Thursday, May 28, 2009

Unsubtle Censorship

In my last post, I offered the opinion that stacking the deck, as much as it may conceal certain points of view, can't be categorized as actually censoring those points of view.

This, on the other hand, is a story about a man who called for true censorship.

A leading candidate to be the next director general of UNESCO — the acronym is worth spelling out here: the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — has called for burning Israeli books.

As the BBC recounts,

Opponents of Mr Hosny's candidature have cited his response to a question in parliament in May 2008 from an opposition MP about whether Israeli books were held by the new library in Alexandria.

He said: "Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you."

Hosny, perhaps concerned that wanting to burn books might not be the ideal qualification for heading the UN's culture and education center that acts as a "clearinghouse ... for the dissemination and sharing of information and knowledge," has recently apologized for his remarks. (He apparently hasn't apologized for saying that "Israeli culture is an inhumane culture; it is an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture based on one simple principle: steal what does not belong to in order to then claim its appropriation.")

Apology notwithstanding, book burning is, of course, censorship of the worst kind. To read MuzzleWatch's critique of Hosny's remarks, click here. (No really... click it. Otherwise the joke doesn't make sense.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Subtle Censorship?

I blogged earlier about UCSB professor William I. Robinson, who sent his students an email essentially saying the Israelis are the same as the Nazis. MuzzleWatch, if you recall, urged its readers to express support for the professor.

Here's a bit more on that.

A group at UCSB organized a panel to support Robinson, whose adherence to the school's ethics code is apparently being investigated by the school's Academic Senate. All of the panelists were united in opposing any investigation of the professor.

Here's what one Nobel Prize-winning UCSB professor said of this uniformity of opinions:

“It’s unfortunate that the constitution of the panel was one-sided,” [Walter] Kohn said. “I was wondering how four highly intelligent people who knew that they all had very similar viewpoints didn’t feel embarrassed to be up there without anyone from the other side of the argument.”

According to another observer,

All four panelists at the rally — sorry, “forum” — asserted that academic freedom requires the testing of ideas through dialog and intellectual exploration, yet there was little room for dialog or honest exploration on Thursday night. All four speakers agreed that academic freedom requires critical analysis of complex situations, but their talks were, for the most part, highly polemical. It is telling that they never once challenged or disagreed with one another on any point.

Valid points. But do I think this contrived, one-sided forum constitutes subtle censorship, as my headline might suggest? Not really. It is what it is: A one-sided panel meant not to challenge the audience by forcing them to weigh varying opinions, but to sway the audience to a particular point of view. It's certainly not academic freedom at its finest, but I'm sure all sides of all controversies sometimes do this.

I can only wonder, though, if this forum is the type of thing that MuzzleWatch, with their oversized and overactive "Muzzle" stamp, would label as a form of censorship if the panelists were all of the opposite point of view.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The True Story of Man Discovers MuzzleWatch

The man described in the title of this post isn't me. It's Jon Haber, of Divest This!, who this past weekend shared his story on the Solominia blog.

An excerpt follows, but be sure to read the whole well-written piece here.

In my curiosity to discover how such a demonstrably false thesis (that discussion of Israel, the subject of perpetual high-volume attack on campus after campus, was somehow fearfully repressed) could be taken as gospel, I stumbled on a new Website/blog dedicated to perpetuating this accusation, a site called Muzzlewatch. And because my curiosity had gotten the better of me, I chose to do something I had not done in over a decade: participate in online debate on the site's comment section.

It's not that debate can't be fun (anyone else out there remember the Wild West days of Usenet?), but on highly trafficked sites with active forums, I've generally discovered that it takes about 25 comments before debate tends to "gravitate towards the meme" (i.e., degenerate to the lowest common denominator, normally a stale, un-listening slinging of accusations broken down along party lines). Still, the desire to get to the bottom of this conundrum overwhelmed me and in I jumped.

The first thing that needed to be pointed out (and still does) is that Muzzlewatch is a project of an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that (among other things) became very agitated when a different group of politically organized Boston citizens began criticizing the construction of a huge mosque in the region. To show their disapproval, JVP signed onto a lawsuit by the mosque as a friend of the court which attacked the Boston activists (as well as local media) for the scrutiny they were giving the mosque project. So my first question was why a group dedicated to using state power (i.e., the courts) to stifle public discourse about which JVP disagreed had chosen to project its own censorship agenda onto its critics.

It would be a while before the creators of Muzzlewatch got around to responding to my questions (and only then because I refused to stop asking them). In the meantime, I had several weeks to discover what Muzzlewatch had in mind when they claimed their point of view was routinely stifled or censored.

The thing was, in posting after posting (sometimes several a day), the creators of the Muzzlewatch site never managed to provide a single actual example of their opinion being shut down in the way they had tried to shut down debate about the Boston mosque.

Friday, May 1, 2009

MuzzleWatch's Holocaust Hypocrisy

It's right there on the front page of the MuzzleWatch website, for all to see. One post "shames" someone who dared to point out the fact that a Palestinian leader was closely allied with the Nazis. And another, posted just a few days later, rushes to the defense of someone who distributed images suggesting that the Israelis are the same as the Nazis.

No rhyme. No reason. Just plain old hypocrisy.

Below is an image (click it to enlarge) from MuzzleWatch's April 26 posting. It attacks Alan Dershowitz because he referenced the very real collaboration and mutual admiration between Palestinian leader Haj Amin al Husseini and the Nazis. Thus, they protest, Dershowitz made a "shameful association of Palestinians with Nazis."

(It is indeed shameful that there was an association of Palestinians with Nazis; but it was Husseini who opted for that association, not Dershowitz. But I digress.)

Now look at the the April 30 posting by MuzzleWatch. In that entry, they urge their readers to "express support for Sociology and Global Studies Professor William I. Robinson."

William I. Robinson is the UCSB professor who, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "sent [an email] message -- titled 'parallel images of Nazis and Israelis' -- to the 80 students in his sociology of globalization class."

That grotesque image meant to suggest that Israel's operation against Hamas in Gaza was no different than the Nazi genocide against Europe's Jews. In case his students didn't understand, the professor told them: "Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."

(The genocide is soooo slow motion, that it's actually moving in reverse rather than forward. Palestinian population growth, after all, is booming. But I digress.)

Here's a bit of what MuzzleWatch has to say on the Robinson affair (click the image to enlarge):

Got it? If you refer to Haj Amin al Husseini's Nazi links, then you deserve shame.If you tell your class that Israelis are doing to the Palestinians just what the Nazis did to the Jews, genocide and all, then you deserve support. (A link!)