Freedom of Speech: the right to equate Gaza with Auschwitz by Gilad Atzmon
Thursday, March 6, 2008
(A talk given on the First of March 2008 at Invitation to Learn’s weekend retreat)
“They (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves” (Matan Vilnai, Israeli Deputy Defence Minister, 29 February 2008)
It is clear beyond any doubt that the Israeli Deputy Defence Minister was far from being reluctant to equate Israel with Nazi Germany when revealing the genocidal future awaiting the Palestinian people, yet, for some reason, this is precisely what Western media outlets refrain from doing. In spite of the facts that are right in front of our eyes, in spite of the starvation in Gaza, in spite of an Israeli official admitting genocidal inclinations against the Palestinians, in spite of the mounting carnage and death, we are still afraid to admit that Gaza is a concentration camp and it is on the verge of becoming a deadly one. For some peculiar reason, many of us have yet to accept that as far as evil is concerned, Israel is the world champion in mercilessness and vengeance.
Liberty and Authority
In his invaluable text On Liberty, John Stuart Mill argued that struggle always takes place between the competing demands of liberty and authority. In other words, freedom and hegemony are set to battle each other. However, Western egalitarian liberal ideology is there to introduce a political alternative. It is there to nourish the myth that ‘authority’ and ‘freedom’ could be seen as two sides of the same coin.
Today, I will try to elaborate on the structural dynamic of liberal discourse and the different elements that are involved in maintaining the false image of ‘freedom’, ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of thought’. I will try to argue that it is our alleged ‘freedom’ that actually stops us from thinking freely and ethically. As you may notice I said ‘false image of freedom’ because I am totally convinced that, as far as Liberal discourse is concerned, freedom is nothing more than a mere image. In practice, there is no such a thing. The image of ‘freedom’ is there to fuel and maintain our righteous self-loving discourse so we can keep sending our soldiers to kill millions in the name of ‘democracy’.
Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Thought
I would like to introduce this with an elaboration of the distinction between ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of thought’.
Freedom of speech can be realised as one’s liberty to expresses one's own thoughts.
Bearing in mind that humans are expressive creatures, there is no easy policing method to guarantee the silencing of the dissident voice. Since speaking is inherent to human nature, any exercise of litigation to do with the curtailing of such an elementary right is rather complicated: You ban one’s books? One would then spread leaflets in the streets. You confiscate one’s flyers? One would then agitate over the net. You cut one’s power, confiscate one’s computer? One may start to shout one’s head off. You chop off one’s tongue? One would then nod in approval when others are repeating one’s manifesto. You are then left with no other option but chopping one’s head off, but even then, all you do is make one into a martyr.
Two available methods are used by liberals to silence the dissident:
a. prohibition (financial penalty and imprisonment);
b. social exclusion.
However, it is crucial to mention that within the so-called liberal discourse, any attempt to ban an idea or a dissident voice is counter-effective, if anything it reflects badly on the liberal authority and the system. This is why liberals try to facilitate some rather sophisticated methods of censorship and thought policing that would involve very little authoritarian intervention. As we will see soon, in liberal society, censorship and thought policing is mostly self-imposed.
As much as it is difficult to curtail freedom of speech, suppressing freedom of thought is almost impossible.
Freedom of thought could be realised as the liberty to think, to feel, to dream, to remember, to forget, to forgive, to love and to hate.
As difficult as it may be to impose thought on others, it is almost unfeasible to stop people from seeing the truth for themselves. Yet, there are some methods to suppress and restrain intuitive thinking and ethical insight. I am obviously referring here to guilt.
Guilt, inflicted mostly via a set of axioms conveyed as ‘political correctness’, is the most effective method to keep society or any given discourse in a state of ‘self-policing’. It turns the so-called autonomous liberal subject into a subservient, self-moderated, obedient citizen. Yet, the authority is spared from making any intervention. It is the liberal subject who curtails oneself from accepting a set of fixed ideas that support the egalitarian image of freedom and ecumenical society.
However, at this point I see the necessity to suggest that in spite of the liberal claim for peace seeking, liberal societies in general and the Anglo-American ones in particular are currently involved in crimes against humanity on a genocidal scale. Consequently, the more horrid the West is becoming, the greater is the gap between ‘freedom of thought’ and ‘freedom of speech’.
This gap can easily evolve into a cognitive dissonance that in many cases mature into some severe form of apathy. It is said that ‘all it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing’. This summarizes perfectly well the apathetic negligence of the Western masses. Not many care much about the genocide in Iraq that is committed in our name or the mass murder in Palestine that is committed with the support of our governments. Why are we apathetic? Because when we want to stand up and say what we feel, when we want to celebrate our alleged freedom and to equate Gaza with Auschwitz, or Baghdad with Dresden, something inside us stops us from doing so. It is not the Government, legislation or any other form of authority, it is rather a small and highly effective self-inflicted ‘guilt microchip’ acting as policing regulator in the name of ‘political correctness’.
I will now try to follow the historical and philosophical evolution that leads us from the liberal-egalitarian-utopia to the current ethical and intellectual self-castration disaster.
The Harm Principle
John Stuart Mill, the founder of modern liberal thinking, tells us that any doctrine should be allowed the light of day no matter how immoral it may seem to everyone else. This is obviously the ultimate expression of liberal thinking. It ascribes absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, ethical, political, religious or theological.
Though Mill endorsed the fullest form of liberty of expression, he suggested a limitation attached to freedom set by the prevention of ‘harm to others’. It is obviously very difficult to defend freedom of speech once it leads to the invasion of the rights of others. The question to ask is therefore, “what types of speech may cause harm?” Mill distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate harm. According to Mill, only when speech causes a direct and clear violation of rights, can it be limited. But then, what kind of speech may cause such violation?
Feminists, for instance, have been maintaining that pornography degrades, endangers, and harms the lives of women. Another difficult case is hate speech. Most European liberal democracies have limitations on hate speech. Yet, it is debatable whether a ban of pornography or hate speech can be supported by the harm principle as articulated by Mill. One would obviously have to prove that such speech or imagery violates rights, directly and in the first instance.
Consequently, Mill’s harm principle is criticised for being too narrow as well as too broad. It is too narrow for failing to defend the right of the marginal. It is too broad because when interpreted extensively, it may lead to a potential abolishment of almost every political, religious or socially orientated speech.
The Offence Principle and Free Speech
Bearing in mind the shortcomings of the ‘harm principle’, it didn’t take long before an ‘offence principle’ had been called into play. The offence principle can be articulated as follows:
‘One’s freedom of expression should not be interfered with unless it causes an offence to others.’
The basic reasoning behind the ‘offence principle’ is trivial. It is there to defend the rights of the marginal and the weak. It is there to amend the hole created by the far-too-broad harm principle.
The offence principle is obviously pretty effective in curtailing pornography and hate speech. As in the case of violent pornography, strictly speaking, the offence that is caused by a Nazi march through a Jewish neighbourhood cannot be avoided and must be addressed. However, the offence principle can be criticized for setting the bar far too low. Theoretically speaking, everyone can be ‘offended’ by anything.
The Jewish Lobbies and the Liberal Discourse
There is no doubt that the vast utilization of the offence principle ascribes a lot of political power to some marginal lobbies in general and Jewish lobbies in particular. Counting on the premise of the ‘offence principle’, Jewish nationalist ethnic activists claim to be offended by any form of criticism of the Jewish state and Zionism. But in fact it goes further, in practice it isn’t just criticism of Zionism and Israel which we are asked to avoid. Jewish leftists insist that we must avoid any discussion having to do with the Jewish national project, Jewish identity and even Jewish history. In short, with the vast support of the offence principle, Jewish ethnic leaders both on the left and right have succeeded in demolishing the possibility of any criticism of Jewish identity and politics. Employing the offence principle, Jewish lobbies right, left and centre, have managed to practically silence any possible criticism of Israel and its crimes against the Palestinians. More worryingly, Jewish leftist political activists and intellectuals outrageously demand to avoid any criticism of the Jewish Lobby in the USA and in Britain.
As we can see, the ‘offence Principle’ regulates and even serves some notorious Zionist as well as Jewish leftist political lobbies at the heart of the so-called liberal democratic West. In practice we are terrorized into submission by a group of gatekeepers who limit our freedom via an elastic dynamic operator that is there to suppress our thoughts before they mature into an ethical insight. Manipulation set by political correctness is the nourishing ground of our shattering cognitive dissonance. This is exactly where freedom of expression doesn’t agree with freedom of the thought.
Auschwitz Versus Gaza in the light of Political Correctness
We tend to agree that marginal discourses should be protected by the offence principle, so the marginal subject maintains his unique voice. We obviously agree also that such an approach must be applicable to the manifold of Jewish marginal discourses (religious, nationalist, Trotskyite, etc.). Seemingly, Jewish political lobbies want far more than just that, they insist upon delegitmising any intellectual reference to current Jewish political lobbying and global Zionism. As if this is not enough, any reference to modern Jewish history is prohibited unless kosherly approved by a ‘Zionist’ authority. As bizarre as it may be, the Jewish Holocaust has now been intellectually set as a meta-historical event. It is an event in the past that won’t allow any historical, ideological, theological or sociological scrutiny.
Bearing in mind the offence principle, Jews are entitled to argue that any form of speculation regarding their past suffering is “offensive and hurtful”. Yet, one may demand some explanations. How is it that historical research that may lead to some different visions of past events that occurred six and a half decades ago offends those who live amongst us today? Clearly, it is not an easy task to suggest a rational answer to such a query.
Plainly, historical research shouldn’t cause harm or an offence to the contemporary Jew or any other human subject around. Unless of course, the Holocaust itself is utilized against the Palestinians or those who are accused as being the ‘enemies of Israel’. As we learn from Matan Vilnai recently, the Jewish State wouldn’t refrain from bringing a Shoah on the Palestinian people. The Israelis and their supporters do not stop themselves from putting the holocaust into rhetorical usage. Yet, the Jewish lobbies around the world would do their very best to stop the rest of us from grasping what Shoah may mean. They would use their ultimate powers to stop us from utilizing the holocaust as a critical tool of Israeli barbarism.
As one may predict by now, in order to censor historical research into Jewish history and a further understanding of current Israeli evil, political correctness is called into play. Political correctness is there to stop us from seeing and expressing the obvious. Political correctness is there to stop us realising that truth and historical truth in particular is an elastic notion. Yet, you may wonder what exactly political correctness is.
Political correctness, for those who failed to understand it, is basically a political stand that doesn’t allow political criticism. Political correctness is a stand that cannot be fully justified in rational, philosophical or political terms. It is implanted as a set of axioms at the heart of the liberal discourse. It operates as a self -imposed silencing regulator powered by self-inflicted guilt.
Political correctness is in fact the crudest assault on freedom of speech, freedom of thought and human liberty, yet, manipulatively, it conveys itself as the ultimate embodiment of freedom.
Hence, I would argue as forcefully as I can that political correctness is the bitterest enemy of human liberty and those who regulate those social axioms and plant them in our discourse are the gravest enemies of humanity.
I would argue as forcefully as I can that since the Palestinians are facing Nazi-like State terrorism, the holocaust narrative and its meaning belongs to them at least as much as it belongs to the Jews or anyone else.
I would argue as forcefully as I can that if the Palestinians are indeed the last victims of Hitler, then the holocaust and its meaning do belong to them more than anyone else.
Bearing all that in mind, equating Gaza with Auschwitz is the right and only way forwards. Questioning the holocaust and its meaning is what liberation of humanity means today and in the near future.