An Excellent Argument In Support of Blasphemy Laws

Law, Politics & Current Events

This week in France, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has run a piece with sexual caricatures of Muhammad, thus courting mob violence, murder, and firebombing.

Those risks are not hypothetical or abstract. This month, of course, we've seen mobs cite an anti-Muslim video as an occasion or excuse for violence, a view likely manipulated by extremists for political ends. Plus, Charlie Hebdo got firebombed last year when they merely mentioned their intent to run such a piece. Prior publications of cartoons about Muhammad have been used as excuses for widespread violence (not to mention legal thuggery, stupidity, and rank cowardice), leading many, including us, to run cartoons or drawings in defiance.

In reading the coverage of the Charlie Hebdo drawings, I noticed perhaps the best and most credible argument for blasphemy laws yet:

In Egypt, where protesters last week attacked the American Embassy, the Muslim Brotherhood said the cartoons were blasphemous and hurtful, and called upon the French judiciary to condemn the newspaper. Mahmoud Ghozlan, a spokesman, noted that French law prohibited Holocaust denial. Similar provisions might be made for comments deemed blasphemous under Islam, he suggested.

“If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened, they are imprisoned,” Mr. Ghozlan told Reuters. “It is not fair or logical” that the same not be the case for those who insult Islam, he said.

You know what? He's right.

Laws that censor the expression of ideas are the best and most convincing arguments for other laws that censor the expression of ideas. When you make it a crime to question the Holocaust, you offer a splendid and convincing argument by analogy for a law criminalizing speech that offends the religious. When you prosecute nutty old women for offending Muslims, you offer the next group of offended persons powerful arguments that their offense should be redressed by the criminal justice system as well. When you advocate an amendment to the Constitution to allow criminal prosecution of flag-burners, you give a head start to everyone who argues that blasphemy should be criminalized.

I've heard the arguments that Holocaust-denial laws are special or different because of the historical experience of Europeans. I'm unconvinced. The next Holocaust will not be prevented by laws prohibiting people from bad-mouthing the last one. The next Holocaust will be prevented by firmly entrenched cultural and legal norms limiting the state's power over the individual and recognizing the inviolability of the individual. Laws allowing the state to criminalize ideas undermine those norms rather than promote them.

So. If you're spending the month denouncing the calls for blasphemy laws coming from extremists and apologists and fellow-travelers, ask yourself: how is your nation already making the argument for those who demand broad censorship?

Last 5 posts by Ken White

86 Comments

85 Comments

  1. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @8:03 am

    Whoa, I'd never really considered those laws in light of infringement on free speech. But it certainly is in the same vein as making laws against offending people. I can't believe that I've read those facts in the past and just moved on without considering the civil rights at play there. Good point.

  2. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @8:20 am

    @Gavin:"Whoa, I'd never really considered those laws in light of infringement on free speech. "

    Uhm… I am trying to find some way to phrase this that does not come off as more hostile or insulting than I intend… but… HOW? Since emotion and tone can be lost in text, I am genuinely curious as to the reasoning process(es) that would view laws that ban the expression of an idea to be anything but an infringement on free speech. While narrow categories of false speech are generally criminal, such as fraud, libel, and slander, false speech in general is not banned. For example, claiming humans went to the moon, or that the Earth was created ~6,000 years ago, or that Queen Elizabeth is a space reptile (no relation, I swear!), are all permitted. Why should Holocaust denial be privileged above the rest of the balderdash?

    I've seen many people argue (poorly) that it's a "justifiable" restriction on free speech, but you're the first person I've "met" who didn't realize it WAS a restriction, and I'm genuinely, sincerely, interested in the train of thought leading to that conclusion, because I've found that WHY people believe things is often much more interesting than WHAT they believe, and I'd rather read a good argument for things I oppose than a crappy argument for things I support.

    Back to Ken's point: Well, he's right. Not too much to add, there. I've seen morons people on other message systems try to claim that since Holocaust denial is banned, anything else someone finds offensive should be banned, too. I've also seen a lot of Americans who aren't aware that "hate speech" is NOT banned in America, and all too many who, if told this, think it SHOULD be.

    BTW, the idea that "speech which offends me is, itself, violence" is a meme being propagated only a few links from here…got to this page (http://koritha.blogspot.com/2012/09/osu-haters-exposing-know-your-place.html) via some links from http://blog.angryasianman.com, and it features such gems as "an attack does not have to be physical (or even extreme) to do violence. ", etc. Note I'm not in any way claiming you have some kind of relationship to anything said on a link to a link to a link, I just found it amusing how closely connected sanity and insanity can be on the web… and yet, at the same time, how so many people stay inside their own echo chambers and are barely aware there are opinions other than their own out there. (I love the "White people are always so quick to excuse racism!" comment on the page I linked to; I can't decide if the poster was being far too clever for their audience, or if they're genuinely that self-unaware.)

  3. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @8:46 am

    It's simple, I just didn't give their laws anything more than a passing glance. I read it and thought it was interesting and considered the reasons why they thought they needed it.

    It goes back on Ken's comment about the need to defend people who are being dicks because the laws protecting their dickishness are important to uphold regardless of the person being tested with it.

    People who say the holocaust didn't exist are pretty much little neonazis in my book. Why would I naturally look at things from their angle? No, I even get a little bit of pleasure when something bad happens to them. Perhaps I should feel bad about that, but I can't bring myself to feel bad for people who are genuinely evil. So the need for justification of a law against them didn't cross my mind.

    Does that make sense? Now that it has been brought to my attention I am surprised I didn't think about it before. But my bias against the "victims" of the law prevented my seeing it.

  4. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:04 am

    @Lizard: While this may not be the case with Gavin, it's quite easy to think nothing of laws that punish behavior we find repellant or even just annoying. In the U.S. particularly, we so firmly couch things as "good" or "bad" that one who isn't either vigilant or a total libertarian may just go "ha, karma's a bitch" without realizing that the government has overstepped their bounds.

    Actually noticing those oversteps is the difference between a sheep and a citizen.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:16 am

    Laws against Holocaust Denial are certainly tempting. Of course they are unfair, since the penalize fans of that Austrian corporal while leaving Stalinists alone. Think how the Intelligentsia would squeal if threatened with laws against Gulag denial.

  6. Anglave  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:18 am

    Great post!

    Also, congrats on the new favicon!

  7. ShelbyC  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:24 am

    "Laws against Holocaust Denial are certainly tempting…"

    Why? I've always wondered how people can believe that the holocaust happened, if they live somewhere where it's illegal to argue that it didn't.

  8. Thad  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:28 am

    Tangentially related: I remember reading Breyer's dissent in Brown v EMA and thinking that, while I didn't agree with his conclusion, I couldn't fault his logic: it IS absurd to say we can legally restrict retailers from selling pictures of bare breasts to people under 18 but we can't restrict them from selling graphic depictions of violence to the same demographic.

    I think he made a very good point. Just not the one he intended to.

  9. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:29 am

    @Shelby: Because it's a very short step from "Oh, I wish you'd shut up with your blather already" to "Shut up with your blather already or else" if you have the power to back it up.

  10. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:37 am

    @M.

    That's exactly why I missed this one. I find the act of dismissing one of the most horrific acts in human history deplorable and so I didn't stop to think about the legitimacy of the law itself with regards to civil rights. That's my mistake and I'm the better for having been made aware of it.

  11. En Passant  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:41 am

    Gavin wrote on Sep 20, 2012 @8:46 am:

    People who say the holocaust didn't exist are pretty much little neonazis in my book. Why would I naturally look at things from their angle?

    Condemning laws against holocaust denial does not require "looking at things from their angle". It requires looking at things from your angle, and my angle, and everybody's else angle who isn't a holocaust denier.

    If holocaust denial can be made a crime, so can denial of any other generally accepted fact that enough people believe particularly important (or conversely, espousing a belief generally held false), if the denial or espousal somehow disparages some definable racial, religious or cultural class of people, or even just enrages them.

    For example: Should espousing the belief that Catholics practice cannibalism be made a crime? What about the belief that Jews have tails? Or that homosexuals are all child molesters?

    All of those beliefs are loathsome to most people, and many might consider them insane. But some people actually believe them, or so I've heard. They are not different from holocaust denial. If holocaust denial is a crime, why should they not be?

  12. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:45 am

    To look at it from their angle would be to realize that their civil liberties are being infringed on instead of seeing it from my angle in which case an asshole is getting what's coming to them.

    Once I realize that their rights are being infringed, I may then apply it to the danger it could pose to my own rights. In order to do everything you just said, you have to first think of what it's doing to them an if that's fair. This requires the perspective I mentioned.

  13. Pablo  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:54 am

    Yup. This reminds me of the idiotic perversion of Godwin's Law which is often taken by dullards to mean that you can never mention Nazis. "Never Again" is not a reference to talking about the Holocaust.

  14. Dan Weber  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:56 am

    I can buy that for the losing countries in WWII, they might lose certain rights. Like trying to restart the way or even agitating to restart the war. You are conquered, you are occupied, and there are consequences for that.

    After 70 years, though, I'm not sure that still applies.

    And countries like France were (nominally) on the winning side.

  15. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:59 am

    @Gavin: The fact that you can recognize that it was a mistake means that you were already better than you likely thought. That balance between self-criticality, criticality of others, and nuclear criticality is one we must all seek, or risk being either Rush Limbaugh or Slotin/Daghlian.

  16. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:01 am

    Sorry, or whatever extreme-far-left wackjob, probably from California.

  17. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:08 am

    @M.:

    It certainly makes me wonder what other areas I may have glossed over for the same reasons. Hopefully this lesson will help inform my future responses to such things.

    I've heard of Rush (he's become an even bigger joke as of late though I'm pretty sure that's the goal) but not Slotin/Daghlian. I'll have to read up on them.

  18. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:12 am

    @Gavin: Don't bother unless you're interested in nuclear physics – it was a lame nuclear geek joke. ;)

  19. Eric  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:20 am

    It's a little weird. Best argument I've seen rationalizing holocaust denial is that anti-semitism is hatred of a concrete, existing people, whereas something like anti-islamic blasphemy is hatred of an abstract idea.

    I dunno how much water that holds, legally speaking, but it's…it's a thing.

  20. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:21 am

    @Gavin Yeah, I often find myself in the position of having to defend the rights of people who would be happy to deprive me of my right to exist, never mind free speech. :) I tend to see things in terms of patterns, categories, and so on more than in terms of concretes, which often gets me in trouble when discussing things, because most people (in my experience) focus on specifics.

    I find it unendingly amusing that during "Banned Books Week" and the like, the books which are celebrated are those which, generally, express ideas, values, and principles widely accepted by the majority, or, at least, by the majority who at least pay lip service to the idea censorship is wrong. You rarely see broad, public, displays of material that will actually offend the typical patrons of libraries, bookstores, and so on, which helps to reinforce the idea that freedom of speech is important because it protects "good" ideas from "bad" censors — not that's it's just as important to protect bad, wrong, vile, and repugnant ideas from the genuinely well-meaning (but short-sighted and hypocritical).

    @CSPS: Yes, I often wonder what would happen if people started reacting to t-shirts with Che, Mao, or Stalin on them the same as they react to shirts with swastikas or Hitler. (Based on my wife's studies of family history, my maternal ancestors were mostly killed by Communists, and my paternal ancestors were mostly killed by Nazis. I exist because the former fled to England and the latter to Brazil, with both ultimately sending my actual parents to where the unwanted refuse of every nation ends up — Brooklyn.)

    STILL not getting comment notifications, despite confirming and verifying confirmation. Very odd.

  21. Jess  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:29 am

    @M –

    Noticing those oversteps is the difference between a sheep and a citizen.

    Well said.

    We have become a nation of frogs oblivious to the fact the pot is fast coming to a boil. We have to be vigilant against the small steps being taken to gradually erode our liberties.

  22. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:35 am

    @M.:

    Haha, no, I'd heard of these guys before but I didn't understand the reference with regards to a foil of Rush and so I was thrown off the right trail. When I looked them up I immediately felt dumb in light of your nuclear criticality which I'd chuckled at only moments before.

  23. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:37 am

    (because I didn't understand the reference in the context, I assumed the names were a coincidence)

  24. AJ  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:00 am

    I might be a touch more impressed if the spokesman's organization did not readily engage in Holocaust denial.

    Why exactly do you think he brought that one up?

  25. PG  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:31 am

    I immediately thought of Holocaust denial laws in this context as well, but it's because of the storm of outrage from conservatives over the Cairo embassy's statement (since deleted from their website) that "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

    According to these conservatives, this press release constituted a condemnation of free speech by the U.S. government, which condemnation is apparently a manifestation of Obama's fascism.

    When I asked what they thought about Bush's ambassador to the UN spearheading a condemnation of Holocaust denial, in which the ambassador said, "the denial of the Holocaust is not to be tolerated" (http://london.usembassy.gov/humrts066.html), I didn't get a response.

  26. Pablo  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:33 am

    That's exactly it, AJ. "I can't say stuff that you don't like, but you can say stuff I don't like. That's not fair." He's right.

  27. Adrian Ratnapala  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:41 am

    I've heard the arguments that Holocaust-denial laws are special or different because of the historical experience of Europeans. I'm unconvinced. The next Holocaust will not be prevented by laws prohibiting people from bad-mouthing the last one.

    Yep. At least thats right if you want to actively defend those laws. History is an argument for passive-nonagression; basically every country will have stupid laws that overstep basic human rights. Given the history, the holocaust denial ones are fairly understandable, and to relatively little damage.

    But they still do some damage, as this episode shows.

  28. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:51 am

    Just a side question, how bad can the crime of denying the holocaust be punished? Can it result in an execution or years of imprisonment or is it just a bit of Jail time (not that there should be any), just a question in relative repercussions being demanded.

  29. Adrian Ratnapala  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:55 am

    Also, I was philosophising in the bathtub today, and am now fairly sure that speech aught to be less protected when it involves false factual claims. This is explicitly recognized in defamation, but I was think of this case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy.

    That involved a medical researcher who falsified data on behalf of lawyers who were trying to sue medical manufacturers. This resulted in a panic that caused people to refuse treatment, probably causing the loss of life. The researcher was not jailed, but he has lost his right to practice medicine. Good.

  30. EBL  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:56 am

    Cartoon link here.

    I agree that the answer to free speech you disagree with is more free speech. If you arguments are sound, they are sound. If not, they will be mocked. Hitchens addressed holocaust denial in this speech and he is right. We should be prepared to defend all points. Nothing should be left as a given.

  31. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @11:58 am

    @Eric: It is very difficult to criticize a religion in such a way as it does not criticize the people who hold it. I have seen posts on this site critiquing Islam that follow the exact same pattern of argument I've seen on Nazi and White Supremacist sites critiquing Jews — quote mining, selective and out-of-context segments of religious texts, etc. It is even harder to do this (criticize a faith, but not the faith's believers) when you're not opposing religion in general, but hold your own faith to wholly different standards than you impose on others.

    The bulk of anti-Muslim postings I've seen do not discuss the abstractions of faith, but are classic xenophobia — "They" are infiltrating America/The West, they have alien values they will impose on us by force, their so-called "schools" and "churches" are terrorist training grounds, and, my favorite, "Islam isn't a REAL religion". (This was tried by people protesting a mosque a state or two away from me, claiming that it wasn't entitled to religious exemptions from zoning laws since Islam wasn't a religion. Really. People actually tried to present this argument in a court of law. We also had the moron in Florida who voted for school vouchers for religious schools, then had a fit when an Islamic school applied for the program.)

    Because Christianity's sectarian splits have been mostly reduced to trivial abstractions, it's hard for modern Americans to remember that, not long ago, specific denominations were tightly tied to specific ethnic groups, and being "Anti-Catholic" basically meant being anti-Italian and/or anti-Irish. Criticism of "papists" were rarely based on theology, but based on good ol' racism. (It's interesting to compare the "Obama is a secret Muslim!" hysteria of today to the "JFK will be the puppet of the antichrist, the Pope!" of the early 1960s…especially that the leading bigots on the far right today are Catholics. As usual, the chief lesson learned from oppression is "It's better to be the one holding the whip.")

    Attempts to try to classify one type of noxious idea, or hatred of one ethnic group, as a different "kind" of speech than equivalent ideas, simply cannot be done. Those who wish to engage in the forbidden speech will use this to claim the group which is protected has "special" powers or influence, which "proves" their argument. If Jews can get laws passed to ban holocaust denial, but Muslims can't get anti-blasphemy laws passed, doesn't this "prove" the Jews "control the government"? Others, perhaps more commonly, argue from the opposite direction — they do not want denial laws repealed, they want every form of speech that offends any group, anywhere, banned, and since you've done one, you might as well do the rest.

    There's nothing particularly unique, special, or distinctive about Holocaust denial in the greater category of "stupid ideas promoted by stupid people". To single it out makes its advocates think they're special. (They are special, but only in the "short bus" kind of way…)

  32. Adrian Ratnapala  •  Sep 20, 2012 @12:03 pm

    @Gavin: best I can do is look it up on the interweb:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_denial#Laws_against_Holocaust_denial

    I remember Britain, which does not have any such laws, once denied a visa to a visiting speaker because he was a denier.

  33. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @12:23 pm

    @Adrian:

    Thanks for taking the time but this was exactly the article I was reading that prompted me to ask here. The only number it actually presents is Hungary's punishment of up to three years (a significant deterrent for sure). I was wondering if that's the worst out there. It's bad, but it's not execution/decades in prison bad, you know? I'm just curious.

  34. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @12:24 pm

    @Adrian: You are quite allowed to lie about vaccines. Jenny McCarthy isn't in jail, is she? (If I believed in any kind of divinity or afterlife, I'd have comfort there's a special hell for her, right next to the one for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.)

    Hell, the Supreme Court just ruled that it's OK to lie about being a MOH recipient in order to pick up chicks.

    It is, likewise, trivial to organize ones rants in such a way as to simply list "facts" (selective quotations, half-truths, etc) and and arrange them to lead to the conclusion you want, without ever stating the conclusion. (Glenn Beck, for example, is rightfully mocked for this style of argument.) This then forces the law to go beyond simple issues of fraud, and to try to rule on intent, implication, etc, or to judge the quality of someone's research or their presentation of conflicting evidence. I do not think it would be a good idea to require that anyone who wants to list "Ten Reasons I Think Romney Should Be Elected" to include every reason someone might NOT want Romney elected, or to present every possible alternative interpretation of the facts, or any parts of the facts he chose to ignore. Where do you draw the line, when we're discussing the use of force? (Which is what all laws are. Laws are guns. If you won't shoot someone for doing something, don't make it a crime.)

    Falsifying research is an entirely different category, and is a form of fraud. The "doctor" in question told a journal "This is the experiment I did, these are the results." It's no different than submitting an "original" work of fiction to a publisher and hoping they don't find you copied it from someone else. There's narrow categories of fraud which are criminal, but the vast majority of deceit is not.

  35. Gavin  •  Sep 20, 2012 @12:31 pm

    The problem with using the ol' MOH line to pick up chicks is that you only ever get the dumb ones.

  36. perlhaqr  •  Sep 20, 2012 @1:28 pm

    It's interesting to me to see where my sacred cows are in this field.

    A fundamentalist Muslim saying "You can't draw a picture of the Prophet or I'll kill you!" makes me reach for my rifle, then a piece of paper and a pen.

    A European Parliament saying "You can't deny the Holocaust or I'll kill you!" might get me to halfheartedly mutter "The holocaust never happened" but I would have a very hard time even trying to be convincing at it, and I'd feel bad about doing it.

  37. EBL  •  Sep 20, 2012 @1:33 pm

    When someone denies the Holocaust, you can prove them wrong with facts. We should not fear arguing the facts of anything. Whether you persuade them or not, the act of arguing sharpens you mind and your positions.

  38. AJ  •  Sep 20, 2012 @1:48 pm

    Pablo, I don't think the spokesman is pointing out fairness he's trying to get people to agree to a blasphemy law. His basis for limiting speech is pointing out a limitation of speech. I think Ken's argument is from the other standpoint, where it should be all speech is allowed.

    What should not be forgotten in all this is that denial of what was happening was intrinsic to it happening.

  39. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @2:07 pm

    I rather agree with EBL.

  40. Unity  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:09 pm

    Context – the law criminalising Holocaust denial in some parts of continental Europe are explicitly political – i.e. they were passed purely for the purpose of trying suppress the far right. That's the 'why' of these law and, speaking as a Brit, I don't agree with it and I'm delighted to say that we'd don't have any such laws over here.

    "I remember Britain, which does not have any such laws, once denied a visa to a visiting speaker because he was a denier."

    Unless your Immigration people have stopped with the 'are you a communist' crap then this not somewhere I'd be inclined to go ;-)

  41. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:25 pm

    If it should be made illegal for NON-muslims to draw pictures of Mohammed, just because this is a forbidden practice for Muslims (and I've heard that it's a rather new interpretation of the Koran, and not one universally shared among Islam's many sects, just as the nature of the Communion is debated among Christians, and EVERYTHING is debated among Jews), then would it not follow that everyone should be compelled to follow the strictures of every other religion? Why should Buddhists, anywhere in the world, have to endure the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is eating meat? Why should non-Christians be allowed to work on Sunday, and non-Jews/7DAs on Saturday? Certainly, no one should be allowed to drink, since that's a taboo in many faiths. The Amish should be protected from the blasphemy of people using electricity. Satanists ought to be able to demand that Satan not be demeaned or insulted by the use of cartoon devils as sports mascots.

    Since it's virtually impossible to state faith in one religion without implicitly stating all the others are wrong, a truly fair and just anti-blasphemy law would, basically, outlaw all public expressions of religion, period.

    Maybe atheists should work towards promoting such a law. Of course, public expression of atheism would also be illegal, by the same logic, so, maybe not.

  42. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:26 pm

    @Unity: If you answer "Yes" to "Are you a Communist?" when entering America, you are given directions from your point of entry to the nearest college campus, so you can feel comfortable and among friends. We're a very welcoming country in that regard.

  43. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:39 pm

    @Unity: We're still not allowed to travel to Cuba, so no.

  44. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:39 pm

    (I take the Canadian stance: to me Cuba as a vacation destination is a place with beautiful beaches, great cigars, and no Americans.)

  45. Basil Forthrightly  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:40 pm
  46. AlphaCentauri  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:52 pm

    France has different principles about freedom of expression. It prohibits headscarves and yarmulkes in school, even if worn by a parent volunteering to assist with a special activity, and the ban applies to religious schools if they receive any state subsidies.

  47. Rob  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:55 pm

    For example, claiming humans went to the moon, or that the Earth was created ~6,000 years ago, or that Queen Elizabeth is a space reptile (no relation, I swear!), are all permitted.

    One of these things are not like the others
    One of these things doesn't belong…

  48. Rob  •  Sep 20, 2012 @3:56 pm

    IS, damnit…It'd be nice if more commenting software had edit features.

  49. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 20, 2012 @4:34 pm

    M.

    As a smoker of cigars I have some to the tentative conclusion that successive Presidents (of both parties) have failed to lift the embargo on Cuba because they believe that to do so would deal a staggering blow to the quality of Cuban cigars.

    If the American market suddenly opened up, the Cuban government would undoubtedly try to expand production, and artisanal products and command-and-control economies do not mix well. The Cuban tobacco industry is already having trouble with quality control; the best cigar I have ever smoked was a Cuban, but several of the worst have been too. In the words of P. J. O'Rourke (which I can't improve on) they were like trying to smoke a felt tip pen.

    I'm sure that the President of the United States has no trouble getting real (and good) Cuban cigars. As such, he would have no motive for making them both more expensive and less first-rate.

  50. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @4:42 pm

    @C. S. P. Schofield: I've never had a cigar other than the bubblegum ones, but I agree with you that lack of free trade probably protects the quality of Cuban cigars in general. A number of foreign chocolate companies have been snapped up by U.S. or largely-U.S.-invested chocolate companies*, and everything pretty much tastes like that shit they give kids in their Easter baskets now. I have no trouble imagining the same thing happening with any luxury commodity, certainly including cigars.

    *Ironically, the best chocolate I've ever tasted is from a smaller U.S. company.

  51. Rob  •  Sep 20, 2012 @4:54 pm

    *Ironically, the best chocolate I've ever tasted is from a smaller U.S. company.

    It's not all that ironic, actually, when you consider the thriving artisan/craft food market in the US. It's just that all of those companies are fairly small and unlikely to have even national distribution, let alone international, so few people outside the US know about them.

  52. M.  •  Sep 20, 2012 @5:09 pm

    @Rob: I guess that depends on what qualities you attribute to typical U.S. chocolate. I remember a time when all the domestic dark chocolate I could find was acidic and gritty. I had concluded that no one else actually eats the stuff before I discovered DeBrand.

    Funnily, the Hershey bars you get in Canada have the taste and texture of chocolate-scented wax, far inferior to a U.S. Hershey bar. Canada has a lot of otherwise excellent chocolate. Still scratching my head over that one.

  53. jim2  •  Sep 20, 2012 @6:07 pm

    I feel there is enough difference between history and belief/opinion to justify a nation establishing a legal difference, especially when it is part of their history that the nation does not want repeated.

  54. Lanzky  •  Sep 20, 2012 @6:08 pm

    Regarding holocaust denial in Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights, conveniently having the same acronym as the court that adjudicates disputes over this convention, has a provision for abuse of rights granted by the convention – Article 17.

    In Lehideux and Isorni v. France the Court by corollary set that holocaust denial can be seen as abuse of rights and thereby fall outside of the protection of the convention's Article 10 on free speech.
    Of course, contracting states to the convention are given margin of appreciation, but if jurisprudence changes it's possible to envision prosecution of holocaust deniers all over Europe. As it is now, Germany and Austria go at it the most, the most prominent example of recent years being British historian David Irving, convicted 'pre-emptively' so he wouldn't express his holocaust denial at some conference.

    Outside of ECHR a number of European countries have their own penal code provisions prohibiting hate speech of varying degrees and carrying varying sanctions. An example can be found in my home country of Denmark, where the hate speech provision carries a maximum of two years imprisonment, though I don't think any sentence after this provision has ever resulted in more than fines.

  55. Matthew Cline  •  Sep 20, 2012 @6:48 pm

    To play devil's advocate, the idea behind laws banning Holocaust denial is that anti-semitism leads to violence, so slowing the spread of anti-semitism protects people from violence; the same rational can't be used for anti-blasphemy laws. How much (if at all) laws banning Holocaust denial have actually reduced/impeded anti-semitism is another question.

  56. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @7:18 pm

    @Rob — that was a typo. I'd correct it if I could, but, as you note, there are no editing features. (And I'm still not getting notifications. Frak. I got the before, they're not going into spam, this is really irksome.)

  57. James Pollock  •  Sep 20, 2012 @7:31 pm

    "Apparently a few American jurisdictions have "rape by fraud" laws and Massachusetts considered passing one a couple years ago after a high profile acquittal."

    OK. In contract law, there's something called "fraud in the inducement" which allows the plaintiff to revoke their "agreement" if their acceptance of the contract was based primarily on a material misrepresentation by the defendant. You can't unhave sex, of course (although, of course, there are some religious groups that think you can). So… if the plaintiff succeeds in proving material misrepresentation of fact that led to consent (typically, I assume this question would revolve around STD status, with "you said you were sterile/infertile!" being second most common), why shouldn't a person (not necessarily a woman!) be allowed to revoke consent after-the-fact?

  58. Lizard  •  Sep 20, 2012 @7:34 pm

    @Matthew: Given the current violence in the mideast, I'd say the exact same argument could be used for anti-blasphemy laws. For that matter, given the riots that follow many major sporting events, we could ban sports on the same ground (I'd probably make some tepid objection, but don't expect me to be passionate about it — like most of the other posters here, there's some causes I find it hard to get riled up about).

    Many nations have very broad laws about "insults to ethnic groups", and they justify them by pointing to histories of ethnic violence, and it never seems to occur to them that punishing VIOLENCE, not WORDS, might be the solution.

    You'd either need to show that anti-semitism is somehow of a different character or nature than any other form of collectivist hatred of one group for another, that it belongs in a special category, or you need to ban all speech which anyone might find offensive, insulting, hurtful, yadda yadda. There are, of course, people who would advocate such an idea. These people are called "morons".

    I certainly respect the need to play Devil's Advocate and try to argue for a position you oppose — it's one of the best ways to strengthen your own arguments, and anyone who can't place themselves in the mindset of the opposition hasn't thought through their conclusions enough to be sharing them in public. Still, this is a situation where the Devil's lawyer has been given a total shitpile of a case, and he'd be better served getting the Devil to plea bargain and avoid a trial, because there's no way he's going to win this one.

  59. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 20, 2012 @8:16 pm

    M.

    I was wondering if you are familiar with the discourse on Ahnk Morpork chocolate from Terry Pratchett's THE THIEF OF TIME?

    Something about the city's chocolate being classified, in the great chocolate exporting countries, as cheese … and only escaping being classified as tile grout by being the wrong color.

  60. Pablo  •  Sep 20, 2012 @8:42 pm

    Pablo, I don't think the spokesman is pointing out fairness he's trying to get people to agree to a blasphemy law.

    He's doing both, AJ. His logic is sound, despite him being a psycho.

  61. Grifter  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:48 pm

    @James Pollock:

    In the first place: Rape is a real thing, and anything that equates "he said he was rich!" with rape is not a good idea.

    In the second place: What retribution would/should be taken in the case of this "revocation of consent after the fact"?

  62. Grifter  •  Sep 20, 2012 @9:51 pm

    @Basil Forthrightly:

    Your link doesn't imply that records were altered in order to make a plea-bargain work, but rather after new information came out. It says:

    "Kashur was originally accused of violent rape and indecent assault, but later accepted the lesser charge under a plea-bargain after prosecutors received evidence suggesting the encounter was consensual".

  63. James Pollock  •  Sep 20, 2012 @10:38 pm

    "Rape is a real thing"
    Grifter, are you currently running for Missouri's Senate seat?

    "What retribution would/should be taken in the case of this "revocation of consent after the fact"?"
    Well, in the cases that exist so far, I believe it's generally been treated as a battery, both civilly and criminally.

    "anything that equates "he said he was rich!" with rape is not a good idea."
    I'd be amazed to see a case of that type being reported (I feel sorry for the woman who wants to tell people that "he said he was rich!" is the only reason she slept with him) much less selected for prosecution. If you DID get one taken to trial, I'd expect the jury to slap it down, hard.
    As I said, I'd expect to see the issue raised primarily in the case of people who were infected with an STD claiming they were not, with a couple of cases fighting over child support where one parent or the other claimed to be incapable of producing offspring.
    Note that the burden of proof for fraud in the inducement (like all lawsuits) lies in the plaintiff; if you took a case to trial you'd have to prove that consent was given solely in reliance on the misrepresentation of material fact by the "attacker". That's tough to do. (In normal rape cases, if the prosecution proves that the sex took place and the victim claims it was nonconsensual, the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that it was consensual, except in statutory rape cases, where consent is not a defense.)

  64. Lanzky  •  Sep 21, 2012 @3:35 am

    The arguments for banning hate speech are many and come up routinely in Europe. Almost unfailingly in some form of 'free spech, but', it will be argued that free speech comes with responsibilities and that it shouldn't be used to frivolously offend any given group of people.

    The Danish hate speech provision, § 266 b in the penal code for those that want to look it up, was originally intended to protect jews, criminalizing "he who, by spreading false rumours and charges, persecutes or incites hatred against a group of the Danish population on account of its faith, descent, or citizenship" (my approximate translation).
    Since changed to reflect the language of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the provision now criminalizes "public, or with the intent of becoming public, statements that are threatening, denigrating, or derogatory to a group of persons on account of its race, complexion, national or ethnic origin, faith, or sexual orientation" (my approximate translation).

    It can be viewed as a defamation/libel/slander provision for groups, so they can counter defamatory speech the same as individuals.

    Of course, 'group defamation' is quite different from blasphemy. Insulting a deity clearly isn't the same as insulting the believers, except in the minds of the purposely offended.

  65. Lanzky  •  Sep 21, 2012 @3:44 am

    For those that want to learn more about the jurisprudence of the ECHR on cases of hate speech, the Court's press unit has published <a href="http://www.echr.coe.int/NR/rdonlyres/D5D909DE-CDAB-4392-A8A0-867A77699169/0/FICHES_Discours_de_haine_EN.pdf"<this brief.

  66. Lanzky  •  Sep 21, 2012 @3:50 am

    Ack, blast those html screw-ups! This is what happens when you can't turn your angle brackets the right (as in correct) way.

    Link to brief once again.

  67. M.  •  Sep 21, 2012 @5:18 am

    @C. S. P. Schofield: Hahaha! I wasn't, but now I have a book to read and something to haul out the next time someone asks me if I really find X Brand of Chocolate that bad, thank you.

  68. Gavin  •  Sep 21, 2012 @5:37 am

    @Lizard,

    This was a while back but you made the statement that Islamic beliefs only apply to believers. This isn't the case with Islam. Qur`anic Verses, Hadiths (which can be considered as holy as scripture in the vast majority of Islam), and the Sharia Law that is derived from those all regularly have applications for non-believers. Iconoclasm (the destruction of idols) is particularly embedded into Islamic culture because it is not only relevant in the Qur`an but their Prophet actively engaged in destroying idols (particularly when they captured Mecca after his exile/hijra/mirgation to Medina). This doesn't justify harming people that had nothing to do with it, this is just clarifying a mandate to not allow idol use to go on around you even by non-believers.

    Judaism and Islam are roughly equivalent in tenets with respect to this.

  69. Lizard  •  Sep 21, 2012 @5:55 am

    @gavin: To clarify, my point was that people who are not, themselves, Muslim, do not consider it blasphemous to make an image of Mohammed. If "anti blasphemy" laws are to be fair, they must impose on everyone all of the things that members of any faith consider blasphemous, which inevitably creates conflicting and impossible conditions, as one faith's sacred mandate is another faith's mortal sin. Or, in short, there cannot be blasphemy laws in any society that does not also have a state religion, and since this is fairly obvious, we can be sure anyone who advocates in favor of such laws is also advocating for a state religion, presumably, their own.

  70. Gavin  •  Sep 21, 2012 @5:57 am

    @Lizard,

    That's a perfectly valid point. You think that, I think that, they (the people who would kill because of this) don't.

  71. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 21, 2012 @6:25 am

    The thing that always stuns me about the Free Speech/Speech Code debate is the number of people who apparently never had the thought "Gee, speech that doesn't offend anybody wouldn't NEED First Amendment protections".

  72. Grifter  •  Sep 21, 2012 @6:45 am

    @James Pollock:

    I'm not sure what your Missouri crack was doing…I'm hoping it wasn't equating me to Representative Douchnozzle.

    "As I said, I'd expect to see the issue raised primarily…" You might expect that. But that doesn't mean that's how it would be used. I still maintain that a law like the one you described would be abused; but then, I suppose it depends on what you think of that Israeli case. I think it's ludicrous that he's going to see jail time because he said his name was Daniel (yes, it's a slight oversimplification, but regardless of the possible backstory, that's pretty much what's on record and set as precedent). If you don't, then I suppose you'd like such a law.

    As regards to your expectation that "he said he was rich" would get slapped down by the jury hard, I'm curious if you expect the jury to ignore the law, or that there's more to it than what you said. Because it would still be a "material misrepresentation". I do agree that those who knowingly transmit STIs while lying to partners about it should be punished. But the idea of calling equating it to "rape" bothers me. As I understand it, it's covered already under common-law battery theories if it's something like an STI, separate from the concept of the intercourse itself.

  73. Al  •  Sep 21, 2012 @6:55 am

    The French government is already extending this law elsewhere in what probably really only amounts to political moves, rather than any real ethics (however missplaced the latter may have been).

  74. James Pollock  •  Sep 21, 2012 @9:04 am

    "I still maintain that a law like the one you described would be abused"
    Of course it would be. Just the same as every OTHER law. Lawyers are paid specifically for the purpose of finding ways to make laws apply differently than they were meant to, and they'll stretch ANY law if you give them a reason to.

    "As regards to your expectation that "he said he was rich" would get slapped down by the jury hard, I'm curious if you expect the jury to ignore the law, or that there's more to it than what you said. Because it would still be a "material misrepresentation"."
    "Material misrepresentation" doesn't mean what you think it does. An ordinary lie doesn't qualify, or nearly all used car sales would be subject to being voided for fraud in the inducement. Among other restrictions in the doctrine, it has to have been reasonable to rely on the defendant's statements without checking on them independently.

    "As I understand it, it's covered already under common-law battery theories if it's something like an STI, separate from the concept of the intercourse itself."
    It doesn't actually fit well with common-law battery. If I have a cold but go to work anyway, have I battered anyone who comes down with a cold tomorrow? To win an intentional tort case, you have to prove intent… that the batterer actually intended to transmit the disease, and not something else. Ordinarily, spreading a disease would come under a negligence theory, which generally is not criminal (yes, there are criminal negligence offenses, but they cover very few instances of negligence).

  75. Demosthenes  •  Sep 21, 2012 @12:16 pm

    I get your point, Ken, but I feel compelled to point out that the comparison Ghozlan is making fails when examined. The Holocaust is a historical event, about which there is no serious doubt. There is a considerable measure of serious doubt in most of the world's population about Muslim religious tenets.

    To place those who doubt the truth-claims of Islam on a level with those who deny the historical reality of the Holocaust is, on the surface, to say that all religions should be treated alike — if what is offensive to one should be banned, what is offensive to another should be banned. I know that's what you were writing about. But the reason Holocaust denial was deemed so offensive is because it seeks to obliterate from history a monstrous crime committed against an entire people. Posting a puerile cartoon video on YouTube doesn't begin to compare from any reasonable vantage point as a source for offense, and people like Ghozlan should be roundly chastized for daring to compare it anyway.

    Having said that, I am certainly in agreement on your broader point. Holocaust denial laws are unjust, I'm glad we don't have one here in the States, and I hope that other nations overturn theirs. Speech should be countered with speech. Let people like David Irving spout their anti-Semitic "scholarship" far and wide. I'm confident that if we disempower the court of law from going after them, the court of public opinion will step in and do an admirable job.

  76. Gavin  •  Sep 21, 2012 @1:01 pm

    @Demosthenes,

    Should other known truths also be protected? How about evolution? That's a historical process that is clearly observable.

    Who gets to decide these unarguable truths and their respective punishments?

  77. Grifter  •  Sep 21, 2012 @1:03 pm

    @Gavin:

    Demosthenes was just saying that verifiable truths are slightly different than unverifiable truths.

    "Having said that, I am certainly in agreement on your broader point. Holocaust denial laws are unjust, I'm glad we don't have one here in the States, and I hope that other nations overturn theirs.

  78. Gavin  •  Sep 21, 2012 @1:32 pm

    @Grifter,

    I understand his/her intention and agree on some levels. My question involves the practicality of enforcing it if the "slight difference" is to be an acceptable reason to think one form of offense is ok to punish while another is not.

  79. Grifter  •  Sep 21, 2012 @1:43 pm

    @Gavin:

    Right. But Demosthenes went on to say, that while they were different categories of statement (and thus the comparison fails), Demosthenes was not advocating their illegality, and was saying such laws are unjust.

    So Demosthenes was not, in any way, defending the illegality of either class of statements, thus, asking about "the practicality of enforcing it if the "slight difference" is to be an acceptable reason to think one form of offense is ok to punish while another is not" is pretty unfair, since Demosthenes does not think the slight difference is an acceptable reason to think one form of offense is ok to punish while another is not.

    At least, from what I read from Demosthenes's comment (correct me if I'm wrong, D).

  80. Demosthenes  •  Sep 21, 2012 @9:14 pm

    Not being Muslim, I would object to a description of Islamic doctrines as "unverifiable truths." Unverifiable, certainly. Truths, not so much. Having said that…yes, that's right, Grifter.

    Wait. We actually agree on something?

    In any case, I would obviously be against any law criminalizing public endorsements or criticisms of either evolution or creationism, in any possible variant of either. Anyone who wants to criminalize anything along those lines really IS a censorious asshat.

  81. James Pollock  •  Sep 21, 2012 @11:22 pm

    I'm not a Muslim either, but I'll give them credit for some unverifiable truths. I (strongly) suspect that the truth they can't verify is that they're wrong about the metaphysics, pretty much beginning to end, but that puts them in the same boat as the other world religions. I guess I (and they, and everyone else) will find out the truth eventually…

  82. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Sep 22, 2012 @12:57 am

    "When someone denies the Holocaust, you can prove them wrong with facts. We should not fear arguing the facts of anything. Whether you persuade them or not, the act of arguing sharpens you mind and your positions."

    When I read this, and thought about some of the Holocaust Denial arguments I had seen, I realized that one of the reasons for laws against denial is that the people who deny the Holocaust happened are the kind that dismiss the facts of the case. In all seriousness, much of what they say amounts to "Those aren't facts. Those facts don't exist. All that documentation is a conspiracy and a lie.". Read enough of this drivel (about 1 short page for me) and you begin to understand why adult human beings would resort to laws that tell these swine "Oh, sit down and STFU, the grownups are talking.". That doesn't make it right, but it's hard to be fair to people stupid enough to cite THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION seriously.

  83. Gavin  •  Sep 24, 2012 @6:08 am

    @Grifter,

    I went back an re-read it. You were right, I missed the point, which is a very good one. Thanks.

    @Demosthenes,

    My apologies, excellent point. The two things are not comparable and the government should certainly not be allowed to say what people may say or what they may not.

    I will say though, I have found mankind to be prone to fads in every way imaginable, especially in beliefs. I fear the pooling of ignorant thoughts that may one day lead to significant bloodshed just as it has so many times through history. Perhaps this is one reason why their governments feel a need to step in before it leads to that. This isn't something I feel the government should do, not by cutting them off at free speech (maybe legally monitor them, especially if they start hoarding guns, espousing violent propaganda and wearing militant uniforms). But at least it is understood (such "understandable" fears have been used to kill millions of innocents, let alone to oppress them).

  84. LOVETROLL69ME  •  Sep 26, 2012 @11:31 am

    I have 3 DEATH METAL T-SHIRTS that are blasphemous. 1. says FUCK ME JESUS. 2. SAYS JESUS IS A CUNT. 3 SAYS FUCK YOUR GOD. I would love to be arrested for wearing those. No one is going to fuck with my 1st amendment right.

  85. James Pollock  •  Sep 26, 2012 @8:58 pm

    Gee, Lovetroll, none of those blaspheme MY religion. You're going to have to try MUCH harder.

1 Trackback