Thursday, September 20, 2012

A response to Sam Harris


Sam Harris has written a blog post defending free speech. Do read "On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God". I agree with much of what he has to say. First, here is what I agree with.

Sam Harris has this to say:
The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance.
and
What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.
And I could not agree more! That the movie was a bad one is a non-issue. It could have been directed by Francis Ford Coppola for all we care. Is it factual, is not the question we need to ask. Killing because one feels insulted, simply can NOT be tolerated.

But I do take issue with somethings Harris writes. He writes:
But the truth is that the White House struck the same note of apology, disavowing the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle. It may seem a small detail, given the heat of the moment—but so is a quivering lip.
I disagree. There is hysteria out there and the rioting has spread to twenty countries. Saying, "calm down, we are not trying to insult you", is not an apology. While it may be perfectly fine for Harris to stand up and give the middle finger to the protesters, the US govt has bigger responsibilities. Avoiding more attacks on embassies is one of those and it has to be weighed against the benefits of giving the protesters a stern message.

Going to war to protect the rights of this film maker is not a good choice. Disavowing the offending movie while protecting the principle of free speech is exactly the stand the government should take (contra Harris.) The movie does not reflect the opinions of the US government. The administration has a responsibility to make that clear. It is important when mobs are rioting.

In an ideal world, we do not have to choose. But we unfortunately, do not live in an ideal world.

There is perception in the middle-east that the US is out to get them. Yes, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of religion and centuries of animosity. Not to be forgotten are the last few decades of jockeying for leverage and control in that area. But given all that, standing up for the rights of this filmmaker is not likely to be high on the list of the US govt. Not in a very volatile situation.

Like I said, in an ideal world, we do not have to choose.

I also take umbrage at Harris' defense of Romney.
I am no fan of Romney’s, and I would find the prospect of his presidency risible if it were not so depressing, but he did accurately detect the first bleats of fear in the Obama administration’s reaction to this crisis.
And Governor Romney, though he is wrong about almost everything under the sun (including, very likely, the sun), is surely right to believe that it is time our government delivered this message without blinking.
Romney was on the lookout for an opening to reboot his faltering campaign. He thought he found one when the crisis broke out. And completely misjudged it. And ended up looking like an idiot. Please stop defending that.

And Sam, this is not a blinking contest.