Tibor R. Machan
Recently I have been recalling when University of Michigan Professor of Law, Catherine McKinnon used to advocate censoring pornography because she believed it is an assault upon women. She lays out her case in her very prestigiously published slim and readable book, Only Words (Harvard University Press, 1993). She not only developed a case for censoring pornography but also went north to Canada to help guide their legal system to implement her ideas in their Constitution.
Paradoxically McKinnon had once defended some Muslim women against their Bosnian oppressors who had tried to restrain their all too Western activities, in K. v. Karadzic, 866 F. Supp. 734 (S.D.N.Y. 1994), 70 F. 3d 232 (2d cir. 1996), all in the name of feminism. Yet, she also gave expert testimony against white supremacists on harm of discriminatory symbols (swastika and cross burning) in support of human rights statue prohibiting them, before Board of Inquiry in Alberta and won the case. (See, Kane v. Church of Jesus Christ Christian—Aryan Nations, Board of Inquiry Decision [Edmonton, Alberta], Feb. 28, 1992.)
The reason these facts have been occupying my attention is that they call to mind for me a strain of thinking in the West that really isn’t at all different from that exhibited by radical Islamists. Remember the reaction in some Muslim communities to the exercise of the right to journalistic freedom when some Danish newspapers published pictures that were regarded as offensive to Muslims? And, of course, there is the fatwa—a contract for murdering someone—that has never been rescinded against novelist Selman Rushdie who was accused of insulting Islam in his book Satanic Verses. The deadly reaction, in which Danish embassies were attacked, had been justified on the grounds that insulting Islam must be punished with murder, nothing less.
Of course, Professor McKinnon did not advocate murdering those who insult woman by producing and publishing pornography but the principle underlying her case isn’t different from what’s embraced by radical Islamists. Both believe that writing or speaking against something isn’t “only words” but amount to what should be legally actionable offenses, indeed actionable by the faithful whether the law concurs or not.
But we can take this even further, to policies embraced by many mainstream modern liberal thinkers—e.g., the notion that there should be hate crimes. Never mind that the evidence for the hate is hostile language and other non-aggressive, though admittedly insulting, offensive symbolism. The Southern Poverty Law Center, co-founded by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, actively promotes legal sanctions against those who have promoted ideas and ideals that could inspire some to act violently against innocent members of minorities. Again, the issue isn’t that there is nothing wrong with promoting such ideas and ideals but that Dees and Levin urge us to forcibly restrain those with them.
But even more nearly mainstream is the idea that if one discriminates against someone, one has infringed his or her human rights. Yet, such discrimination is often nothing more than the (quite possibly irrational) exercise of one’s right to freedom of association, as when someone refuses to sell goods or services to members of certain minorities or to hire them for a position one has available in one’s business. Not that there may not be some kind of legal objection against such policies, given that in numerous cases there is no disclosure of the discriminatory policy. Yet, the law often prohibits such policy, so it would be illegal to disclose it! Only in strictly personal relationships, like those pursued on dating Web Sites, is one free to practice discrimination that may well be irrational—e.g., wishing only to date blacks or whites or light skinned Indians.
All this violates the right of freedom of association and is often against the law. When radical Muslims advocate the more extreme versions of these public policy measures, wishing to herd everyone everywhere into the Islamic community and using whatever force they can get away with to bring this about, they could be regarded as taking these politically correct public policies to their logical conclusion.
It might be of interest to see what Professor McKinnon thinks about the policies advocated by radical Islamists. It might give us a clue as to just how many those in the West share the premises of those who wish to destroy it. (One web site does discuss McKinnon’s odd position—http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/364.)