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We Support Free Speech, But…

I almost didn’t write about this, since I was rather tired of writing about the ALA conference, but I’ve never heard of an ALA panel discussion being canceled because of protests, so here goes.

There was supposed to be a round table program at ALA called Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping. However, because the other speakers disagreed with the inclusion of Robert Spencer – a rather severe critic of Islam – they refused to participate and he session was canceled. I missed this when I was at the conference, because I really couldn’t care less about Islam in any professional way. In the library, if someone came up to me and proclaimed they were a Muslim, I’d say, "Great. So?" I just plain don’t care what religion you are as long as you don’t stick it in my face, and in a professional context I don’t have to be understanding or sensitive. If professionals just stick to the business at hand, they don’t need to worry about exposing themselves as the bigots they probably aren’t in the first place.

Anyway, back to the protest. As far as I can tell, it began with an "Open Letter" to the ALA and the Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Roundtable (EMIERT) protesting the inclusion of Spencer, since he obviously has nothing nice to say about Islam, and the protesting librarians et al.  apparently believe that round table discussions should follow the rule the if you’ve nothing nice to say you should just be quiet. Because of course Islam, and every other subject dear to the hearts of regressive librarians, is perfect and beyond criticism. Oh, and criticism is just mean, and requires thought and stuff like that.

"Even the most cursory overview of Mr. Spencer’s oeuvre makes it clear that in fact he has no place on a panel whose aim is to dispel stereotypes about Islam." That’s their claim, but of course they don’t prove it. "Hence a question arises as to the justification for inviting a speaker who cannot see anything positive about Islamic beliefs, cultures, societies, histories, etc. to talk to an audience in order to dispel negative views of Islam." The question arises only for the purblind protesters. The panel was about dispelling stereotypes, not "negative views of Islam." One question isn’t whether Spencer is rabidly anti-Islam, but whether he’s wrong. Another question is whether he deals in stereotypes, or does he deal with facts (which he might interpret in a biased way, but that’s makes him no different from his opponents).

It’s not a stereotype, for example, to say that many Muslim societies oppress women. They do. If you don’t believe me, go be a feminist in parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan and see how well you fare. I don’t think it’s a stereotype to say that even in this country, Muslim men tend not to have the sort of enlightened views about women that should be more pervasive in a free and equal society. At this point you might contend that neither do a lot of men of every religion. You would be correct, though illogical since that has nothing to do with the discussion. Your red herring does nothing to disprove my assertion. Either way, even if it were true of a given male, the only thing it would mean for me personally is that I wouldn’t date him. Professionally, it would mean nothing at all.

One problem with any discussions of Islam post 9/11 is the various sides don’t talk to each other, but merely at each other, all equally assured of the rightness of their claims. Another problem is that principles erode in the attempt to not offend some group. We saw this a few years ago with the Danish cartoons of Muhammad. I remember when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued his fatwa against Salmon Rushdie. Writers and intellectuals of the left stood proudly to defend Rushdie’s right to write whatever he wanted without having some fascist blowhard try to kill him over it. And how many on the left defended "Piss Christ"? Plenty. How pathetic the left seemed in comparison twenty years later. How slimy and hypocritical were their attempts to say that while they of course they believed in a free press and the right to free speech, one shouldn’t do something so blatantly offensive to any religious group as publish some cartoons. Oh, no, the horror! Cartoons! I really don’t see how they lived with themselves. Such intellectual dishonesty must cause massive cognitive dissonance, and it would cause shame were shame an emotion any longer familiar to Americans.

The Open Letter maintains the same intellectual dishonesty. "While we are not advocating censorship or the removal of Mr. Spencer from the panel and we affirm the values espoused in the ALA Library Bill of Rights, we ourselves advocate the choice of panelists who would be able to highlight in a rational and scholarly manner the richness, complexity, and multifaceted elements of Islamic cultures, societies and beliefs if we are to engage in meaningful discussions of Islam that can truly go beyond negative stereotypes." That’s right. While we of course believe in free speech and the free contest of ideas in general, we don’t believe in them on this issue. What the protesters wanted were people who wouldn’t criticize Islam in any way. There are negative stereotypes and negative truths about every religion, but somehow Islam gets a free ride.

CAIR published a highly biased summary of the events, which was sent to the ALA Council listserv by our old friend Cranky Marxist Dude, editor, as he styled himself, of Progressive Librarian. It’s the so-called progressives who give Islam a free ride from criticism, and I just don’t understand it. You would never find any progressives in America lambasting anyone for being too critical of Southern Baptists or fundamentalist Christians. If for some bizarre reason there was a panel discussion at ALA about Christians, it would be about how evil they are for trying to "censor" library books all over the country. If there were parts of the country with as high a concentration of Muslims as there are Southern Baptists, do you think they wouldn’t be challenging library books?

Usually the "progressive" critique is extended to Christians and even religious people in general. Probably no one would have protested Richard Dawkins speaking, but he’d say Muslims along with Christians and all other theists are more or less deluded morons whose religion is always bad for society and progressive ideas. Is it a "negative stereotype" that all true believers who accept the teachings of their religion on faith and are hostile to rational criticism are unreasonable people? What about if they also oppose free speech and the free exchange of ideas, because those exchanges tend to involve criticism and uncomfortable thoughts?

As with the Danish cartoons, I doubt the ALA or the ALA Council will have much to say about this. Like so many on the left these days, their support for free speech ends wherever Islam begins. Why should any of this matter, anyway? Why would there even be a discussion like this at ALA? In a free society, Muslims as Muslims are thrown into the mix with everyone else. As librarians, why should we care what religion people practice? No doubt the protesters would say that we have to be "sensitive" to Muslims, but we don’t have to be any more sensitive to Muslims than we would be to Christians or Jews or Buddhists or atheists. As librarians, we engage with the public as citizens in a democracy, not as adherents to a religion or creed. What, are libraries not supposed to buy books because they might offend Muslims? That’s ridiculous, though I bet the ALA OIF wouldn’t come out with a statement on that one! If someone comes up to the reference desk, should the librarian first inquire about the patron’s religion, or should the librarian answer the questions and try to help the person find information?

The protesters are just another group fighting against free expression and the exchange of critical ideas, and they should be treated as such. If there was a problem with that ALA panel, it wasn’t inviting Spencer. It was inviting a bunch of other people who weren’t willing to engage with Spencer and show him where he’s wrong, if indeed he is wrong. That would have been a much greater debate than the lame "great debates" over Library 2.0 and other typical ALA discussions. It wouldn’t have been very relevant for librarians, but it sure would have been lively.

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Comments

  1. Illogical says:

    “At this point you might contend that neither do a lot of men of every religion. You would be correct, though illogical since that has nothing to do with the discussion.” I don’t understand your logic; your assertion is a stereotype precisely because it is imprecise. Had you said “Muslim men, to a greater degree than other men, tend not to have enlightened views etc.” then it wouldn’t be a stereotype, but it would probably be wrong…or at least hard to prove.

  2. John Doe says:

    Thank you for writing this. Since I first heard about the latest ALA spat, a lot of these ideals have been bubbling in my mind.

    I fully agree with your stand that we all too often forsake free speech for “sensitivity.” I wonder if that is some miss guided attempt to reduce racism.

    Additionally, we tend to forget what is a stereotype. Don’t like what someone is saying about your group? Call it a stereotype!

    If something is a fact about a group, it is a fact. A stereotype needs to be a misconception.

    It is not a stereotype that women in many islamic parts of the Middle East are treated horridly. How can anyone claim to espouse positive views of Islam without addressing their many human right abuses? THAT sounds like white washing. It it were any other religion, we wouldn’t allow it.

  3. 636bk says:

    So long as you are liberal, you have the right to free speech.

    If you are conservative, be prepared to have your rights taken away from you.

  4. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    Last time I checked (erp! very painful to do so) Rush and Bill-o weren’t being shushed, 636bk.

  5. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille says:

    Funny how quickly this became a conservative vs. liberal argument. The thing is, both sides are very selective as to what “truths” they choose to proclaim and defend. Just look at the ugly history of abortion or the “Parental Advisory” stickers on music. It’s so easy for people, even librarians, to get themselves caught on what they think is the “correct” side of the argument, when in fact they are just being “nice.”

    It’s “nice” not to choose not to order that book about homosexual penguins. I mean, it certainly does make our lives easier when we don’t have to defend our choices to the public. It’s unfortunate that I have to have such extensive talks about censorship with my fellow librarians. It’s upsetting that it has become such a nice profession instead of one that can be relied on to make the right decisions.

  6. rke8n says:

    *Funny how quickly this became a conservative vs. liberal argument*

    It should not even be a question of left v. right, but one side decided that it would be such in about 2001–which is why you find some of them spouting on such grave nonsense as the Jews were behind 9/11.

    Then, of course, you have the fact that critics of Islam tend to end up dead in nations where the population is unarmed [the Netherlands, Sweden, Bali, Indonesia, Philippines]. The Left doesn’t criticize anything with teeth.

    It should be common sense for both sides to utterly reject a fundamentalist movement that seeks to murder non-adherents of their faith simply for the sake of them being non-adherents. Did the GOP of the 40s think it was illegal or immoral to shoot down Yamamoto’s plane or attempt to kill Hitler or his inner circle? Heavens, no.

    Just the other day Senator Russ Feingold described a plan which would have killed top Al-Qaida members as “immoral”…let that sink in for a few moments. Also consider that Mr. Feingold would be slaughtered like a halal goat by these same people simply because of his last name. Truly unbelievable.

    Then you have the absurd utterances by some fatally afflited multicultis that anti-islamism is racism, as if all Muslims shared the same race or ethnicity.

  7. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille says:

    rke8n -

    Are you actually a librarian?

    “It should not even be a question of left v. right, but one side decided that it would be such in about 2001–which is why you find some of them spouting on such grave nonsense as the Jews were behind 9/11.”

    I assure you that if you look closely enough, you will find that there are a lot of crazy people writing crazy ideas about a lot of different aspects of 9/11. For instance, there are those crazies that believe Jews were behind the attacks, those that this is a sign of the end times, those that though Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and those that think our current President is nothing other than an Islamic sleeper agent with a made-up birth certificate. And perhaps, on a bad day, if you look in a mirror, you might find one staring right back at you…

  8. librarEwoman says:

    I did wonder, when I saw the name of this program at ALA, why it was included. How is it relevant to libraries and librarians? There are stereotypes about every type of patron I serve at the library–some of them more vicious and hurtful stereotypes than others. However, what was the connection of a discussion of negative stereotypes about Muslims to our professional enrichment as librarians? If this type of program is related to our professional enrichment as librarians, why were there not programs about negative stereotypes about atheists, members of various Christian denominations, Jews, Pagans, etc, etc?

    I definitely agree, however, that any discussion is more interesting to listen to if there are opposing views represented. Otherwise, it is like listening to a lecture or a sermon.

  9. Mr. Kat says:

    This is a heck of a lot more imprtant than that little resolution the ALA decided to waste press ink on instead!!!

    Just watch, this “Problem” will become the defining motion of the 21st century – which is sadly nothing more than a continuation of the thousands of years of Muslim V. Judeo-Catholis-Christian wars.

    I believe we have far too many instances in history wher ethe solution for a group of people who “just don’t get it and WON’T get it and INSIST on forcing themselves on the rest of the world” is rout annihilation. Sound horrible? Well, it is, until you recognize their alternative; all of us either die or give up our culture and assume theirs.

    I believe in the freedom of ideas and speech, up unto the point where others [and myself] use that freedom to eradicate freedom meant for all.

    GREAT post, AL.

  10. get it straight says:

    “go be a feminist in parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan and see how well you fare.”

    Which parts of Pakistan, AL? Why do they prove your point? What about the other parts? What about the parts where there’s a lot of people with secular outlooks? Go read what Jinnah said about women. Pakistan’s identity is complex. Don’t tout “parts of Pakistan” as your evidence so cavalierly.

    ALA should have let that guy participate, whether he’s right or wrong. He was partly wrong, as is AL. It’s not a matter of black and white.

  11. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    I have publicly challenged the ALA to explain their actions and to include the censored speaker the next time. I did this not only via my blog post but by direct email to the offending party, cc to the OIF. OIF? Office for Intellectual Freedom?

    See “Proof of ALA Pro-Terrorist Censorship; ALA Challenged to Explain and to Include Censored Speaker Next Time”

    safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/07/proof-of-ala-pro-terrorist-censorship.html

  12. Alan says:

    “It’s not a stereotype, for example, to say that many Muslim societies oppress women.”

    I think it is…as long as you don’t contend that “many Muslim societies” in this respect are different from other societies, it’s just a meaningless stereotype and serves no useful purpose. I do agree with the thrust of this message, however. And AL’s comment about the craven response of the left to the Muhammed cartoons is spot on -

  13. 688r8 says:

    It is not a conservative vs liberal discussion.

    It is a racial one.

    Once the United States renounces its racist policies and attitudes the world will be a much safer place.

  14. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Al when your right your right. It would have been better for the ALA to do either a multi-culture talk (include all issues) or a Religion in American Libraries (An open discussion of all Religion) instead they narrowed the topic down so far that it was a one sided discussion. Then when another viewe was offered they closed it down. This is censorship! But the ALA dosnt do that now. As for Get Straight I think AL can say what they said without proving an exact location. It is like saying American is full of poor people. You dont have to say where because its true. Now If you want to get technical Swat Valley and Southern Pakistan were they are cutting off heads instead of censoring. So 688r8 be happy your in the States we are a lot more tolerant except for the occasional ALA issue then even your dream places like Europe.

  15. 688r8 says:

    Ahhhh, spoken like one of the true liberal white elite.

    Try getting some help in a library if you are black.

    The only help they send your way is the security guard to make sure you are not stuffing books into your back pack.

  16. librarEwoman says:

    Why is race figuring so much into this discussion? Muslims come from all racial backgrounds. The discussion of stereotypes of Islam is not a racial one; or at least, it should not be. The majority of Muslims are Asian– not Middle Eastern or black. And a good number of them are also white. The negative stereotypes of Muslims stem from the unfortunate violent and opressive behavior of Muslim extremist/fundamentalist groups– not racism. Members of all religions have negative stereotypes attached to them. Did anyone at ALA want to discuss the stereotype of Latter Day Saints as perverted polygamists, Catholics as hypocrites who criticize others’ sexual and reproductive practices despite the molestation of children by their priests, Jews as Zionists who hate Muslims, etc, etc? All religions have unfortunate stereotypes resulting from the misguided and stupid actions of small groups/factions within those religions.

  17. Alex says:

    I don’t think it’s crazy to provide a panel on dispelling Muslim stereotypes, particularly since they have flourished since 9/11 and probably make it more difficult for Muslims to get treated fairly in libraries as much as in other places. It is a bit ridiculous to stop someone from joining the discussion who is willing to point out some of the accurate, but unpleasant truths about Islamic religious practices. We could easily point out the ridiculous and unfair bits from all religions, but this was a panel on Muslims, not those other religions.

  18. s7rb5 says:

    It isn’t crazy to provide a panel on dispelling Muslim sterotypes.

    Let one of the ragheads come and rant for an hour or two and you will finally see what Israel is up against.

  19. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Why 688r8 are you enjoying your stereo-typing? For example I am a librarian how elite can that get, I can’t even afford a new suit. Second if you understand the term Post Postmodern you would know I am actually not liberal. This is not say that I am at all a racist. To me race does not matter…behavior does. If your uncivilized or my security gate goes off your going to be questioned period. If you behave yourself you get my full support. Its called the Golden Rule! Its how all multi culture issues could be handled. Just common sense!

  20. 688r8 says:

    So, I guess the PPL is a bigot, if you act like a criminal, then by god you are a criminal.

    Just as bad if not worse than a stone-cold racist.

  21. Always Wanted2B says:

    It is my understanding that this program was canceled because all of the speakers declined to attend. That is quite different than censorship, even if there were protests about the content and the speakers.

  22. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Well here is a big hint and even the smart criminals will tell you this one. Dont act line one and you be treated one. If running around a library, or having sex in the library, or tossing books on the library floor etc is correct behavior then I ll admit I am a bigot. Oh and just to stop the flame war if they write back there wont be a response from me. I am going to be civic mind and walk a way

  23. Auntie Nanuuq says:

    “because I really couldn’t care less about Islam in any professional way. In the library, if someone came up to me and proclaimed they were a Muslim, I’d say, “Great. So?” I just plain don’t care what religion you are as long as you don’t stick it in my face, and in a professional context I don’t have to be understanding or sensitive. If professionals just stick to the business at hand, they don’t need to worry about exposing themselves as the bigots they probably aren’t in the first place.”

    Here, here! I was wondering what the hell happened to ALA’s support of the First Amendment? Seems to have gone straight down the drain.

    No, but wait….they are too busy supporting gaming, Library 2.0 and other nonsense.

  24. Get it straight says:

    “As for Get Straight I think AL can say what they said without proving an exact location. It is like saying American is full of poor people. You dont have to say where because its true.”

    ..if you don’t care about things like selective evidence weakening your argument that is.

    But if you want to make a strong argument you better not be artificially selective with your evidence. It’s the kind of logical fallacy AL would never let anyone get away with if someone else made it.

    Pakistan is not a good representative example of Muslim intolerance.

    Seems like to me if you want to find a country representative of Muslim intolerance maybe you shouldn’t pick the one founded by – and shaped by the ideologies and perspectives of – a Western-educated lawyer who made clear his belief that liberal democracy and Islam were compatible.

    And on the women’s rights issue, long before there was Benazir Bhutto there was Fatima Jinnah and Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. Find me another predominantly Muslim country with anything like APWA in its past before support AL’s using Pakistan and the poster child country for Muslim intolerance.

    And no I’m not Pakistani.

  25. Get it straight says:

    And for those of you who just ran to Google, I mean APWA as in All-Pakistan Women’s Association, not American Public Works Association or whatever else uses that acronym. I’d hope it would have been obvious.

  26. Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries.org says:

    Michael Golrick has written about the AL, me, Steve Emerson, and Robert Spencer here:

    “Censorship and ALA Program in Chicago,” by Michael Golrick, Thoughts from a Library Administrator, 28 July 2009.

    michaelgolrick.blogspot.com/2009/07/censorship-and-ala-program-in-chicago.html

  27. Bookladycs says:

    For all you who don’t read psychobable– “Freedom of speech” does not include allowing anyone that disagrees with the ALA to state their point of view. It’s not complex it’s very simple.

  28. AL=RK says:

    It is trully sad when the spam bots are more entertaining than the posts and comments.

  29. 2sc5t says:

    *Jean-Baptiste Grenouille*

    Far-left groups such as ANSWER openly state their belief that the United States goes to war only for Israel’s purposes [which is moronic on many levels, if it were true you'd think the USA would have flattened the countries that actually threaten the State of Israel by now]. You will see similar attitudes expressed at most far-left blogs like DailyKos or DU.

    You will not find many far-rightists who believe that the Jews were behind 9/11.

    The rest of your statement is purely nonsensical. You have no idea what I believe nor what I see when I look in the mirror.

  30. yapper says:

    2sc5t is right that few far-rightists will believe Jews were behind 9/11. The American far right now is too happy that they have a new bogeyman in Muslims to replace the Communist bogeyman they lost after the end of the Cold War. (Obviously, of course some parts of the Muslim world really do contain people who want to attack us, etc. and there are still plenty of communists around in the world too, but many far-right commentators are less interested in actual threats than they are having a punching bag on which they can vent their pent-up frustrations. You know what they say about guys who drive big trucks….)

  31. f7fnn says:

    The only good raghead is a dead raghead.

  32. shinyinfo says:

    Free speech should only apply to Robert Spencer, not the Librarians who wanted to voice their opinion about his work. Good to know. Maybe now I can act all pretend offended too.

    Help! Help! I’m being repressed!

  33. sn3p7 says:

    *many far-right commentators are less interested in actual threats than they are having a punching bag*

    Nonsense. It was the right who went to war with one failed state that had attacked us and one state that violated a cease-fire ageement on a daily basis for 8 years while the left held the keys to the Pentagon.

    *there are still plenty of communists around in the world too*

    Yes, most of them are in Washington now, it seems.

  34. Mr. Kat says:

    It doesn’t matter if you’re a nut on the left wing or if you’re a nut on the right wing, you’re still a wing nut.

    Could we get some good old fashioned pragmatism divorced from politics, regardless of base, please?

    The ALA should have gone on with this set anyways, even if a bunch of people refused to participate. This is a country of 300 million; if you need people to speak at an event, and you are even slightly well connected, you should be able to simply pick up the telephone and make a few calls…

    Fail for the ALA for not taking the initiative in the face of deaf resistance.

  35. Get it straight says:

    “Nonsense. It was the right who went to war with one failed state that had attacked us and one state that violated a cease-fire ageement on a daily basis for 8 years while the left held the keys to the Pentagon.”

    sn3p7, you’re the one speaking nonsense. First of all, we didn’t “go to war with a failed state” in the Afghanistan war, we went to war with various non-state forces wielding power in the remains of the failed state that has been Aghanistant. Big difference.

    Second of all, when we went to war with “one state that violated a cease-fire ageement on a daily basis for 8 years” there was – at the time we went to war – consensus on the left and right. Only some of the far left opposed it. Look at that vote that authorized the right-wing president to use force against Iraq. Leftist Democrats joined with center-right and far-right Republicans. Only later, after the war went badly, did those leftists recant. So the right didn’t “go to war” – they led the country to war after convincing people across the political spectrum to agree with them.

    Besides, the comment was about the far right – not all right-wing constituencies in the U.S. today.

    Drop your arrogant attitude and read the comments carefully. Beginning your comment with “nonsense” only shows you’re a hypocrite at best and a buffoon incapable or unwilling to analyze carefully at worst.

    As for communists in Washington, we don’t have any real ones there. Maybe in Madison, WI or Berkeley, CA but not DC. Sorry. Perhaps you want to use “communist” as short hand for some leftist whose policies you don’t like? It’s not the same thing.

  36. blahblahblah says:

    *First of all, we didn’t “go to war with a failed state” in the Afghanistan war, we went to war with various non-state forces wielding power in the remains of the failed state that has been Aghanistant.*

    The Talib were the ruling government in Afghanistan.

    *Second of all, when we went to war with “one state that violated a cease-fire ageement on a daily basis for 8 years” there was – at the time we went to war – consensus on the left and right. Only some of the far left opposed it.*

    “Some” of the far left? Try all. “Some” of the far left actually expressed opposition to retaliating against the Taliban.

    *the right didn’t “go to war” -*

    They sure did. Hussein violated the ceasefire agreement on a near daily basis during the Cliton admin and would have continued to have gotten away with it unless the Right hadn’t latched onto the opportunism 9/11 presented them. Anyone who thinks the Gore administration would have invaded Iraq post 9/11 is deluded.

    *As for communists in Washington, we don’t have any real ones there. *

    Apparently you have never lived in any of the cities you mention. I have. I have also been paying some attention to the way the federal government has been conducting its business lately. You may want to try giving that a shot at some point.

  37. Voltaire Clampett says:

    The panel was irrelevant to ALA and should have never been scheduled. Spencer generates so much opposition because he links islamofacist actions to evidence from Islamic texts and teachings. It makes leftards heads explode when they realize Spencer’s assertions are backed up with facts. Jihad Watch is very clear reporting on the Muslim issue facing America.