Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dworkin on Cartoons and Holocaust Denial

Just recently Ronald Dworkin has spoken out about the cartoons that caused such a furry in the Muslim world. The following is the excerpt from his comment "Even bigots and Holocaust deniers must have their say" for the English newspaper The Guardian:

"The British media were right, on balance, not to republish the Danish cartoons that millions of furious Muslims protested against in violent and terrible destruction around the world. Reprinting would very likely have meant more people killed and more property destroyed. It would have caused many British Muslims great pain because they would have been told that the publication was intended to show contempt for their religion, and though that perception would have been inaccurate and unjustified the pain would nevertheless have been genuine. True, readers and viewers who have been following the story might well have wanted to judge the cartoons' impact, humour and offensiveness for themselves, and the media might therefore have felt some responsibility to provide that opportunity. But the public does not have a right to read or see whatever it wants no matter what the cost..." (Full Article is available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1709372,00.html)

Whatever you think of Dworkin in general and of this comment in particular you have to confess that he is making important and thought provoking points. I think I could go with him on his point about the Holocaust denial issue - especially in the light of the present bizzare case where an obscure English historian was convicted to 3 years imprisonment for the holocaust denial 16 years ago. The harm of this speech, in my view, is certainly not so great that a well ordered constitutional society could not fight against without oppressive means, i.e. by mere counter speech.

Finally, especially the ever silent intelligence of this blog is particularly invited to comment on this issue.

4 Comments:

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Miha Movrin said...

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At 11:07 PM, Blogger Miha Movrin said...

Thnx for great article. The best are of course the most controversial.

It seems Cartoon scandal is one hard case, that not even judge Hercules can resolve. It is quite interesting how paradoxical becomes Dworkin, when faced with condradictions that stem from his own relativistic "Weltanschauung". According to Dworkin, the Danish cartoons should not be published, but at the same time, even bigots and Holocaust deniers should have their say. Balancing, of course is typical element of adjudication, but here Dworkin goes beyond that: once more he is a good disciple or better nestor of modern liberal thought - free speech is for him is very near to becoming an absolute. This is far from Cardozo's classical doctrine.

One cannot but agree with Dworkin’s statement that religion must be tailored to democracy, not the other way around. Truer words have never been spoken. But why then European society must be tailored to "religion of liberalism" in which the first commandment is that religious language and religious symbols have no place in the public arena? That is the situation in traditionally secular Europe. Religious symbols are now, as Cartoon controversy have shown us, extinct even from European public conscience.

According to Dworkin’s purely procedural rationale minorities must be willing to tolerate whatever insults or ridicule people who oppose, let’s say legislation against discrimination, wish to offer to their fellow voters, because only a community that permits such insult may legitimately adopt such laws. Despite this argument, it is still not by any means clear why one part of society should be absolutely eliminated from public debate, simply because it’s language is considered as a language which is not understood. In this manner Dworkin has to allow that rights (of religious citizens) are trumped by his liberal policies. In my opinion here we can witness dictatorship of relativism at its best (and brightest).

On the contrary the postsecular society in which in my opinion we have allready entered, demands liberal worldview gets a new suit,one really tailored to democracy. That means citizens who are religiously "unmusikalisch" if I'm allowed to use lovely Habermas' term, are not entiteld to any advantage compared to the religious citizens. Their convictions are not self-evidently convictions of society as a whole. Even more, they have to make every effort to translate religious language into rational discourse. The same goes for religious citizens: they have to respect the rules of the game in the free democratic society.

 
At 10:17 AM, Blogger Miha Movrin said...

In defence of Holocaust denial laws:

The crucial here I think is context. The denial of holocaust, as blatantly absurd as it seems, have always been closely connected with far right groups especially those inclined toward violence. Thus when David Irving, far from being an "obscure English historian", a sort of a world wide nazi-icon, almost a celebrity, "teaches his twisted speech to the young beleivers," his message is really not a mere historical assessment of Holocaust, but is much more a subtle effort of a hate monger inciting anti jewish crowds. Such activities have no place in a free democratic society.

Furthermore , Irving repeatedly insisted that Adolf Hitler knew nothing about the systematic slaughter of six million Jews, and reportedly said there was "not one shred of evidence" that the Nazis carried out their Final Solution on such a scale. Irving has also faced allegations of spreading anti-Semitic and racist ideas.

From this point of view Holocaust denial law is not a "compromise of democratic legitimacy", as Dworkin suggests but a justified legislative restriction necessary in a free democratic society.

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Matej Avbelj said...

I think Dworkin would completely agree with the following:

"On the contrary the postsecular society in which in my opinion we have allready entered, demands liberal worldview gets a new suit,one really tailored to democracy. That means citizens who are religiously "unmusikalisch" if I'm allowed to use lovely Habermas' term, are not entiteld to any advantage compared to the religious citizens. Their convictions are not self-evidently convictions of society as a whole. Even more, they have to make every effort to translate religious language into rational discourse. The same goes for religious citizens: they have to respect the rules of the game in the free democratic society."

This citation is namely a direct paraphrase of Rawls' "Public reason", which forms the basis of the political liberalism. And that is what Dworkin is.

I think that Dworkin, as all of us, is torn between two dilemmas: either to ban some forms of speech ab initio, or to allow these forms of speech which might finally lead to the practice of cross-religious insults and hatred. None of the above is what political liberalism based either on justice as fairness or on integrity would desire. Therefore this really is a hard case and the Brits solved it with a great wisdom, I would say.

Finally and having just said that, I would not claim that Dworkin's view is relativist. To the contrary, he just wants to ensure equal citizenship in the society. Banning cartoons because they insult muslims, would in effect mean banning the entire specter of speech from the public domain, from the political. Muslim Weltanschaung would be imposed on all the other free and equal citizens. The same goes for Holocaust denial.

Of course, a context is here a crucial word. Political liberalism can namely work differently in different contexts, because it does not provide for a specific conception of justice, but only for the framework in which various conceptions of justice might be applicable.

Hence, if society was gravely tested in the past by some incomprehensible devastation of humanity - such as the case of Holocaust was - it might decide to ban Holocaust denial speech.

However, this would, of course, encroach on the equality and freedom of all the citizens. No one would deny that, I think.

The times, they are changing. My argument was: if incrimination of Holocaust denial was still a proportional constraint on free and equal citizens within a politically liberal society 50,40,30 years ago, it is certainly not necessary and proper at the present times. We are well ordered democratic societies which do not need to ban some type of speech, but rather we can refute it by the same democratic means, yet with a greater wisdom and justice in our hearts and minds. I am convinced that there is no need to wonder about who will finally prevail and who will be thrown in the oblivion of history.

 

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