Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 4, 2009

Re: Don’t Say a Word

Filed under: politics — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:17 am

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate called “Don’t Say a Word” which raises concerns about a non-binding U.N. resolution on “Combating defamation of religions.” Non-binding U.N. resolutions are pretty ineffectual. They are more or less a litmus test for general attitudes in the world and high-minded platitudes. Now a particular irony comes from the fact that this particular resolution appears to come out of Commission for Human Rights. As Hitchens points out, many member states do not have spectacular Human Rights records.

Whether Hitchens falls into the camp of “Islamophobia” as he calls it, I’ll leave up to the reader. However, I will note that he is an unapologetic defender of the invasion of Iraq.  I will also note that there was a good deal of violence directed towards Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11. That isn’t to say that there is any type of moral equivalence, but just as it was wrong for hijackers to kill scores of innocent people, the same principle applies to the innocent victims of assaults and beatings because they happened to share the same faith as those who attacked the US. I feel the non-binding resolution tries to address the second problem while acknowledging the first.  Hitchens makes no mention of the violence directed at Muslims in the wake of 9/11.

As for gagging of criticism of Islam, Hitchens establishes some credentials as a wing-nut. However, there is this absurd notion that religious convictions should be free from criticism. This is not unique to Islam, since many Western countries promote the same idea. The basic premise is that all people should have the right to have a set of beliefs which are free from criticism. These beliefs are generally religious. Now, the reason why people want a set of beliefs free from criticism is obvious, there are beliefs that people would like to hold but cannot be defended.

America has already gone down this road to a certain extent, as it is considered rude to bring up religious or political topics in polite company (taboos on politics is a particularly baffling aspect of the culture since the United States is a participatory democracy, that is, public opinion is supposed to matter). Although, the country is so doctrinally Christian at this point, not being able to criticize those other false religions, especially the scourge of secularism or Islam, is unlikely to go over too well. Hence, the extraordinary indignation over this essentially meaningless resolution.  It is this same demographic that generally wants the United States out of the United Nations. This resolution just adds fuel to the fire.

Now, it may seem strange that we have an atheist and Christians banding together to promote scares about secret Muslim plots to take away treasured American freedoms.  However, the Hitchens/Christian alliance against Islam is not unprecedented because we see similar tag-teams surrounding the implausibility of Scientology.

Rampant paranoia aside, the wrong-headedness of this resolution is laid on the foundation that there should be beliefs free from criticism. The premise of the U.N. resolution is shut up and get along, which is the antithesis of freedom. Free societies are not utopias. There will always be tensions between conflicting ideas. There will always be those who are intentionally provocative or offensive. The individual human freedom that we are defending is precisely the freedom of those who annoy us most. Otherwise, we don’t have freedom; we have tyranny.


  1. Non-binding or not, words do have meaning. And Hitchens is right in opposing this measure, even if he wrongly supported the invasion of Iraq. It is perhaps more puzzling why this christian group is uniting with him in opposing it. After all, christians in this country cry victim all the time and somehow manage to paint themselves as persecuted even though their belief system dominate public thought and even influence how scientific evidence is presented in this country. When was the last time you watched a show on almost any scientific topic that did not allow for a christian perspective on the issue? Their claim to irreproachability goes pretty much unquestioned in this country.

    It’s laughable that the Muslim community try and propose such a measure considering the violations they commit toward women every day.

    Comment by Danette Baltzer — March 4, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

    •  Is this a way to get the U.N to back off if Iran nukes Israel?

      There are so many problems with the premise of this question. For one, it assumes that Iran, not Israel, is likely to be the first country to launch a nuclear strike against the other. Given that Israel is virtually assured to have nuclear weapons while it is doubtful that Iran has the same capacity, shows a certain bias in choosing likely future scenarios.

      Secondly, from researching the history of this particular resolution, it looks like it has been in the works for a number of years (2003-2004). This is consistent with it being a reaction to some of the rhetoric surrounding 9/11.

      Third, Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the non-proliferation treaty. Iran is a signatory to that treaty; Israel is not. I personally feel that the non-proliferation treaty needs to be updated; specifically, nuclear enrichment should be isolated and handled by a small international body. Predictably, that option is hardly ever discussed.

      As for Hitchens, the self-labeled, unapologetic neo-conservative, I think his arguments merit some consideration. But when he concludes:

      The thought buried in this awful, wooden prose is as ugly as the language in which it is expressed: Watch what you say, because our declared intention is to criminalize opinions that differ with the one true faith. Let nobody say that they have not been warned.

      It is laughable. Now, I understand it is tough to argue with the paranoid. Fear, particularly other people’s fear especially when they are smart and sincere, is something we are hardwired as a species to take seriously. However, in order to be sensible, we need to look at these people’s track records on such issues. Hitchens still thinks invading Iraq was a good idea, for a number of reasons, including considering Hussein a danger to the safety of the United States and his alleged ties to Al Qaeda.

      History doesn’t provide us with second chances. So, it is up to you and your conscience. Will you let someone who still unapologetically supports and cheered on the continuing tragedy of Iraq lead you onto his new cause? For me, any of Hitchens’ conclusions will have no credibility until he acknowledges his past failure, but I’m not holding my breath.

      Comment by codesmithy — March 5, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  2. One question that was proposed by one person I spoke to about this: Is this a way to get the U.N to back off if Iran nukes Israel? It’s worth thinking about. Meaningless proposals are generally NOT meaningless.

    Comment by Danette Baltzer — March 4, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

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