Monday, November 26, 2012

The Female Marine Officer vs. the One True Feminists, or Censoring Elizabeth Moon

When WisCon announced that Elizabeth Moon would be one of its two Guests of Honor for 2011's WisCon 35, she seemed a fine choice. As the blogger Army Sergeant noted in "In Defense of Elizabeth Moon":
Elizabeth Moon is a pretty extraordinary woman. She made the decision to join the Marine Corps as an officer during the Vietnam War, at a time many men were unwilling to. She is the child of a single parent, and an utterly self-made woman with multiple college degrees. She is also the mother of an autistic child and has done some pretty impressive advocating for disabled children. She writes some great Military Science Fiction books, with strong female characters-because she knows from experience that women can be a lot of pretty amazing things. Moon exemplifies in many ways what I think of as feminism-that any woman can and should have the ability to be whatever she wants to be, from serving her country to being a mother-tigress.
But in October of 2010, SF3, the educational non-profit group that runs WisCon, announced "SF3 has withdrawn the invitation to Elizabeth Moon to attend WisCon 35 as guest of honor."

1. What happened

Moon wrote a September 11 LiveJournal post titled "Citizenship" criticizing Muslims and opposing the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan which conservatives mislabeled the Ground Zero Mosque. This paragraph drew most criticism:
I can easily imagine how Muslims would react to my excusing the Crusades on the basis of Islamic aggression from 600 to 1000 C.E….(for instance, excusing the building of a church on the site of a mosque in Cordoba after the Reconquista by reminding them of the mosque built on the site of an important early Christian church in Antioch.) So I don’t give that lecture to the innocent Muslims I come in contact with. I would appreciate the same courtesy in return (and don’t get it.) The same with other points of Islam that I find appalling (especially as a free woman) and totally against those basic principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution…I feel that I personally (and many others) lean over backwards to put up with these things, to let Muslims believe stuff that unfits them for citizenship, on the grounds of their personal freedom.
I was among the first to criticize. I noted:
Freedom of religion should include the freedom to build a community center near a strip joint.

Seriously, blaming Islam for Al Qaeda is like blaming Christianity for the Ku Klux Klan or Judaism for the Stern Gang. If the site of the World Trade Center is now "sacred ground," it's sacred to every religion, because people of every religion died there. That's especially true for Islam: there was a mosque on the 17th floor of the WTC.

This is the nation created by Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Have we stopped fighting for the freedom for everyone to worship as they choose?
She replied:
Nothing I wrote suggested that people should not worship as they choose (so long as their arm doesn't reach someone else's nose.)
I said:
I'm a big fan of the principle you mention in parentheses.

 But that's why I think they should build the cultural center there, and if they wanted to build a full-scale mosque, they should build that there. It's not even within sight of the WTC. No one's nose is affected
In a comment to someone else, I added:
If any religious group owns land anywhere in the USA, they should be free to build on it. Trying to limit their First Amendment right in any way is both bigotry and un-American.
I wanted to be precise, but I regret that now. Words like bigotry end discourse by making people hear only the insult, something I should've learned from the SJWs' example.

When Moon rejected my characterization, I said:
Here's why you sound like a bigot: you talk about Muslims in general wanting what only fundamentalist Muslims want, and then you are careful to say that only fundamentalist Christians want the same things. I'll add fundamentalist Jews, just to be thorough, like the ones who burn Bibles. 

That's something that few muslims do, because the Qur'an teaches respect for Judaism and Christianity. Alas, there's no similar explicit command to respect other religions in the Bible. 

Here's what I think many people like you fail to understand: people come to the US because they know and love the values of the US. When they get here, yes, some of them discover that there are Americans who will limit where they may build religious centers. But most Muslims, like most Christians and Jews, appreciate our national commitment to freedom. When they're frustrated, it's because they want more freedom, not less. 

Like the freedom to build a religious center wherever it's legal to build religious centers.
She replied:
Go build a church or synagogue in Mecca or Medina.

What's the Sharia laws where it concerns Dhimmi? Are they allowed to marry muslims? Are Muslim women allowed to marry Dhimmi men? Are you familiar with the term? What if you're not Dhimmi? What if you're a pagan? Or an Animist or an Atheist in an Islamic county with sharia as it's laws? What's your social status then?

Sharia as anything other than voluntary contract rules is anathema to the constitution of the United States and the guaranteed rights of the citizens of the United States.
I said:
Saudi Arabia, land of George Bush's buddies, is run by Wahhabbists, who in the eyes of many muslims (and me), have perverted Islam. They certainly don't understand the Qur'an's explicit statement, "There is no compunction in religion."

As for the rules about dhimmi and others, that depends on the state. For the record, I don't like state religions of any sort. Having states screws up perfectly good religions.

We agree on your last sentence.
If I was writing an essay about the people who fear Islam, I would quote more of our discussion, and recommend "Muslims Condemn Terrorist Attacks" and point out this bit from "Muslim Victims of 9/11 Attack": "Among the many victims of 9/11 were several dozen innocent Muslims, ranging in age from their late 60s to a couple’s unborn child. Six of these victims were Muslim women, including one who was 7 months pregnant. Many were stockbrokers or restaurant workers, earning a living to care for their families. There were converts and immigrants, hailing from over a dozen different countries and the U.S. There were heroes: a NYPD cadet and a Marriott hotel worker, who sacrificed their lives attempting to rescue others. The Muslim victims were parents to over 30 children, who were left orphaned without one or both of their parents."

But my subject isn't Moon's misunderstanding of Islam. Being human means having prejudices. Her statement of hers did not limit anyone's freedom.

My subject is the SJW response to her words.

Which was all about limiting freedom.

2. A sad day in the commons: on the suppression of error at NPR and WisCon

Moon let the comments run for several days, then shut them down when the flames wouldn't die on their own. The firestorm blazed through the Warriorverse in usual ways. People called for boycotting Moon's books, though not a word in them had changed since she wrote "Citizenship." People vowed they would not attend WisCon if Moon was one of its guests, even though no one could imagine Nisi Shawl, the other Guest of Honor, having any prejudice against Muslims—if I thought like a social justice warrior, I would cite this as proof of sjw racism: they concentrated on the white guest and ignored the black one.

For a month, WisCon held private discussions with Moon about the issue.

Then, on October 21, National Public Radio fired Juan Williams after he mentioned on the air that he got nervous when he was on airplanes with people dressed like muslims, and WisCon withdrew its invitation to Elizabeth Moon.

That day, I wrote: I disagree vehemently with Islamophobes. But the greater wrong has been done by those who are punishing them for saying what they believe. I'm rarely a binarian, but on this, I'm comfortable with a simple division: There are those who support free speech and those who silence others.

Frederick Douglass said, "To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker."

John Stuart Mill said, "The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

I'll add this to Mill's point: when you suppress speech, the issue changes from their ideas to your suppression.

The danger to free speech comes whenever people forget that ends and means are the same. That happens on the left and the right:

Frank Hague said, "We hear about constitutional rights, free speech and the free press. Every time I hear those words I say to myself, That man is a Red, that man is a Communist. You never heard a real American talk in that manner."

Vladimir Lenin said, "When one makes a Revolution, one cannot mark time; one must always go forward -- or go back. He who now talks about the freedom of the press goes backward, and halts our headlong course towards Socialism."

Americans have a troubled relationship with free speech. Alexis De Tocqueville noted, "In America the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within these barriers an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them."

At NPR and WisCon, the majority raised its barriers.

Capitalists talk about the "marketplace of ideas" because they think everything is for sale. I don't think speech should be for sale, so when I'm feeling pretentious, I talk about the agora of ideas, but really, we're just talking about the intellectual commons, the realm of ideas that belongs to all of us. If we can't agree to disagree, we can never hope to coexist. We can only hope to conquer, and I want no part of a world where ideas, no matter how much I love them, are imposed by force.

3. uninviting a speaker is censorship: Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, ACLU, and more

The supporters of uninviting Elizabeth Moon from Wiscon claimed it's not censorship. In "Marginalizing vs. Silencing -- My hopefully final thoughts on the WisCon/Moon fiasco", Saladin Ahmed said "It's not censorship or silencing - it's marginalizing." K. Tempest Bradford asked in You People Are Out Of Your Goddamned Minds, "You people do not even understand what censorship means, do you?"

Wondering if they could have a point, I googled. Random House says a censor is "any person who supervises the manners or morality of others." Wikipedia is at the intersection of authority and usage; it says, "Censorship is the suppression of speech or other communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body."

Looking for usage brought me to "Clark University President John Basset Cancels Norman G. Finkelstein", which includes a response from the ACLU. Some bits:
...the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.

...Nor may complaints from those disturbed by Finkelstein’s writings about the post-Holocaust “industry” justify a decision to prevent the lecture from taking place. Indeed, even if demonstrators came to protest against Finkelstein’s views, the obligation of a university is to protect the spaeker’s right to be heard and prevent disruption of the speech by others. By censoring speech because of complaints about offensiveness or the controversial nature of the speaker, the university has essentially allowed what the courts call a “heckler’s veto” over what speech can be heard.
The writer quotes the president of Tufts University, which, like Clark, is a private school:
While Tufts is a private institution and not technically bound by First Amendment guarantees, it is my intention to govern as President as if we were. To put it another way, I believe that students, faculty, and staff should enjoy the same rights to freedom of expression at Tufts as they would if they attended or worked at a public university….During the McCarthy era, a number of university presidents in the United States failed to defend the principle of expression. Students, faculty, and stuff paid for this equivocation as the government sought to purge University campuses of those expressing particularly unpopular opinions. We must be vigilant in defending individual liberties even if it means that from time to time we must tolerate speech that violates our standards of civility and respect.
The Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences' free speech guidelines include this:
Because no other community defines itself so much in terms of knowledge, few others place such a high priority on freedom of speech. As a community, we take certain risks by assigning such a high priority to free speech. We assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the short-term unpleasnt effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not permit censorship of noxious ideas. We are commited to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea.
Other examples of "censorship" used to describe canceling speakers included "NCAC Protests Cancellation of Ellen Hopkins Appearance at Teen Lit Fest in Texas":
After Hopkins was disinvited to Teen Lit Fest 2011, five other authors dropped out in protest rather than participate in an event that had censored another author. Sadly for the students of the area, the program has been cancelled. Some might blame the authors who withdrew, but we think full responsibility rests on the school officials who made the decision to censor Hopkins.
I was amused by this comment at "Censors and Heroes - The Texas Observer""
Personally, I’m convinced that un-inviting Hopkins was indeed a form of censorship. You might disagree. However, I think we can all agree that it was very bad manners, and would never be tolerated in the Junior League.
"Library Censorship Overturned" tells of the Greenwich Library canceling a presentation by Allison Weir, but this time, the free speech supporters won.

It's especially sad when people who want to support Muslims support censorship, the tactic noted in "Islamization Watch: London university bars Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir speaker to debate Sharia law in the modern world".

4. when scifi writers could disagree

At "Politcal Correctness and the Death of Science Fiction Fandom", Stephanie S. shared a quote by Isaac Asimov:
...Fears were expressed at the time that [two competing statements written on the Vietnam War and signed by opposing blocks of science fiction authors] would create storms and divisions among science fiction writers and would break up our camaraderie in a tempest of controversy. Well, if the statements have done so, I haven't noticed it. Our mutual identification as fellow science fiction writers persists above and beyond lesser divisions.

To be specific, Poul [Anderson] knows that I am a "fuzzy-minded pinko" and I know that he is a "narrow-minded hardhat" (not that either of us would ever use such terms), but we love each other anyway, and our relations with each other in these last couple of years have not suffered at all.
I disagree with Stephanie's politics, but I share her belief that we should be free to disagree. Shortly before he was killed, Malcolm X said: dearest friends have come to include all kinds -- some Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even atheists! I have friends who are called capitalists, Socialists, and Communists! Some of my friends are moderates, conservatives, extremists -- some are even Uncle Toms! My friends today are black, brown, red, yellow, and white!
May we all be able to disagree and still be friends.

5. even bigots must be free to speak

This is usually credited to Martin Niemöller:
They came first for the communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
I'm a socialist, which explains why free speech matters so much to me. If capitalists don't respect free speech, I'm silenced.

But that quote isn't addressed to socialists. It's addressed to people who oppose them. A modern equivalent for Critical Race Theorists would start, "They came first for the bigots, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a bigot."

Censors love a foothold, so they start with the things that the majority opposes, then use what they've gained to censor more. That's why I agree with the ACLU: lovers of free speech must speak up for a bigot's right to speak.

I saw that quote being used by a supporter of Wiscon's decision. The notion that Niemöller believed in silencing bad people before their ideas could spread just croggled me.

Yes, many notions croggle me.

6. Wiscon and Elizabeth Moon: What Happened and What Can We Learn from it?

In 2011, Armadillocon addressed the issue in a panel. The lineup: Emma Bull, Stina Leicht, Scott Lynch, Lawrence Person, Cat Rambo, Lee Thomas.

Lee Thomas seemed to be most sympathetic to WisCon's decision. He asked a question that did not get answered: how far may an invited guest's statements go before a con should uninvite a guest?

Scott Lynch's position was similar. He proposed, "My con, my rules"—if Wiscon wanted to uninvite a guest, that was their right.

Stina Leicht, Cat Rambo, and Emma all objected to what Moon had said about Muslims, but were also troubled by WisCon's decision not to honor its invitation of a guest. Emma noted that Wiscon had changed its definition of feminism in order to justify its actions; feminism does not have a political orientation, and though she's a socialist, she recognizes that when conservative women do things like serving on the Supreme Court, they are making progress as feminists that help women who don't share their politics.

Lawrence Person proposed that Moon's comments on Muslims had been misinterpreted, that she had not been saying that Muslims should be treated badly, but that they should be prepared to face discrimination because every immigrant group has faced discrimination.

Audience reactions ranged from full support for WisCon to an emphatic declaration that institutions should never censor invited speakers.

In discussion after the panel, someone with great familiarity of conventions and contracts said that Wiscon was very lucky when Ms. Moon accepted their decision. By announcing her as their GoH, they established a contract. When they withdrew the offer, they put themselves in the position of being in breach of contract.

7. Elizabeth Moon update

There's a happy ending for Elizabeth Moon: She's still making the bestseller lists.