Saturday, July 7, 2007

Freedom, Foolishness, and the Fourth

On Independence Day (U.S. - July 4), in another blog, I posted the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, and the names of the people who signed it.

The flame that followed didn't last much more than 24 hours, but it was impressive.

Not much later, in a blog started by someone else, on Freedom, one of the advocates of absolute freedom proposed the following argument. (Aside from bleeping some of the more adult, sophisticated, and mature statements, it is unabridged, copied directly from the original blog comment.)
"The state does not have the right to regulate 'shouting "Fire!" in a theater'.

"This is the oldest and most widely used sophistry of those who would abridge freedom speech as dfined in the First Amendment.

"Would you like to hear the full argument?

"Sorry, I no longer have the time or the interest in playing that game.

"The authoritarians who would abridge the full and clear meaning of the Bill of Rights are invited to play with themselves.

"It will all come out in the wash.

"S**** you and your 'God' too.

"Oh yeah, and lest I forget, and shut the f*** up and turn in your guns."
(source not available)
I'm sharing this as an example of the sort of freedom of expression that we enjoy in this country. In addition to the fellow who writes in slogans and epithets, there were a variety of well-thought-out arguments, some of which were not in agreement with current federal policy.

That sort of discussion isn't possible everywhere in the world, at least not with any degree of safety. There's a joke from the Cold War that can be dusted off and re-written to illustrate the point:

An American and an Iranian were discussing freedom of speech in their countries. The American said, "we are free to speak our mind here. I could stand in the middle of the Mall of America, and shout 'I think the American president is an idiot!' The Iranian replied, "we are just as free to speak our minds. I, too, could stand in the middle of the Tehran flower market and shout 'I think the American president is an idiot!'"

The War on Terror might also be called the War for Freedom. People like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahri and Sheikh Hamed al-Ali; and groups like Al Qaeda, Fatah al-Islam and Hezbollah, all have one thing in common.

They, like Iranian president Ahmadinejad, believe that Islam should rule the world. Their brand of Islam, of course. Judging from what the Taliban did to Afghanistan, I would rather not see that happen.

Ahmadinejad makes his beliefs very clear, saying, "every problem we [Iranians] have will be solved by global Islamic rule" and "we must prepare ourselves to rule the world." These claims are both chilling, and remarkably difficult to find in traditional news sources.

I'd better make it clear that I hope, sincerely, that the 'rule the world' branch of Islam has the same relationship to Islam as a whole that the KKK did to Christianity, back in the sixties. Our problem is that today's Jihadists have power that the KKK could only have dreamed of.

Back to freedom.

Independence Day is a day for people in the States to get outside, grill at least one meal, set off or watch fireworks, and enjoy a day or two off. It's also a day to celebrate the signing the Declaration of Independence, when representatives from thirteen colonies laid out exactly why they would no longer be tied to England.

In this country, we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17. That holiday doesn't draw anywhere near as much attention, although it is the Constitution and its amendments, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, that determine how, and to what extent, we enjoy our freedom.

Back to the War on Terror.

It is important to remember that the War on Terror is an effort to keep crazed religious fanatics from committing mass murder. It's also an effort to keep them from setting up a theocracy that would make liberals' fears of the Bush administration seem like a welcome relief.

The other side of this coin is that the struggle against the Islamic jihad is a struggle for freedom. People in this country have gotten used to being able to speak their minds, to play soccer if they feel like it, and wear a wide variety of clothing.

It would be a shame if we lost that.

By the way: although about nine weeks, by my reckoning, separate Independence Day and Constitution Day (aka Citizenship Day), it took over 11 years (1776-1787) for the government of the United States to have its basic structure hammered out. And we're still arguing about how it should work.

Now, about half-way through the weekend after Independence Day, I think it would be appropriate to remember how the Declaration of Independence ends, and the people who took enormous risks so that those who followed them could disagree with the powers that be, and live to complain about how they were treated:

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Georgia: Button Gwinnett; Lyman Hall; George Walton

North Carolina: William Hooper; Joseph Hewes; John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge; Thomas Heyward, Jr.; Thomas Lynch, Jr.; Arthur Middleton

Massachusetts: John Hancock

Maryland: Samuel Chase; William Paca; Thomas Stone; Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe; Richard Henry Lee; Thomas Jefferson; Benjamin Harrison; Thomas Nelson, Jr.; Francis Lightfoot Lee; Carter Braxton

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris; Benjamin Rush; Benjamin Franklin; John Morton; George Clymer; James Smith; George Taylor; James Wilson; George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney; George Read; Thomas McKean

New York: William Floyd; Philip Livingston; Francis Lewis; Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton; John Witherspoon; Francis Hopkinson; John Hart; Abraham Clark

Transcripts of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, the Consttitution of the United States of America, Amendments 1 through 10 (the Bill of Rights), and
Amendments 11-27 are available online.

On a more contemporary note, Jonathan D. Halevi's Al-Qaida's Intellectual Legacy: New Radical Islamic Thinking Justifying the Genocide of Infidels is interesting, if dry, reading. He's biased, though, since he's an infidel.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.