe Nike’s critics are being too outraged. Probably both. What interests me, though, is Arizona’s threat to withdraw financial incentives dangled in front of Nike as an incentive to build a plant in the state. Does this implicate Nike’s free speech rights? I think it might.
The interesting aspect of this scenario is that it features the flip sides of two coins. Rather than being punished for speaking, Nike is being punished for refraining to speak. And rather than punishing my Nike by, say, imposing an additional tax, Arizona is threatening to withdraw an incentive that the state isn’t obligated to provide in the first place.
As to the first point, it has long been clear that expression itself is not the only thing protected by the free speech guarantee. Rather, the First Amendment protects decisions about expression, including the decision not to engage in speech. The unusual aspect of this situation is that the government is not trying to compel Nike to speak a message created by or sponsored by the government. Rather, Arizona is penalizing the company for creating its own expression and then changing its mind. Still, I think this would likely be considered to be part of one’s right not to speak.
As to the withdrawal of incentives, the free speech guarantee forbids the government from placing an unconstitutional condition on a government benefit–i.e., you better sell that shoe with the Betsy Ross flag on it, or you don’t get those tax breaks. Government can’t force someone to waive a constitutional right in exchange for a government benefit.
The other interesting question here is whether Nike’s speech–or lack thereof–would be considered commercial speech, which is less protected than other forms of speech. In a way, the Betsy Ross flag shoe nicely demonstrates why this is a silly distinction–the flag has deep political meaning. Why does it matter that it’s printed on a retail shoe rather than stuck on a sign in someone’s yard?
In any case, it seems like there’s a plausible free speech problem behind Arizona’s overreaction, here. I’m curious to see if anything comes of it.
Danilo Gentili, one of Brazil’s most famous and popular comedians, was convicted and sentenced to seven months of prison time for defaming Maria do Rosário, a Brazilian federal congresswoman with a suggestion that she was a whore in a YouTube video. I wrote about Maria do Rosário before here.
Danilo has been literally on the Worker’s Party blacklist for many years because of his political remarks against it. His “crime” this time, according to the official sentence, was to offend a congressperson. The same kind of defamation against a “normal” citizen would not lead him to jail. Here is what happened: in his twitter account, Danilo criticized Maria do Rosário, saying that she was a hypocrite. The reason was because José de Abreu, a Brazilian actor famous for supporting the Worker’s Party, spit on the face of a woman in a restaurant after she criticized his political positions. Abreu did that shortly after Jean Wyllys, a former Brazil congressman, spit on Jair Bolsonaro. Maria do Rosário, who always presents herself as a feminist, defended José de Abreu. Danilo commented in the case in his twiter account saying that Maria do Rosário was a hypocrite. The congresswoman sent Danilo an official congress letter asking him to delete his twits. The comedian answered putting the letter inside his paints and then sending it back, an action he recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube.
In a similar case, not too long ago, Supreme Court judge Enrique Ricardo Lewandowski threatened with jail an airplane passenger who, turning to him, said he was ashamed of the Supreme Court. Lewandowski is often perceived as defending the Worker’s Party and its interests.
Why do I so frequently write in English about Brazil? In part because I want a broader audience who doesn’t know Portuguese to know what is going on there. As far as I know, for quite some time people outside Germany or the USSR thought that they were doing pretty well. Little did they know. Also because I want to offer a counterpoint to the (more often than not) leftist media that calls Bolsonaro a far-right racist, misogynist. Finally, because I hope that people from outside who read this might engage with the cause of freedom in Brazil. George Soros and others are engaging with the cause of slavery. They count on you not caring about it.
As I wrote before, Brazilian democracy is under threat. And it is not because of Jair Bolsonaro.
- That time Russians explored the world via flotilla Yelena Furman, Los Angeles Review of Books
- The origins of globalisation can be found in the deep past Daniel Lord Smail, History Today
- What it’s like to be a lawyer for the New York Times Preet Bharara, New York Times
- Capitalists, not socialists, pose the greatest threat to capitalism Randall Holcombe, the Hill