Friday, 13 February 2009

Johann Hari on free speech

Writing in the Independent:

Last week, I wrote an article defending free speech for everyone – and in response there have been riots, death threats, and the arrest of an editor who published the article.
Read it all.


Reg Delmot said...

Do you have an independent source for his specific claim about the change in job description for the The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights? No sources are quoted in the article, and this story suggests that no such change has occurred.

Reg Delmot said...

In fact it seems there is no "UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights". In fact there are currently 36 Special Rapporteurs, whose various mandates include "Human Rights Defenders", "Protecting Human Rights while Countering Terrorism", "Freedom of Opinion and Expression", and, yes, "Freedom of Religion or Belief" - appointed in 2004.

pj said...

While it is hardly my job to justify everything Johann Hari says, I'll note this article suggests such a change has occured.

Reg Delmot said...

My apologies for picking on your blog, but there is already a shitstorm of mostly asinine comments at the Independent, so I doubt I would get any clarification there.

Regarding the resolution referenced in that article, similar resolutions have been adopted every year since 1999 - see here. And for a move in the opposite direction, see this article.

I am no defender of religion, and totally agree that it should not be immune from criticism, and perhaps there are worrying developments at the UN. But if we are to discuss these things it would be nice to get the facts right. I also don't think that Hari's somewhat inflammatory tone is particularly helpful, and nor does he really have much of substance to say, beyond 'people are irrational and bigoted and violent! News at eleven!'.

pj said...

Since the UN general assembly does appear to have adopted a draft resolution on defamation of religion in November it would seem to me that Hari is right.

While you may be correct that attempts have been made before in the UN commission on human rights, and that the UN human rights council may have rejected such a proposal in September, this doesn't mean that Hari is incorrect since it appears that the general assembly did in fact adopt such a resolution.

pj said...

And reading Hari's original piece I'm afraid I see no evidence that it is 'inflammatory'. I also think he does indeed have something of substance say, specifically that:

"As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: "The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom."

Reg Delmot said...

I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl

Inflammatory much?

pj said...

Ok, I'm not a big fan of the Mohammed as paedophile line of argument (the lack of historical context makes it inflammatory and hypocritical - we don't say the same thing about other historical figures).

But the rest of what he says seems ok, particularly the rest of his stuff about what he doesn't agree with in religion:

"I don't respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don't respect the idea that we should follow a "Prophet" who...ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn't follow him.

I don't respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don't respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of "prejudice" or "ignorance", but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal."

Reg Delmot said...

Well, again none of that looks like ground-breaking rhetoric. I don't wanna sound too blasé, I mean I should be and am thankful that things like that can get published in national newspapers. But to me, the scaremongering and factual inaccuracies and aggressive tone detract from the overall message.

pj said...

His original article certainly isn't groundbreaking, but I think he is making a worthwhile point - that repressive regimes are trying to stifle criticism by labelling it as anti-Islamic defamation, and they're doing this in the UN.

The second article is pretty simply and uncontroversially a defence of free speech.

I am not convinced that you have incovered any 'factual inaccuracies', and I certainly don't think the tone is markedly aggressive.

The substantive points you've made, e.g. regarding there being multiple special rapporteurs (it is clear that the debate regards the special rapporteur for racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance), or whether there has been any resolution on defamation of religion (there has been a draft resolution in the general assembly) do not undermine the article.

I agree that the Mohammed as paedophile argument is dodgy, but I don't think it is particularly material to the article - so your objection seems mostly that the article is 'inflammatory' or 'aggressive' (I disagree), doesn't have 'much of substance to say' (perhaps, but highlighting and discussing the criminalisation of free speech in the second article, and attempts to suppress criticism of repressive regimes in the first article have some merit), and 'scaremongering' (I disagree - these are real phenomena, and he's hardly Melanie Phillips!)