Incitement and Religion

[Fourth in a series of 4 posts about “Freedom of Speech”]

[Trigger warning – this post contains a few modest proposals and references to terrible religious incitements (don’t blame me I didn’t write them), those of a sensitive disposition are advised NOT to read this post.]

In this post I am going to take a look at the 3 Abrahamic religions to decide whether any of their religious texts should be considered as direct and credible incitements to violence according to the framework that I set out in the previous post. In so many debates that I have listened to about whether these religions encourage violence, historical acts carried out supposedly in the name of each religion have been used as “arguments”. I regard these “arguments” as non-arguments because often the historical acts were carried out in opposition to the actual religious teachings, and so instead I am here going to focus purely on the religious texts.

The only “history” that is relevant in this discussion is the story of the actions of the main characters in the religions, as told by the religious texts. The actual historical truth of the religious texts is also not relevant, because it is the religious texts that form the basis of the religions, not what may or may not have actually happened. The truth about the events described in the religious texts is at best either historically disputed or unverifiable in any case.

ISLAM

Note – when I refer to apologists here I am referring to all those who try to excuse the incitements in the Islamic texts, both Muslims and non-Muslims.

AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE?

One of the central ideas in the Islamic religion is that the life of the man that Muslims regard as the last prophet was an excellent example for Muslims to follow. This is stated for example in this Koranic verse:

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YUSUFALI: Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.

SHAKIR: Certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar for him who hopes in Allah and the latter day and remembers Allah much.

Apologists have claimed that this pattern of conduct does not include the violent deeds of Mohammed. However there is nothing in this verse to suggest that those violent deeds should be excluded. This claim becomes particularly ridiculous when you look at the immediately preceeding and following verses which are clearly referring to a warlike campaign that Mohammed was involved in at the time. Consider this following verse particularly, which is almost certainly supposed to be Allah’s blessing for the Banu Qurayza massacre or at least a very similar event, where Mohammed’s forces executed hundreds of defenceless prisoners and enslaved their women and children:

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YUSUFALI: And those of the People of the Book who aided them – Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts. (So that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners.

SHAKIR: And He drove down those of the followers of the Book who backed them from their fortresses and He cast awe into their hearts; some you killed and you took captive another part.

In the modern world such an action would be considered a war crime – the execution of defenceless prisoners who had surrendered without a fight at the end of a siege. This is the sort of thing the Nazis used to get up to in occupied Europe in WWII. The apologist defence of this massacre is that the people of this settlement had helped Mohammed’s enemies in violation of an agreement that they had with Mohammed. Even if this was really the case however, it could scarcely excuse the execution of all the men of the settlement, including adolescent boys, and not just the leaders of the settlement. As for the enslavement of the women and children then again this is a criminal act in the modern Western world, by the example of his conduct the Islamic texts incite Muslims to enslave civilians captured in war, another direct and credible incitement which encourages slavery (including sexual slavery, some of the captives were taken as wives).  While the above verse refers to the taking of “prisoners” rather than slaves, later in this section slavery is justified explicitly:

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YUSUFALI: O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

SHAKIR: O Prophet! surely We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand possesses out of those whom Allah has given to you as prisoners of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who fled with you; and a believing woman if she gave herself to the Prophet, if the Prophet desired to marry her– specially for you, not for the (rest of) believers; We know what We have ordained for them concerning their wives and those whom their right hands possess in order that no blame may attach to you; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Note also the reference to terror in the 33:26 verse – “cast terror into their hearts”, which flies in the face of those who claim terrorist acts have nothing to do with Islam. There are other references to terror in the Koran as well, for example:

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YUSUFALI: Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”

SHAKIR: When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

You see – “strike off every fingertip”, its not really very nice is it?

The second half of Mohammed’s career, known as the Medina period, was essentially a campaign of war to establish Mohammed’s rule and consequently to establish the Islamic religion. Apologists have tried to claim that this war was purely defensive, but this is also an utterly ridiculous claim in light of the fact that Mohammed went from having just a small band of followers to ruling the entire Arabian peninsula by the end of his life. Clearly it was an expansionist campaign designed to establish Mohammed’s rule.

There are numerous incitements to violence in the Koran, supposedly Allah’s encouragements to Mohammed to wage war against the unbelievers, for example:

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YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

SHAKIR: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.

Although these incitements are quite enough evidence on their own, readers unfamiliar with the Islamic texts should understand there are many more in the Koran and Hadiths, as well documented here:

http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/quran/violence.aspx

In summary then the Islamic religion incites its followers to wage war against the non-Islamic people of the world until they submit to Islam, because Mohammed did the same, according to the instructions he claimed to have received from Allah which are recorded in the Koran, and Muslims are supposed to follow the example of Mohammed’s conduct. This is not only a direct and credible incitement to violent propagation of the Islamic religion, it is also an incitement that has been heeded through the ages, and continues to be heeded in the present day. We should be glad that most Muslims do not act on these incitements most of the time, but we cannot escape from the fact that the Islamic religion incites violence against the unbelievers, and that it does so in a direct and credible manner. I therefore rule that the preaching of the Islamic religion, and construction of mosques should both be illegal under my legal framework.

It appears that the Reverend Gavin Ashenden, a chaplain to the Queen, agrees with me that Islam incites violence:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/islam-invites-people-to-violence-queens-chaplain-reverend-gavin-ashenden-claims-10104445.html

Note particularly:

Reverend Ashenden said in response: “If they are offended by my quoting the Koran they are not offended by me, they are offended by the Koran.”

This is a good way to answer those who try to suggest that telling the truth about Islam somehow “radicalizes” vulnerable people. No, its the Islamic religion that radicalizes people. It appears that a former “Islamist” also agrees that Islam incites violent conflict with the unbelievers. The fact that he now claims to interpret the texts in another way does not alter the fact that the texts clearly CAN be interpreted in this way, and that he DID once interpret them in that way.  Quote:

“In the Koran and the Hadith (the compiled sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), I found an abundance of verses that I believed justified heinous violence in support of the establishment of an Islamic state for the whole world.”

The full article is here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/i-believed-al-qaeda-when-they-said-911-was-justified-15-years-on/

The fact that many Muslims somehow manage to interpret their Islamic texts differently does not alter the fact that those texts contain direct and credible incitements to violence that can be interpreted as such.

CURRENT LEGAL SITUATION

It is my belief that the preaching of the Islamic religion is currently in violation of UK law against incitement to violence. The failure of the UK law enforcement authorities to prosecute those who preach the faith should be a matter of the gravest concern to all UK citizens. This failure is in fact an act of appeasement of the religion. This failure is an act of cowardice by the UK authorities.

I do not believe that the preaching of the Islamic religion is currently in violation of US law because of the requirement established in Brandenburg v. Ohio for the incitement to be likely to lead to imminent unlawful action.

I humbly suggest to the people of the USA your current law is misguided. The failure to use the law to act against the Islamic religion is simply inviting more bloodshed for example in the Orlando gay nightclub massacre and Fort Hood massacre and San Bernandino massacre.

The danger of escalation of conflict can most probably be seen in the arson attack that occurred against the local mosque in the Orlando case. Armed militias are also now staging protests against mosques in the US. Surely it would be better for the law to intervene and close down all the mosques before any more incitements to violence can be made within them.

A PROPOSAL TO “BAN” ISLAM

Obviously it would be impossible to ban religious thought. We can scarcely start arresting every person who declares themselves to be a Muslim either, this would be impractical.

What we could do however:

  • Make it illegal (at least publicly) to preach the Koran as the word of a supreme being, on incitement grounds. I don’t think the Koran should be banned as a book however, because for one thing people need to be able to see for themselves WHY such a “ban” on the religion became necessary. It would also be practically almost impossible to achieve and in any case the Koran is widely published on the internet. Also, it is not the Koran that directly incites violence on its own, but rather the preaching of the Koran as the unquestionable word of Allah.
  • Withdraw planning permission for mosques and force existing mosque closures. Mosques that clearly bear the hallmarks of mosques – domes and minarets could be closed and either modified for other uses or demolished.
  • Make it illegal to wear face veils. I personally think bans on hijabs and the other headgear and burkinis would be impractical to enforce. For one thing women in Europe used to wear headscarves of a non-religious kind not so very long ago, and some even still do.
  • All legislation for example on employers and schools should be removed to allow employers to discriminate against hijab etc. wearing candidates if they wish to.  A recent decision by some UK police forces to allow the hijab as part of police uniforms is of course entirely ridiculous and should be stopped.
  • Allow employers to sack any worker for taking time out of the working day for prayer.
  • Make Ramadan fasting illegal in cases where it potentially could endanger public safety.

The sheer number of Muslims already in the West means that this is going to be a very difficult and controversial position to adopt, but its better to have this conversation now than 10-20 years from now.

An exception could be made for example for the Ahmadi religion possibly as that religion does not incite violence. It would have to be established that the Ahmadi religion did not incite other crimes, from my current knowledge I don’t believe it does however. The “most perfect life” verse would have to be clarified.  I think on the whole the message of the Mahdi probably abrogates the violent verses in the Koran, but I’m not an expert on that.

Such an exception could equally be applied to any other sect where it can be shown that religious texts override the incitements to violence in the Koran. I don’t like these other “versions” of Islam but as long as something is harmless then of course we should tolerate it. Remember, we are trying to construct a watertight legal framework here.

There are growing numbers of voices across the “West” calling for such a ban:

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/08/27/geert-wilders-close-mosques-netherlands/

German far-right AfD calls for mosque ban

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/18/germanys-far-right-afd-party-attempts-to-block-construction-of-m/

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/09/14/watch-australian-senator-calls-ban-muslim-immigration-mosques-burkas/

CHRISTIANITY

There can be no doubt that the Christian bible contains incitements to violence. For example, in Leviticus 20:10 it says:

If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.

However in the New Testament, Jesus appears to implicitly contradict this ruling:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I think this demonstrates that the old testament is over-ruled by Jesus’s moral teachings, and since Jesus is the central figure in the Christian religion, I would say his teachings take precedence.

The only doubtful statement in the new testament is (Matthew 10:34):

“I came not to bring peace, but to bring a sword”

This statement seems not only ambiguous but also at odds with everything Jesus says elsewhere, for example (Matthew 26:52):

“But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”.

(Jesus said this after Peter had struck one of the soldiers who were attempting to arrest Jesus. Jesus subsequently healed the soldier’s wound).

I therefore rule that the former statement in Matthew 10:34 does not constitute a credible incitement, it isn’t even direct but rather ambiguous.

In conclusion then, none of Jesus’s teachings meet the credibility test of inciting violence, and Jesus’s teachings can be regarded as over-ruling the Old Testament and so I would rule that Christianity does not overall constitute a direct and credible incitement to violence. The terrible events described in the book of revelations should be regarded I believe as God punishing the human race, not as any sort of incitement. I will deal with the old testament accounts of extreme violence in the next section on Judaism, as the old testament and Judaism are based on the same stories.

JUDAISM

The Judaic religion is possibly much more problematic than Christianity, because it does not include the later moral teachings of Jesus against violence. I don’t have the knowledge of this religion to really be sure that Judaism does not constitute a direct and credible incitement. The fact that Jewish people have not for example been stoning people to death for adultery and other sins for over a thousand years (as far as I know) should be taken into account however.

Capital punishments generally could also be seen as only being applicable under the law of the land, rather than incitements to violence between citizens. Therefore, as long as the law of the land that is either secular or otherwise overrules whatever religions advocate, then any incitements to capital punishment in the religions can be ruled not credible.

The Old Testament accounts of violence, terrible though they are (including genocide), could be regarded as mere historical accounts of what took place, or at the most indirect incitement, rather than direct incitement. As far as I can determine there is no instruction to followers of the religion to repeat these acts.

Some claims have been made that the old testament was taken as justification of the treatment of indigenous peoples during the colonial era, but since these are at worst indirect incitements, they would not constitute a reason to make the religion illegal according to my framework.

SUMMARY

In the first post in this series I called for an amendment to the First Amendment to remove all mention of religions. This clears the way for a rational evaluation of whether any particular religion incites violence. In the preceeding post I created a legal framework for types of incitement that should be deemed illegal and types that should not. Clearly there is much that is problematic in all 3 Abrahamic religions, particularly Islam and Judaism, however I am inclined to rule that Islam uniquely incites violence in a direct and credible manner and that therefore Islam should solely be considered in violation of this legal framework. Furthermore, there have now been a long succession of extremely violent terrorist attacks in Europe where the Islamic religion was known to be a major motivating factor. Such events should pragmatically carry weight in deciding that its time to ban a particular religion.

If European countries that have laws against incitement fail to ban the Islamic religion, then they are violating that most important principle of just societies, namely equality before the law.
ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunnah

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banu_Qurayza

http://www.meforum.org/2159/are-judaism-and-christianity-as-violent-as-islam

Bible and Qur’an: equally violent?

http://archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/03/08/dark_passages/?page=full

Violence in the Bible—How Should We Respond?

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Incitement – A New Legal Framework

[Third in a series of 4 posts about “Freedom of Speech”]

This post is an attempt to define a new legal framework for which types of incitement to commit crimes should be illegal, and which should not. My definition divides potential incitement into two main categories, DIRECT and INDIRECT.

DIRECT INCITEMENT

DEFINITION

Directly encouraging another person or persons to commit any crime. As stated in the previous post I reject the requirement (that exists in the US currently) that a direct incitement should also have to meet the test that it incites IMMINENT criminal action.

A CREDIBILITY TEST

I propose a credibility test – is it credible that the incitement will be acted upon by others? Is the inciter (the one inciting the crime) for example the leader of a criminal gang, a mob boss, or political or religious leader? Where such a significant influence exists I would suggest that the credibility test would be met, i.e. that a direct incitement should be regarded as a criminal act.

At the other extreme, if the inciter is a comedian making a statement in the context of a comedy show, then its unlikely that even a direct incitement will be taken seriously e.g. Noel Fielding apparently urged his followers to stab Nigel Farage. Even such an incitement as this becomes harder to dismiss however if the crime were to be subsequently carried out. On the whole in this example I would be inclined to say that even in such an eventuality as the violent assault suggested being committed the incitement would still lack credibility due to the context.

In between these two extremes it becomes much more difficult. Should we consider a bit of banter between friends on social media for example e.g. “Why don’t you go and kill so-and-so?”, “Yes that’s a good idea I’ll go and do it” to be credible incitement or not? Such an exchange might be regarded as a mere joke by both parties, we cannot see inside their minds. Of course if the murder they mooted is actually subsequently committed then that puts the exchange in a very different light and should probably be then regarded as credible. I think on the whole in cases where no crime occurs however such an exchange should NOT be classified as credible unless say one or other of the two friends has a criminal record involving serious violence.

The problem with social media is that it is just a little bit too easy to sit down and write something that could be construed as incitement without really thinking or particularly meaning what is written literally. I think this should be a consideration, a type of mitigating factor, as we look at such incitements. Writing a letter requires more effort, more “malice aforethought”, and usually requires knowing the subject’s address, whereas communications on social media are often made between individuals who don’t know each other in the real world (another reason to rule an incitement as not credible). However, this is not to say that incitements that take place on social media should not be considered POTENTIALLY just as serious as any other type of incitement.

To summarize the credibility test –

  • Is the inciter likely to have an undue influence over those he incites to commit a crime. Such factors as – is the incited person mentally deficient, does the inciter wield undue influence e.g. is he an older brother or gang leader? Is the inciter a highly regarded authority figure in the case of incitement of groups? Even if the inciter is merely a simple peer of the incited person, there could be factors such as the fact that they both belong to the same violent gang.
  • Is the incited person known to have committed a similar crime in the past, and was this fact probably known to the inciter.
  • The distance in time between an incitement and the resulting crime actually taking place should also be considered when judging an individual case. The longer the gap in time between the two must surely reduce the likelihood that the incitement had a significant impact on the degree to which the crime was inspired by the incitement.
  • What is the context of the incitement? Obviously an incitement that takes place in a serious gathering such as a political or religious gathering is much more to be taken seriously than an incitement that takes place at a comedy show.
  • Would the suggested crime be practically impossible? For example, social media incitements where the identity of the target is unknown to both the inciter and the incited person.

We cannot describe every possibly nuance that could occur and so I fear we will have to rely on a judge and jury to decide on the individual circumstances of each case. All the above factors should be considered when making a judgement however.

For example, lets look at this speech from a US pastor, (which would not currently be illegal under US law at least by my understanding):

He comes really close here to saying that Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and chat show host Oprah Winfrey should be killed by the sword, and claiming that God is calling for this.

“you’ve got to annihilate the leadership thereof”

“to be destroyed with the edge of the sword”

“we need to annihilate black people”

“when the lord calls for the destruction of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, to be destroyed with the edge of the sword, are we ready to do it?”

This is a very borderline case but I think I would rule that he is speaking figuratively not literally, partly because he appears to call for the annihilation of black people at one point, yet he is himself black, and also partly because he is talking about the use of the sword.  It would probably be very difficult practically to kill any of those mentioned people with a sword because they have armed bodyguards, and so it is not really a credible incitement.

Here is another very borderline case, clearly a direct incitement:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/714169/John-McDonnell-REFUSES-apologise-Esther-McVey-lynching-comments

However due to the context of a UK mainstream political discussion I would tend to think probably not credible, since Labour politicians in the UK are not really known as major rabble rousers, although recent events in the Labour party since Corbyn assumed the leadership have rather altered that perception.  Mr. McDonnell was PROBABLY speaking figuratively.  Of course if such a lynching were to actually take place, then it would put a very different perspective on the comment.  The fact that a UK politician has been murdered in public since he made these remarks would tend to make such a statement more credible now I think.

GAUGING THE SEVERITY OF THE INCITEMENT

In cases where no crime is committed immediately, I believe we should still criminalize incitement particularly if the influence of the inciter is substantial. For example political and religious leaders with significant followings who incite violence within our country should be charged with direct incitement, even if no violence takes place, because of the sheer weight of influence that such people carry. The danger involved in ignoring such incitement was I believe demonstrated by the Orlando gay nightclub massacre in the US. The mosque involved has since suffered an arson attack as well, possibly demonstrating how these situations can potentially lead to retaliatory attacks (which then could lead to further escalation of conflict) if the law is powerless to intervene.

CODED INCITEMENT

A form of incitement that may appear to be indirect but which I think should probably be classified as direct is what we might call “coded” incitement. This is where the inciter uses a code phrase that is known by both parties to mean that a particular crime should be committed.

I think in cases where it can be established that such a code was known to both parties then this should be considered a criminal act of the same seriousness as a direct and explicit incitement such as “go and murder so-and-so for me”.

The phrase Henry II is famously supposed to have used “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” is a more difficult case. We need not worry here about the historical authenticity of this incitement, we are just considering an example. Of course as the King, Henry had probably the most influence possible over his knights as anyone ever does, but there is no hint anywhere that such a phrase was a known code of his time for “go and murder so-and-so”. I think overall in this case I would be inclined to believe that Henry was merely “sounding off” and probably did not intend for his knights to actually kill the archbishop. The phrase “rid me” could also plausibly suggest a non-violent act. In this case I would therefore rule this as not an incitement at all.

PRIVATE INCITEMENT AND GANG VIOLENCE

The hardest kind of direct incitement to deal with of course is those incitements that take place in private. The US authorities struggled for many years to convict the gangster Al Capone despite the involvement of his gang in a large number of murders. They eventually convicted him of tax evasion instead, such was the difficulty involved.

In the UK the problem of gang violence has been addressed by the use of the Joint Enterprise law which meant that even bystanders at a murder were convicted of the crime of murder. The use of this law has been controversial however:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6638287/Police-using-300-year-old-law-to-target-gang-violence.html

I think we would need to study this law separately as it is a big subject in its own right.

The difficulty with gang related incitements that are not usually witnessed outside the gang will always exist, the authorities will continue to have to use undercover policing, wiretaps and confessions in cases like these.

RELIGIOUS INCITEMENT

A great issue that is dividing our society today is the problem of religiously inspired violence. I believe strongly that religions SHOULD NOT be excluded in any way from incitement law. No special privileges or “protections” should be granted to religions. Of course this question becomes more debatable with some religions that appear to incite violence do not have any recent history of violence among their followers that could be associated with this incitement. As this is a very big subject I will cover it separately in the next post.

INTER-STATE INCITEMENT

One particularly controversial subject has been the use of drone strikes against British nationals who have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Are our politicians inciting violence when they order such drone strikes? I consider such drone strikes legitimate however because the individuals have joined a foreign state that this country is at war with, and so the normal rule of domestic law need not apply.

Generally speaking, when politicians call for the initiation of force against foreign powers or individuals, they are inciting violence. We should have high standards for the justification of the use of such force. I think on the whole we will leave international incitements involving states for another time, as it is a huge subject in its own right.

INDIRECT INCITEMENT

DEFINITION

By indirect incitement I mean any speech that could conceivably inspire or indirectly encourage a person or persons to commit a criminal act where that speech does not explicitly urge the incited person to commit the act. In my opinion INDIRECT incitement should not be criminalized. Many of the examples I give here of INDIRECT incitements should most probably not even be deemed incitements at all. The reason I list them is because I have come across claims that they do constitute incitement in the past.

GLORIFYING TERRORISM

In 2005, in the wake of the London terrorist attacks on 7 July, the UK govt. proposed new legislation that criminalized indirect incitement in the form of praising terrorist acts, quote:

“For example, saying isn’t it marvellous this has happened and these people are martyrs – not direct incitement to do something but something that could be construed by someone as giving an endorsement of terrorism.”

Quite apart from anything else I suspect the sheer number of people expressing such views, and the impossibility of identifying them all, makes this an absurd thing to try to criminalize, much though it may be tempting to punish those who express such views.

CRITICIZING GROUPS – CONTAGION OF IDEAS

There appears to be a notion among some politicians that even merely derogatory (non-threatening) comments about particular groups or individuals should be suppressed. The reason given for the need for such suppression seems to come from the idea that such ideas could become contagious and lead to acts of violence against the mentioned group – people “egging each other on”, a sort of spiral of hatred. One problem with such suppression is that its not possible to prove that the one thing necessarily leads to the other.

Another larger problem with this idea is that it effectively makes it impossible to criticize any group’s behaviour, because such criticism might incite violence against that group. For example, if a religious sect was advocating child abuse, then we should be free to criticize that group in the strongest terms without being accused of indirect incitement to violence against that group. Only if we were to actually start shouting out say “Kill the followers of the child abuse sect!” (a direct and credible incitement) should we be guilty of incitement.

Even in the case of a racial group we should be free to criticize the behaviour of that group because, for example, that group might be disproportionately involved in crime. Only by a frank discussion of such behaviour are we likely to understand what is causing that behaviour, or discover alternatively that the behaviour is not real but imagined. Merely suppressing the views is unlikely to change anybody’s mind but rather increase suspicions that the truth is being suppressed.

Here are a couple of examples of such suppression from Germany:

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/07/08/german-couple-sentenced-migrant-critical-facebook-group/

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/05/04/pegida-founder-bachmann-found-guilty-of-sedition/

INCITING HATRED OF GROUPS

It becomes harder when we look at more extreme cases where people are inciting hatred of groups, as opposed to merely criticizing them.

Consider this case, where images of dead Jews and other material was prosecuted:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/two-jailed-for-inciting-racial-hatred-online-1741921.html

However I maintain that as long as people are not directly inciting criminal acts then more extreme expression should be allowed, as long as other laws such as privacy laws are not transgressed. If we don’t draw a very firm clear line between indirect and direct incitement then we leave the door open to more subjective sentencing and important conversations could be inadvertently prevented from taking place. It is therefore better to err on the side of greater freedom of expression than the side of censorship. It is also more likely that the dividing line will shift over time if it is not thus clearly defined.

To quote Noam Chomsky:

“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

ACCUSATIONS OF INDIRECT INCITEMENT FOR POLITICAL ENDS

During the EU referendum campaign in the UK there were many accusations made against the Leave campaign that they were inciting hatred of foreigners by their opposition to immigration. Many politicians even attempted to blame the murder of the MP Jo Cox on the Brexit campaign:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/681005/labour-mp-anger-jo-cox-murder-eu-referendum-debate

The hypocrisy of these claims was starkly exposed when there was no corresponding condemnation of incitement of hatred towards Leave campaigners, for example consider these incitements to murder Nigel Farage:

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/06/20/shoot-and-stab-nigel-farage-hundreds-of-social-media-messages-urging-attacks-on-ukip-leader-revealed/

These politicians would be more believable if they applied this notion consistently.  Their argument could be turned on its head as well, when the Remain side of the campaign were arguing that the Leave campaign were “project hate” for example, were they then indirectly inciting violence against the Leave campaigners?

Consider this absolutely ridiculous claim from a UK Labour politician called Chris Bryant who accused the Brexit referendum campaign of responsibility for inciting a Turkish coup:

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/690072/Turkey-coup-map-military-turkish-fco-Chris-Bryant-Brexit-EU-referendum-campaign-MP

A TV presenter accuses Nigel Farage of stoking hate, tries to make a connection with the Nice terror attack where 84 people were killed:

http://www.express.co.uk/showbiz/tv-radio/689742/Nigel-Farage-GMB-Ranvir-Singh

Clearly there was a political motivation behind all these accusations, which shows us how open to abuse the very idea of indirect incitement really is.

In another example of hypocrisy, we have yet to hear any politicians or mainstream media pundits blaming anti-Trump views expressed in the UK media of inciting this alleged attempt to assassinate US presidential candidate Donald Trump:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/13/briton-charged-with-attempting-to-shoot-donald-trump-pleads-guil/

FIGHTING TALK – INDIRECT INCITEMENT AGAINST YOURSELF

The Pope famously said if you insult someone’s mother then expect a punch. Through this statement the Pope was condoning anybody who felt insulted by mere words who then committed an assault. Very problematic coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I would not argue that the Pope himself was directly inciting violence here, because he didn’t suggest that you MUST hit someone who insults you. He was I think more just suggesting that it wasn’t wise to insult people. Therefore the Pope’s statement would not itself constitute incitement to violence in my view, however reprehensible it was in the context.

One problem with “fighting talk” is that it is not possible to make a sensible definition of what constitutes “fighting talk”. By the context of his comment, I believe the Pope was implying that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were wrong to offend the followers of Islam by drawing cartoons of Mohammed. Were the Hebdo cartoonists inciting violence against THEMSELVES? I find this argument utterly preposterous. I feel that people need to grow up and stop taking offence at mere words and pictures. If you deliberately attack somebody except in self defence, then you are guilty of assault. I reject the idea that “fighting talk” should be unprotected speech.

SATIRICAL FILMS

A short film called “The Innocence of Muslims” was blamed by White House officials for provoking an attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya in which 4 Americans died.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/22/benghazi-scandal-what-happened-and-what-does-it-mean-for-hilary/

It later transpired that the attack was a pre-planned terrorist attack, that in all probability had nothing whatever to do with the video. The video was merely a satirical/critical look at the Islamic religion, it did not incite violence at all.

VIOLENT FILMS

Some violent films have similarly been accused of inspiring people to commit random murders. The film “Natural Born Killers” was one such.

It seems to me that to be so inspired by such films would require someone to already be in a very disturbed mental state, and so it would be very difficult to be certain that the murderer would not have just found some other excuse for their actions.

COMPUTER GAMES

Computer games are often very violent and sometimes the violence is so evocative of real life situations that it must be considered. For example some video games have allowed the player to take the role of a terrorist killing innocent civilians. However I think the argument that playing computer games like these leads people to commit murder is very dubious and no evidence can prove this is the case. At the most it could be considered as a very indirect incitement and as such would not meet my criteria for prosecution. Again anyone who was so inspired would have to already be in a seriously disturbed mental state.

RADICALIZATION THROUGH CRITICISM OF RELIGION

A truly absurd claim of indirect incitement is when people with anti-Islamic views who try to tell the truth about Islam are accused of radicalizing the followers of Islam. The Muslim was peaceful until this Islamophobe persuaded him that the Koran instructs him to kill the disbelievers (so goes this cranky theory). He then felt he had no choice but to join the Islamic State and kill some disbelievers.

Obviously this argument would make it impossible for anyone to criticize the Islamic religion truthfully, because the religion can be proved to incite violence, as I shall argue in the next post. Criminalizing such indirect radicalization could in fact then be seen as a step towards submission to Islam, because it could in effect create a de facto blasphemy law only applying to Islam (or any other religion that can be demonstrated to incite violence).

Quote from a speech by President Obama:

“Groups like ISIL and al-Qaida want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. They want to claim that they are the true leaders of over a billion Muslims around the world who reject their crazy notions. They want us to validate them, by implying that they speak for those billion-plus people, that they speak for Islam. That’s their propaganda. That’s how they recruit. And if we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with an entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists’ work for them.”

This sort of argument I believe demonstrates how trying to include indirect incitements leads to a great many absurd claims.

HOLOCAUST DENIAL

Some countries have made denial of the Nazi holocaust illegal, but I think this is a big mistake. Archaeological discoveries often come to light which change our understanding of history. We must always be able to challenge accepted wisdom about historical events. Let us argue against holocaust denial with evidence, not law.

An example of a claim that holocaust denial incites violence can be found here:

http://jcpa.org/article/expanding-holocaust-denial-and-legislation-against-it/

Quote:

An additional consideration is that deniers use Holocaust denial to incite hatred against Jews. They usually claim that Jewish demands for reparations and restitution for property stolen during the Nazi era are specious and based on a falsification of history. There was no Holocaust, or the consequences were much less serious than Jews say they were, hence Europeans and European governments are being conned by the Jews. Almost invariably this constitutes incitement against Jews and Jewish communities, and frequently has led to violence against Jews and Jewish institutions. Again this undermines fundamental concepts of civil liberty and fundamental rights.

(Readers please note – I personally believe that the Nazi holocaust took place, I don’t want to get into a debate about that subject.  I am simply arguing against laws that criminalize holocaust denial.)

CONCLUSIONS

Incitement should be illegal only if it is believed by a judge and jury to be a direct credible incitement that is likely to lead or have led to a criminal act being committed. The set of tests of the credibility of an incitement outlined above in the DIRECT section should be considered by said judge and jury, in an effort to minimize subjective sentencing. However due to the nature of incitement there will always unfortunately be a subjective element to the judging and sentencing. All we can do beyond issuing such guidelines is try and ensure only sensible people become judges.

An incitement should be considered serious enough to prosecute even if there is some time delay between the incitement and the crime, i.e. the current US requirement that the incitement is likely to lead imminently to a crime being committed should be discarded. Even in cases where no crime has yet been committed, some incitements should be considered serious enough to prosecute if for example they are issued by political or religious leaders who are well regarded by their followers. In short, the set of considerations outlined here should be weighed up together to decide on whether a direct incitement should be prosecuted, and what the severity of the sentence should be if so.

Indirect incitements should never be criminalized because it is too difficult to prove cause and effect, and because the serious danger of inhibiting free speech/debate is too great. As I mentioned before in a post about hate crime, the way to deal with hatred is through dialogue and debate, not prosecutions. Prosecutions merely serve to increase the sense of victim-hood and a feeling that the state is siding with those who are hated, which is more likely to increase the hatred than reduce it.

RELATED POSTS:

Hate Crime – A Terribly Flawed Concept

The Principle of the Thing – Equality Before The Law

The “Brexit Hate Surge”

Incitement and Current Law

[Second in a series of 4 posts about “Freedom of Speech”]

Note that incitement can be applied to any law including trivial laws. For simplicity I am thinking here about only serious crimes such as inciting violence, rape, slavery and child abuse.

The exact dividing line between what constitutes incitement and what should be considered protected speech has never been set in stone. Court rulings have moved that dividing line from time to time. This is to be expected because deciding exactly what a person intends by what they say is always going to be subjective. Therefore as long as we rely on a legal system for justice, and we accept that some incitement speech must be legislated against, we will have to accept that in some degree a judge or jury will ultimately decide where that dividing line is in individual cases. All we can do is to try and give the most comprehensive guidance for those making those decisions, and to ensure that this guidance is enshrined in law.

US LEGAL STATUS OF PROTECTED SPEECH

It seems that the exact definition of what constitutes protected and unprotected speech according to the US legal system has been only established over time. The US Constitution does not provide an exact definition.

It seems that only relatively recently thanks to a US Supreme Court ruling in 1969 was the qualification of “IMMINENT” added to the definition of what incitement is unprotected.

Brandenburg v. Ohio

I have to say I find this rather odd. What if someone incites someone to commit a crime say on a specified date in the future? I suppose the delay does make the crime slightly less likely, as more circumstances could intervene to prevent it. We also have the problem that a general incitement to murder could inspire a murderer some time in the future, as POSSIBLY happened in this case:

http://nypost.com/2016/06/14/hate-imam-preached-executing-gays-at-orlando-mosque-before-massacre/

FIGHTING WORDS AND MERELY OFFENSIVE (OR GROSSLY OFFENSIVE) SPEECH

“Fighting words” are currently unprotected in the US as they are regarded as a form of incitement. I feel generally that this is incorrect because people don’t have to respond to mere words, however provocative. Trying to limit speech of a merely offensive nature runs a very grave risk of fundamentally endangering the freedom of speech. What is offensive speech to some may be considered a good argument by others. However there are some particularly challenging scenarios.

For example, consider this scenario. If someone died, and then someone else insulted the deceased person’s relatives, say at the funeral, then that would be a bit of a thing. It might lead to a fight. I’m not sure that ordinarily I would agree with the idea of Fighting Words being unprotected, but a case such as this is surely pushing things to the limits. The actions of the Westboro Chapel group in the US for example led to new law:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westboro_Baptist_Church#Laws_limiting_funeral_protests

UK LAW

The UK law was changed in the Blair era:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encouraging_or_assisting_a_crime_in_English_law

http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/h_to_k/inchoate_offences/

As far as I can glean from these links there is no requirement in UK law for the incitement to be immediate.

CONCLUSION

The main difference between UK and US law currently seems to be the requirement of imminent harm. I think protecting speech that encourages violence in a non-imminent way is a mistake, as seen in the example of the Orlando massacre of 49 people in a gay nightclub. In the next post I will attempt to create a different framework.

Amending the First Amendment

[First of a series of 4 posts about “Freedom of Speech”]

This post may sound like an attempt to further limit “freedom of speech” beyond current limits, but in fact this is not actually the case in  terms of UK law, which currently has irrational and inconsistent limitations that go at least as far as my suggestions and in some ways much further. My proposal would in some ways be an attempt to limit “freedom of speech” in comparison to the current US constitution however. It may seem strange that I’m talking about the US constitution while also referring to UK/European laws. The reason I am doing this is because I think the US constitution is a good starting point to try to define a practical general definition of “freedom of speech” that could be used by other countries. I cannot find a definition that exactly matches my own idea so I will create my own definition in this series of posts. For brevity I will not mention issues such as state secrecy and libel which I think are subjects that are quite distinct.

We in the West are floundering around wondering what on earth to do about the ever expanding and divisive influence of Islam in our societies. We still have principles, although not so much nowadays. It matters that we deal with this problem within sound principles, because otherwise Equality Before the Law and the “Freedom of Expression” will be endangered. However we may have to rethink our principles a bit because right now our current principles seem to be helping the threat our way of life faces more than they are helping us. Western civilization is in grave danger, not currently from the growing Islamic minority directly, but rather from the panicked and ignorant reactions to the influence of that growing minority, by our own feeble minded governments. US President Barack Obama’s ambiguous statement that:

“the future must not belong to those that slander the prophet of Islam”.

is unfortunately rather typical of the attitude of a great many Western politicians currently. (1).

GEERT WILDERS’S “BAN” ON ISLAM

In stark contrast with this trend of appeasement elsewhere, Geert Wilders has announced his plan to “ban” Islam and all mosques in the Netherlands.

Quote from the Daily Express (2):

“Sybrand van Haersma Buma, leader of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party, branded Mr Wilders’ plans “utterly bizarre and unbelievable”.”

He added: “The programme will further polarise Dutch society.”

What this Mr. van Haersma Buma misses of course is the problem that Islam is also polarizing Dutch society, and will continue to increasingly do so if we continue to appease the religion.  Mr. Wilders own statements (3):

“I believe we have been too tolerant of the intolerant,”

“We should learn to become intolerant of the intolerant.”

The question is however, can such a “ban” be lawful within a framework like the US Constitution?

It seems Geert Wilders is ahead in the polls as well, ahead of next year’s election. When I first heard of this “ban” I thought hurrah! It got me thinking though, especially after a debate where someone accused me of hypocrisy for wanting to “ban” Islam but also being a believer in freedom of speech. They had a point, I had not clearly enough established in my own mind exactly what I meant by “Freedom of Speech”. I decided to try to define exactly what I meant by the term.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

The US Constitution has served very well at least until fairly recently to protect freedom of expression in the US. I would like to see a similar such constitution adopted in the UK, but I believe we need to consider seriously the following modifications before we do that.

The First Amendment states (4):

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So straight away in the first part is a statement that I disagree with:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

I disagree because I believe that if a religion incites violence and other crimes then it should not be protected by the constitution from government laws being passed to restrict it. That is not to say that governments MUST pass laws against such religions, but rather that governments should be FREE to pass such laws, if they deem it necessary to do so for pragmatic reasons. I believe that currently the existence of this statement in the First Amendment will make it impossible for the US to “ban” the Islamic religion, within the constitution.  It was written at a time when the only significant religious groups in the US were different denominations of Christianity, and so it is not too surprising that they seem not to have considered the problems posed by such a religion as Islam.

We should therefore remove the above statement so that we are left with this:

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or prohibiting the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Of course some might raise the objection that the reference to religion is designed to prevent theocracies developing and banning religions on purely religious grounds, just because they prefer a particular religion and think everyone should be made to follow that religion.

However I discount this objection because I think we can encompass such a protection for religious observance generally within a definition of “Freedom of Speech”.

DEFINING “THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH”

We are still left with the problem, what EXACTLY do we mean by “The Freedom of Speech”. The US constitution does not protect all speech.  There are categories that are not protected including incitement, fighting words and offensive speech, among others. I will focus on these particular here listed specific restrictions as currently I do not have any objections to make to those other exceptions.  I am going to try to draft a definition of incitement that could be used in writing a constitution, for a (hopefully) more rational age.

Every attempt to define incitement always runs into difficulty with deciding exactly where the line should be drawn. Did Henry II incite murder when he supposedly asked his knights – “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”. This question is very hard to answer, but I think we have to try. Words do influence people, authority figures such as religious leaders can have a huge impact on the deeds of their followers. The US legal system has in fact struggled with this distinction as well over the years. As incitement is such a big subject I am going to cover it separately in the next two posts.

[The other posts in this series:

Incitement and Current Law

Incitement – A New Legal Framework

Incitement and Religion

]

REFERENCES:

(1) http://www.truthrevolt.org/news/flashback-obama-2012-future-must-not-belong-those-who-slander-prophet-islam

(2) http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/704172/Geert-Wilders-Islam-religion-Muslim-Koran-PVV-Dutch-Freedom-Party

(3) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-11443211

(4) http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

RELATED POSTS:

https://chaunceytinker.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/the-principle-of-the-thing-equality-before-the-law/

 FURTHER READING:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_and_Religious_Hatred_Act_2006

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exceptions