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2016-04-19
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Speech and the Right to Insult

Turkish President Erdogan has filed a complaint against a German comedian who read a poem depicting him committing  sexual acts with animals. A vast majority of the German population consider this as an inalienable right to free-speech. Me? I am certainly not a fan of Erdogan, but I agree with him in this special case. The "comedian" should be legally prosecuted. I must add that I find that journalists detained in Turkish prisons should simply be freed. Criticism is certainly a democratic right. So, what is the difference between the German "perpetrator", and the Turkish victims?
Thousands of people, if not millions, throughout history, have given their lives for the freedom to speak freely. And to this day, hundreds are still dying every day for that same right. What I find absolutely disgusting are parasites who abuse this right and not only seek but also get protection from the Law. And then I wonder. Did all those people in the past die for the rights of fame hunters and paparazzi to insult and harass others? I hope not.
That is why I am proud to say:
Je ne suis pas Charlie.
Even if I unconditionally condemn the attack on Charlie-Hebdo and others like it.

2016-04-22
Freedom of Speech
Insult him now while you can

[Beledig hem nu het nog kan] is the head of an article in one of the major Dutch Papers of today (April 19th). It speaks about an allegedly dated law that should better be annulled and which forbids insulting friendly heads of state. You need a paid subscription to read the article on internet, which I certainly do not and will not ever pay good money for. So I cannot really speak of the content of this specific article. As I understand the intention of the writer from the abstract, once the law has been erased then it would be not worth the trouble anymore to insult Erdogan. Also, the author seems to be hoping that another hero of the freedom of speech, a Dutch comedian this time, who joked about the size of the penis of the Turkish President, will be prosecuted before it is too late. This way, the Freedom Loving People will have they martyr and will have a reason to assert their moral superiority once more.
I feel really sorry for the real martyrs of the American and the French Revolution. They must really be turning in their graves.

2016-04-26
Freedom of Speech
I don't see why he should be legally prosecuted. You say that the prisoners should be freed because the freedom of speech a democratic right, yet the comedian should be prosecuted; which I find utterly inconsistent. Like you said, people died for the right to speak freely, not only to criticize governments but to make bestiality jokes, to promote racism, et cetera. Just because they hurt your feelings doesn't mean they can't say it.
 What constitutes an abuse of a right? To me, that question doesn't even make sense. How can you abuse a right? It's called a right for a reason, it's not a privilege. You have the right to life, does that mean that if you abuse that right by doing drugs you should be executed? No, of course not. You have the right to liberty, if you abuse that right by not being free, should you be jailed?
Anyways, I find your viewpoint inconsistent and borderline moronic. Luckily, you have the freedom of speech to say stuff like "let's ban freedom of speech."


2016-04-26
Freedom of Speech
You ask: "Did all those people in the past die for the rights of fame hunters and paparazzi to insult and harass others?"

The answer: Yes. Among other things. We do fine in the USA with the right to insult the heads of other states, as well as our own. If the insult is stupid, it tends to get ignored. If it hits a nerve--not necessarily meaning it is literally accurate, but expresses something more broadly perceived, whether justified or not--then it gets spread. Yeah, there are some pointless abuses, but the freedom is worth it. Sorry you don't agree, but then you can always move to Turkey if you'd prefer.

2016-04-27
Freedom of Speech
Ignacio: very well put.

2016-04-29
Freedom of Speech
A common argument to the reactions received is the following: either you accept an absolute freedom of speech, or you refuse freedom of speech absolutely.
This sounds very simple to my ears, my first reaction wanted therefore to be: I rest my case.
after all, what else could I reply to denigrating remarks?
Insults and Humiliation, coupled with ostracization, are very powerful tools we learn to experience as bullies, or victims, already at a tender age in schoolyards. They can be very effective in undermining self-confidence in the target, or at least his reputation. Brute force is in fact much less effective in that it not only creates a feeling of injustice in the victim, but also of sympathy in the public: the underdog effect.
But the difference between schoolyard-bullies and supposedly grownups is that the latter can appeal to a fundamental right: the right to insult. Young bullies do not have this privilege, nor do they need it, but when they grow up they themselves need and most strongly appeal to the protection of the Law. It is ironic that the same mentality that creates bullies, and from which other children should be protected, becomes the justification of an abstract conception of free speech. The need to humiliate is presented as a fundamental right, the ultimate justification being that to deny this right to bullies would mean the end of freedom itself.
But is it really so?

The Vigilante Archetype is a recurrent theme in Hollywood movies and (American) literary fiction. It expresses a deep dissatisfaction with abstract laws that seem to benefit criminals more often that it does law abiding citizens. This perceived injustice finds then its outlet in imaginary heroes who somehow appear to embody all the American virtues and none of the weaknesses of a character bound by unjust rules. Paul Kersey, played by Charles Bronson (Death Wish, 1974), preceded Rambo by hardly more than a decade, and the archetype has been used in countless movies and books since then, with the Mack Bolan book series as one of the first in the genre.
This fictitious and symbolic rejection of abstract Justice is less evident than it would seem at first sight.
The myth of Protection by Law is strongly present in naive minds. People do not seem to remember that principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all, just like the Declaration des Droits de l'Homme et du Citoyen, has never prevented racism, nor colonialism. Modern democracies, just like Ancient Athens, have no problem with second grade citizens. American democracy did not start with the civil liberties movement of the 60's, just like apartheid did not mean that Whites did not fully enjoy their democratic rights in Rhodesia and South Africa. In fact, even a black president is apparently no protection against white bullets.
It never ceases to amaze me how so many intellectuals fanatically hold on to this fundamental illusion: the law is for everybody, and abuses and excesses are just that, unlucky accidents.
Does it mean that the Law does not deserve our respect? Certainly not. We humans cannot survive without laws, however imperfect.
The illusion resides in the irrational belief that laws can protect the powerless. It is an irrational belief because everything in (modern) history shows it for the lie it is. Laws have never protected the powerless. It is also not the primary function of the Law which is first and above all the survival of society in whatever forms it happens to be. The Law can never be anything else but the codification of the status quo. So there is no reason to oppose Law and Justice. Laws is what was at one time considered as Justice, and Justice is the desire to change existing laws and replace them with a new Law. 
This natural dynamics is also what makes the dialogue between the powerless and the powerful very often so fruitless. The powerful like the idea of abstract laws. They are the moral personification of their power and superiority. Indians scalping settlers, Algerian Mujahedeens slashing the throats of French colonists, those are obviously acts of savagery that cannot be condoned by civilized people. Why cannot all insurgents be like Ghandi or at least Mandela? But then, those two had to spend quite some time in jail while others did unspeakable deeds.
Still, let's not get carried away by historical considerations very few would consider as relevant. We were after all, talking about Freedom of Speech, and not colonialism, right?
Try to explain that to people in so-called developing countries why the right to insult their culture, their religion and their leaders is a fundamental human right. What is the difference between this alleged right and the right of bullies to bully?
The comedian in Germany, the cartoonist in Scandinavia, the film maker in Holland, all were making use of their inalienable right to insult and hurt. It would of course have been more heroic if they had been citizens and residents of the same countries they were denigrating. What is after all the value of words, or images, if they are not worth your own life? It is easy to claim the Freedom and Right to Insult when you are a member of a powerful caste and your target has no way to hurt you back. [The Dutch film maker did, alas, pay with his life. But I do not think that he ever thought it could happen.]
You could of course always retort that the people in developing countries are also free to insult you, and that they probably already do. Just like the child who is being bullied is free to insult his attackers back.
Like a French writer said: "in democracy, everyone has the right to sleep under a bridge."

By the way, I do not live in the USA, and have no plans to go live in Turkey.
Also, since my texts are apparently difficult to understand, I will state my position as clearly as possible: 
I believe in Freedom of Speech, even if laws alone cannot protect you. That is also why I would never advocate the abrogation of the right to insult. It is not a legal problem, but one of power. 



2016-05-02
Freedom of Speech
Hachem, your texts are not hard to understand; we just disagree. You just said "I would never advocate the abrogation of the right to insult," but actually your initial post advocated exactly that. It's not hard to understand that you're contradicting yourself or backpedaling. It's perhaps a little harder to understand why you're doing this, and harder yet to care. Especially when you begin with the straw man attack on an "absolute freedom of speech," which no one here has advocated; just enough freedom of speech to insult heads of state (whether rightly or wrongly).

2016-05-02
Freedom of Speech
I think you confuse several issues. No one likes their feelings to be hurt, and in our private lives, we tend to prefer people who are courteous to people who are rude. 
But freedom of speech is not a personal matter: it is a political right which the people of England (& doubtless other Western countries, but England is the one whose history I know in detail, so I'll confine myself to that)  fought for, century after century. Freedom of thought and expression lies at the heart of the modern West ( in England, this period begins around 1550, when the authority of the religious establishment, and later of the ruler, began to be challenged in a sustained manner).  It is fundamental to our being as responsible citizens. To demand that it be thrown away in order to prevent the hurt feelings of those criticised is narcissistic, as well as being an absurd over-reaction. 

No one obliges another to respond to insult: you choose how to respond. You can ignore it. You can say that it says more about them than about you. You can respond with equally hurtful words. You can have a meaningful conversation with the offensive person, and perhaps establish a common ground, or at least, increase mutual understanding.  However you react, that is your responsibility, and your sense of offence does not mandate the limitation of anyone else's freedom of expression.

 For that reason, I reject your claim that insult is bullying. It's not like an overwhelming physical force - I can choose to ignore someone mocking my god or my president, I can't ignore being blown up. Given that people most ready to take offence are also people liable to respond with violence, I ask you to consider who is the real victim here - the guy who professes to defend his prophet, but is actually just asserting power in public space, or the guy who has just been murdered for refusing to think the way someone else demands they do? 

All persons have a right to protection in a civil society. Their ideas and emotional preferences do not. Those need to be openly discussed, not imposed by threats.  Relentless satire against those in power was the tool of scientific, religious and political freedom. It won't be surrendered lightly. 


2016-05-02
Freedom of Speech
That you can include the sane, Leftist, cosmopolitan staff of Charlie Hebdo in the class of parasites and paparazzi shows both ignorance of Charlie Hebdo's record of social activism, and failure to comprehend the role of excoriating, anti-clerical satire in French culture.

2016-05-04
Freedom of Speech
Dialogue de Sourds?
There is nothing wrong, in an open discussion, in reformulating one's position, bringing in nuances that may have gotten lost, or even revising the original position entirely. It would of course be an admission of defeat in a conflict model where parties are less interested in "finding the truth", whatever that may entail, than in proving the other side wrong for whatever reasons.
I reread what I have written above to see if somehow I could be rightly accused of "back pedaling". I gave Erdogan the right to "legally prosecute" the comedian. I spoke of my indignation of what I consider the abuse of principles that I myself consider as fundamental. Nowhere did I advocate the abrogation of the freedom of speech. The fact that I spoke of the abrogation of the law concerning friendly heads of states could be misconstrued as supporting said abrogation of the freedom of speech. Such an interpretation would stretch my words beyond any reasonable limits.
More importantly, the historical analysis of the Freedom of Speech in the Western countries is, if not wrong, certainly limited in its depth. The struggle against the nobility and the Church was long and painful. The fear of prosecution was finally overcome and the right to speak ill of the clergy could be counted as a huge democratic achievement. 
I could easily imagine a similar development in, for instance, Iran, where a theocratic elite is in power. Does that give non-Iranians the right to insult and denigrate the Iranian clergy? Formally, yes, and I suppose that Saddam Hussein also did not pull any verbal punches during his conflict with his neighbors in the 80's.
The question is, how far do we go in our support or condemnation of internal strifes? I would certainly not advocate any form of cowardly neutrality which would, in the end, only benefit those already in power. But there is a universal reaction to what is, rightly or not, felt as disrespect for one's culture. The recent official visit of President Obama to Great Britain is a very clear and up to date example. Many people considered his public statements and his article in a British paper in support of continued EU-membership as interference in internal affairs. Nobody denied Obama the right to express his opinions on the matter, but the message was clear: keep your opinions to yourself.
Western countries have long ago moved from the conflict with the clergy to more actual issues of freedom of speech. While churches became more and more empty, other modern temples were erected to other divinities. Women and minorities became the center point of attention. This struggle has never been conducted in a strict legalistic view. After all, abstract laws were maybe the preferred weapon of the elite in preserving their domination, but the same abstract laws could be used to justify the emancipation of women and minorities. 
The legal amendments necessary for the emancipation of women and minorities proved to be, in some ways, the easiest part. Real equality seems still a far and sometimes unreachable ideal. The fact that Hillary Clinton had to promise that her administration would consist of 50% of women shows just how long the way still is. The same way that the number of racist shootings has seemed to increase rather than to decrease under a black president.
Nonetheless, the most remarkable aspect of the role of women and minorities in modern democracies is not so much that they are still far from having reached economical and political equality with the dominating white males, than the fact that they have obtained an almost complete ideological domination within modern societies.
The most striking indication of this moral, some would say symbolic, or apparent, dominance is the use of the feminine form as the grammatically neutral, instead of the traditional, masculine form. [As far as I know only American, or USA-based intellectuals are "guilty" of this change, but I would not be surprised if it reached other countries the coming decades.]
More easily experienced by everybody is the emergence of PC language.
James Brown's "say it loud, I'm Black and proud" can truthfully be considered as just a phase of a linguistic struggle that went from boy or nigger, to Negro, Black and finally the contemporary African American. Karl Marx said somewhere that the emancipation of women could be measured by the way society treated ugly women, I think that the need for a minority to change the label by which it has been known until then would be a fairly accurate indicator of the necessity of social change. [in Holland for instance, ethnic minorities also got labeled differently each time the politicians tried to adapt their approach to changes in society they could not completely control: buitenlander, gastarbeider, etnische minderheid, migrant, allochtoon.
But one thing remained the same. Each new label was supposed to bring more recognition and respect to a harassed minority. That is why I have little hope that "African-American" for instance is here to stay.
So how could I speak of ideological dominance in view of this flagrant failure of emancipation/liberation?
Very simple: women and minorities have achieved a more than acceptable level of verbal respect
It certainly does not mean that racists, machos or male chauvinists have been forbidden to speak ill of ethnic minorities, homosexuals or women, only, and that is the major change in social relations the last decades, that such a speech is not considered as acceptable  or salonfähig anymore.
But not all minorities are equal, the respect for Jews, the oldest immigrant group in the Western world, Blacks and homosexuals, does not extend to all. There is at least one group that apparently does not deserve any protection and is therefore a free target. Muslims in general, and Arabs in particular, have been the subject of all kinds of verbal, literary and cinematic attacks for a long time.
It is a bitter pill for these people that anytime they are insulted so-called leftists and liberals are the first to appeal to formal principles. It seems like PC language is not applicable to this group, but only to the "recognized" minorities. [Erdogan was depicted as having sex with a bird; the international gay community would have rioted if instead of "effing" an animal, Erdogan had been shown as having intercourse with a male partner. To insult him because of his alleged homosexuality would have been considered as unacceptable, while it would have been the worst humiliation his adversaries could have devised just a few decades back.]
It is almost funny, if it were not so sad, to hear say that "Freedom of speech is not a personal matter". I beg to differ. As the French would say "plus personnel que ça, tu meurs." So yes, I stand by my position that insulting a whole race or religion is morally unacceptable, and that, instead of appealing to abstract principles, which only justify hatred and prejudice, those same leftists and liberals should extend the protection of PC language to all. By doing this, they would not in anyway violate the constitutional rights of bigots and fame seekers, but would at least make it clear that such an attitude is not worthy of a civilization based on high moral standards.


2016-05-13
Freedom of Speech
I should have said, more precisely, that freedom of speech is not only a personal matter. I was trying to get you to understand how deeply rooted it is in the history of Northern Europe, and how it enabled the development and maintenance of secular democracy. 
To demand that it be curtailed on the alleged grounds that whole communities may feel insulted when it is exercised, is, as I've said, narcissistic. It is the reaction of a child who believes the whole world revolves round him, and therefore finds his ego threatened when others have their own centrality and purpose. There is a story in the Gnostic Gospels about the god who believes he's the king of the universe, and is never contradicted when he issues orders, but in fact is a jealous and demanding infant swaddled in clouds to stop him from interfering with the work of the grown-up gods. 

I'd hoped you might respond to what I said about offence being taken rather than given.

I do take issue with your implicit claim to speak for all Muslims, and with the implied assumption that Muslims are a homogenous bloc. As I'm sure you know perfectly well, Muslims hold a range of views, from the ersatz historical recreations of Da'esh through to New Age Islam and the Council of Ex-Muslims, who despite their name, remain culturally Muslim and might even be religiously so if Wahhabism were to lose its apparent appeal to " the community". There is a contest in train for the soul of Islam. More free speech, not less, is necessary if it is to find the way forward, and learn to live with others. Unfortunately, a libertarian society and one in which everything, down to the order in which someone should wash their bodily parts, is prescribed, not by principle, but by rule, sit rather
 uneasily together when forced into proximity. 

2016-05-13
Freedom of Speech

We are free in so far as our freedom “consists with every other person’s freedom,” or “so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it.” In other words, “each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme of liberties for all.”

     Theses famous principles by well-known moral and political philosophers like Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, and John Rawls seem very clear and reasonable prima facie. However, these principles, especially terms like “in so far as,” “so long as,” “consist with,” and “compatible with” in them, are so ambiguous, vague, and broad that even fanatic persons and tyrannies can misuse them to justify their brutal violent actions.

     I try to show that to clarify these principles and terms and to establish a free tolerant society and reasonable conceptions of liberty, we need a morally relevant epistemological distinction on harms. I call it the objective/subjective distinction. To harm somebody, that is to act against her interests, per se cannot be morally impermissible. It means that there are harmful actions that can still be “compatible with the scheme of basic liberties for all,” and “consist with every other person’s freedom.” I call these harms “subjective,” and I think giving the agent the right to do them is a pre-condition of any free tolerant society.

     I propose two criteria to recognize a harm as subjective: 1. the person will not be harmed if she changes some of her personal beliefs or, at least, will give the agent the right to do it; or 2. we can imagine some people exactly in the same situation who are not harmed by the same action or, at least, give the agent the right to do it. Wearing clothes that harm some person(s), delivering a lecture which some person(s) may find annoying, speaking about an idea which some person(s) may find disgusting or repugnant, are all good examples of subjective harms. 


2016-05-13
Freedom of Speech
I guess the whole free-speech controversy makes me uncomfortable.  When I taught class.  I told my kids they could express any opinion or idea.  They waste so long as they expressed it with a certain amount of calm, quiet grace.  They could tell me I'm a poor teacher, but they couldn't tell me I'm a dumb idiot.

I don't think the problem comes with expressing unpopular ideas so much as expressing them in a deliberately offensive way.  I find myself made uncomfortable if Henry Kissinger or Al Sharpton are prevented from speaking.  However, if they are allowed to speak.  I'm hoping they avoid speaking in deliberately, egregiously offensive terms.  You could tell me that you believe I can as a black person, and inferior to white people.  I would feel that it was wrong to say niggers are dumb. 

2016-05-16
Freedom of Speech
You apparently have great difficulty in understanding this simple fact, even though I have repeated it over and over again. I am not advocating the abrogation or the curtailing of the freedom of speech. I am stating that it is on one hand, a matter of power. Some minorities (however diverse they may be) are regularly abused. Second, I am asking of so called leftists and liberal that they declare their solidarity with these groups by refusing to consider as acceptable insults and humiliation.You cling to a formalistic and legalistic approach that would make in impossible for the French women to condemn sexist remarks and conceptions in their society as they have recently done. After all, men have the right to think and say what they want too, don't they?
Concerning the post of Shirzad Peik I must admit that I have no idea what she is talking about. In that my preference goes to Ted de Rose's reaction. At least he is clear as to what he considers unacceptable.

2016-05-16
Freedom of Speech
Reply to Shirzad Peik
My apology for the wrong pronoun and the gender confusion. 

2016-05-17
Freedom of Speech
When you commend the prosecution of a comedian you most certainly are trying to curtail freedom of speech. 

2016-05-18
Freedom of Speech
Wrong again. I am giving the right to a victim to get justice. There are laws against slander and libel you know.
The judgment can of course go either way. Courts are a product of their time and society. That is where the concepts of power and criteria of acceptability come into play. You are entitled to a very abstract conception of law and justice, but minorities know that it is, in last instance, society that decides if, how and when abstract principles are put into practice. Take a look at the prison populations across the world, and you will get a pretty accurate picture of those who are certainly not in power.

In the time of Victor Hugo, "Les Miserables", being poor was a stigma, which is why Jean Valjean could get such a long sentence, without creating any social turmoil. Nowadays, in the global village, "poor" has acquired different shades of meaning, and one can wonder if there are not still many miserables around. Erdogan can certainly not be considered as a Jean Valjean, but in the west he enjoys the doubtful honor of being one.
Here is a joke a couple of decades old:
A Turk buys a house next to a Dutch family. The Turk was determined to integrate in Dutch society, so he started imitating his neighbor in everything he was doing in and around their respective homes. One day, they were both working in the front garden, when the Dutchman happily shouts to his neighbor:
D:  we sure have nice houses, neighbor!
T:  we sure do. Except that mine is worth more than yours.
D: how do you figure that?
T:  well, my neighbor is Dutch. Yours is Turk.

2016-05-18
Freedom of Speech
I guess I am.  I am a teacher who occasionally helps out a local elementary school on the playground.  If one child in the playground were to attack another child the way the comedian attacked the Turkish president, I would certainly interfere.  Freedom of speech is not an absolute.  To think that freedom of speech can have no harmful consequences would be foolish.  I've been on a playground where a group of children, reduced another child to tears with nothing but words.  They were calling him a girl and he was crying his heart out.  I sent them into the building and told them they were to recur, they would be sent home.Their freedom to speak did not extend to the destruction based on a fallacious statement of an innocent human's peaceful and innocent pursuit of his life's path.
An absolute freedom of speech would allow me to tell a friend that his wife is sleeping around when she wasn't and it might result In the destruction of a happy and honest relationship, Many colleges limit what can be said in the classroom when what is said and the way it is said may interfere unnecessarily with another student's ability to learn.  I'm corresponding with a prisoner on death row in Florida.  When his wife and daughter attended the trial and a news photographer took They are the picture, people came into the wife's store to curse her.  I do not believe this is a responsible use of freedom of speech.  The students at school were so abusive verbally that his daughter had to go home for a few days.  I'm sure there are some who would say that it was simply an exercise of freedom of speech, but on the playground and in the classroom.  I've seen too much abuse of what is a valuable and beautiful and fundamental concept.
First, what one says must be true.  If you know that it is false.  You should not say it.  Second, it must have some value.  I understand that the comedian was earning a living, but a financial reward for saying something that is true is not necessarily a valid reason.  Third, the person who speaks should have reasons for saying what they do and be willing to explain those reasons to the person they are addressing.  Fourth, the person who speaks should be willing to listen to the reply and if the reply makes sense, should be willing to change their assertion.  Fifth, truth, in its most beautiful form, should be presented with a quiet and calm respect for the person addressed and the idea expressed.  The freedom of speech, like any freedom is a subtle and fragile thing, and nothing should be permitted that will do it damage.

2016-05-18
Freedom of Speech
What do you know, the German judges are proving me right. By the way, it seems that many of my arguments had already been advanced by Lucian Kim in his article "A dirty – not particularly funny – poem just turned into an ‘international crisis’" of April 13th.
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2016/04/13/a-dirty-not-particularly-funny-poem-just-turned-into-an-international-crisis/



2016-05-19
Freedom of Speech
Well, Hachem, since I am always wrong, there's no point in attempting to continue a conversation. You and I simply don't seem to have terms of reference in common. 
It seems to me preposterous to construe President Erdogan as a victim, or to claim that silencing people who insult  him constitutes justice. 

Or are you arguing that as the precise nature of his relationship with goats, if any, cannot be ascertained, it is simply an untruth to claim to know it? Would you  be  happier if someone had insulted  him with reference to slaughtering Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, or the corruption scandal involving his son?  Is it the truth value of the insult that concerns you, or the fact of it?

You seem to be arguing that the powerless have a right to be protected from mockery.  I think in a just society the impoverished and powerless have all kinds of rights, primarily that of equal access to the goods of society, but there is no right to be protected  from contemptuous words, whatever your status. You also, if I've understood you, believe that insult amounts to bullying. If I'd said to a Nazi storm trooper who'd invaded my country that I thought his way of marching looked absurd, or that German faces looked like potatoes, do you think he would have felt bullied? 

If your argument is that insult can only go one way, from the powerful to the powerless, I'd say that you have a strange notion of powerlessness if the president of Turkey embodies it. 

2016-05-20
Freedom of Speech
I agree that " You and I simply don't seem to have terms of reference in common." I think you have a very simplistic view on complex issues and I do not see the point in continuing this discussion any further. Let me just point out that Erdogan may be very powerful in his own right, as a Turk he shares the destiny of all other Turks. That is why probably so many feel insulted on his behalf even if they do not agree with him.

2016-05-31
Freedom of Speech
Hi! Thanks! No gender confusion!Mr. Shirzad 

2016-06-17
Freedom of Speech
Denk, Trump and the Free Press
Denk (Think) is a political party created by (Dutch-Turkish) dissidents of the traditional labor party. They started last a campaign where they critically analyzed the role of the media and warned their sympathizers of future actions of the same press against Denk Leaders. And Lo and Behold, the dutch press made the self-fulfilling prophecy come true and journalists of all persuasions are falling over themselves to attack Denk.
Trump criticized the Washington Posts' coverage of his comments on the Orlando Tragedy, and especially on his comments on Obama himself.
Here again, the question was asked: what can we do to prevent such attacks on the free press?
And then I wonder. Should we do something?
Modern history shows us that the press has always served the dominating class and has never contributed to any change of regime. The fact that in democracy the press is free has led to a very peculiar change of perspective, one which journalists have been all too eager to embrace. They are convinced, and have convinced everybody else that they are the last bastion of democracy, right next to the armed forces of the free world.
What should be obvious to everybody watching the news (do people still read them?) is that it only takes a small dictator to muzzle the press and have it work for him and his clique. Before you know it, the same journalists who were posing themselves as the champions of liberty are writing supportive articles of the Powers That Be, or at least avoiding risky issues altogether. After all, they are only humans, and they have their mortgage or their rent to pay, spouses and kids to keep happy. 
That reminds me somehow of Egyptian judges, as corrupt as their colleagues in some countries, suddenly called to judge their ex-president  Mubarak which had kept them in office for decades.
Does that mean that the concept of a free press is an illusion? I would not go that far. In fact I would go as far as to say that a press is as free as the society in which it functions. But what the press cannot do is guarantee democracy, for the simple reason that it is society that guarantees freedom of the press.
That does not mean of course that the press should take it lying down. Just that it should not be so arrogant as to think that an attack on the free press is an attack on democracy. That would be putting journalists on a pedestal, something that they certainly do not deserve as a rule. Ask the victims of American or Russian bombs what they think of the fact that foreign journalists are free to say what they want. The same could be said of course of all victims, of any attack, as in Orlando.

Attacks on the free press should worry any real democrat, because it is usually not an isolated sign, but a symptom that something is going really wrong with a political system.
As someone who has lived under an authoritarian regime, and a western democracy, I must admit that I had very high regards for western journalists. It did not take long for me to realize that they are only people with a job. Some of them consider is as a vocation and try their damnedest to hold on to their ideals. For the great majority, it is just a way to pay the bills. Like for everybody else. And who can blame them. But please, do not let them convince you that they are a kind of divine messengers. They are not. And (verbal) attacks on journalists can be very beneficial to democracy. No one should be above criticism.

2016-06-21
Freedom of Speech
Reply to Ted De Rose
I agree with much of what you say, but for me, freedom of speech is absolute, yet does not exist in isolation. Freedom always goes hand in hand with responsibility.
 In the instances you cite, such as lying or bullying, it seems to me perfectly correct to speak back to the liar and the bully, explaining why what they're doing is thought unacceptable, and expressing one's felt displeasure. There are times when words are speech acts, and like other acts, have tangible effects. People in civilised societies value both liberty and harmony, so more talking, more negotiation, is always essential: more talking, however,  is precisely what you don't get if speech is silenced before it's uttered. 

Further,  what President Erdogan has done, by invoking the power of the Turkish government to put pressure on Germany to activate a disused  law, doesn't constitute rational conversation between equals of the sort you describe. It reflects only the power of a dictator to shelter his amour propre by any means necessary. 


2016-06-21
Freedom of Speech
I have no trouble agreeing with your view on the motivation of the Turkish President and his objectives. Just like I agree with you that speech should not be " silenced before it's uttered."
Nor should it be accepted just because of an abstract ideal that forgets that we are not abstract beings, but ones made of flesh and emotions.


2016-06-22
Freedom of Speech
It is difficult to be modest when you are powerful.
Whatever will happen tomorrow, whether Bremain or Brexit will prevail; whatever will happen to Trump, whether he will become president or not; whatever will happen to Erdogan with his architectural delusions; they all have one thing in common: arrogance. 
How could Trump be so stupid, using campaign money to finance his own businesses? Couldn't he count on his fingers that it would come back and bite him in the butt? Or couldn't he just believe that people would think it relevant? He is after all Trump!
In all these cases, the emperor only needs to go too far once and the people see him in his ugly nakedness. We don't even need children to point it to us.
The problem of course is that when Power changes hands, it certainly does not go to those who do not have any. There are more than enough smarter power-mongrels around. 


2016-06-24
Freedom of Speech
Beards and Headdresses
I find it, to be honest, sometimes quite hilarious. I am trying to imagine a cop in a Muslim country saying to his boss that he wants to keep his beard because of his religion. The immediate response would probably be: "what do you think my religion is?"
Let us now take a "Muslima" fighting for the right to have her hair covered at all times out of her home. In Iran or Saudi-Arabia that would be considered as an obligation reinforced by whip slashes and/or prison. In more liberal countries where conservative forces do not have the upper hand, she would be confronted with the same reaction: "what do you think our religion is?"
In both cases, the hero and heroin would have to explain to people who believe in the same God, what makes them so special that rules should be bent just for them.
The fact that they are living in a non-Muslim country that says to respect every faith and world view changes the problem somewhat.
What the policeman and the Muslima are saying is: "I am a conservative Muslim and I want the right to be such". It would be like a Mormon or Amish demanding respect for their beliefs, guaranteed by the Constitution.
It appears that freedom of religion is here interpreted in the spirit of the first American settlers who where not really known for their liberal interpretation of the Bible. It could therefore be considered as poetic justice that the same rights they have fought for are now invoked by what they would (once have) consider(ed) as heathens.
What non-Muslims must realize is that beards and head cloths are political, more than religious symbols [except during prayers, where just like for Jews, your head must be covered, especially for women]. Some people think that you cannot be a good Muslim without them, others disagree. It is what makes a religion a living thing. The thing is, conservative Muslims are more militant, and will therefore seek publicity more easily than liberals who are, I will say it plainly, very often afraid of coming up for their convictions. 
My father, who was deeply religious and well versed in Islamic theology, criticized my revolutionary teenager beard (it was the time of Karl Marx and the proletariat) saying that the Prophet was very conscious of his appearance. His clothes were alway elegant, and his beard neatly trimmed. Have you ever seen a Saudi prince with a hirsute beard? [Aren't they all princes? With the revenues from the Hadj, not to mention the oil, they should be all kings!] 
By the way, in "Banshee", the sheriff (not the ex-con) has a beard. So what is all this fuss about in New York? I would almost think that the rules were invented especially to keep some people out. 
Nah! That would be crazy, wouldn't it?


2016-07-04
Freedom of Speech
Allah Akbar (الله أكبر) said the Pope?
It sounds strange, doesn't it? Well, theologically, there would be no reason why the Pope could not use such an expression. After all, Arab Christians have no problem using it. It simply means that there is no one greater than God. Something that the Pope would certainly agree with, right?
Of course, the fact that extremists are using the same expression as an ideological flag makes the expression suspect in the eyes (ears?) of non-Muslims.
Something else. Colloquially, Allah Akbar is the equivalent of the English-American  OMG (Oh My God!), or the exclamation "Jesus Christ!". So please, do not shoot your Arab or Muslim neighbor if you hear him using this expression. Unless of course he is coming at you with a knife and crazy eyes.

2016-07-05
Freedom of Speech
Do not let extremists highjack the language!
As I said before, Allah Akbar is not only a theologically sane expression, it is also an innocent colloquialism. Images of mad fanatics murdering innocent people while shouting Allah Akbar have given not only this expression but the whole Arabic language a bad reputation. Apparently, speaking it in a plane or in a hotel is enough to rattle all the alarms of frightened and concerned citizens. [And who could blame them?] 
It has become something of a Pavlov reaction: hear Arabic or the word Allah (which is by the way not a name, like Yahweh is, but means simply God, who, unlike the Jewish God with the thousand names,  who is none but Allah, remains nameless), call the police.
I think it is time for liberal and non-extremist Muslims to crowd the streets chanting "Allah Akbar", to re-take possession of their holy language again [as the language of the Coran. Arabic remains of course just one language among hundreds or even thousands of others]. Do not let extremists highjack the language. Break the evil association between Arabic and Islam on one hand, and fanaticism, mindless hatred and cruelty on the other.
It would be even more beautiful if representatives of other (but certainly not exclusively monotheistic) religions participated also. After all, what could be wrong for somebody believing in a Supreme Creator, with saying that there is no one greater than Him?

I would certainly participate in such a march, even if I am not particularly religious.


2016-07-11
Freedom of Speech
The Return of the Black Panther: The Unwanted Sequel
The sad, but natural death of the Pakistani "social worker" Edhi, in the same period as the Dallas tragedy where five police officers lost their lives to a senseless sentiment of revenge make us realize how fragile human lives are.
The Dallas victims deserve to be honored and grieved by family, friends and colleagues. After that, however callous that may sound, life goes on. Or rather, Death goes on. Because we must not forget that there are still white policemen out there who do not even need an excuse to kill Black citizens. I hope the Dallas shootings will remain a tragic incident. But for that, something will have to be done about this power over life and death that some cops think they can use impunitively. Turning Dallas into a Law and Order issue would be the greatest mistake of all. Right now, the problem seems to be the Law itself. Or at least, some of its representatives.
Issie Lapowsky "We’ll Never Be Able to Look Away Again. Dallas and Minnesota Prove It" in Wired thinks mostly about the impact live recordings by the public can have on American society. Understandable from a a tech-journalist. But new technologies only afford new opportunities, or dangers. They do not fundamentally change Man's nature, however tempting such an image might be. We are still dealing with a very old issue: violence of Man against Man. It has, since the story of Cain and Abel, taken many forms, helped by technological inventions. But the question remains the same: what do we do about Cain? Especially when he is wearing a badge.