Sunday, June 22, 2008

America, Iran, Freedom of Speech, Censorship: Be Careful What You Wish For

I'm glad that I am an American, and live in America.

Newspapers and news services here frequently report this nation's, and the world's, events in a way that I don't like. (I've posted about a standard American - and international - attitude before: "Global Patriot Incident: No News, But Lots of Opinions" (April 7, 2008), "Global Patriot Reporting: Anti-American Bias? Could Be (March 25, 2008).)

But, that's what happens when a country practices the idea of freedom of speech. I'd rather see a little more diversity of opinion in traditional journalism, but cable television and the Internet have taken care of that deficit: for those with cable and Internet access.

Hate Crime Laws, Holocaust Deniers, and Free Speech

I've heard people say that 'there oughta be a law' against criticizing:
  • The government
  • Cultural icons like Martin Luther King and Ronald Regan
  • Their own opinion about national and world affairs
Sometimes people with views like that have their desires granted.

Take Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for example. Back in 2005, he said that Israel should be wiped off the map. He's also said that the Holocaust is 'a myth.'

In Iran, that's okay: the Ayatollahs have no trouble with people voicing that sort of opinion.

However, Ahmadinejad might get in trouble if he made that last statement in Germany. The current leaders of Germany are understandably sensitive about what a previous regime did in their country, about sixty years ago.

They're so sensitive, that in Germany it's against the law to say that the Holocaust didn't happen.

I think I understand why the German government takes that stand. What the Allies found when they reached places like Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, and Dachau, was profoundly unpleasant and distasteful. The reality of the German National Socialist party's social reforms were - and are - an embarrassment to people who promote similar philosophies.

Just as Japan is dealing with people who don't like what happened in WWII, Germany's leadership seems determined that Germans not forget.

The American government has laws against "hate speech," too. I haven't made up my mind, whether these are silly attempts to enforce civility, on a par with the old sumptuary laws, or if existing law regarding slander and libel really is deficient.

Whatever You Do, Don't Insult the President

Back to Ahmadinejad. It's not that Iran is big on freedom of speech. Ahmadinejad can say that Israel should be wiped off the map, and that the Holocaust is a myth, because those opinions are approved of by the Ayatollahs.

Other opinions aren't treated so favorably. Tehran Today used to be a newspaper published in Iran. Yesterday, the paper ran a story that offered an opinion about Ahmadinejad and his comments about Israel. The paper said that what the Iranian president said "seems to have led to a different result — more pressure on Iran and more support to Israel."

The paper's publisher was hauled into court for insulting the president, and the newspaper is banned.

I'll give the Iranian government credit for having an efficient court system. That was fast work.

Free Speech: Annoying, but Valuable

Although I make a distinction between slander, libel, and free speech, I think that it's a good idea to allow a country's president to be 'insulted,' as President Ahmadinejad was. That sort of feedback and commentary is, in my view, important in keeping a government in good working order.

All things considered, I'd rather live in a country where newspapers occasionally indulge in selective reporting, than in one where few citizens were exposed to criticisms of "Dear Leader."

Sic Transit Tehran Today: Iran's Press in the News

"News agency: Iran shuts down Tehran newspaper critical of Ahmadinejad"
International Herald Tribune (June 22, 2008)

"TEHRAN, Iran: Authorities have shut down a Tehran newspaper, the official IRNA news agency reported Sunday, after the paper published a story critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's stance on Israel.

"The Press Supervisory Board, which is controlled by hard-liners, banned Tehran Today on Saturday after the paper's editor was summoned to court for publishing material deemed as insulting Ahmadinejad, IRNA said.

"The news agency did not provide more details. But the announcement comes after the paper published a story Saturday that said Ahmadinejad's comments on Israel 'seems to have led to a different result — more pressure on Iran and more support to Israel.' "
More, about my views on the Holocaust, some aspects of World War II, and the mess we're in today, at: "Holocaust Remembrance Day: May 1, 2008" (April 30, 2008).

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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.