Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fire in a Theatre (Updated)

Ms. Manji is an interesting Islamic writer, if I can indeed call her that, but like Salman Rushdie one wonders if she is too far from the majority of the Islamic world to have any real impact. In this article we find her defending Blair's crackdown on "extremist speech" from what I assume would be her regular political allies.

As Westerners bow down before multiculturalism, we anesthetize ourselves into believing that anything goes. We see our readiness to accommodate as a strength- even a form of cultural superiority (though few will admit that). Radical Muslims, on the other hand, see our inclusive instincts as a form of corruption that makes us soft and rudderless. They believe the weak deserve to be vanquished.

Not exactly the line you expect from a kanuck lib. But if she can cross the border, allow me to as well. In America, under our laws and case law, Blair's crackdown would never stand. It's "clear and present danger" here, meaning that

  1. you have to directly incite unlawfulness; (i.e.: shoot that drunken potato-eater!)

  2. your audience actually has to be willing and able (i.e.: it won't work if you say the former to a large crowd in Boston on St. Patrick's Day).

Is that a good rule? No clue. Like Ms. Manji writes, let's all sit down and talk about it. But here America free speech is not to be questioned--ever. The one limitation people might remember is the infamous you can't shout "fire in a theatre." Only it is really, "you can't shout fire falsely in a crowded theatre," which kind of shows how little people know about limitations on speech and how actually narrow the limitations are in the law. Allow me to continue playing devil's advocate, for in truth I never cease, and point out that if Britain bans all calls for violent enforcement of Sharia or applauding of terrorism it may run into a problem we had in the past. If an extremist Islamic candidate runs for office can one under this law jail him (or her, though that seems unlikely due to the candidacy) for his "extremist speech?" We did it to the commies. Personally, I'm hard pressed to shed a tear for the Reds, but in these days--where the words "Iron Curtain" have been white-washed from people's memories--many scoff at the idea of sedition and dangerous speech. If this is an important limitation on speech then let us discuss a rationale for it that is deeper than common sense (not that I'm knocking ol' CS). That way after all this is said and done people supporting such a limitation won't be scoffed by the enlightened few.

UPDATE: Lebanon.Profile has an interesting post on this topic discussing how the Lebanese deal with "terror speech."

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