Was Ayaan Hirsi Ali censored?

April 18, 2014 • 6:48 am

I’m always amused by those readers who, because I’ve blocked them on one ground or another, send me angry emails accusing me of censoring them.  But that’s not really censorship; it’s my website and I have the right to determine what appears on it. Those people have every right to start their own website, and, to be sure, it doesn’t cost much! Nor is it censorship for a magazine to reject an article, no matter what it says.

Similarly, the Discovery Institute, when it gave me the huge honor of being “Censor of the Year,” did so mainly because I complained to Ball State University (and the Freedom from Religion Foundation) that Professor Eric Hedin was teaching intelligent design and promoting Christianity in a science class at Ball State University: a double whammy of pushing discredited science and violating the First Amendment. Those people, too, have no idea what “censorship” means. I didn’t prevent Hedin from doing anything: that was the decision of Ball State, after a committee convened by president Jo Ann Gora decided that Hedin had overstepped the boundaries of good scholarship. You don’t have the right to say anything you want in a public university science class, but Hedin still had every right to publish his views in any venue that would accept them, or to give public speeches about how cosmology proves Jesus.

Both my affronted readers and the Discovery Institute should absorb today’s xkcd strip:


The issue of what really constitutes “free speech” came up again yesterday in a New York Times editorial by Nesrine Malik, “Freedom to offend everyone.” (Malik is described as “a Sudanese journalist and a contributing columnist at The Guardian”.)

Malik is writing about Brandeis’s reprehensible decision to rescind the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi, a vocal and courageous critic of Islam. And Malik’s point seems to be this (I say “seems,” because she doesn’t write clearly enough to make her views transparent): if you let Ali speak (there would have been remarks after she got her degree), then you must let everyone speak, and a lot of that speech is not just offensive to Muslims, but to everyone. Those who oppose some “free speech” but not others are simply hypocrites.  Here’s some of what she says:

The defense of free speech often hides a multitude of sins. Since Brandeis University withdrew an honor it had intended to bestow on the author and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, many have flocked to her defense in the name of free expression — no matter how offensive. But implicitly they are suggesting that Islam and Muslims are worthy targets of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s scorn. And their preciousness about the right to offend won’t be credible until they advocate extending it beyond Islamophobes — to racists, anti-Semites and homophobes, too.

. . . But the accusations leveled at Brandeis show the perils of not sticking entirely to free speech absolutism.

. . .Swapping races and religions to gauge if the response to a particular incident would have been different is an imperfect counterfactual game, but in this instance it is instructive. Had Ms. Hirsi Ali been a widely acknowledged homophobe, or white supremacist, would free speech supporters have rushed so readily to their lecterns to defend her? Probably not, which is why the right to offend should be extended to all. Otherwise, our personal preferences will always dictate that there be exceptions.

But in regards to the Brandeis issue, Ali is not equivalent to a white supremacist or a homophobe. She is not advocating violence towards others or repression of speech, but freedom of speech and the right of Muslim women to be treated as equals to men, as well as not to have their genitals mutilated or have to wear bags as clothing. She has shown considerable courage in this campaign, despite a few rhetorical missteps, and that is why, I presume, Brandeis was going to honor her. There is no reason to honor a homophobe or a white supremicist.

But make no mistake about it: neither Ali nor homophobes nor racists have a right to get an honorary degree from Brandeis. Not giving them such degrees does not constitute censorship.  Ali has spoken and written widely, and her views are well known.  What does come perilously close to censorship in Ali’s case is first giving her a platform to speak, and then withdrawing it on the basis of the protests of Muslims and purveyors of the “Islamophobia” canard. But even if her invitation had not been rescinded, giving her a platform does not mandate that Brandeis give everyone a platform, no matter how odious their views. A graduation ceremony is not a free-for-all like Hyde Park’s “Speakers Corner.”  All Malik’s palaver about the honorary degree is irrelevant to the issue of free speech. Malik’s going out of her way to recount Ali’s “sins” makes me think that she (Malik) is an opponent of free speech in general.

But I do agree with Malik when she notes this:

Earlier this year, a prospective British parliamentary candidate, who happened to be a Muslim, tweeted a cartoon of Jesus and Mohammed, part of “Jesus and Mo,” an irreverent series depicting the two religious figures in everyday situations. Some Muslims saw this as deliberately provocative and there was a backlash, including death threats. When mainstream British media outlets such as the BBC did not show the cartoon, the British press branded them cowards, traitors and free-speech equivocators.

Unfortunately for these critics, a few days later, the infamous French comedian Dieudonné Mbala-Mbala was banned from entering Britain because of his anti-Semitic rants. From those who had penned thousands of words warning of the danger of muzzling our voices when it comes to criticism of Islam, I counted one tweet. In the British broadsheets, there was only one article criticizing Mr. Dieudonné’s banning.

It is clearly far more palatable, even popular, to muscularly stand up for the right to offend Muslims than it is to back those who offend any other minority in Europe today. Indeed, when the notorious American Islamophobe Pamela Geller was banned from Britain on account of her vitriol toward Muslims, her exclusion was met with a chorus of objections. This selective attitude toward freedom of speech allows such disparities to become entrenched.

Umm. . . . is Malik aware of how often people self-censor because of fear of Muslim anger? It’s not clear to me that it’s more palatable to criticize Muslims than it is to criticize, say, the Church of England. Remember the Danish cartoon scandal? Because Islam deplores free speech far more than do other faiths, it has effectively muzzled many critics of that religion, just as they’ve muzzled Ali at Brandeis. Nevertheless, no faith or political stand should be legally immune from criticism.  Malik is right about the double standard of banning some speakers and not others.

The reaction to the Brandeis affair is a troubling harbinger. It suggests that America, like Europe, might also begin to pick and choose who deserves to be protected from offensive speech. Once that door is open, the Trojan horse of libertarianism will smuggle in intolerance.

Those who fancy themselves defenders of free speech must be consistent in their absolutism, and stand up for offensive speech no matter who is the target.

This is indeed a double standard, and it’s reprehensible. If you allow someone to attack Islam in public, and you should, then you must allow others to attack Jews, blacks, and anyone else. In my view, free speech—which means that you not be prevented by the government or civil authorities from saying what you want, so long as it’s not deliberately designed to incite immediate violence—is an absolute right. On campuses, too, if authorities allow people to give talks criticizing Israel, they must also allow others to criticize Palestine. I’m a cultural Jew, but I would deeply defend anyone who wanted to give a public lecture on the perfidies and covetousness of Jews, or how Jews supposedly conspire to run Hollywood and the American newspapers. If people want to give talks or write pieces—if anyone will publish them—attacking blacks or civil rights, by all means let them.

The remedy for such odious speech is not censorship, but opposing speech. Many college campuses have yet to learn that lesson, which is a great shame given that campuses are where we’re supposed to learn to defend our views against others. And that lesson has yet to be learned by Europe and Canada as well, where “hate speech” like promoting Nazism or denying the Holocaust is a crime. Those unfortunate laws derive from the historical background of Europe (but not of Canada), and, while understandable, are not forgivable.

So yes, the anti-Semitic Mbala-Mbala should have been allowed into England, and those people who defend that exclusion but also criticize the banning of Pamela Geller are hypocrites.

But in the end, it’s not clear to me whether Malik, while properly demanding consistency in our attitudes towards free speech, is actually advocating consistency in the other direction, implying that censorship be uniformly applied: anyone whose remarks are deeply offensive to cultural groups or religions should be muzzled. That is one way of reading her column, and she doesn’t rule it out. (Her use of the phrase “the Trojan Horse of libertarianism” is disturbing.)  I will choose to construe her words as an indictment of hyprocrisy and as a blanket endorsement of free speech.

But that has little to do with Ali, whose choice as speaker she criticizes at the beginning of her column. (Malik decries Ali’s characterization of Islam as a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death” and her supposed defense of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.) Ali didn’t have a “right” to voice her views on Brandeis’s graduation platform, but Brandeis surely acted to silence her by rescinding her invitation. As I said, that comes close to a violation of free speech. But even if it wasn’t, Ali still deserved that degree—for her courage, for her outspokenness, for having endured intolerable hardships yet continued to speak out against the world’s most harmful religion and how it selectively mistreats half its adherents.

It is far better to hear something substantive and thoughtful at graduation than the usual bromides from comedians and talk-show hosts about making a better world through empathy after you graduate. Ali, was, in fact, going to talk about how to really make a better world—by eliminating religious suppression of women’s rights.

When I got my Ph.D from Harvard in 1978, the only reason I went to the ceremony was to hear the speaker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And, in fact, while decrying the Communist government that persecuted him so heavily, he also pointed out what he saw as many of the West’s deficiencies (you can read the transcript of his talk here). As an American, it was fascinating—and  challenging—to hear his views. What a pity that the students of Brandeis won’t be similarly challenged by the views of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 


64 thoughts on “Was Ayaan Hirsi Ali censored?

  1. I am so sick to death of the “Islamophobia” nonsense.

    Islam ranges, toward women, from stultifying to downright physically dangerous. Its own writings, from Koran to Hadith to commentary, drips with misogynistic violence.

    It is therefore NOT phobic for me to denounce those tenets and the people who hold them.

    A phobia is an unreasonable fear, not a fear that is well-grounded in fact. L

  2. I actually agree with Canada’s hate speech laws even though I was initially opposed and when in grade 10 caused a huge controversy by writing an essay (prior to the hate speech laws)about how Ernst Zundel, a nasty neo Nazi also wanted in Germany, had the right to say what he wants, even if what he said was reprehensible unless we changed our laws. Yeah, my teacher’s crtique of my essay was all about Zundel and not about my writing skills.

    They did change the laws but only applied them AFAIK to extreme cases like Zundel and that last guy who fled to America and now has set up shop in North Dakota. I believe it has to be for inciting violence against a group. I know that there are still lots of hateful things said and published and those people are not prevented from doing so.

    1. I totally disagree with hate-speech laws. Harassing individuals is another thing entirely. But you should be able to saw whatever you want (short of inciting immediate violence, shouting “fire” in a theater: the usual exceptions.)

      And everyone lese is free to ignore you. And no one should be forced to publish/support anyone else’s views.

      Disadvantaging is another story (like harassment). You can’t refuse to rent to someone or hire someone because of their racial or religious background, sexual orientation, etc.

      This is totally different from speech. Speech disadvantages no one and injures no one. Sticks and stones. Everyone should have learned this in kindergarten.

      1. Yes, exactly. Harassment is not the same as free speech. Incitement to criminal activity is not the same as free speech either, if we need to make that distinction.

        That ought to be enough.

        1. My thoughts exactly. Incitement is like giving an order to kill – the issue is not the opinion being expressed, but the intention to have someone else carry out a crime on one’s behalf. Likewise, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater does not express an opinion.

          1. Indeed. And yet, when Oliver Wendell Holmes used the fire in a crowded theater example, he was just about to jail Jewish refugees from Russia for publishing peaceful protests about America’s participation in WW1.

            Whenever free speech discussions come up I always find myself turning to these two places

            Hitch for a passionate talk on censorship and freedom of speech.

            Popehat for a learned and fascinating analysis on Oliver Wendell Holmes’ quote and how it doesn’t deserve the fame it gets.

        1. I disagree with those policies. The cure for bad speech is more good speech. Public ridicule is the best sanitizer in this case think.

          I found to my dismay that I couldn’t buy Mein Kampf in the original in Germany. And I was treated as something of a kook by the book store staff when I asked for it (hey, I wasn’t wearing a white cone hat or gown!) I can sort of understand that in Germany; but only sort of.

          1. Typically speaking back doesn’t really stop these people. They are whipping up a bunch of followers to enact injustice. It’s not just a speech or a flier. When this happens it is a sustained attempt to hurt a group.

          1. You can try, but often that isn’t enough as those whipped into a frenzy have already started with harassing a group.

    2. I used to think that hate speech laws were reasonable and just. But when I came to America, I learned about the Supreme Court case centered on Skokie, IL. A Jewish ACLU lawyer defended the right of Nazis to march through a predominantly Jewish neighborhood (despite their court victory, the march organizers eventually changed the venue).

      I can only imagine how painful that affair must have been for the local residents, many of whom were Holocaust survivors. But I believe the court made the right decision. It’s easy to grant the feedom of speech to the views that we agree with, but its real value is in granting it to the opinions and sentiments that we oppose and even deplore. In addition to securing this freedom for everybody, this approach has the additional benefit of exposing unreasonable or hateful views for what they are, out in the open, without hiding behind the cloak of supposed persecution.

      It’s not an easy matter, for sure, and democratic countries struggle with setting the limits of acceptable free speech. By the way, Poland is on the list of countries where Holocaust denial is illegal and I don’t think it made it any less antisemitic.

      1. I think in Canada that march would’ve been allowed. Hate laws are not used often and usually are invoked for large scale operations aimed at inciting violence against a group like Ernst Zundel’s press operation that ran for years and rallied neo Nazis around organized violence against Jews.

  3. “So yes, the anti-Semitic Mbala-Mbala should have been allowed into England, and those people who defend that exclusion but also criticize the banning of Pamela Geller are hypocrites.”

    Then sign me up for a hypocrisy award. I see no obligation to be even-handed here. The West – its institutions, its way of life, and its freedoms – are under attack by extremist Islam. I live in the West, I support its institutions and freedoms, and I see no reason to accomodate or tolerate people who want to destroy them. Dieudonne is a loathsome Jew-baiter and an apologist for Islamic terrorism. I do not want him in my country, and I fully support his exclusion. I only wish exclusion orders were issued more often to keep out the never-ending stream of muslim hate-preachers who come here to spread their poison at mosques, at student Islamic scoiety meetings and so on. In the cultural war between the West and extremist Islam, Geller is an ally and Dieudonne is an enemy. One I welcome, the other I reject.

    1. Then sign me up for a hypocrisy award. I see no obligation to be even-handed here.

      Well, the obligation is there in US law whether you like it or not.

      The wisdom of allowing such speech should be historically obvious. Your arguments about ‘the west is under attack – we cannot allow this speech’ was applied to abolitionists in the 1840s-50s. It was applied to suffragists from 1820s-1920s. It was applied to communists during the cold war and anti-war protestors in the 1970s. Its probably been applied to gays and pro-gay rights on and off for that entire time, too. It is certainly being used against gays in Russia and some African countries now.

      In fact, IMO its not too much of an exaggeration to say “we are under attack and can’t allow this speech because it might damage our social order” has been the defense of censors of every time, in every country, to defend every odious and nasty social bigotry humans have ever invented. Censorship is a weapon that swings both ways, but historically it has been swung to abuse minority rights far more than it has been swung to defend them. We should not employ it period – but certainly not by fooling ourselves into thinking “yes, but this occasion is really, really REALLY different!”

      1. Incidentally, your argument is also used against atheists and atheist speech. While it might not be the most recent example, here is a good example:

        “[Atheism is] dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” Monique Davis, Illinois state legislator, April 14 2008.

        So be careful about defending the government not being even-handed. If the government is not even handed, its heavy hand is very likely to be wielded by bigots against us liberal secularists, not the other way around.

    2. Who is it, Dave, that you trust to make that decision — to determine what speech citizens should be permitted to hear and what speech they shouldn’t?

      And what standard would you have The Decider use to distinguish permissible from prohibited speech?

      1. It looks to me as though you and Dave are talking about two different subjects: controlling the borders and free speech within a democracy. Surely there must be rules about who is admitted at a point of entry.

        1. A government’s decision to deny a visa to a speaker, based on the content (or viewpoint) of the speaker’s proposed presentation, triggers the same free-speech concerns as a government’s decision to censor speech directly.

  4. How are you defining censorship?

    The word seems like negatively-connotated a synonym for ‘moderation’.

    So accusations of ‘censorship’ seems like saying “I disagree with the way you curated your platform.”

    Universities should curate their speaker lists. Poor arguments should be weeded out.

    My problem with the Ayaan Hirsi Ali affair is that people felt her positions were emotionally unpalitable. That’s a horrible criteria for a university to use.

    1. It seems pretty obvious that Jerry means “censorship” in a way consistent with the xkcd comic that he cites. IOW, censorship is when the government legally penalizes you for saying something.

      It also seems pretty obvious (to me, at least), that he would agree withy your last comment – that this is not censorship, just the University exercising very poor decision-making.

  5. So much of the world would benefit from understanding how 1) how a bl*g works and 2) how refereed publications work.

    In the case of 1), any person who wants to voice their opinion can. Let’s see, what do you need? A computer, an internet connection and some free time. Done. That is freedom to say whatever you want. There may be repercussions, but that is another story.

    In the case of 2), a peer reviewed process establishes a complex parameterization of what one may or may not get published or said in one place. Brandeis University chose by some review process (surely) to think about their identify, the effects of the speech and speaker, etc., on their institution. Ayaan can publish her thoughts (speech) elsewhere.

    It is unfortunate, but I am not sure that it is censorship. I think of it like a great paper submitted to Nature Physics and they decline because they have their reasons, so it goes to Physical Review Letters. They like it and accept it. The science is good just not ‘fitting’ to Macmillan/NPG. Their loss. Not the author’s and Ayaan should feel the same, just as Brandeis should feel shame even though it is their choice not to publish.

  6. To be fair, it’s still censorship, regardless of who is doing the censoring.

    However, the censorship only become objectionable when the person being censored has no other reasonable opportunity for expression.

    The freedom of speech and of the press is the freedom not just to express your own views, but the freedom to not give voice to those you don’t want to hear. A private individual’s right to censorship is essential to the freedom of expression. It’s when the government (or some other entity) prevents people from expressing themselves at all that we get into trouble.

    Two somewhat related aphorisms come to mind:

    “Freedom of the press belongs to owners of the presses.”


    “Never get into an argument with somebody who buys ink by the barrel.”



    1. A private individual’s right to censorship is essential to the freedom of expression.

      I think you’re turning the idea on its head here. IMO “not loaning you my bullhorn” is not censorship, any more than “not buying from your store” is theft of your profits. The concept of censorship (and theft) involves a taking, and in the bullhorn loan and boycott cases person A is not taking anything away from person B, they just aren’t giving anything to B.

      Government action, in contrast, often takes away ones’ right to access public space or ones’ right to speak. That is indeed censorship. Putting someone in jail IS, for example, censorious. But in contrast, just because Ben wants to use eric’s bullhorn does not make it censorship when eric keeps his bullhorn to himself.

      1. When a newspaper gets court documents that reveal the name of an underaged victim, most responsible papers will black out the name when they publish the document. That redaction is censorship, every bit as much as when military censors black out portions of letters home that might reveal troop movements.

        So, too, when the paper decides that it’s not going to publish each and every letter to the editor, they’re censoring all the rejected letters.

        Censorship in and of itself isn’t at all evil.

        Government censorship is very evil.

        There are many things that are perfectly fine and dandy for all sorts of people to do that turn starkly evil when the government does it. Censorship is but one example. I’m sure you can think of plenty more….



        1. You should apply your definition to your own example and see if you agree with the results. According to you, military censors who black out troop movements are doing somethning “very evil.” Do you agree?

          See, this is the problem with overbroad definitions; it leads to really stupid conclusions. You seem to want to define ‘censorship’ in such a way that it includes practically all selection-type choices involving information. Well that’s fine, I guess, but then what is the difference between censoring and prioritizing? Or censoring and selecting? Are all these words just synonyms as far as you’re concerned?

          1. According to you, military censors who black out troop movements are doing somethning “very evil.” Do you agree?

            Yes. I’d vigorously argue that war is pretty much the ultimate example of “something ‘very evil.'”

            Maybe there are times when the only alternatives are even more evil, but there haven’t been any such examples involving American forces in my life.


    2. Yes, as I said above, no one should be forced to publish or support some else’s ideas.

      I have no issues with, for instance, universities excercising quality control over the speakers they invite onto their campuses: Invite the good ideas and intelligent people, the others not.

      Brandeis fumbled in two ways: By not inviting A.H. Ali to speak (she has good ideas and expresses them well) and by doing so at the behest of (under threat from) certain Muslims who desire to live in a offense-free (prison) world.

      We should never forget that behind all those crazy placards you see from time to time held by Muslim demonstrators, is the implied threat that they would act on them, given the chance.

  7. There is a difference between attacking the beliefs people may have and characteristics of those people themselves. One should never attack a Jew because of ethnicity; to go after Judaism, on the other hand, is another matter.
    To harshly criticize or ridicule Islam or any other religion is quite alright. That is not attacking a person or a biological characteristic, it is going after a belief or system of beliefs. A belief, no matter how strongly held, is not a biological characteristic and need not be treated as one.
    One may respect a person and their right to hold a belief, but the belief itself deserves neither honor nor respect if there is no evidence to back it up.

    1. I agree it is morally wrong to attack someone for their ethnicity but people are free to do so…it’s just that people like me will lip them right back off so they have to accept the consequences. The difference in my mind is organizing a bunch of thugs to attack people verbally or otherwise in order to incite trouble for that group.

    2. One may respect a person and their right to hold a belief, but the belief itself deserves neither honor nor respect if there is no evidence to back it up.


      And yet, the majority of the people in most countries would still disagree, as religious beliefs are expected to get special teatment. The belief in a flat Earth can be ridiculed, but ridiculing the belief in the Resurrection is considered, at the very least, extremely bad manners, and in many cases, a criminal offence.

      Coming from religious organizations this attitude is quite understandable; they simply defend their priviledge. But this is the position of many secular people as well.

      1. If we are talking about “faith,” (as JAC so beautifully put it) meaning belief in something for which there is no evidence or even evidence against, then no matter what the belief (religion, pseudoscience, paranormal happenings, and others,) it deserves no respect, no honor, no privilege. Since many, if not all, beliefs are based on emotion, reason will not work against them. But we still have to say the beliefs are not worthy of respect or honor no matter who holds them. You may well be hated for this, but it must be done.

  8. A bit off topic…..

    “….the only reason I went to the ceremony was to hear the speaker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.”

    Jerry, you like to mention/discuss favourite songs now & again.
    Did you ever here a song called “Mother Russia” from the group called Renaissance?
    Annie Haslem was the lead singer and has an incredible voice.
    The song is about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his censorship and difficulties in Russia before he was allowed to leave.
    The song can be found on the album “Turn of the Cards” or on the repackaged song album “Tales of a 1001 Night’s vol. 1”

    Apologies to anyone offended by this off topic post.

  9. As you noted, Malik does not write clearly; I had trouble understanding what she was trying to say. The key, I think, is that she does not like to see Islam criticized and would prefer to not hear or talk about its retrograde deeds. Another apologist for Islam intent on suppressing criticism…

  10. Your mention of the 1978 Harvard Commencement speech by Alexander Solzhenitsyn brought back warm memories. I received my JD at that commencement and my Dad, a rock-ribbed Midwestern Republican, loved the speech, especially the criticism of rock music. He talked about it frequently back at his barber shop in downstate Illinois. He also love mentioning that his son graduated from Harvard.

    As to the main point, I agree with your position, except that I think that commencements should be for the graduates and their families, and speakers should remember that they are not the stars of the show. Not that that justifies Brandeis’ action since there is no reason to think that Ali would have needlessly antagonized Muslim students.

  11. I’m probably going to get myself into trouble with this, but…

    While I think the principles behind free speech are good, a problem I have with it is that it presupposes that the listeners are going to check the facts afterwards, and this is rarely the case. This is why creationists, climate change deniers, Deepak, evangelists, truthers, anti-vaxers, etc. can keep saying the same b.s. over and over again, trying to convince others, even when their mistakes/distortions/faulty logic/lies have been pointed out to them. If there is money, fame, or power to be gained, why should they stop?

    Unless one has the time, energy, and inclination to do the fact checking, the old adage of ‘Tell a lie often enough and people will believe it’ holds true. For those that do check, only some of those will be effective at spreading that information. So in many of the cases I listed above, it is easy for the b.s. to drown out the truth, just by numbers alone, without censorship.

    I’m not sure what the solution is. For every case I can think of where you could stop having to listen to discredited garbage (think about how media outlets will keep replaying the same mistakes like climategate), you open up the very real possibility of it being abused by people/politicians/special interest groups that want to prevent opposing (and valid) views from being discussed.

    For example, I’ve often wondered why no one creates a useful computer virus, one that would do something beneficial. (My first suggestion would be one that converts everyone’s keyboard from QWERTY to Dvorak) So one that locates b.s. in emails (like ‘A ducks quack doesn’t echo…’ or ‘there are no transitional fossils…’ would either delete the email in transit, delete the offending sentences, or do the ‘this sentence is known to be false, click show to read it’ like they do for comments with low ratings. Unfortunately a virus like that could easily be used for political purposes to prevent dissenting views from spreading, etc.

    1. For every case I can think of where you could stop having to listen to discredited garbage (think about how media outlets will keep replaying the same mistakes like climategate), you open up the very real possibility of it being abused by people/politicians/special interest groups that want to prevent opposing (and valid) views from being discussed.

      Yep. One way to think of the government’s ability to censor is like two antagonists playing the ‘cut the cake’ game (where you cut it, but then I pick the first piece – or vice versa). Imagine that you get to decide how much power to censor the government gets, but then I – your enemy – get to decide on what speech that power is used. You’re probably going to pick “almost no power,” right? And if we play the game a second time, with roles reversed, I will likely pick almost no power too. “No power to censor” is like “even slices” – the only way we can be sure someone potentially opposed to our interests doesn’t get the biggest slice of government pie/power.

      The lesson here is that censorship’s appeal is based on a hidden assumption by the person considering it – that they, or someone like-minded, will be in complete control of the censorship power. Take away that assumption, and censorship as a mechanism largely loses its appeal.

    2. “For example, I’ve often wondered why no one creates a useful computer virus, one that would do something beneficial. (My first suggestion would be one that converts everyone’s keyboard from QWERTY to Dvorak)”

      So, to understand how bad this suggestion is, I will state: My first one would cause all Dvorak keys to self-destruct — because I know best and QWERTY rules, dude!

      Reminds me of the thing that bugs me about most Apple products: Yeah, they are easy to use — as long as you use them in only the ways that His Royal Highness Steve Jobs decreed were proper. Get behind me right-clicks! Get behind me evil file manipulation, arrow keys, delete keys, number pads. (I’m not saying he didn’t have some great ideas — GUI is the only way to go. I am conversant in both the Mac OS and Windows; we have both at home. I guess you can tell which I prefer.)

  12. You certainly have the right to choose what (or who) does or doesn’t get published on your website. Nobody has an expectation of free speech here. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not censorship; it most certainly is. You’re censoring people based on their viewpoints, modes of expression, and other criteria set solely by you.

    Just as you have the right to practice that censorship here, others have the right to judge whether or not your exercise of your right is reasonable, fair, and so on. And they’re also fully justified in contacting you to take you to task for it–or just to ask you why you’ve chosen to censor them or someone else.

    As someone who’s run multiple mailing lists/forums in the past, I’ve always felt a strong sense of responsibility toward the people who take the time to participate there, and so I’ve been very slow to resort to removing/blocking comments or (much worse) commenters. Even years later I wonder if I was too hasty or unfair in various instances. And I think that’s the right approach to that kind of responsibility.

    So personally, it makes me uneasy to hear you say you find it amusing to be contacted by people who are upset that you’ve censored their comments. There are certainly intentional jerks and trolls out there, but by and large people invest real time, thought and feeling into what they write in forums like this and it causes them genuine distress to be shut down — and in my opinion that’s not something to be taken lightly.

    1. Thanks for your concern, but you have no idea what kinds of comments I “censor.” I put some of them up from time to time so you can see, and by and large, they’re worthless.

      So please stop telling me how to run my site and promoting yourself as morally superior. Your “unease” is duly noted.

    2. You’re assuming rather a lot about comments that you by definition haven’t even read.

      If the people being moderated are trolls or crude, abusive numbskulls; will you feel less concern?

      In any case, forums are very different to blogs: one has content generated by a single person who works for hours each day and the other does not. Forums rely rather more heavily on their commenters’ back and forth for attracting people to the site. But even forums tend to have rules of engagement. Even the infamous 4chan occasionally banned people for being a general pain in the derriere.

      Given the sort of generally robust conversation on this website that does make it past the fearful Censor of the Year’s heavy Banhammer of Doom, I don’t know exactly what you feel uneasy about.

  13. I think some of the distinctions attempting to be made with labels or comparisons going around about her being as MLK or KKK, or homophobe are not that she is likened to the KKK or a homophobe but that if she were indeed like MLK it is as though the difference is that MLK did not entirely denounce Christian’s to oppose the KKK. Whereas she tends to entirely denounce Islam because of the areas she see’s as extreme or wrong and that seems especially apparent with her being so hugely tied to Sam Harris and his anti-religion rhetoric and well-known agenda. I admit that her work has aspects of courage and intentions to enable equal rights to woman. Just as there are works of Sam Harris that I agree with but I do not entirely agree with him. In that sense I would feel a sense of error to give them the 100% backing for any platform, the argument can have aspects of huge relevancy but are not entirely seen as a total remedy if fully actualized in only their views.

  14. I remember Solzhenitsyn’s address. Most newspaper accounts that I read the next day blasted him for his criticism of the U.S., but none of them provided a transcript of what he had said. I later found the full transcript in the National Review. I doubt that would happen in today’s political climate.

  15. I’m going to have to call you out on this one. Inviting Ali to speak was reasonable, but awarding her an honorary degree was wrong. On first acquaintance, her efforts seem admirable, but on closer inspection a rather less palatable impression emerges. If one is concerned about having one’s message conflated with the darker currents of American conservatism, one does not work for the AEI – one of the architects of the Iraq war, I might add. Absurdly crude statements like the description of Islam as a ‘nihilistic cult of death’ do not warrant any kind of academic honour. Saying such things, how does one NOT advance the agenda of the US Islamophobia industry, which has begun to threaten the basic rule of law in your country, and poses one of the most serious threats to public order in western Europe, as brought so tragically home in Norway?

    1. Except that Islam is a ‘nihilistic cult of death’. And if you don’t think Ali is in a position to say so then you haven’t paid attention to her history.

      It is to the shame of those of us on the left end of the political spectrum that we fail to stand against the religious terrorism that drove Ali to escape to America in the first place.

    2. To congenially inquire: what do you understand to be the penalty for apostasy in Islam? Is it not death? Is that not reasonably indicative of a “nihilistic cult of death”? Ought one not be able to reject and walk away from the faith in which one was indoctrinated as a child without fear of execution?

      1. Here in the UK I personally know several Muslims who’ve done just that, and have a perfectly fine relationship with their family and community.

        1. Do you know any who don’t?

          Do you know of any who don’t?

          Ought one be able to walk away from any religion without fear of being attacked/killed?

          What is your position on the killing of Theo Van Gogh, the Danish cartoons, the fatwa on Salman Rushdie?

          1. No.



            Theo van Gogh, it seems, was an individual who delighted in stirring up trouble, a rather immature and superficial man. In denouncing multiculturalism he, unwittingly or otherwise, aligned himself with a very unpleasant in Dutch society that was beginning to come to the fore. However, the situation got out of control, and it eventually led to his murder – not the first time that has happened in the Netherlands, either. The criminal responsible was caught, tried, and sentenced. I don’t see that Dutch society has failed here.

            The Danish cartoons were a typically crude piece of agitprop, published by a paper known to Danes as ‘The Morning Fascist’ (its enthusiastic reporting of Kristallnacht is a lasting blot on Danish society). The intention was to sell papers and stir up trouble in order to sell more. Overseas, repressive and incompetent governments, whose behaviour leaves their citizens deeply angry, found a useful target to direct the ire of the people towards. An ill wind that blows nobody good.

            The fatwa on Salman Rushdie, which has become another bone of contention in Iran’s deeply divided higher echelons has really hurt that country most – Rushdie never took his security quite as seriously as he might and all the hot air from sundry loudmouths translated into precisely one incident, which was a farce, the would-be bomber blowing himself up. In a country with millions of Muslims (comparatively few of whom are Shia, I note), it can be safely assumed that it’s not too much of a ‘hot button’. This did not of course stop the usual boneheads holding public book burning – of a book they’d not even read, just like Christian fundamentalists and Harry Potter. Somebody else’s publicity does encourage weakminded types to grandstand themselves, it seems.

  16. I could not disagree with that comic more if I tried.

    The legal right to not be censored by the government is certainly important, but it is not and has never been and will never be the sum total of what “free speech” entails.

    In a society where it’s necessary to earn a living, being at risk of being fired and blacklisted for unpopular beliefs is a de facto restriction on your speech.

    Everyone always assumes that their speech is so reasonable that it will never be restricted in this way. It’s all Somebody Else’s Problem, so I’m free to ignore it.

    But legal free speech is worthless if you can never exercise it in practice.

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