Archive for the ‘Freedom’ category

Collectivist Totalitarians, Right and Left

April 30, 2011

People on the extreme left and the extreme right, find diversity of opinion unbearable. Both groups are totalitarians and want to completely shut the other side up. They assume the exact same motive of any one who disagrees with them. They can’t imagine an EXCHANGE of ideas or learning anything new. They can’t imagine anyone else being right or themselves being wrong. None of their ideas are held provisionally pending new information.(I suspect that’s because their ideas are not based on information.) They certainly can’t imagine a marketplace of ideas where their views are on the exact same footing as everyone else’s.

Yes, I think government has an important role to play in people’s lives and I believe in a strong social safety net. But I also I believe in free market capitalism. I believe in private ownership of property. I believe in liberty, even for people I think are fools. I believe that extreme, lunatic right wingers get to say what they want and speak their mind. They even get to vote for whoever they think will represent them. I believe in their rights even when the right wingers are shocked that anyone to their left has all the same rights they do and work hard to strip them of their liberty.


Are we a free people?

January 15, 2009

Let’s stop treating people who fly in airplanes like penitentiary inmates. Let’s get rid of the “no fly” list. If a terrorist blows up a plane the people on that plane died for our freedom.

Let’s stop living in terror. Let’s stop torture. Let’s release the prisoners at Guantanamo if there is no evidence that they committed a crime. If they commit terrorism and kill people, those people died for our freedom.

Let’s stop wiretapping American citizens. If some terrorists carry out a plot to kill people, those people died for our freedom.

The people who died on 9/11 didn’t die to turn America into a police state. Let’s make their sacrifice meaningful and consider them martyrs who died for our freedom.

Freedom comes at a price. Let’s decide that all of us are brave enough to pay that price and stop living like lily-livered, yellow-bellied cowards.

Islamic Public Relations

January 26, 2008

In Afghanistan recently Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a reporter for a daily paper and a journalism student, thought he had freedom of speech.

He was wrong.

He downloaded an Iranian article which pointed out that Mohammad had ignored women’s fundamental rights. The young man was arrested and charged with blasphemy. It’s amazing how blasphemy and the truth are often the same thing. He’s been in prison for three months (so far) and was tried without a lawyer. Naturally, he was sentenced to death. He can appeal the decision, of course. He gets three appeals before they stand him against a wall and cut him in half with a Kalashnikov.

Kambakhsh probably won’t end up in front the Kalashnikovs. He has a brother who’s a reporter and Reporters Without Borders are on the job getting worldwide attention brought to this case.

This case. How many thousands are killed or terrified into silence because they know their brother herds goats and won’t be able to get their story on Reuters? The “Qatif Girl” got a reprieve from the Saudi king after being sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison for the crime of being raped. Her male protector was not a close relative, that’s a crime in Saudi Arabia. But she got off because some watchdog group noticed her case and she was saved. Thousands are not saved.

And here we have a case of a man sentenced to death for the crime of distributing an article which suggested that this bloody minded barbarism might be wrong.

It’s Islamic public relations in action. Again.

What people get wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

March 7, 2007

What people get wrong about Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, March 5, 2007, at 1:35 PM ET

W.H. Auden, whose centenary fell late last month, had an extraordinary capacity to summon despair—but in such a way as to simultaneously inspire resistance to fatalism. His most beloved poem is probably September 1, 1939, in which he sees Europe toppling into a chasm of darkness. Reflecting on how this catastrophe for civilization had come about, he wrote:

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analyzed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

“The enlightenment driven away … ” This very strong and bitter line came back to me when I saw the hostile, sneaky reviews that have been dogging the success of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s best seller Infidel, which describes the escape of a young Somali woman from sexual chattelhood to a new life in Holland and then (after the slaying of her friend Theo van Gogh) to a fresh exile in the United States. Two of our leading intellectual commentators, Timothy Garton Ash (in the New York Review of Books) and Ian Buruma, described Hirsi Ali, or those who defend her, as “Enlightenment fundamentalist[s].” In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Buruma made a further borrowing from the language of tyranny and intolerance and described her view as an “absolutist” one.

Now, I know both Garton Ash and Buruma, and I remember what fun they used to have, in the days of the Cold War, with people who proposed a spurious “moral equivalence” between the Soviet and American sides. Much of this critique involved attention to language. Buruma was very mordant about those German leftists who referred to the “consumer terrorism” of the federal republic. You can fill in your own preferred example here; the most egregious were (and, come to think of it, still are) those who would survey the U.S. prison system and compare it to the Gulag.

In her book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali says the following: “I left the world of faith, of genital cutting and forced marriage for the world of reason and sexual emancipation. After making this voyage I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values.” This is a fairly representative quotation. She has her criticisms of the West, but she prefers it to a society where women are subordinate, censorship is pervasive, and violence is officially preached against unbelievers. As an African victim of, and escapee from, this system, she feels she has acquired the right to say so. What is “fundamentalist” about that?

The Feb. 26 edition of Newsweek takes up where Garton Ash and Buruma leave off and says, in an article by Lorraine Ali, that, “It’s ironic that this would-be ‘infidel’ often sounds as single-minded and reactionary as the zealots she’s worked so hard to oppose.” I would challenge the author to give her definition of irony and also to produce a single statement from Hirsi Ali that would come close to materializing that claim. Accompanying the article is a typically superficial Newsweek Q&A sidebar, which is almost unbelievably headed: “A Bombthrower’s Life.” The subject of this absurd headline is a woman who has been threatened with horrific violence, by Muslims varying from moderate to extreme, ever since she was a little girl. She has more recently had to see a Dutch friend butchered in the street, been told that she is next, and now has to live with bodyguards in Washington, D.C. She has never used or advocated violence. Yet to whom does Newsweek refer as the “Bombthrower”? It’s always the same with these bogus equivalences: They start by pretending loftily to find no difference between aggressor and victim, and they end up by saying that it’s the victim of violence who is “really” inciting it.

Garton Ash and Buruma would once have made short work of any apologist who accused the critics of the U.S.S.R. or the People’s Republic of China of “heating up the Cold War” if they made any points about human rights. Why, then, do they grant an exception to Islam, which is simultaneously the ideology of insurgent violence and of certain inflexible dictatorships? Is it because Islam is a “faith”? Or is it because it is the faith—in Europe at least—of some ethnic minorities? In neither case would any special protection from criticism be justified. Faith makes huge claims, including huge claims to temporal authority over the citizen, which therefore cannot be exempt from scrutiny. And within these “minorities,” there are other minorities who want to escape from the control of their ghetto leaders. (This was also the position of the Dutch Jews in the time of Spinoza.) This is a very complex question, which will require a lot of ingenuity in its handling. The pathetic oversimplification, which describes skepticism, agnosticism, and atheism as equally “fundamentalist,” is of no help here. And notice what happens when Newsweek takes up the cry: The enemy of fundamentalism is defined as someone on the fringe while, before you have had time to notice the sleight of hand, the aggrieved, self-pitying Muslim has become the uncontested tenant of the middle ground.

Let me give another example of linguistic slippage. In ACLU circles, we often refer to ourselves as “First Amendment absolutists.” By this we mean, ironically enough, that we prefer to interpret the words of the Founders, if you insist, literally. The literal meaning in this case seems (to us) to be that Congress cannot inhibit any speech or establish any state religion. This means that we defend all expressions of opinion including those that revolt us, and that we say that nobody can be forced to practice, or forced to foreswear, any faith. I suppose I would say that this is an inflexible principle, or even a dogma, with me. But who dares to say that’s the same as the belief that criticism of religion should be censored or the belief that faith should be imposed? To flirt with this equivalence is to give in to the demagogues and to hear, underneath their yells of triumph, the dismal moan of the trahison des clercs and “the enlightenment driven away.” Perhaps, though, if I said that my principles were a matter of unalterable divine revelation and that I was prepared to use random violence in order to get “respect” for them, I could hope for a more sympathetic audience from some of our intellectuals.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.