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October 7, 2015 / 24 Tishri, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

The Obligation to Avoid Anti-Semitic Behavior

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

The Gerald Scarfe Sunday Times cartoon controversy has followed a familiar pattern, with some arguing that the depiction of the bloody trowel wielding Israeli Prime Minister torturing innocent souls – published on Holocaust Memorial Day – evoked the classic antisemitic blood libel, while others (including Guardian contributors and cartoonists) dissented, claiming that Scarfe had no racist intent and was merely critiquing the policies of a head of state who happened to be a Jew.

In response to some who have noted, in Scarfe’s defense, that he had previously depicted Syria’s Assad using a similar blood motif, Stephen Pollard of The JC aptly noted: “But there’s never been an anti-Alawite blood libel, and the context matters. The blood libel is central to the history of antisemitism.”

Though Scarfe may have indeed possessed no antisemitic intent whatsoever, Pollard is stressing that the effect of the cartoon simply can’t be ignored, and that historical context matters.

When we talk about antisemitism at the Guardian and ‘Comment is Free’ on this blog we’re not claiming to possess some sort of political mentalism – a piercing moral intuition which grants us access to the souls of their journalists and contributors.  Similarly, we’re not suggesting that we can ever tell with any degree of certainty that, when we argue that criticism of Israel crosses the line to antisemitism, the writer who’s the focus of our ire is necessarily haunted by dark Judeophobic thoughts.

Rather, many of us who talk seriously about antisemitism are skilled at identifying common tropes, narratives and graphic depictions of Jews which are based on prejudices, stereotypes and mythology and which have historically been employed by those who have engaged in cognitive or physical war against Jews.

Though I’m now an Israeli, an apt analogy on the moral necessity of understanding and being sensitive about the racist context of seemingly benign ideas can be derived from my experience growing up in America.

Those who grew up in the U.S. and inherited not the guilt but the moral legacy of slavery and segregation intuitively understand that we owe African-Americans an earnest commitment to strenuously avoid employing the linguistic, cultural and political currency of racism’s tyrannical reign.  Though race relations have matured immeasurably by any standard, and codified bigotry all but eliminated, there are, nonetheless, unwritten prohibitions against language which, even though often unintended, hearkens back to the past, evoking the haunting memory of the nation’s past sins.

In America, comedians don’t do black-face routines, in which white performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person.  A mainstream newspaper wouldn’t publish a cartoon depicting an African-American as lazy and shiftless, nor would any publication present a black public figure (in any context) as  a boot licking  ’Uncle Tom‘.  And, someone using the N-word (in public or private) would be rightfully socially ostracized or at least stigmatized as crude racist.

Such political taboos in America have developed organically over time in response to a quite particular historical chapter, and are recognized by most as something akin to an unwritten social contract on the issue of race.  White Americans can not ever fully understand black pain, the learned cognitive responses from their collective consciousness, but it is reasonable of them to expect that we not recklessly tread, even if without malice, on their sacred shared memory.

Further, whites who honor this implied covenant – and avoid evoking such narratives and imagery – by and large don’t bemoan the so-called “restrictions” placed on their artistic or intellectual expression, or complain that African-Americans are stifling their free speech.  Rather, such unwritten rules, social mores and ethical norms about race are typically understood to represent something akin to a moral restitution for a previous generation’s crimes.  While in the U.S., the First Amendment affords legal protection to those who would engage in anti-black hate speech, it is largely understood that responsible citizenship often requires self-restraint – the greatness of a people measured by what they are permitted to do, but decide not to in order to preserve national harmony, what’s known in Judaism as Shalom bayit.  

When Jews talk seriously about antisemitism they are asking those who don’t wish to be so morally implicated to avoid needlessly poisoning the political environment which Jews inhabit.

They are appealing to the better angels of their neighbors’ nature by asking them not to carelessly conjure calumnies such as the “danger” to the world of Jewish power or conspiracies , Jews’ “disloyalty” to the countries where they live, that Jews share collective guilt for the sins of a few, that they’ve come to morally resemble their Nazi persecutors, or that Jews intentionally spill the blood of innocents.

In short, we are asking that decent people avoid employing canards which represented the major themes in Europe’s historic persecution of Jews, and which, tragically, still have currency on the extreme left, the extreme right, and, especially, in much of the Arab and Muslim world today.

The Scarfe/Sunday Times row is about more than the cartoon itself, and it is certainly not about the “right” to offend. It’s about sober but passionate pleas by a minuscule minority that decent people not afflict the historically afflicted, and to recognize their moral obligations to not provide aid and comfort to anti-Jewish racists.

We are asking genuine anti-racists to resist becoming, even if unintentionally, intellectual partners or political fellow travelers with those who trade in the lethal narratives and toxic calumnies associated with the resilient Judeophobic hatred which has caused us immeasurable pain, horrid suffering and indescribable calamities through the ages.

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Facebook’s ‘Accidental Mistake’

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship. — George Bernard Shaw Earlier this week, Facebook closed down this writer’s account for “security reasons,” arguing that he had posted an item that violates its terms of use.

Twenty-four hours later, Facebook issued a “sincere apology” and said that a member of its team had “accidentally removed something you posted on Facebook. This was a mistake.”

Although Facebook did not say which “problematic” item had prompted it to take such a drastic measure, apparently it was referring to an article that had been published by Gatestone Institute: The Palestinian Authority’s Inconvenient Truths.

Facebook’s move came at a time when Arab dictatorships in general, and the Palestinian Authority in particular, have been cracking down on Facebook users.

During the past year alone, a number of Palestinian journalists and bloggers were arrested by Western-funded Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank for criticizing the PA leadership on their Facebook pages.

Among those detained was Esmat Abdel Khaleq, a university lecturer in journalism. She was held in detention for two weeks for posting comments on her Facebook page that allegedly insult Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Many Palestinian journalists, and those in the Middle East, are forced to use Facebook to publish what their own media will not accept. The media in Judea and Samaria is mostly controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which has repeatedly demonstrated a large degree of intolerance toward any form of criticism. The same applies, of course, to most Arab dictatorships.

Arab governments have obviously become wary of the use their critics are making of Facebook to air their grievances and opinions. In some countries, including the Palestinian Authority, intelligence services have set up special teams to monitor Facebook and other social media networks in search of critics and “dissidents.”

But the problem becomes worse when Facebook itself starts removing material that bothers dictatorships and tyrants.

One can only hope that the same Facebook employee who “accidentally” removed the article will make the same mistake and close down accounts belonging to terrorist organizations and their leaders.

Take for example, the account of senior Hamas official Izzat al Risheq, or the numerous accounts that promote hatred and violence and are openly affiliated with terrorist and jihadi groups.

All one has to do is log in to these accounts, especially the ones in Arabic, to see how most of them are engaged in all forms of incitement.

Those behind these pages are not seeking to achieve progress by “challenging current conceptions,” as George Bernard Shaw noted. Instead they are using Facebook, among others, to spread messages of hate and abuse against anyone who does not share their views.

Many Arab and Palestinian journalists and intellectuals have long been waging a fierce campaign to get rid of censorship in their countries. Some have even paid with their lives to achieve this goal, while many others have been arrested or are facing intimidation and terror. It is the duty of Facebook and Western societies to side with those seeking freedom, and not to be complicit in suppressing their voices.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Listen to Me: Islam Does Not Command War Against Jews

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

In an op. ed. piece for the Jewish Press, I cited from the Qur’an to show that war is an exceptional matter for Muslims, an unwanted obligation to be fulfilled in limited circumstances, and for defensive purposes only.

In response, I’ve been denounced and accused of being a Trojan horse, the wolf trying to devour Little Red Riding Hood, of not being a Muslim or being the worst kind of liar, misguided, deceiver, of practicing taqiyya, of disseminating propaganda with the intention of deceiving Israelis & Westerners, of using jihadist tactics in disguise, etc.

The most moderate reaction has been that I am young, naive… and don’t know my religion and the real world.

Despite the criticism, I stand behind my words, and I say further that Hamas or any other Islamic group that uses violence against civilians is doing wrong according to the Qur’an and that Jews, Christians, and Muslims must and can live co-exist together in harmony and peace. The reactions to my statements have been along the following lines: “What about the jihad verses in Qur’an? What about taqiyyah? What about abrogation of the verses which counsel peace?”

Let me clarify these misconceptions about Islam so that there is no excuse for warmongers and those who wish to shed oceans of blood.

War and violence in the Holy Books – Admittedly, there are commandments about war in the Qur’an, and those verses pertain to self-defense. The Tanakh and the Gospel also contain provisions about war and violence, and there are verses full of killing, especially in the Torah. The passages about war in those are, just as with the Qur’an, in regard to self-defense. The Torah and the Gospel command peace and love, and contain commandments about love and affection too. A person of love will interpret that in one way, and a cruel person in another. One can interpret it truly if one looks at it sincerely. For instance the Gospel speaks of blood up to the manes of the horses; it speaks of nobody being saved apart from 144,000 Jews. These are actually metaphorical and must be elucidated within the general tone of the Gospel, which is one of love and affection prevailing. But if someone insists on interpreting it in terms of violence, if he adds additional things to it out of his own mind, then a climate of violence will of course ensue. But a real Jew or a real Christian would never murder innocent people simply because there exists verses regarding killings in their Holy Books. In the same way, people who will look at Islam and the Qur’an through the eyes of love will not come up with violent interpretations.

Dictators against Prophets’ divine message – Let us not forget that the Prophet Mohammed was a prophet who sought to spread the pure faith of the Prophet Abraham, which is faith in God, the One and Only and ascribing no equals to Him, in a pagan society which had been dominated by idol worship. Like many prophets whose names appear in the Tanakh, the Prophet Mohammad has been commissioned for transmitting the message of God. It was impossible for the prophets to make any concessions on this, and they carried the true message, even at the cost of their own lives, to the most extreme leaders of their times and the most perverse communities. Conveying this message sometimes meant to oppose the tyrant Nimrod, as in the case of the Prophet Abraham, and sometimes to oppose dictators such as Pharaoh, as with the Prophet Moses. At all such times, believers found opposition from people who sought to take their lives. Despite circumstances where no one enjoyed freedom of expression, all the prophets communicated God’s message without regard to the cost. And this is no different in Islam as well.

War (qital) and jihad are not the same – The basic claim of the accusations and reactions trying to portray Islam as violent -God forbid- is that there are verses about jihad in the Qur’an and that these speak of killing. First and foremost, jihad and war are entirely different concepts: Jihad is not synonymous with holy war, as some misguided people think. Jihad means rather exertion, which is to strive, to make effort toward some object identified to the will of God as revealed in the Qur’an. Some worthy objects of jihad include strife against one’s egoistic passions, or to make an intellectual challenge against irreligion, radicalism or fanaticism. One convinces people with scientific and intellectual evidence. To expose the signs of God’s existence, to convey His revelation, to explain the malice of atheistic ideologies etc… These are the legitimate objects of the “jihad” for a Muslim, not beating someone about the head, killing someone or forcing a person to embrace Islam as an act of coercion.

MTA Sneaks In Free Speech Restrictions, Bypassing Court Ruling Favoring Anti-Jihad Ad

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

In what many, including legal scholar Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, call “unconstitutional” restrictions on free speech, the board of the New York City Transportation Authority unanimously passed a new set of regulations governing the kinds of advertisements it will accept. The MTA is now empowered to ban any ad the  MTA

reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.

The new regulations also require disclaimers to be included in any political, religious or morality-based ads, stating  that they do not represent the views of the MTA.

These new regulations were announced on Thursday, September 27, just three days after the American Freedom Defense Initiative ads were put up after a lengthy and costly court battle brought by AFDI and its executive and associate directors, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, to enforce their First Amendment right to free speech.  That ad appears in 10 subway stations in the New York subway system.  It reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man.  Support Israel.  Defeat Jihad.”

The spokesman for the MTA, Aaron Donovan, admitted to a reporter from The Blaze that the changes came in response to AFDI’s anti-Jihad ads and the ensuing litigation.

Initial reports were that commuters were passing by the ads without any noticeable responses, but apparently there were complaints that instilled fear in MTA board members.

There was at least one widely publicized attack against the ad, engaged in by Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy. That attack was motivated by the woman, who has only been a U.S. citizen for one year.  Eltahawy claimed that her acts of criminal vandalism, which were caught on videotape by The New York Post, were legitimate acts of free speech and non-violent protest.

Eltahawy was arrested and charged with various offenses.  When she was released from prison the next day, Eltahawy was critical of her time in jail.  However, Eltahawy  neglected to mention that when she was detained by Egyptian police during the Arab Spring uprisings, her arm and her wrist were broken and she claimed the police repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her.

The newly-elected Egyptian president, former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, instructed the Egyptian Consul General, Zousef Zada, to monitor Eltahawy’s case.

The New York Times reported on the new restrictions, without any comment regarding the potentially unconstitutional regulations.

Instead, the venerable leader against the assault on the First Amendment – The New York Times – merely reported the outlandish statements made at a press conference announcing the changes, by the MTA chairman, Joseph J. Lhota.   “We’ve gotten to the point where we needed to take action today,” Lhota said, in what must have been a reference to anger directed at the anti-Jihad ads, “You deal with a free speech issue with more free speech.”   Like Eltahawy, Lhota appears to believe that free speech includes official action taken to restrict free speech.

The MTA may hope it has avoided a First Amendment challenge because its restriction is “viewpoint neutral.” This is because the new regulation does not overtly single out any special group or groups for special treatment, which was the fatal flaw pointed out by Judge Englemayer in his July 20 ruling which forced the MTA to finally post them, after a year-long delay caused by their rejection of that ad on grounds determined to be unconstitutional.

The new restriction is sure to inspire potent legal challenges on other constitutional grounds.  For example, can one “reasonably foresee” what kind of ad will “incite violence” or a “breach of the peace”?  A legal challenge on numerous grounds should be anticipated, as predicted by Dershowitz in an interview with The Algemeinerin which he referred to the new rules as not only “unconstitutional,” but also “plain dumb.”

And to argue that ads, such as the anti-Jihad ones, will incite violence, whereas the pro-Israel ones would not, because they did not, might lead to an argument underscoring the point of Geller’s ads. That ads perceived by Muslims, to be anti-Muslim, such that they justify violence, could conceivably be used to prove that Muslims are unable to tolerate First Amendment norms in the same way as do other ethnic groups.  And that argument itself might, under this theory, incite violence.

Egyptian Reporter Defaces Subway ‘Anti-Savage’ Ad, Sprays an Opponent, Gets Arrested (Video)

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Mona Eltahawy is an extremely well-spoken, Egyptian-American journalist who has become the g0-to speaker for comments on the Middle East in general, and on Egypt and Women’s issues in particular.  A speaker who stays on message no matter what is being asked, Eltahawy’s theme is: former Egyptian President Hosnai Mubarak and those who supported him are always bad, Muslims seeking to control their own destiny are always good and should be supported in the name of freedom and democracy, no matter how reprehensible their actions. Over the past few years Eltahawy has regularly been represented as an expert on such media outlets as CNN, the Guardian (UK), The New York Times and the Washington Post.

Eltahawy was arrested Wednesday evening, September 26, in a New York City subway station because she insisted free speech included her right to deface an ad espousing a message with which she disagreed – Pamela Geller’s anti-Jihad ad discussed and shown here.  She also insisted her free speech right extended to spraying toxic paint on a woman, Pamela Hall, who tried to interfere with Eltahawy’s efforts to deface Geller’s ad.  And then Eltahawy blamed Hall for interfering with her free speech rights and accused the arresting police officers of interfering with her “non-violent” protest, thereby engaging in anti-democratic activity.

It appears Eltahawy has a singularly self-focused understanding of freedom and democracy.  Given her limitations, it is problematic that so many media outlets rely on Eltahawy as an “expert.”  It is possible that given her criminal activity Wednesday evening, some will see her convoluted views of reality as casting doubts on past Eltahawy discourses.

The journalist’s inability to recognize why her activity was criminal and subverted the First Amendment, simply because Geller’s anti-Jihad ad constituted speech with which she didn’t agree, is telling.

But this isn’t the first time Eltahawy’s view of reality has been refracted through her own, narrow prism.

Eltahawy is best known for being an ardent activist for women’s rights, a dangerous and valiant effort for a Muslim.  She has written about the enormously high percentage of women who have been sexually assaulted in Egypt, as many as 80 percent, and that four out of five Egyptian women have reported being sexually assaulted.

Although Eltahawy has been highly critical and very vocal about the subjugation of women under Islam, when that view bumps up against her global recognition as an articulate spokesperson for the revolutionary Arab Spring, a disconnect takes place.

In the context of the anti-Jihad ads which she defaced, Eltahawy expressed outrage over the use of the term “savage,” to describe Jihadi activity.  In her view, the use of the word savage was an insult because she interpreted it to refer to all Muslims.  While defacing the ad, she told Hall, who tried to prevent the ad from being damaged, that she was protesting racism, and that Hall was defending racism.

But Eltahawy described Muslims who sexually assaulted and beat her last winter as a “pack of wild animals.”  So, was her anger over the use of the term savage, when she described wild, violent Muslims as “wild animals” hypocritical?  Not necessarily, because her criticism of the Egyptian police is consistent with her world view.  There were numerous reports of women assaulted by the civilian crowds, the revolutionaries, in Tahrir Square, during the Arab spring.  And it is in commenting on those assaults that Eltahawy’s hypocrisy is made clear.

Perhaps the best known, to western audiences, of sexual assaults by the Arab spring activists, is the assault on CBS’s Lara Logan.  Logan was brutally physically and sexually assaulted by those demonstrating in Tahrir Square crowds in February, 2011.

When Eltahawy was asked to comment on CTV News on the attacks on Logan, she “unequivocally condemned” the violence experienced by Logan.  However, the focus of her ire was always pointed back at the Mubarak regime, which was, she said, “known for targetting women.”

Eltahawy even went so far as to insinuate that Logan’s story was in some ways questionable, or at least an anomaly.  She also deflected the responsibility for the attack on unnamed others.

“Women I know said it was the safest area in Cairo,” Eltahawy said of Tahrir Square during the demonstrations.  But after Mubarak, the area was “open to all, so we don’t know who else was there.”

Pamela Hall is pressing charges against Eltahawy.  Her clothing and her bags were damaged by the paint.  When reached by The Jewish Press, Hall said she knew who Eltahawy was as soon as she saw her, but she was “surprised” to see her spray painting the ad.

According to Hall, using “paint is a much more serious act than slapping a sticker up and walking away.  What was she thinking?”

Twenty-Eight Years Later, it’s Finally 1984

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In 1975, there were political billboards around America proclaiming portentously that 1984 was only nine years away.  The reference, of course, was to George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the novel of a collectivized, indoctrinated human future, which high-school students had been reading since it was published in 1949.

The year 1984, by Gregorian reckoning, came and went, and Americans seemed to have dodged the Nineteen-Eighty-Four bullet.  We weren’t being interned for reeducation by a Ministry of Love.  Although conservative, constitutionalist, limited-government ideas came under relentless attack in the mainstream media and the academy, those who expressed the ideas remained free to do so.  (They in fact became freer with the lifting under Reagan of the genuinely Orwellian-named “Fairness Doctrine.”)

The MSM built narratives about the reprehensible heartlessness, hypocrisy, and stupidity of conservatives, Republicans, and Christians, but we remained largely free to live and work as we chose.  Reagan was reelected in 1984, and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were elected in the years since.  Republicans might have imposed unnecessary constraints on themselves – e.g., the party leadership unaccountably believing, against the evidence, that Republican candidates need to tack left to attract votes – but for the most part, the GOP continued to have a fair shot at the ballot box.

In 2012, the atmosphere has changed.  The sacredness of our right to free expression – religious, political, artistic – is not necessarily given priority by either our federal government or the MSM.  Dissent is treated as a pestilence, or worse (e.g., global-warming skeptics being compared to Holocaust deniers).  Media and political figures cater nakedly to political narratives, no matter how many times truth bites them in the backside.  They simply ignore the truth – often while being faced directly with it on live TV – focused instead on faithfully repeating the narratives launched from the Obama White House, as well as on nurturing narratives of their own.

Thus, when multiple attacks were mounted on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Muslim world on 9/11 – one of them a clearly pre-planned assault on the US ambassador in Libya (see here as well; the media originally reported the Libyan attack as pre-planned) – the Obama White House promptly launched a narrative: that these attacks were unrelated to the 9/11 anniversary, and were instead the fault of a shadowy naturalized American, who had made what is apparently a silly, low-quality video about Mohammed and Muslims.  (The clip on YouTube seems to confirm this assessment.)

Attacks on US embassies and consulates all across the Muslim world, on 9/11/12 and the days following, could hardly be interpreted as other than a form of attack on the United States.  Egyptian radicals storming the US embassy in Cairo chanted, “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!” – which carries not a whiff of righteous fury about an amateur video, but clearly invokes Osama bin Laden and the tactical triumph of al Qaeda on 9/11/01, and carries a warning to the president of the United States.  Assaults and attempted assaults on US diplomatic facilities occurred from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Morocco – including violent riots against our embassy in Tunisia, the vanguard of the Arab Spring and a North African nation with which America has had peaceful, friendly ties for more than 200 years.

At the very least, the Obama administration is misinterpreting what is going on.  The eruptions in the Muslim world are happening because of the larger shift that started 18 months ago.  Crowds of radicals from the Muslim world generate a fury that Bolsheviks could only wish for; the developments across the Muslim arc of the Eastern hemisphere today are not necessarily to be interpreted in the categories of Soviet-era instigation and fomentation, for which Marxist cadre were famous.  Today’s events are somewhat different.

Significantly, Mohammed Morsi is emblematic of a new kind of Sunni Arab leader who will grope toward a signature concept of state Islamism.  But that concept is as yet without clear form, and the numerous attacks on American facilities can’t be pinned on it.  The two phenomena – attacks from the street and state Islamism – are related, but they have not gotten to a melding point yet.  This is the evolution we need to be watching for.

The Arab Spring nations have either remained, uneasily, under sclerotic despotisms, or have migrated to an evolving Muslim Brotherhood rule.  Neither case is a factor for stability, social peace, or a consensual idea in the political realm.  Libya is as yet unpacified by her putative national government; Syria is in full uproar.  The Middle East has not found a stability point, and that condition is red meat to radical extremists, who include both the terrorists who assassinated the ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, and the inciters of attacks on US embassies in Cairo and elsewhere.

Photo Essay: Palestinians Protest

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Arabs in Gaza, Jerusalem, Yafo and the Israeli territories protested against America, free speech, and the “Innocence” movie. From Al Qaida supporting Salafists to Hamas, the entire range of Palestinian culture was represented on Friday’s protests across the country.

A group of Israeli hikers, who every Friday hike around a different area of the country, had stones thrown at them by 20 Palestinians near Beit Hagai. No hiker was injured.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/eye-on-palestine/photo-essay-palestinians-protest/2012/09/15/

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