Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The HuffPo: Anti-Free Speech and Pro-Vandalism

Fresh off last week's article that America should silence people who criticize Islam, the Huffington Post has called up veteran Huffington Post blogger Joseph Ward III to not only agree, but to take a step further and that people should be committing crimes to silence viewpoints he doesn't like.

Yes, in what is now the seventh article about Pamela Geller's anti-Jihad advertisements, Mr. Ward talks about the vandalism by Mona Eltahaway and the video of her subsequent arrest for committing a crime. Here is his reaction:
"Watching this video evoked a couple of things for me. The first being a gut-wrench reaction towards the apparent racism (which Mona thankfully attempted to bury in graffiti). These subway ads, paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) insinuate that Muslim and Arab people are savages--a message that's beyond offensive and disgusting."
Indeed. If you don't like something, just declare it to be "racist" and silence it! What could possibly go wrong when we live in a society where whoever is willing to break the law gets to speak the loudest! And as we have discussed before, the ads make it very clear they are anti-Jihad, not saying that all Muslim and Arab people are savages. The AFDI definitely pushed the envelope to go as far as they possibly could without going over to saying something actually racist.

But even if they had, it doesn't matter. You're not allowed to vandalize ads just because you don't like what they have to say. You'd think that any Huffington Post blogger and reader would know the difference between protest and committing a crime. But apparently Mr. Ward thinks that his feelings take precedence over the basic freedoms of our society. At this point he switches to an argumentum ad absurdum but in doing so shoots his argument in the foot:
"Like many Muslims in America, LGBT people are so often exposed to the same type of prejudice and homophobia that's exasperated by the actions of religious extremist. I think about the Westboro Baptist Church in particular who have mastered this type of "hate free speech." They picket funerals with neon signs that read "God Hates Fags." Any family or friend of an American veteran or LGBT person whose funeral has been picketed by this group, knows the horror they can inflict."
It's kind of ironic that you say that, seeing as how Muslims are not exactly the biggest fans of LGBT people either. But that's fine, you can bring in the WBC. They are notable for being possibly the one group of people that almost all Americans hate. But guess what? As much as I would like to go up to Fred Phelps and kick him in the nuts, if I did I would get arrested. And I would deserve to be arrested because you're not allowed to attack people or their property just because you don't like what they have to say.

I'm not sure if Mr. Ward realizes how dangerous his point of view really is. After all, statistically there are more Christians than gay people in America and everywhere else. If "religious extremists" as he calls them takes his views to heart, any pro-gay advertisement could be covered up with spray paint or other forms of vandalism. Is that really what he wants? I doubt it: far more likely is he is merely taking on the naive point of view that these AFDI advertisements are a one time thing that will not have any consequences further down the line.

So he endorses vandalism again:
"I could imagine walking through the subways of New York City seeing these racist ads, and Mona's actions seem to strike at the very real and raw reaction we should all have towards hate. If "God Hates Fags" were on those same subway ads, wouldn't LGBT and straight allies be provoked to deface or glitter bomb those? What about ads degrading women or inciting racism towards black Americans?"
You know, one of the defining characteristics of living in a civilized society in the 21st century is that we are not ruled by our "real and raw reactions." And unless Mona walks around with a can of spray paint at all times, I think the term for her behavior is in fact "premeditated."

Sorry Mr. Ward, you can use all the dramatic terms you like, but these ads are not racist, degrading, or inciting. And if ads were posted that says "God Hates Fags" (or any other offensive thing you would like to imagine) you should respond in the way that civilized people living in a democracy do: write letters to the MTA or call them on the phone, or raise some money and buy some advertisements of your own. Hey, what an idea! Crime is crime, no matter whether you do it for what you think is a good reason or not. There are all kinds of ads that bother me as an atheist:

And a supporter of Israel:

But neither of these advertisements were ever defaced or spray painted on, nor would I ever say they should be, because some of us in this country actually respect the rule of law and the First Amendment.

Good news though! Even though the Huffington Post didn't publish it, Mona and her friends actually were able to intimidate the MTA into giving in to their behavior:
"In response to the controversy, the Metropolitan Transit Authority just ruled to prohibit advertisements that it "reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace." And, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a similar protection for Californians against the Westboro provocations."
So long free speech, it was nice knowing you. Let's conclude with what Mr. Ward no doubt thinks is a very deep and insightful question:
"When you see homophobia, sexism, or racism promoted through a vehicle of free speech, how would you respond?"
Wow. One of the building blocks of our society is a "vehicle" now. But I've already explained to you how I would respond, Mr. Ward. Are you going to listen?

By the way, Geller is still denied a privilege to respond on the Huffington Post to attacks made against her and her organization.

1 comment:

  1. Salon.com today has an article that specifically says free speech does apply to Islam.


    In fact they turn it on its head and say 'we' censor things all the time EXCEPT when it comes to Islam.


Hey guys we've started to employ a slight comment policy. We used to have completely open comments but then people abused it. So our comment policy is such: No obvious trolling or spamming. And be warned: unlike the Huffington Post we actually enforce our comment policy.