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More Stifling of Dissent (in Canada).--

At Judeoscope, a Canadian website, there is a story about a Canadian professor who has been ordered to remove the 12 cartoons from his office door:

Philosophy professor Peter March was ordered by the administration of St. Mary's University in Halifax, to take down cartoons from his office door. The cartoons in question are copies of the 12 Danish drawings of Mohammed manipulated by Muslim Brotherhood clerics and embattled regimes to whip up Muslim anger at the West and send infuriated Muslims on a path of death and destruction for the last few days.

The Canadian Press reports that "the administration told March to take down the cartoons because the space outside his door is considered a public place and caricatures are considered very disrespectful by many members of the Muslim community".

That these doors are considered "public space" will come as a novelty to anyone who's ever set foot in a university building; it has become a university tradition for professors to post on their office doors political cartoons dealing with the hot issues of the day or questions their research examinates. As to the question of disrespect, universities should not even go near there, if they want to remain, as they should, to uphold the principles of freedom of thought and free debate.

In response to this nonsense, Professor March argues he should be allowed to show the drawings to his students and added he would probably show them in his class on Thursday. "There's a great deal in my collective agreement that says that what I am doing, which is engaging public discussion using my skills as a philosopher, is part of my job description," he said. Indeed it is!

Judeoscope also reports that the student newspaper of another Canadian university, the University of Prince Edward Island, printed the cartoons, an offense that prompted the university administration there to "pull the paper out of circulation."

Marcus1 (mail) (www):
IMO, there are two consistent positions here: Either you were happy to see the Piss Christ and you're happy to see these cartoons, or you think the Piss Christ and these cartoons should neither have been published.

My feeling is that a lot of people were angry over the Piss Christ, but are taking pleasure in the these cartoons, which I think is hypocritical. There are certainly other hypocrisies as well, but I would guess they're not nearly as prevalent.
2.9.2006 7:10pm
Humble Law Student:
Marcus1,

Sorry, but there is a third option. I dislike both the Piss Christ and the cartoons. But, better or worse, individuals and the press should have the right to publish them. Now, that doesn't mean I won't lawfully protest against something that offends me, but they have every right to do it - just like I have every right to lawfully express my disapproval.
2.9.2006 7:12pm
Humble Law Student:
Is there anyone familiar with Canadian law that explain whether this professor's rights have been violated?
2.9.2006 7:14pm
Eric Muller (www):
How do we know that what the Canadian professor was doing was "dissenting?" What was he dissenting from? Perhaps he was actually trying to give offense? Or to stimulate debate? Those aren't the same thing as "dissenting."

I understand that one might defensibly maintain that a professor has as much right to give offense on his office door as he does to "dissent." (Is this true, incidentally? If I put centerfolds from Screw Magazine on my office door, could my dean ask me to take them down? How about if I put up racist caricatures of African Americans?)

I guess in the end I'm just questioning the caption of this post as the "stifling of dissent." It may be, but the linked story suggests that the philosophy prof in question was not so much "dissenting" from anything as he was trying to be provocative.

(Of course, now he has something to dissent from!)
2.9.2006 7:18pm
Humble Law Student:
Marcus,

Just to add. I think much of the anger emanating from the Western world against the Muslim reaction is the very nature of their response. They are only feeding into our own biases and impressions of them. The newspapers continued to publish the cartoons precisely because of the violent reaction. The newspapers in their own way were expressing their own disapproval of the Muslim reaction. If the Muslim world had reacted with restraint (read - how the West would have responded), the cartoons wouldn't have been republished. But precisely because of their extreme reaction, the West is saying a big "Screw You, We won't give in to your bullying"
2.9.2006 7:18pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
If I put centerfolds from Screw Magazine on my office door, could my dean ask me to take them down?

Quite possibly. The US Supreme Court, in the 1960s, held that the First Amendment does not protect obscenity (this was the decision in which Justice Stewart professed an inability to define obscenity but said that he knew it when he saw it).

How about if I put up racist caricatures of African Americans?

I dunno. There's some sort of "fighting words" exception, but, of course, we aren't dealing with words here.
2.9.2006 7:37pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Before some picayune chop-logic points it out, I was, in fact, answering the questions "does an order to remove the centerfolds or racist caricatures violate my First Amendment rights", not "could my dean ask me to take them down"? The dean can always ask, whether an order would violate First Amendment rights or not.
2.9.2006 7:45pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
The Turbanbomb cartoon is quite tame compared to "South Park" with its depiction of Saddam and Satan as gay lovers and Jesus hosting a cable access show.
2.9.2006 7:59pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Humble Law Student,

Well, I probably should have been more specific. I think your position, though, is that they shouldn't have been published. You simply don't make that your focus, and instead focus on the legality of their right to publish.

My criticism was simply of those who are legitimately taking pleasure in the publication of these cartoons, while maintaining that insults of Christianity are inappropriate. I think there are many of those, not that they include you or Jim Lindgren.

>But precisely because of their extreme reaction, the West is saying a big "Screw You, We won't give in to your bullying"<

And how is that justified? We don't like the way some Muslims are behaving, so we're going to insult Islam generally, in a way that we recognize is normally inappropriate?

I'm not saying I wouldn't do it, but I am saying that most conservative Christians don't seem to like those kinds of attacks on Christianity.
2.9.2006 8:24pm
cirby (mail):
I wonder if the South Park movie has ever been shown at that particular university...
2.9.2006 8:39pm
Broncos:
Tangential question: Does anyone know where I can find an english translation of the editorial/article context in which the cartoons were published? I found a short excerpt on wikipedia, but I can't find the entire thing.

I think the meaning of the turban cartoon is ambiguous. In the U.S., where major public figures continually state that their opposition is to fringe Muslim radicals who are violent, and not to mainstream Muslims, I would assume that the cartoons satirize the violent vision of Mohammad advocated by extremist clerics. However, in a different context (e.g. a truly Islamophobic context) the cartoon may convey that Islam is a violent religion. The former meaning, though offensive, should not be deplored. The latter should be.

Because Denmark is known as a tolerant society, not a hotbed of prejudice, I just assumed that the cartoons satirized violent Islamic beliefs. However, I've recently read about some disturbing things about the newspaper that published them. In any case, I'm looking for an english translation of the editorial context.
2.9.2006 8:41pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
It's been suggested, though I forget where, that the cartoons were published by a right-winger who just wanted to start a ruckus. It's also been suggested that the publisher had previously refused to publish anti-Christian cartoons. I don't know if either is confirmed.
2.9.2006 9:47pm
Scott4:
If I might add slightly to the conversation with regards to piss christ--I think so many people were (myself included) disgusted that the _government_ was funding such art (and yes, despite misgivings I call it art). Do you think anyone would have heard about piss christ had it been privately made, privately shown? I doubt it.

Likewise, I could be wrong, but I don't remember people deaths and worldwide violent protests, burnings of embassies and the like over piss christ (or, I forget the name--the madonna crafted out of fesces--wonder how THAT would go over in much of the Islamic world?)
2.9.2006 10:06pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Eric Muller,

I hope that all is well with you. We haven't talked in a while, but I spoke earlier tonight with one of your UNC colleagues (our mutual friend Bill).

I chose the caption/headline ("More Stifling of Dissent (in Canada)") as a direct reference -- or homage -- to one of Glenn Reynolds' most often used captions/headlines. As in most of Reynolds' uses, it is used to refer to attempts to stifle speech that are not caused by the usual suspects, George Bush or John Ashcroft.

Before using the title, I did very briefly consider whether it fit this situation well enough to use. I concluded that it did, though you are free to disagree. The press in Canada has been even more reluctant than the press in the US to reprint the cartoons. Thus, I viewed the posting of the cartoons as an act dissenting from the prevailing orthodoxy. Whether the motive was to offend or to stimulate debate does not change its character IMO from its description as an act of dissent.

I'm sure that I'm not speaking for the other Volokh conspirators, but I personally refrained from posting any of the 12 cartoons because they are offensive to some and I didn't see a good enough reason for doing so. The only related photo I've posted so far is one of the 3 additional "cartoons," which was NOT a depiction of Muhammad, but rather an altered photo of a man from a pig-squealing contest. (I have considered posting another of the three extra "cartoons" that never ran in the Danish newspaper because of suspicions that it is a hoax as well, but I haven't yet decided whether to post about this other cartoon, or whether to include the picture if I do.)

I am not setting up the professor as an exemplary person. He may well be a less than savory character. Indeed, I find much dissent these days offensive and ungrounded.
2.10.2006 12:33am
Passing By:
This is rather silly. If the cartoons at issue were anti-conservative, and they were allowed to remain in place, we would no doubt be reading a post on this very blog about how they demonstrate bias in liberal academia. If they were even half as offensive toward Judaism as they are toward Islam and were allowed to remain in place, Prof. Bernstein (and perhaps others among the conspirators) would excoriate the anti-Semite who posted them and let them remain. But make it anti-Islam, and suddenly you embrace it as free speech?
2.10.2006 3:25am
JGR (mail):
"This is rather silly. If the cartoons at issue were anti-conservative, and they were allowed to remain in place, we would no doubt be reading a post on this very blog about how they demonstrate bias in liberal academia."

1)When I was in college in the late 80s, almost every professor whose office I had reason to visit had an anti-conservative display of some sort. I seriously doubt we read about all of them at the Volokh Conspiracy.
2) If a post were written on this blog about an anti-conservative cartoon demonstrating bias in liberal academia, it would be an accurate statement assuming that it wasn't one of the small number of non-liberal universities. This statement is predicated not simply on the nature of the cartoon, but a wider prior knowledge of the university. The Islamic cartoon almost certainly does not represent an anti-Islamic bias at the university, because most of the professors are probably not anti-Islamic, and this would be true regardless of one's view of the cartoon.
3) Whether or not we would be reading the hypothetical post above, I am certain that we would not be reading a post demanding that they be removed because they were anti-conservative. We are reading the current post because it WAS demanded that the cartoons be taken down.

"If they were even half as offensive toward Judaism as they are toward Islam and were allowed to remain in place, Prof. Bernstein (and perhaps others among the conspirators) would excoriate the anti-Semite who posted them and let them remain."
I think this is comparing apples to aardvarks. If certain Jews started killing and threatening people in large numbers in protest to cartoons, I feel certain that not only would all of the bloggers here support the right to publish such cartoons; I suspect that many would post them themselves.
As Thomas Sowell said, "All things are the same, except for the differences, and different except for the similarities."
2.10.2006 5:34am
Passing By:
That was supposed to be a rebuttal?
2.10.2006 7:25am
JGR (mail):
"That was supposed to be a rebuttal?"

If you're asking about the quote from Sowell, then no - The previous paragraphs were the rebuttal. The quotation, standing alone, conveys information only at a high level of abstraction. The preceding paragraphs were the abstraction's reification.
2.10.2006 7:43am
Eric Muller (www):
Hiya Jim,

I caught the "homage" to Glenn Reynolds in your post's title. In fact, I think that's part of what led me to post my query about whether this is in fact "dissent."

On reflection, I think that what I'm exploring here in my own mind is something about a particular type of blogging.

It's a common thing in the blogosphere generally--and here at the VC particularly--for bloggers to post (and quote from) a news item without adding their own editorial comment. Often readers infer something about the viewpoint of the blogger from the simple fact of his having selected and posted that particular item, even in the absence of any sort of direct editorial statement from the blogger. They leave comments challenging that presumed viewpoint. And then the blogger says, "hey, wait a second, why are you assuming something about what I think of the merits of the issue? I merely found the story "interesting" and passed it along to readers. Don't presume to know and challenge what you imagine are my views on the merits."

What's interesting to me about what you did here was that you mostly just "passed the story along" without editorial comment ... but your choice of title for the post tipped your hand and revealed not only that you found the story "interesting," but that you champion on the merits the position of the professor in the story to which you linked.

Incidentally, I'm not at all criticizing or condemning what you did; I'm just taking it as an opportunity to think a little bit (out loud) about some of the subtleties of expression in this new-ish medium. The semiotics of blogging, I guess it is.
2.10.2006 9:37am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Scott4,

No, Americans wouldn't protest in the same way you're right. But may Americans would be very angry, and would certainly cry foul.

So if your claim is that there are many in the Muslim world who aren't responding reasonably, I agree. Nevertheless, if you thought the Piss Christ was a terrible thing, then you should probably think the same about these cartoons.

The public funding doesn't change much. Obviously the government didn't seek out something blasphemous to fund. It happened to be one of many things. Maybe you think the government shouldn't fund art at all, but when it does, you must recognize that it doesn't then endorse the views of everything that is funded. And even if you disagree with that, you can't say that it is completely crazy that it would take that position.

If the New York Times started running cartoons about how the Virgin Birth is a hoax, I think many Christians would be very offended, and would in fact protest, if not violently on the streets. Even if the New York Times is privately owned.
2.10.2006 4:04pm
Mark F. (mail):
I'm a free speech absolutist, but that does not mean we can't criticize people posting and publishing offensive and provocative cartoons. The Danish publisher and this professor are both jackasses.
2.10.2006 4:35pm
Scott4:
Marcus1,

Well, first off, I DO take the view that the government shouldn't be funding art.

Secondly, with all due respect, I completely disagree that public funding wasn't at issue with the Piss Christ. If I don't like something the NYT/anyone else publishes, I don't have to buy it or read it. Last time I checked, I don't have the option of withdrawing my funding for the government.

Hackneyed and trite though it may be, whatever happened to the saw that I may not like what you say, but I'll defend your right to say it?
2.11.2006 12:29am
Kev (mail) (www):
>But precisely because of their extreme reaction, the West is saying a big "Screw You, We won't give in to your bullying"

And how is that justified? We don't like the way some Muslims are behaving, so we're going to insult Islam generally, in a way that we recognize is normally inappropriate?


I don't think the "screw you" in question was aimed at Islam as a whole, but rather to the extreme practitioners thereof who 1) blow up embassies because they're offended by some cartoons, and 2) try to dictate the parameters of acceptable speech to non-Muslims in non-Muslim nations.

That's what this is all about, when you get down to it: Extremists in a particular religion have decided that they get to make rules governing the conduct of people who don't even practice that religion, and many people around the world won't submit to that.
2.11.2006 1:13am