R. Joseph Hoffmann blames P. Z. Myers, Eric MacDonald and me for murder in the Middle East

R. Joseph Hoffmann has kept his arrogance under wraps for a while, but this week it erupted again in a spectacular display of ignorant accommodationism. In his latest piece at The New Oxonian (oy, what a title; should I change the name of this site to “The New Harvardian”?), “Deja vu: how tone deaf atheists and blockheaded Muslim haters cost lives”, RJH accuses me, P. Z. Myers, and Eric MacDonald for being the species of god-hating Islamophobes named in his title.

I’m not sure what inspired this, except for our earlier refusal (a year ago!) to countenance severe treatment, including arrest, for the odious Florida pastor Terry Jones. Jones, you may recall, is vociferously anti-Muslim, burned copies of the Qur’an in both 2011 and April of this year, and, when the new movie Innocence of Muslims came out, promoted it vigorously (though he didn’t screen it) and then burned yet another copy of the Qur’an.

There’s no evidence that Jones’s latest shenanigans had the slightest effect on instigating last week’s riots in the Middle East, or on the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya (apparently a preplanned attack), though word of Jones’s burning of Qur’ans in 2011 ignited riots in Afghanistan that led to the death of at least 30 people.

At that time, P. Z., Eric, and I all decried Jones’s stupidity and rancor, but refused to say that he should be punished. We have freedom of speech, and if it leads to murder then that is the fault of the murdering thugs and not the Qur’an burners.  Further, such cowardice, in which we abstain from criticizing Islam because it offends the tender feelings of Muslims and makes them even more prone to riots and beheadings, only empowers vile Muslim extremists and makes their faith the only one immune from criticism.

In contrast, Hoffmann wrote that Jones should be tried and convicted of murder. As I noted in April of 2011:

Pastor Jones is a religious nutcase, and I have no respect for him.  He’s nearly as nuts as Islamic extremists, though I doubt that Jones will be killing anyone.  But he did nothing illegal or, I think, immoral.  I agree with [Sam] Harris’s conclusion, which is that we need more criticism of Islam, not less.  And not just Islamic extremists, either, but criticism of those Islamic “moderates” who, by refusing to speak up against the violence and insane hypersensitivity of their coreligionists, create a climate in which Islamic extremism is tolerated.

Hoffmann seems to be one of these coddlers too.  Nowhere in his post will you find him indicting the murderers themselves for the murders!  He spends all his time blaming Pastor Jones instead. In fact, he spends more time criticizing atheists (he just can’t resist that) than criticizing the kind of faith that makes people kill.

Hoffman is back again with the same opinion, even though, as far as I know, virtually no atheist has written about Jones’s latest shenanigans.  Never mind; Hoffman manages to rekindle his hatred of atheists—even though he is one:

But religion-haters come in different flavours these days. The Florida cracker flavour is matched by the piquant sophistication of new atheist Islam haters–even Christopher Hitchens was one. The atheist tack, of course, was that the “greater principle” of free speech was at stake in this struggle, and that no matter how obnoxious Jones is (very), his right to be obnoxious, even dangerously obnoxious, was absolute. Of course, the fact that Jones’s views about Islam happened to coincide directly with the views of the hate-mongers was of no consequence: it was ONLY about the sanctity of the First Amendment.

–The blockheaded response from atheist heavyweights like Jerry Coyne and P Z Myers was immediate: “Hoffmann coddles Muslim”.  Eric MacDonald, in a singularly ill-informed piece, wondered out loud if I hadn’t paid attention to the “cartoons controversy,” evidently missing the fact that I had written extensively on the topic in 2008 and had conditionally defended the right of Free Inquiry magazine, where I was an associate editor, to publish the cartoons in the US.

Past is prologue and now we see how history can surprise us. The hyperactive Rev. Jones could not slumber forever, not when a man who likes a mirror thinks he can influence a presidential election–which is fact is what this trick is all about.

Jones promised he would do better, and he has: this time with deadlier consequences, through one of his more media savvy, Muslim-hating accomplices.

I have just one question for PZ: What are you thinking now? God save the First Amendment?

Let us first recognize that Jones had nothing to do with the making of the film, and nobody has adduced any evidence suggesting it. He did promote the film, but apparently didn’t even screen it.  So he’s responsible for the riots in the Middle East and the death of the ambassador? I don’t think so. Hoffmann is raising the spectre of guilt by association.

So are we now to suppress free speech against all religions?  Or is it okay to criticize Jews, Hindus, and Christians (viz., “The Life of Brian”) but not Muslims?  What, exactly, would Hoffmann have us do? We already, all three of us, have disassociated ourselves from Jones’s stupid activities and ill-advised Muslim-bashing, but we all defend strongly his right to criticize Islam however he wants.  If the rights of fringe minorities like those including Jones aren’t protected, then the rights of all of us are endangered. That is precisely why freedom of speech and religion are written into America’s Bill of Rights.

And yes, Ceiling Cat save the First Amendment! If it’s to mean anything, it means that all criticism of faith must be protected, even if ill-advised or motivated by hatred or bigotry.  Let a million stupid criticisms blossom, including accusations that Jews murder Christian children to make crackers from their blood. (More on that in a day or two.)

It’s curious that Hoffmann, who is, as I noted, an atheist, says absolutely nothing about the rampaging, murdering Muslim thugs. No, he’d rather go after the atheists who defend free speech, as if we were somehow complicit in murder.  Does Hoffmann recognize who wields the guns and knives, and who purveys only words?  Does he think Muslims have the right to kill when they’re offended? On these issues he is silent.

As Eric noted in his latest take on RJH’s views, “Hoffmann loses the thread of the story all over again“:

Religions shouldn’t be protected in this way. If Islam is a religion of peace, let them show us that that is what it is, and not go on rampages every time someone, no matter how foolish, insults what to them are holy things. They will be just as holy to them, though others despise them. PZ “desecrates” what Catholics think of as the body of Christ, but he thinks of as crackers, because Catholics pilloried a young man, and sought to endanger his future, because they believed he had desecrated something they hold sacred. This was not tone deafness; it was a justified response to what PZ considered to be a silly belief that should not be allowed to ruin lives. People are going to be offended, and sometimes hurt, when this kind of thing is done, but the harm will be done by the religious, until they grow thicker skins, and recognise that what an unbeliever does has no bearing on what they consider holy. The same goes for offences against Islam. Muslims need thicker skins. Every time someone denies that Muhammad was a prophet and avers that he did not receive a revelation from a god, they are being offensive to Islam. Of course they are. And being able to think and say such things is a right we should be willing to stand up for and defend. And that is why I said, and say again, that Hoffmann seems to have lost the thread of the story all over again.

And Hoffmann needs to have some new ideas instead of endlessly recycling his shopworn criticism of atheists.  Underneath it all, which you’ll recognize if you’ve had the stomach to read The New Oxonian, is Hoffmann’s deep-seated fear that his scholarly views have been unduly neglected, and that some New Atheists, lacking that scholarship, are undeserving of their fame.

103 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2012 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised at how people seem to fail to see the greater issue. Religious fanatics don’t need a good reason to attack. They’re always looking for an excuse to do it. From the point of view of their leadership it’s about politics, not about religion. It’s only about religion to the indoctrinated followers.
    The imagined enemy is simply a tool to galvanize power. When the Catholic church pays fortunes for campaigns against gays, it’s not because it has anything to do with the bible (they’ve modified enough rules for that to be quite clear as can be noted from the many different Papal positions on abortion)- they do it because they operate like a mafia racket. They need groups to demonize because the division foments their power.
    The film was an excuse for violence which suits certain governments and certainly many Imams, but excuses aren’t even necessary. Germany’s embassy was also destroyed on the absurd excuse that sometime in the past (a year ago?) cartoons were printed there. Really? It took them a year to be bothered? Of course not.

  2. Posted September 16, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    According to a news report yesterday the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has called on the US government to forbid the making of films such as this. They did not exactly state that refusal to do so could lead to more anti-US demonstrations but it is surely implied.

    What the new Egyptian rulers are doing is to insist that the US clamps down on free speech and freedom of expression as they do. In other words, curtail freedom of speech or we will murder your envoys and burn your embassies. Oh boy!

    It should also be noted that there are clear indications that the existence of this film and it contents were known in Muslim circles weeks, maybe months ago, but the protests against it only flared up on 9/11. Strange!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      What complicates that correlation is that the preplanned Al Qaida terroris attack in Libya may have precipitated the other violence.

      I honestly don’t know the timing involved, if the putative first demonstration against the movie on islam was the same day Cairo one, and how long time it takes to put up such a demonstration.

      • krzysztof1
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        It should be noted that the United States has not yet said that al-Qaeda was behind the Libya attack.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

          That is true I think. And I know hear moderate muslims are claiming evidence for al-Qaeda. [Thanks for the correction, I misused the swedish translation.]

  3. Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Hoffman needs to have a chat with Salman Rushdie.

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      That’s cruel and unusual punishment, even for Hoffman.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        Even more so with Hitch, were he still with us.

  4. Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    R. Joseph Hoffmann is an example that exemplifies the rule: Atheism is less about filling pages with prose and more about having a backbone.

  5. onkelbob
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    The former Pakistani Ambassador (now a professor at a university I do not remember) had some very good insights on this situation. In a series of nutshells:

    1) The USA is unique in its freedom of speech. every other country has some restriction on speech. Even “free” countries such as those in the EU or the Commonwealth have some restrictions on speech.

    2) In the countries where the unrest occurs, the restrictions on speech are strict. no speech is broadcast without permission from the ruling government or punishment by the government.

    3) Everyone views this incident through that lens in (2); namely since speech must be approved by the government, then this video was approved by the US government. Otherwise the film makers would be punished by the government.

    The ambassador did not have any suggestions for resolving the problem. He did not believe that repressive governments would allow the same freedom of speech. He believes it would be impossible to educate and enlighten the populace that such a difference exists, or to convince them that such freedom is wise or acceptable. Finally, he believes that the US model is perfectly within the rights of the sovereign nation; i.e., if we want to have this freedom, it is our prerogative. OTOH, it is the obligation of other nations to control the criminal behavior of its residents and citizens.

    • Egbert
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      Nice to know America is the land of free speech, unless of course you’re someone like Julian Assange.

      • mordacious1
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        Some speech is not protected by the First Amendment.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

          . . . due to neither being made in the US, nor made by a US citizen. (Bradley Manning not being relevant here ; has a trial even started over his alleged crimes?)

    • Filippo
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      “He believes it would be impossible to educate and enlighten the populace that such a difference exists, or to convince them that such freedom is wise or acceptable.”

      Well, that takes the wind out of ones sails regarding prospects for the improvement of humankind. How hard is it for the average human to understand the above difference as compared to, for example, learning how an airplane is able to fly, or deriving the quadratic formula from ax^2 + bx + c = 0?

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Even in the US, there are quite a few citizens (including some members of Congress!) who seem to have trouble grasping this difference.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        How long did it take for western liberal democracies to evolve from autocratic monarchies with a strong ethos of censorship?
        I know British history better than other European histories ; for Britain the answer is from around 1630 (abolition of Star Chamber ; strengthening of independence of Parliament and the judiciary from the Monarchy) to the late 1800s (introduction of universal male sufferage, if not any female sufferage). Call it 250 years, or 8-9 generations.
        For France, with a sketchier knowledge of their history, I think it was around the mid-1700s (the weak reforms that preceded the Revolution) until again the late 1800s (after the Franco-Prussian Military Debacle and the stabilisation of the Third Republic), for 150 years or 6-7 generations.
        America … well you can choose where to start things : 1776, if you like, or 1670 (the Glorious Revolution, where a lot of the legislative framework for the foundation of America were set) ; you can choose where to end things, to for example 1860-odd when slavery was abolished) or to 1960 (when the state started to enforce the enfranchisement of the descendants of slaves across much of the country). That is between 84 years (3 to 4 generations) and 290 years (10 to 11 generations).
        You could make an argument from the presence of historical examples and of current successes, that it should take less time now to transition from autocracy to a well-founded democracy (the same argument, incidentally, was the basis of the propaganda efforts of the Comintern). But to expect it to take less than several generations, is, frankly, politician’s bullshit.
        For what it’s worth, I watch my Russian wife and her daughter as an instructive example ; neither has “internalized” living in a free Western democracy. My wife still expects me to carry my passport if I go to (say) pay a parking ticket. My step daughter has even more contempt for and disinterest in any form of politics than the average 20-something. I take that as evidence that the internalisation of the political changes of the late 1980s isn’t going to be complete until at least my step-grandchildren’s generation.
        So, my considered answer to your question of “how hard is it …” is “at least 3 generations”.
        Somehow, I suspect that is not the answer that you wanted to hear.

        • Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          Good points and well stated

        • Red Mann
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

          gravelinspector, very good points. It should be noted that the monarchy didn’t give up power out of the goodness of their hearts; they needed money to carry out wars etc, and Parliament had the money so they extracted some power here and some power there to fund the monarchy. Similar to the Magna Carta when the barons flexed their muscles i.e. they actually controlled the troops. Those in power won’t give it up without some coercive actions by those under their rule.

          • gravelinspector
            Posted September 17, 2012 at 12:07 am | Permalink

            I’d comment, but I’m rolling around on the floor, helpless with mirth, at the implication that anyone, anywhere would give up the merest iota of power without appropriate (i.e. large) amounts of coercion being applied. Seems an almost inhuman suggestion to me.

            • Posted September 17, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

              George Washington did it. Twice.

              Some of the Founders really were amazing people.

              • Filippo
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:38 am | Permalink

                Would that those who were slave owners (most?) had also released and given up their power over other flesh-and-blood human beings. That would seem to have otherwise made “American Exceptionalism” that much more exceptional.

        • onkelbob
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Thank you for articulating what I believe the Pakistani ambassador was attempting to convey. Indeed, I should have noted he is the former ambassador to Britain, and is currently a professor in a UK university. And despite the introduction of technology, the transition will still take considerable time.

        • Filippo
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          “Somehow, I suspect that is not the answer that you wanted to hear.”

          Okie Dokie, noted.

          No doubt, your line of reasoning could be applied to slavery/civil rights in the U.S. A certain per centage of Americans admonish others not to judge our American ancestors by the standards of today, as if our noble ancestors ought to be cut some slack. Yet we know that there were not a few Americans who condemned slavery, their standard of judgment seemingly indistinguishable from today’s. Were they premature in their judgment?

          In the last few years Lawrence Krauss has remarked that in a survey periodically conducted, more or less 50% of Americans have incorrectly answered the following question, as Krauss put it:

          “T or F: The Earth goes around the sun and takes a year to do it.”

          I ask again, how hard is it to be aware of that fact, assuming one has the least bit of intellectual curiosity? Perhaps in three more generations the per centage will rise to at least 75%?

          • gravelinspector
            Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:15 am | Permalink

            That thing about “assuming the least bit of intellectual curiosity” might be a weak point.
            I don’t in the slightest bit condone it, but having spent most of the last 20 years (19 years 51 weeks, approximately ; I’d have to use a calendar to work out the days) living on a fairly average housing estate, for the large majority of the residents of the street, that least bit of intellectual curiosity would be severely lacking. Depressing, but true.
            Going on the results of seeing lots of (presumably) average people making appalling hashes of pub quizzes, charity quiz nights and that sort of thing, intellectual curiosity is a much rarer commodity in the general population than it is in the denizens of blog^H^H^H^H websites like this. (Similarly, effective memory systems are not exactly “average” either.) I wouldn’t be terribly confident of much more than a half of the UK’s population answering your T or F correctly either.
            Most people care, in order, about putting a meal on the table, improving the roof over their head, and not getting shot on the streets this week, or in the back of the head in the back room of the jail next week. Politics doesn’t come very high on most people’s list of priorities.
            Or am just being pessimistic because the wife made a mess of her voter registration form last night and tossed it aside as “Not important, anyway!” [SIGH]

            • Filippo
              Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:45 am | Permalink

              “Most people care, in order, about putting a meal on the table, improving the roof over their head, and not getting shot on the streets this week, or in the back of the head in the back room of the jail next week. Politics doesn’t come very high on most people’s list of priorities.”

              Very true, especially in those parts of the world where people live on the equivalent of a couple of dollars a day.

              Wherever in the world, where do sports lie in that hierarchy? Of some importance apparently, considering the occasional riot which ensues in response to game results not meeting certain fans’ approval.

              • gravelinspector
                Posted September 19, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                I don’t understand the motivation to “sport” in the sense of “sitting around watching somebody else do something energetic”. Then again, I can’t claim to understand gambling either. So, where in the morass of unimportant things sport lays – above, beside or below formation flatulence – I simply have no comment. Are you sure that it is important, as opposed to there being importance in the social conformity of cracking the skulls of the enemy while wearing “your” team’s colours.
                Ah, memories of Saturday afternoons cooped up in the flat because the Rangers fans and the AFC Casuals were having a fight with the police along the street outside. I was wishing for Molotov cocktails by the time the fight got back to the station. So … inspiring.

  6. Skeptic Griggsy
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Muhammas was a proud child molester and proud war monger! So much for Muhammad’s Fits [Islam].
    Joseph Smith was a scammer and just made up Smith’s Fraud[ Mormonism].
    Yeshua was a jerk, and his mother should have aborted him! So much for Christ-insanity!
    Thomas Jefferson says to mock nonsense!I go with him instead of whith Spinoza about that.
    We gnus revel in objurgating twaddle!

  7. peter
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    “Underneath it all, which you’ll recognize if you’ve had the stomach to read The New Oxonian, is Hoffmann’s deep-seated fear that his scholarly views have been unduly neglected, and that some New Atheists, lacking that scholarship, are undeserving of their fame.”

    Although partially an ad hominem, I believe this to be exactly accurate, and am pleased to see it prominently written.

    Indirectly it also says something deservedly negative about theology as a so-called academic discipline in places like Oxford, not just in bible colleges and madrassas.

  8. darrelle
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Hoffmann needs some perspective. Does he not realize that this article shows him as a pathetic, sniveling, vindictive little person?

    Going by his stated views he is the perfect victim of terrorism. It is precisely his fearful attitude that certain political parties in the US have sought to arouse in the public as a means of maintaining and increasing their power. And in the process bringing the US right to the brink of banana republicanism.

    • hyperdeath
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Hoffmann’s sense of perspective is roughly similar to this. As for not revealing himself as a “vindictive little person”, it’s a little too late for that.

    • Red Mann
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Hoffman is a supercilious ass who is wildly impressed with his own genius and views all others as his intellectual inferiors.

  9. Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    You can’t find a more impassioned defense of free speech than this video of Hitch:

    Hitch in top form!

    • TGC
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the heads-up for this. Damn, I miss the guy.

      • Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:53 am | Permalink

        And his comments on Islamophobia in the video are extremely relevant given present day events — almost as though he is speaking to us from beyond the grave ;-). This video should be required viewing for all parties offering opinions on the recent movie that offends Muslims.

  10. Barry
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Jerry, on the issue of free speech, Hoffman is on record as saying that the case of nutjob Jones is Akin to Justice Holmes writing in 1919,

    “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

    Hoffman makes a big deal of “falsely” but has never, to my knowledge, ever explained how anything Jones has said is “false” in this sense of the term. I would have thought that although the actions of Jones are misguided, Hoffman as an atheist, must hold a similar view as to the veracity of Islam as Jones, although for very different reasons. To the point already made above, if those expressing offense for feelings hurt get to define what can and cannot be said we’ll have no free speech a all.

    Hoffman also commented on his site about the “feedback” he received from his previous criticisms of Jones in earlier articles. I think his quote spells out really clearly where his priorities lie…

    “Some were actually very insightful–the ones laying out, for example, the conditions for incitement and sedition; some less so–the ones that simply insist that we are citizens of a democracy that values free speech above everything else.”

    Clearly, arguments about free speech alone aren’t “very insightful”.

    • Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      I love that you capitalized “Akin”! ;D

      • Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        And Hoffman’s analogy fails. Nothing Terry Jones or the makers of the film did could reasonably be construed as a “clear and present danger”.

        • Red Mann
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

          Exactly, Mohammed is claimed, by Muslims, to have married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine. According to their own histories he did attack and rob caravans, he did mercilessly have many people slaughtered. So it would appear that those elements of the cartoonish “movie” were based on the truth as detailed by Muslims themselves. According to Islamic sources he did marry the women of the man he had just killed or had killed (taking a page out of David’s book perhaps). When Islamic stories talk about, and indeed, praise the alleged actions of Mohammed it’s fine (after all Allah proclaimed Mohammed the perfect man whom all should emulate), but if an Infidel points them out it’s blasphemy and justification to riot, destroy and kill.

    • Tim
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      The extension of Holmes ‘shouting fire in a theater’ argument is absurd, of course. Theater patrons are, as individuals, behaving rationally in wanting to exit a burning theater. To say that the behavior of people who go into a frenzy after someone criticizes their religion is analogous to the panic they may feel when they’re threatened with being burned to death is hardly the work of a serious academic. If that is the argument Hoffmann offers, he’s a hack.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

        One might add it is legal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater if, in fact, there really is a fire!!

        • Notagod
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

          Which leaves out the fact that the real problem, the problem that needs to be overcome, whether fire or not, is the panic.

        • gravelinspector
          Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

          … if, in fact, one has good grounds to believe that there is or soon will be a fire.
          We get indoctrinated with this in fire training at work : if in doubt, raise the alarm. If in doubt about being in doubt, raise the alarm. If you think it’s a fire that you can tackle, then raise the alarm BEFORE tackling it.
          Consider this scenario : you’re at the theatre and you see smoke issuing from around a closed door. What is your next action (neglecting obvious things like double-checking your escape route, breathing, and muttering “stercus, stercus, stercus! This time I’m really going to die” [entry 7])?
          (It is relevant that my typical employment is on oil rigs : waiting up to several days for the fire department to pick our charred corpses out of the water is not an acceptable option.)

        • Posted September 17, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          Exactly. I may point out that when people are taken to court/forced to pay a fine or recompense (etc) after such offense, AFAIK, this is NOT under breach of freedom of speech, right?

          Q.E.D.

  11. hjaltirunar
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    So if I get so angry after reading Hoffman’s post, that I go out and kill a couple of persons, then Hoffman would “[need] to be charged with and convicted of murder.” [to quote Hoffman]

    Makes perfect sense!

  12. BillyJoe
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    On the other hand “behead al those insult the prophet” is an abuse of free speech and an incitment to commit murder. Those bearing such posters, should be arrested and prosecuted. Unfortunately, some are young children.

    • BillyJoe
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

  13. krzysztof1
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    “If the rights of fringe minorities like those including Jones aren’t protected, then the rights of all of us are endangered. That is precisely why freedom of speech and religion are written into America’s Bill of Rights.”

    That’s exactly the point. Now the question is, why do so many NOT GET THAT, including RJH? It’s too bad, really; I’ve heard him speak on the history of religion and have great respect for his work in that area. But he really should think this through carefully. Bad logic, bad, bad.

  14. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Remarkable that Hoffmann wouldn’t include such prominent secular organizations like Google, who refuses to bend for generic demands for censoring free speech and are still posting a long trailer of the video on islam.

    Underneath it all, which you’ll recognize if you’ve had the stomach to read The New Oxonian, is Hoffmann’s deep-seated fear that his scholarly views have been unduly neglected, and that some New Atheists, lacking that scholarship, are undeserving of their fame.

    Maybe this is meant to be “that some New Atheists, lacking [insight into Hoffmann's neglected scholarly views], are [likely thus] deserving of their fame”!?

    Every time someone denies that Muhammad was a prophet and avers that he did not receive a revelation from a god, they are being offensive to Islam. [MacDonald]

    Or point out that early religious prophet to a man [because they are always men] are unsubstantiated myths, and thus treating them as persons are unwarranted reification of an icon.

    Of course criticism, especially humor, is more effective at times when accepting the reification as a basis.

    But the case for myths are even worse than the idea that criticism of subject is criticism of person. It is implying the subject doesn’t really warrant criticism in the first place, it is in reality a no go.

    I wonder if we ever reach that place where a majority of believers realize the status of their beliefs? It has taken over 2 millenniums to get a small minority of christians in touch with reality.

    • JT
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      “But the case for myths are even worse than the idea that criticism of subject is criticism of person.”
      This idea is certainly alive and well in the western press. Does anyone else cringe when they hear the story framed as an anti-Muslim film? I think it should be labeled as an anti-Islam film, not anti-Muslim. The distinction is, I think, a big one. Muslims are people and Islam is a collection of ideas. I’m perfectly fine with being anti-Islam, in fact, I encourage it.

  15. Stonyground
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    On another thread somebody made a comment about the Berlin Wall. Another commenter said that it is an admission that your country sucks when you have to build walls and shoot people who try to leave.

    Doesn’t this principle apply to Islam too? It is an admission that your religion sucks when your reaction to any criticism of it is killing people and burning stuff. Killing and burning as opposed to, say, calmly pointing out to those critics why you think that they are wrong.

    • raven
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Yes.

      Allah has the same problem the xian god has.

      Allah and god are the all powerful creators of the universe, and are everywhere. They can do anything.

      However, they never actually do anything.

      These days they require humans to do anything for them. One suspects they are sick, dead, or don’t care. Or maybe they…don’t even exist.

    • raven
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      If Allah didn’t like a film about his favorite messenger, presumably he could have turned the makers into frogs or something.

      The followers of Allah (or the xian god) claim they are all powerful and act like they can’t do anything. One wonders how many really believe their gods exist.

  16. Posted September 16, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    So, if religiously-incensed Hindus were killing people by fire bombing MacDonalds restaurants because they served beef, then if Ray Krok paid to air a TV ad for a Big Mac, he should be “tried and convicted of murder”, is that right, Hoffman?

  17. Marta
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Hoffman writes:

    “My suggestion was that if he went forward with his plan, and if remonstrations to cease and desist (there were many) did not succeed, a restraining order should be issued to prevent Mr. Jones from carrying out his act of incitement.”

    Egad, I don’t even

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Hoffman is a terrific scholar of the Ancient Near East, but perhaps less of modern law.

    A bit in Hoffman’s piece not mentioned above is that Terry Jones’ actions should be considered guilty of “incite to riot”.

    However, a legal definition of that term according to 18 USCS § 2102 is “to organize, promote, encourage, participate in, or carry on a riot”, includes, but is not limited to,……but shall not be deemed to mean the mere oral or written (1) advocacy of ideas or (2) expression of belief, not involving advocacy of any act or acts of violence or assertion of the rightness of, or the right to commit, any such act or acts.”

    • peter
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Please spell his name correctly.

      • Barry
        Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Please capitalize your first name.

  19. Posted September 16, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Moon god allah worship, baal worship and ra sun worship. Worhip mother earth or a tree. I hold as ignant. If freedom is to be stupid so be it. But having to condone it, to respect it, honor it or embrace it is still foolish and error. I’ll have no part of it

  20. mordacious1
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Actually, it was James Madison’s fault (that guy is responsible for many deaths around the world).

    Although I did hear a rumor that Jerry Coyne was partially responsible for the death of John Dillenger.

  21. Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Parallel universes would come in handy here. Jerry, PZ, and Eric could be quiet in one universe and see if their ‘restraint’ results in the scenario that Hoffman claims would happen.

    Though I defer to those who respect his scholarship, his stance remains bizarre. What does he want from Jerry, PZ, and Eric? For them to consult him before they open up their mouths? Hoffman got so many aspects regarding free speech wrong, here’s hoping the guy recognizes his ignorance. He is a scholar; such ignorance should bug him.

    Atheist heavyweights? Look, I love you guys, but there is a world of atheism beyond the bunch on whom Hoffman is focusing. Clueless about free speech, he is equally clueless about what is happening in atheism.

  22. Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Hoffmann’s insane jealousy of the fame of other atheists and Jesus scholars does seem to be the cause of all of his recent tirades. He has been lashing out at them and everything they stand for for the last couple of years; ever since Richard Carrier reviewed his book Sources of the Jesus Tradition (which wasn’t even really a bad review. I got me to buy a copy).

    He has a very hyper specific list of credentials anyone who calls themselves an atheist must have in order to avoid his wrath, and they just happen to match up with his own qualifications. I really think he’s gone nuts.

  23. Barry
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Outstanding demolition of Hoffman’s “free speech” argument here

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/16/conservatives-democrats-free-speech-muslims

    Particularly the update at the end of the article.

  24. andreschuiteman
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    I have heard of blaming the victims and of blaming the perpetrators, but this the first time I hear of blaming the critics of the perpetrators.

  25. MAUCH
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Hitchens Free Speech

  26. Jeff Johnson
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    There are a few points that seem important to me but not enough part of the discussion, though some commenters above touched on one.

    First, the least important, I don’t see why freedom of speech should mean freedom to put whatever you want on you tube at no cost. When it comes to Internet access, freedom of speech should mean freedom to create your own website and say what you want, and to try to promote and build an audience for your own website, whatever it says. But to expect you tube to establish no standards for access to its massive audience seems a step too far to me. You tube is not a public resource, it is a private business. Heck, Facebook recently censored a New Yorker cartoon depicting Adam and Eve naked in the garden because Eve’s nipples were explicit. Adam’s nipples were okay. If Facebook or You Tube wants to be as absurdly prudish as that, it’s their prerogative, and it’s consumers prerogative to abandon them for alternatives.

    Second, I think the film had little to do with the murders. Our drone war probably had more to do with that. There were many Libyans who wanted to protest the film, but were aghast at the attack and the murders. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the attack occurred on 9/11, but it may or may not have been coincidence that the film protesters were there that day. The attack did not involve spontaneous rioters, it was men armed with RPGs and firearms. The marines are already after them, as is the FBI.

    Third, no matter how much as atheists we long for the end of religion, we should be able to distinguish between extremist believers, and ordinary Muslims and Christians. They are two different species of threat: one is the deadly Salafism, and the other is ordinary Islam. We should really be careful about conflating these two. It just ends up sounding ridiculous to too many people. I say this with an awareness of Sam Harris’ arguments in the End of Faith as to why moderates are enablers of the extremists, and don’t deserve a free pass. It’s just that we should still be able to recognize one group as more dangerous than another.

    One of the popular arguments against religion is that “it takes religion to make good people do bad things”. I think this is wrong: it takes a monomaniacal certainty that one holds the absolute truth, combined with deep anger, rage, and a feeling of helplessness. It won’t surprise me if someday a nutty atheist guns down a hall of worshippers, and we should acknowledge the difference between those who hold a belief, and those who are disturbed and dangerous enough to kill for it and die for it.

    Islam and Christianity are annoyances, and people who we should compassionately regard as good people confused by false beliefs. These people, while we believe they are deluded, at least we can recognize they gain some benefit from their illusions and sometimes do good deeds in service of those beliefs.

    White Culture warriors and Christian warriors organized into militias, and Salafist extremists are the danger. It is part of their modus operandi to openly claim they love their god more than they love their life. In other words, it is the classic intimidation tactic of making your enemy think you are way crazier than they are, and will stop at nothing.

    In standing up to Muslims and Christians, we should adopt a civil tone, and use reason and persuasion and argument and evidence.

    In standing up to the militant aggressive extremists, we have to be prepared to love freedom more than we love our security. And we should offer them no tolerance whatsoever, because it only strengthens them and makes them more dangerous.

    This is why Hoffman’s arguments are so repulsive: they misplace the blame on the stupid film and garden variety Muslims, and they are a form of cowering and cringing before truly dangerous madmen.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      It won’t surprise me if someday a nutty atheist guns down a hall of worshippers [sic], and we should acknowledge the difference between those who hold a belief, and those who are disturbed and dangerous enough to kill for it and die for it.

      This is not what the argument for criticism is about. What Coyne et al point out is that moderate religious do not readily criticize their fundamentalists.

      Then your appeal to consequences becomes unimportant as well as a fallacy. The third problem is that statistics says this is rare among atheists.

      In standing up to Muslims and Christians, we should adopt a civil tone, and use reason and persuasion and argument and evidence.

      On the contrary, an emotional and strong tone works well, including ridicule and repetition:

      “So far, he’s found that emotional appeals–like the famous ad showing an American Indian with a tear rolling down his face as he confronts pollution–work better than cognitive ones when it comes to persuading people to recycle.”

      “Repetition is one way to increase visual fluency and hence appeal.”

      Therefore it is essential to at all times point out that religion truly poisons everything. That it has a factual base is of course a must, we are after all atheists and skeptics criticizing religion at all turns and for good reasons.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

        I can’t disagree with any of your specifics, but I still think regardless of statistical frequency, the killing we saw in Libya “takes a monomaniacal certainty that one holds the absolute truth, combined with deep anger, rage, and a feeling of helplessness.”

        This is more often found in the religious, but doesn’t depend on religion.

        The blame for thinking its okay to demand censorship of another country because an individual or group offends their sensibilities is definitely the fault of Islam and middle eastern culture and politics. The killing can’t be blamed on Islam per se, but rather on the Salafist branch of Islam. Certainly it is fair to expect moderates to criticize extremists, and to criticize moderates who refuse to do so.

        I can easily concede the point about using emotional appeal, but I still feel we need to make important distinctions between religion’s neurotic need to dominate public discourse and shield itself from all criticism, and the psychotic killers who truly believe god will reward them for murder. It feels too dishonest and inaccurate to imply that Islam is responsible for this murder, or to pretend that an atheist could never do such a thing. And it seems failure to acknowledge that difference leaves atheists open to criticism that is a needless distraction from the real argument.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      You tube is not a public resource, it is a private business.

      Which is precisely why the government has no business trying to regulate YouTube content. If YouTube decided unilaterally to take the video down, they would be within their rights in doing so, as you point out.

      But if the White House calls up YouTube (as they did) and tries to pressure them into taking it down, that’s a different story. That’s government censorship (no matter how politely phrased), and people are right to object to it.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        “You tube is not a public resource, it is a private business.

        Which is precisely why the government has no business trying to regulate YouTube content.”

        Just curious, how does the power and censorship of private corporate tyrannies compare to that of government? Are the former to be welcomed with open arms as compared with that of the latter?

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

          I would exactly agree with that. Americans seem to have this curious idea that censorship is always evil and “only the government can commit censorship”.

          So far as I can see, if a large media channel (like Youtube) decides to take down a video based on content, that’s de facto censorship just as effectively as if the government or a court had banned it.

          And I don’t think censorship is always unjustified. But if it’s going to be done, personally, I think it should be the responsibility of the government rather than left to the caprices of commercial interests.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:50 am | Permalink

            If you have your own website, and I post something there you don’t like, can I claim you are censoring me if you block it?

            I dont think so.

            It would be censorship if I was prevented from saying something on my own website by having my IP address or DNS name blocked. It would be censorship if I were threatened or punished for saying something on your web site, or on you tube. But if you tube makes decisions about what content it wants to make available to its audience, that is you tube’s right. Posting on you tube is not a right, it is a privilege granted by you tube.

            It is not a constitutional right to post something to you tube. It is a constitutional right to create whatever content I want, and to distribute it through whatever channels are available to me. Nothing can compel you tube to be my distribution channel.

            I do agree that a libertarian wet dream of little government interference and all power in the hands of corporations can be every bit as much or more of a tyrannical society as the government power they hate so much. Corporations are the least democratic institutions in our society. Consumer choice (which in the likely event of cartels or monopolies forming can become extremely limited) is in no way a substitute for deliberate policy making and government power to mediate disputes, remedy harms, or enforce norms established by democratic consent.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted September 17, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

            “…that’s de facto censorship just as effectively as if the government or a court had banned it.”

            Well, not “just as effectively”. If YouTube bans something, that means you can’t post it on YouTube. You can still post it on competing sites, or on your own site.

            If the government bans it, that means you can’t post it anywhere, not even on your own site. And you can go to jail for trying.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:31 am | Permalink

        Anybody, including the President, should be able to call anyone, including you tube, and make an attempt to persuade them to stop doing something because it is perceived to be causing harm. They don’t have the right to threaten or coerce, and you tube has the right to honor or refuse the request. This doesn’t qualify as censorship. It is negotiation and voluntary action.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

          + 1

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted September 17, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          You’re being naive. The President or one of his staffers could have logged onto YouTube in the usual way and flagged the video for review like anybody else.

          But that’s not what they chose to do. They chose to use their authority as government officials to summon a YouTube executive to the phone (something you or I couldn’t do) and apply their persuasion directly at the highest levels.

          They were not acting as concerned private citizens. They deliberately used the power of their office to try to intimidate YouTube. They failed, but that doesn’t excuse the attempt.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted September 17, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

            Who’s being naive?

            The White House should flag the video? I don’t think so. That sounds like a pretty naive suggestion to me. You’re in denial about how the world works, and struggling to impose an idealistic egalitarianism. I can appreciate the sentiment, but I think you’ve inverted the concept of naive.

            Evidently You Tube didn’t feel that much power was applied if they were able to refuse the request. Perhaps he simply asked them to consider it. I have no problem with that.

            If the President phoned up a company and threatened consequences if they didn’t comply with his demands, do you think that wouldn’t get into the press and badly damage the President politically? I believe it would, and he is smart enough to know that. I’m sure it was a polite conversation.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted September 17, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

              I never said it wasn’t polite. But no matter how polite he was, the mere fact that he’s the President speaking in his official capacity, with the full power of the government behind him, makes it a different case than a private citizen lodging a complaint about content.

              The YouTube people stood up to him, and that’s good, and he chose not to take it any farther, and that’s good too. But I still think it was an abuse of his power to take it even that far.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 1:07 am | Permalink

                Presidents have the ability to start wars and kill huge numbers of people (e.g. Iraq) and that is presumably within their powers. Here’s a case where a President made a very restrained attempt to cool things down, in the knowledge that people (yes, even some Americans) might die, and you’re calling it abuse of power? Surely part of the Executives’ job is to manage international relations.

                Personally I would blame the Pres for inaction if he did not try to do something.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

                infiniteimprobabilit

                If the protection of free speech is of no concern for you it is perfectly understandable why you would think the President was within his rights to request YouTube remove the video.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

                If the protection of free speech is of no concern for you it is perfectly understandable why you would think the President was within his rights to request YouTube remove the video.

                This is really unfair. I know how partisanship works. Once a person dislikes a President he can do nothing right, and if you like him, you can excuse everything he does. I feel like people are really stretching to find a criticism of the President here. Perhaps some will think I’m stretching to defend him, but I just don’t think the facts, when fully considered, make this a case of either violating free speech rights or abuse of power.

                First of all, You Tube is not a free speech right. It is a business that could decide to close up shop tomorrow and take down every single video if Google management decided they wanted to. It’s economics that keeps You Tube running, not free speech.

                Some people may have forgotten how easy it was to make a film before around 1995 and make it seen all over the world. The answer is, it was not very easy at all. It was damn hard.

                Part of what makes it so easy is You Tube: it’s ease of use, search abilities, and large audience. If that film maker had his own website with the film on it, it would be much harder to make it go viral. Free speech doesn’t guarantee the right to an international audience, just to create what you want and say what you want.

                The President in this case is not trying to stop anyone from making films or displaying them on the Internet. He’s asking one company that has provided a free international broadcast platform on the net if there is a way it’s policies can be applied to block this one film. Why is he doing this? Not because he wants to infringe on free speech, but because part of his job is to manage our relationships with every foreign nation on the planet, and to keep our diplomatic missions from being damaged by mobs breaking out in several countries and spreading, and to keep Americans alive at home and abroad.

                There are a lot of complicating factors involved, not just the ‘right’ of one person to put one film on You Tube, which by the way isn’t even a right.

                What if your neighbor is blasting his stereo at 1am and you call up and ask them to turn it down? Are you abusing your power as a neighbor and the privileged insider information that goes with it, like that you know the name and phone number and that your neighbor knows who you are? And if your neighbor complains that you are violating his first amendment rights by asking him to stop a communication that is having disturbing consequences in your home, are you going to agree with that?

                This is clearly not a case of the President attacking free speech, but trying to make a gesture that will hopefully contribute to a more peaceful environment abroad for him to accomplish the goals of his job. It doesnt matter that the people who are rioting are being foolish. He still has to do the job. Balanced against the non-right of an individual using a free commercial service, I think the President has made a reasonable trade off. If somebody wants to get upset, they should look into the circumstances of Nakoula’s arrest. There is where you can find a potential abuse of power, and I certainly hope the President had nothing to do with that. I don’t know the facts yet.

                If the President having to ask a private company for a favor is an abuse of power, then our Republic is in pretty good shape. There are unfortunately real abuses of power rampant in DC, and they usually involve private companies asking government officials for favors.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

                This is clearly not a case of the President attacking free speech, but trying to make a gesture that will hopefully contribute to a more peaceful environment abroad for him to accomplish the goals of his job.

                I’m not claiming that the President hates free speech for its own sake. But obviously there are certain kinds of speech that make the President’s job harder. If he tries to suppress such speech in order to make his job easier, then that is by definition an attack on free speech, and is precisely the sort of case the First Amendment is meant to cover: inconvenient or troublesome speech that the government wishes would just go away.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson “The President in this case is not trying to stop anyone from making films or displaying them on the Internet.”

                I am puzzled as to why the President would take a personal interest in whether YouTube has consistently applied its standards in the case of this video. Whether YouTube is in violation of its own…or general broadcast…standards is a matter for the courts, not the President. Your failure to see this distinction makes your commitment to free speech ring hollow.

                “Why is he doing this? Not because he wants to infringe on free speech, but because part of his job is to manage our relationships with every foreign nation on the planet, and to keep our diplomatic missions from being damaged by mobs breaking out in several countries and spreading, and to keep Americans alive at home and abroad.”

                Tell me, which person who attempts to limit free speech doesn’t couch their argument in terms of some kind of greater good? This is all about Obama trying to use his weight to impose control over what is broadcast.

                I suggest you read the article at the link I posted at comment 23. It already demolished every argument you have so far tried to deploy. And the article demolishes it so well, I think.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                Barry said:

                “infiniteimprobabilit

                If the protection of free speech is of no concern for you it is perfectly understandable why you would think the President was within his rights to request YouTube remove the video.”

                That’s a strawman. I think free speech is very important. I just don’t think it overrides all else in importance, nor in reality is there an absolute right of free speech anywhere. Nor should there be, since it would inevitably trample on other rights – privacy for example (can I post you real name and address on the Intertoobz pleez?)

                Second, many videos have been taken down off Youtube because they’ve been flagged, rightly or wrongly, often with (often false) DMCA complaints that they’re infringing someone’s copyright. Wouldn’t ya say preventing riots and deaths was rather more important than breach of copyright?

                For the rest, I think Jeff Johnson has already said anything I’d wish to, and rather better.

                (Hope WP slots this in the right place…)

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted September 18, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

              If he tries to suppress such speech in order to make his job easier, then that is by definition an attack on free speech

              This seems like a non-sequiter because the abstract position is independent of whether he’s trying to make his job easier: suppression of free speech is by definition an attack on free speech (regardless of the reason).

              I simply disagree that free speech rights extend to an inalienable right to post something on You Tube, but I would include a right to create one’s own website and determine its content.

              If he did this to try to suppress Romney campaign videos (many of which are as stupidly dishonest as “The Innocence of Muslims”), or if this became a pattern, I would be on your side.

              I simply can’t condemn this individual action of the President’s based on the pure abstractness of your position. The situation and context matter too much, in my opinion. The President is authorized to kill Al Qaeda combatants, so to take an abstract absolute moral stance on this one phone call seems absurd.

              Like I said before, the issue to pay attention to is Nakoula’s arrest. Who made that call, and why? Ostensibly there is a possibility of parole violation, but that seems like a pretext to me. His arrest is the thing that bothers me in this context.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              @Barry

              This is all about Obama trying to use his weight to impose control over what is broadcast.

              If you believe that, you probably think his birth certificate is fake too. You had to work hard to get everything so wrong.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                “If you believe that, you probably think his birth certificate is fake too. You had to work hard to get everything so wrong.”

                We call this “projection bias” and it represents a blatant attack on me personally rather than any attempt to deal with the argument. I am a very strong Obama supporter. I desperately want him to win the next election. But my commitment to the principle of free speech protected by the constitution makes it very easy for me to citizen his actions on this point.

                Again, and you clearly haven’t done this, I suggest you read the article I referenced above to understand why your argument has no merit. And please avoid attacking me individually, it demeans every point you might subsequently make.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                I meant “criticize”, not “citizen”. Damned autocorrect.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

                This is all about Obama trying to use his weight to impose control over what is broadcast.

                Look at what you said. It is not about that.

                It is about people rioting and attacking US Embassies. It is about people killed in Libya. And it is about the President’s ability to do his job abroad, his credibility in the eyes of foreign leaders and foreign populations. As Americans we ought to be able to give him a tiny break because of this circumstance.

                It is not about a President abusing power. It is him asking a private company. And being refused.

                Where is the abuse of power or the suppression of speech? The President didn’t even exercise any power. It is ridiculous. I think you are being pedantic. Like I said, if it were a pattern, or if it really enhanced Obama’s power, such as suppressing Romney videos would, you’d have a point. But otherwise you are making a mountain out of a molehill.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                So, if YouTube removed the video these protests would go away?

                It is possible to rationalize every action, for which I congratulate you. But I am arguing that it is for the law to determine the legality of behavior of this kind, not the WH. This is without doubt a free speech issue and it seems that the difference between you and I is that I’m prepared to call my own side on it, because it’s that important.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

                If the video went away it would relieve some pressure. It wouldn’t solve all the problems. That’s beside the point. Perhaps some foreign leaders made the request, and Obama had to be seen to make the effort in order to preserve good will. We don’t know enough details, but the President felt he had good reason to bother to make the call himself. He’s a bit busy these days.

                If the courts had to be involved every time a business refuses to serve a customer, it would be a disaster. Courts get involved when disputes can’t be resolved. They are a last resort, and this is no matter for courts unless, for example You Tube had banned the video and Nakoula wanted to sue alleging first amendment infringements. As it stands, there is no case.

                The difference between us is not that I can’t call out my side. As I already said, if Obama had instigated nakoula’s arrest, or if he had threatened sanctions against You Tube or made a quid pro quo offer, I would join you in hearty protest. There are a lot of other things far more important I can and have criticized him about. I favor reason over loyalty, unlike typical Republicans.

                The difference is that in a fairly trivial event of the President making a phone call and asking for help, as he must often do in his job, you are rigidly adhering to an abstract principle that isn’t even applicable to what has transpired. You seem to think you have the high ground, but you are standing on a mountain you have made out of a molehill. Nobody’s rights have been infringed, no abuse of power has occurred, no law has been broken. You simply don’t like the fact that the President made the call and made the request, even though it is a reasonable and practical thing.

              • Barry
                Posted September 18, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                It’s dangerous to make assumptions but I’m going to assume you agree that YouTube is a media outlet. It permits the free expression of ideas that it believes is consistent with what law allows and whatever code of conduct it establishes. I’m also going to assume you believe that the President’s purpose in calling Google was to request removal of the movie that was legally posted, however distasteful.

                Consideration of the consequences of what has unfolded, which has made the job of the President much harder, has absolutely nothing to do with the individual’s right to make and post the movie. The fact of the President acting directly to request removal of a video is an act contrary to free expression and is something that should concern us all.

                You appear to believe that the end justifies the means which might appear logical but is certainly not principled. The term to describe this is expediency.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    An update to Hoffmann’s context is that the movie on islam has been used to renew the death threats and raise the reward for his murder originating with “moderate” (national) muslims.

    The leader for (likely fundamentalist) organization that issued these terrorist threats blames the non-enforcement for the series of caricatures, articles and movies that followed.

    Hoffmann’s tendency to blame the more or less victims could be to blame. :-/

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      “His” referring to the missing name Rushdie.

  28. religionenslaves
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    To put the recent incidents into some kind of historical perspective, readers may find amusing taking part in the following quiz: how many of the missing WORDS in the quote below can you fill in correctly?

    “In WORD 01, in WORD 02, a young man, WORD 03, was condemned and found guilty, together with other youths, of blasphemy and sacrilege. He was accused of causing damage to WORD 04, of singing anti-religious songs, and of showing disrespect to a religious procession. Word 03’s room was searched and a number of compromising books were found, including, it was alleged, WORD 05. At the ensuing trial it was suggested that this book had exercised a corrupting influence on the young man, who was condemned to have his tongue torn out, to be beheaded (a concession, because he was a WORD 06) and to have his body burned on a pyre along with a copy of WORD 05. This sentence was confirmed by a court in WORD 07 and WORD 03 was executed on 1 July WORD 08″.

    Answers in my next comment.

  29. religionenslaves
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Answers to the quiz:

    WORD 01: Abbeville
    WORD 02: Picardy (France)
    WORD 03: Chevalier de la Barre
    WORD 04: crucifix
    WORD 05: Voltaire’s Pocket Philosophical Dictionary
    WORD 06: a gentleman
    WORD 07: Paris
    WORD 08: 1766

    So, over 100 years after the establishment of the first scientific Society and 4 years after the publication of Rousseau’s The Social Contract, in one of the most civilized and culturally advanced countries in the world, such was the power to religion to overcome reason and justice, that a man could be tortured and beheaded simply for expressing some non-violent views, and all in accordance with judicial procedure.

    Both Mr Jones (I do not find anything to revere in this loathsome individual and thus I shall not use the ridiculous title of “Reverend”) and the makers of the appallingly bad video have the right to express and distribute their laughable right-wing religious views, even if their clear intention was to provoke equally repulsive right-wing religious nut-cases. One of the distinguishing features of a civilized society is the proportionality of responses: if I disagree with what you say/write/broadcast I can say/write/broadcast my response and, if you break the law (e.g., incitement to kill) a proper judicial process may be commenced. The blame for the loss of life and property following the broadcast of the Innocence of Muslims video falls completely and unambiguously on the Muslim imams who could easily “interpret” the prophet’s rantings as not demanding the physical punishment/obliteration of those who dare to disrespect him and his god. End of.

  30. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    One group of religious nutters chooses to abuse the free speech that thousands of non-nutters (both religious and non-religious) have fought for, and insult another group of religious nutters – and innocent people die for it.

    Personally I would find both sets of nutters equally guilty and if it’s OK to hunt down Al Quaeda with predator drones for planning this sort of thing then it should be equally valid to send one to blast their willing accomplice ‘Reverend’ Jones.

    Your ‘free speech’ is somewhat of a mythical ideal anyway – try wearing a T-shirt that says “TSA are fascists – security theatre sucks” through an airport security scan sometime. Just for example. Or screening kiddie porn. There are always limits to any principle, and I don’t feel it has to be stretched to protect the utterances of people whose express intention is to provoke conflict and inevitably, deaths – in this case Reverend Jones. Are his rights to free speech worth more than the dozens of people who will die and the hundreds of those injured as a result of continually stirring the pot? There are more deserving cases.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:35 am | Permalink

      Your ‘free speech’ is somewhat of a mythical ideal anyway – try wearing a T-shirt that says “TSA are fascists – security theatre sucks” through an airport security scan sometime.

      Have you tried wearing this shirt through a TSA checkpoint? I may be wrong, but I would be surprised if TSA would confuse a political statement on a shirt with a terrorist threat. Your actions and speech would be more important. For example being extremely nervous or hostile in attitude, or making threatening remarks would get you into trouble, but such a shirt would probably be ignored.

      Free speech is not a myth. The myth is that a constitutional right should be absolute and without limitation. Such absolute assertion of rights can not help but lead to conflicts and paradoxes with respect to other rights. So speech is free up to certain reasonable limits as to time, place, and manner, where what counts as a reasonable limit is a matter for democratic negotiation. The freedom of speech compels judges to allow speech unless it violates a law established by democratically elected legislature, no matter how much the judge may dislike it.

      Ideally of course we should all strive to agree on limits that are minimal. It is inevitable that some restrictions will bother some people. They have the right to democratically petition or organize to change the limits. But nobody has the right to expect that everything they want to do should be okay at all times and places. Democracy can’t satisfy all the people all of the time, and anyone unwilling to accept this and compromise doesn’t really want to live in a democracy; they want to live in a personal dictatorship where they call all the shots.

      If a person yells fire in a crowded theater, surely they are infringing on other rights. If a person screams death threats into your face on the street, certainly such speech infringes on other rights. There are many cases where speech intended to deceive, defraud, defame, threaten, or intimidate can violate other legal protections.

      The right to all speech is presumed, subject to a small set of restrictions. This is adequate freedom of political, artistic, and personal expression.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:44 am | Permalink

        +1

        Actually, you said all that while I was composing my afterthought which will appear (if I’ve sussed out WP’s nesting scheme) immediately below. Only you said it better. Dang.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

      I’d better clarify that the above was written with ‘Reverend’ Jones in mind and no reference to Messrs Hoffman, McDonald, Myers or Coyne intended. As Hoffman said (I did read his linked article) Jones doesn’t stand for free speech, he hides behind it. As I’d say, he gets his self-serving publicity stunt and other people in other countries die. I don’t think there’s an absolute right of free speech, any more than an absolute right of anything – in the real world, a right if pushed to extremes usually hurts somebody else.

      I thought Hoffman’s headline was way over the top as it happens, but we can safely allow free speech to cover that, as we can Jerry’s reply. No Hoffmanites are going to engage in deadly affray with Coynians over that. ;)

  31. Lewis Carroll
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    R. Joseph Hoffmann is a man with nothing to say.

    But he says it at great length.

  32. Posted September 17, 2012 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Seems to me that if Hoffmann had such a good point, surely either the White House or any persecutor in Florida would agree, resulting in something like a court case against him, or arrest, or any action.

    In contrast I only read strong condemnation of what he has done and disagreement with it – but no further action. This all perfectly understandable from a freedom of speech point of view.

    I don’t think that the atheist cause is so strong in Washington DC or Florida that anybody can blame this inaction on atheists, although maybe we should take this as a flattering compliment from Hoffmann.

  33. Douglas E
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Attributed to Pascal’s notes, but apropos 400 years later:

    “Men never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they it from religious conviction.”

    • Douglas E
      Posted September 17, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      opps – missed the second ‘do’


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] 9:48 am Atlantic Time, Sunday, 16th September 2012: Jerry Coyne has just responded to Hoffmann’s scurrilous bit of atheist bashing, justly pointing out that Hoffmann seems to be missing the point again. Here is a nice summary from [...]

  2. [...] almost a parody of itself. I think to blame the filmmakers for the murder (or to suggest that people be arrested and that vocal critics of Islam ‘cost lives’ is an example of fractal [...]

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