Monday, October 3

Muslims convicted of disrupting Israeli envoy's speech

First the story, Son.

Ten Muslim students have been convicted of unlawfully disrupting a speech last year by Israel's ambassador to the US.

They shouted prepared statements at Michael Oren in February 2010, defying calls for order from officials at the University of California, Irvine.

The students' lawyers say they had a right to protest, but prosecutors said it curbed Mr Oren's right to be heard.

The 10 could face up to six months in jail, in a case that has sparked a heated debate about free speech.

The students stood up one by one, shouting slogans such as: "It's a shame this university has sponsored a mass murderer like yourself."

Their supporters say the case has unfairly criminalised student protest.

About 150 people attended Friday's hearing at Orange County Superior Court.

Some of them were visibly upset when the verdict was delivered, reports the Associated Press news agency.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the university, believed the conviction was heavy-handed.

Shakeel Syed, of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, said it was "yet another reaffirmation that Islamophobia is intensely and extensively alive and thriving in Orange County".

As you know, I am firmly in favour of free speech. An absolutist as a matter of fact. Freedom of speech has to be sacrosanct till it impinges on some other rights or somebody else’s rights. And the default should be to allow freedom of speech, as much as it offends and bothers people. So what do you do in this case? The Muslim students are claiming that they have freedom of speech to curtail somebody else’s freedom of speech. As you can appreciate, this logic does not work. You cannot use your freedom of speech to curtail somebody else’s freedom of speech. One can quibble over the sentence but generally, this is what i firmly believe, you cannot stop anybody else from speaking.

As for Shakeel Syed, he is talking out of his backside, he is confusing freedom of speech and liberal thought with islamophobia but usually you will find that Islamists institutions absolutely hate freedom of speech, after all, their entire philosophy rests on just their interpretation of life, world, truth and religion. So the best things to do is to ignore these idiots.

But I was reminded of the joke, a man kills his parents and then begs for mercy claiming to be an orphan. Interesting dilemma, eh?

Incidentally, check out this news story about freedom of speech.

The pains taken by the education secretary Michael Gove to conceal email exchanges from his civil servants, and from discovery under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, illuminates a cross-party consensus among senior politicians that the law is asinine. Tony Blair, the former prime minister, famously berates himself in his memoirs for being a “naïve, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop” in bringing in the Act:. In a Guardian interview, he argued, less vividly, that “if you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations ... And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious. That’s why it’s not a sensible thing.”

Mr. Gove and his advisers agreed: one of these advisers, Dominic Cummings, wrote that he would no longer answer messages through his official departmental account, but only from Gmail accounts held by people known to him – for reasons, he writes, “I can explain in person”. The reason is no mystery: once discovered through FoI requests, or leaked, thinking of the blue-sky kind can, as Mr.Blair writes, “be highlighted in particular ways”.

In this past year (or so) of living transparently, that which has been esteemed by journalists, campaigners and many academics as a good – greater openness of government, corporations and institutions – seems to have reached some kind of limit. One has been the limit of the law: the News of the World’s efforts to discover ever-more intimate secrets of their journalistic subjects have led to a civil and a police inquiry into how pervasive the practice was – with testimony that it was far more common than a few “rotten apples” at the Sunday tabloid.

A second has been the limits of government secrecy, dramatised by last year’s release by the WikiLeaks website of hundreds of thousands of US files relating to Iraq and Afghanistan, and drawn from the confidential cables of US diplomats. This has seen discussion on how to make such material at once more secure and less extensive: the scholar and former Department of Defense assistant secretary Joe Nye wrote in the FT in March that “we should learn from more advanced approaches, in banks and other companies, to develop systems that classify less and protect data better. Better procedures should also be developed for dealing with things that are likely to be leaked, and how in turn this relates to our laws and to principles we are trying to establish for the internet…”

More recently, the fear many had of WikiLeaks’s actions – that diplomatic sources, speaking in what they thought to be secure confidence, would be at risk – has been realised. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange released the entire trove of cables earlier this month: already, arrests of suspected sources in authoritarian states are reported. The newspapers that published redacted cables culled from the WikiLeaks store last year – The Guardian, Le Monde, the New York Times, El País and Der Spiegel – issued a statement saying they could not defend “the needless publication” of the complete data and were “united in condemning it”.

Now, the workings of FoI are at issue: and while the damage of phone hacking and WikiLeaks are easy to see and condemn, this one is harder – depending as it does on the public’s right to know, and the concept of the public interest – both at the heart of the democratic mission of good journalism.

Probably the first to properly articulate the right of citizens to see the documents of their state was the 18th century Finnish/Swedish polymath, Peter Forsskål, whose Thoughts on Civil Liberty (1759) claimed that it was “an important right in a free society to be freely allowed to contribute to society’s well being. However, if that is to occur, it must be possible for society’s state of affairs to become known to everyone, and it must be possible for everyone to speak his mind freely about it. Where this is lacking, liberty is not worth its name”. This became ingrained into Swedish law and practice, and in recent decades, its spirit became a general one in the democratic world. Indeed, it was Mr Blair’s view when leader of the opposition: he once spoke in Forsskål’s vein, arguing that “The very fact of its (FoI’s) introduction will signal a new relationship between government and people: a relationship which sees the public as legitimate stakeholders in the running of the country...”

He – and Mr Gove, a former journalist – learned the limits, from a cabinet room acutely conscious of the unwelcome transparency of its words and deeds. Yet government passed the law, and must live with it: to flout it, as may have occurred in the Department of Education, is to render law nugatory when inconvenient.

There is much evidence – including from Sweden – that governments cope with laws on transparency by circumventing them, keeping frank discussion off paper or the screen, and recording only that scrubbed of potential embarrassment. If this is so, and the law deprives citizens of efficient government, then it must be confronted, argued through and a consensus gained for change. Until then, the burden of proof is with those who deplore it – to show that, in Forsskål’s phrase, liberty is worth its name if a defined set of inner government conversations remain for their eyes only.

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