Overpraised Dissent

The Overpraising of Dissent:

I'm going to write a bit more about happiness and ethics. This post picks up where yesterday's left off.

Yesterday's post considered the possibility that ethics includes a "duty to unhappiness" -- that our inherited biological reasons for feeling happy must often be set aside in order to be a good citizen. I cited the example of Socrates, whose devotion to the pursuit of truth led to his execution. This tradition of dissent and its protection, informed by the examples of both Socrates and Jesus, is at the core of Western culture.

Yet I think it is very much possible to overpriase dissent -- and on reflection, I think it's necessary to explore that idea as well. The duty is to set aside happiness in favor of good citizenship, not to pursue your own happiness in favor of what society needs. It is the case, furthermore, that personal happiness must be set aside for the survival and prosperity of the nation.

The best way to explore this is by beginning with the problem posed by Aristotle: that he said, and I have always believed, that happiness is the goal of ethics. How, then, can there be a duty to be unhappy in ethics?

The answer is to realize that what is meant by "happiness" is very different in Aristotle than it is in modern American language. For Aristotle as for Socrates (who took his turn as a soldier in Athens' wars), defense of the nation was an absolute ethical duty, for philosophers as much as anyone else.

The short primer on Aristotle's ethics and politics, linked above, makes the following points:

1) The end of ethics is happiness, which is right-living in accord with reason. That needs to be said twice, because it's such an alien concept for most Americans. Happiness is not an emotional state, it is an activity. "Right-living in accord with reason" is happiness.

2) Politics and ethics exactly mirror each other. The primer reads: "Thus, nourishment and exercise, etc. are means to the end of bodily health. The health of the body is a means for the performance of moral actiions, which are in turn a means for the moral health of the soul. Moral actions aim at personal and social stability. Personal and social stability aim at scientific inquiry. Scientific inquiry aims at the possession of knowledge (and knowing that one knows) that imitates the best activity in the universe, the activity of God."

By the same token, the activity of the soldier and policeman is meant to be directed by the ruler, to achieve the end of security, both from external threat and internal disruption. That security is, in turn, a means to provide stability for a class of scientists and thinkers. Scientists and thinkers aim at the possession of knowledge, not only for themselves but for their society; and that brings the society, in theory, in closer alignment with the truths revealed by the science and thought about the structure and order of the universe. That is how it is supposed to work, in any event.

3) In America, unlike in ancient Athens, the "thinking class" includes all Americans -- at least, all Americans who are interested in participating.


A) The maintenance of the stability and security of the nation is a necessary function, not only of the soldier and policeman and political rulers, but of the thinking class. The thinking class cannot achieve its goals without that security and stability, and so it must make sure that nothing it does undermines the nation's stability and security.

B) The balancing point is where security and stability start to clamp down on the thinking class' ability to pursue its goals of increased scientific knowledge and wisdom. Activity designed to support security and stability, but which seriously impacts freedom of inquiry, speech or thought, is justified if and only if it is necessary to preserve the community through an emergency.

This includes not only government action, but also action by the thinkers -- say, campus speech codes designed to improve campus stability by lowering the likelihood of someone being offended. Unless it is necessary for the survival of the university through an emergency, such codes are not justified.

C) In cases where there are real emergencies, defense of the nation is the primary duty. In American jurisprudence, this is captured in the SCOTUS ruling that "The Constitution is not a suicide pact." When there are critical threats, we first preserve the nation. We do this even in the face of temporary losses of liberty because, if the nation falls, there will be no foundation on which to rebuild a life of liberty. We must first uphold America at any cost.

D) The quality of nonscientific thinking can be judged according to these principles. A clumsily-worded tract that correctly upholds the principles of security balanced with liberty is "good philosophy," in its way. A brilliantly-written essay full of shining prose and thought is bad philosophy if it ends up advocating draft-dodging, unilateral disarmament, failure in war, internal revolution in order to establish a state on principles other than liberty (for example, Communism), or the undermining necessary social institutions.

It is one thing to seek to correct an institution that you think is failing its purpose: to point out ways in which the military or the police could function more successfully. That kind of dissent is what dissent is for! But it is something else to try to prevent the function of those institutions, as Los Angeles does when it refuses to enforce Federal laws on immigration; as certain law schools have done, when they have tried to block military recruiters from their campuses; as certain officials have done, when they have leaked secrets in defiance of their oaths.

Dissent remains a noble thing, as long as it is practiced also according to these principles. Both Aristotle and Socrates came under fire from Athens' ruling class; Aristotle went into exile to avoid Socrates' fate. When I said that, "You have, in effect, to be ready to go into exile, to drink the hemlock, to enter the monastery, or to start the war," I meant that the best kind of person will sometimes have to actually do one of those things.

What is not -- is never -- acceptable is undermining the nation's security or stability in order to pursue what you prefer. As a point of philosophy, it is bad philosophy; as a point of ethics, it is unethical. It is wrong whether or not it is criminal. Neither Aristotle nor Socrates thought of undermining Athens' defenses in order to advance their philosophy. They were serious minded for a good reason: city-states were wholly destroyed sometimes, in ancient Greece.

We are not serious-minded about those who undermine the nation, whether they are John Walker Lindh or CIA officers who betray their oaths and reveal our secrets in order to pursue their personal preferences about how, or whether, the war should be fought. We do not as a nation believe, even after 9/11, that there is a genuine threat to the American nation. 9/11 is seen now as a tragedy, not an emergency.

That means we prefer to set the balance in favor of maximizing liberty, instead of worrying about security and stability. If there is no danger to security or stability, there is no reason to make even one small sacrifice of liberty. That is true enough, if indeed there is no danger. Even in such times, however, we can recognize bad philosophers and unethical ethicists by these principles.

Thus we pass the time while we watch Iran on the horizon, and ponder how long we can continue to avoid an emergency.

Spec Ops Embassies


A short article from the Associated Press, by a writer with the glorious name of Robert Burns. It begins:

The U.S. military command in charge of counterterrorism campaigns is putting small teams of special operations troops in U.S. embassies to support the global war on terror, officials said Wednesday.

The presence of these teams, which began at least two years ago but has not been publicly announced by U.S. Special Operations Command, was first reported in Wednesday's editions of The New York Times.
Of course it was.

We can't have the military keeping secrets in small matters like special operations directly targeting terrorists, can we? Won't do.

Our Mr. Burns was also cited in another recent article, called "The Dysfunctional Relationship Between the Military and the Media." As it is a media piece on the media, the media is given first licks, and the opening paragraph charges the Army with lies and distortions. But a military speaker eventually is allowed to reply:
"There's an irony here, because when you had embedding, there was a sense that the reporting was better than ever," says Dan Goure, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute. "But since the end of major combat operations, the relationship has really gone to hell. There is a strongly held perception in the military – particularly the Army – that the media is doing the enemy's work. You guys are seen as the Jane Fondas of the Iraq war. And so the military attitude is, 'why should we level with you, because you're going to screw us.'"
Where would they ever get that idea?

I note one more item of interest from Burns' writeup of the Times article: "The Times reported that the move is opposed by some in the Central Intelligence Agency who view it as treading on their turf."

How would the Times know what CIA officers think about a secret pro... oh, right.

The Times is acting badly by reporting these stories, but the intelligence officers leaking them should go to prison.

Some Good Reads

Some Good Reads:

The Monday-Wednesday corridor is a very busy time for me, so I will have to direct you to other reading today. Wretchard has an excellent review of the new Kaplan article, "The Coming Normalcy."

Winds of Change has an article on the "Barbarians" gang in France, and its attempts to replicate Iraq's anarchy (as per the Kaplan article above) in the Cites of France.

And since my calendar says this is "International Women's Day," whatever that means, I'll replicate Arts & Letters Daily's recent links to this article on Islam and feminism, and this one on women, biology and inter-relationships. They are interesting to confer with Cassandra's piece on happiness from yesterday.

UPDATE: Lunch break, so I can finally take a few minutes for myself. I'd like to talk a bit about the paragraph above. There are two things I'd like to discuss.

Although the connecting thread is that all three pieces are by women, about women, the real enlightenment is not on the subject of women, but happiness. This is the second time Cassidy has taken up on the topic of happiness lately, on both occasions referencing studies and polls suggesting that liberals are constitutionally less happy than conservatives.

I don't find either study convincing, to be honest: I can't see how either polling or the dubious "science" of psychology could control for external factors (such as the relative success of conservative policies, and the relative collapse of the political party most associated with liberal ones -- it would seem that might impact happiness in ways that could reverse if the political fortunes did also). Yet I think Cassandra has some excellent advice on how to be happy, regardless of your politics (or your sex):

Conservatives don't expect life to be fair. This is critical to understanding the happiness gap. Because we don't go through life thinking the world owes us a fair shake, when life treats us unfairly we don't tend to take it personally. We don't get angry at government, society, or the system. We just realize we need to try harder.
Accepting personal responsibility for improving your own condition is key to happiness, because it concentrates your attention on what you can do to make things better. This is true even if, in fact, you aren't the one responsbile: even if you have had genuine bad luck, even if the government ought to be helping you and isn't, you will be happier if you focus on how you yourself can make things better in your own life. The less attention you focus on what you can't control, the happier you will be.

This is one reason for thinking that the electoral failure of liberal politics is related to liberal levels of unhappiness: if you are successful at the ballot box, the sphere of things "you can control" or "you can influence" is much larger. Assuming you are doing your duty as a citizen to be aware of political issues, the presence of a political movement sympathetic to your goals, responsive to your efforts, and able to effect real change, is thus going to mean that you are happier than someone who lacks such a movement. Assuming you are convinced of the rightness of your views, however, you can't just sit out the political process because it's making you miserable. You have, in a sense, a duty to be unhappy. You have to work, even in constant failure, to change things according to what you feel is right. That's what citizens are meant to do.

Still, you will find greater happiness among even minority political movements -- the political movement associated with the Mormon Church in Utah, say -- who focus on the level of politics small enough for them to control. In Utah, they can be happy. If you concentrate your efforts on a town or a state where you can build a majority, you can be genuinely happy even though the national level politics may be permanently beyond your particular political movement.

Yet, even there, by concentrating on what you can control, you will improve your ability to lever the larger politic: control of Utah, to continue with the example because it is a neutral one, means a greater say due to its presence in the Senate and in the Electoral College than if you spent your efforts trying to influence the national debate instead of concentrating on capturing and controlling the state. Not only do you get local laws that mean you can live the way you want (another source of happiness), but you find -- almost by accident -- that you actually end up with more power that way.

You've all heard my Federalism rants before, but here it is again anyway. That was observation #1.

Observation #2 relates to the degree to which happiness is hard-coded. To a large degree, being happy means learning what has been written into you, by evolution or God: the things that set off the right chemical triggers in the brain are the sources of happiness. Yet the underlying hard-code is antithetical to happiness. We are happy when we obey Stone Age triggers; but the same triggers never permit you to be too happy, as the Stone Age man who settles in comfortably and stops fearing for his survival did not survive. The eye tracks Cassandra's silver Mercedes (not my eye, I hasten to add, which prefers Chevrolets) because it is hardcoded never to accept that it has enough, that it should stop striving for more. Learning to feel otherwise is not practical work, but mystical work: it is what people spend their entire lives in monasteries to accomplish.

Here is a piece called "The Stone Age Trinity," which holds that there are three basic interpersonal drives that arise from our long history as hunter-gatherers:
The late philosopher Robert Nozick pointed out that when people compare themselves to one another, they are disposed to feel one of two emotions -- guilt or envy. Guilt when someone has a lower station than you; envy when someone has a higher station than you. I would add a third to this mix: indignation. That's when you compare someone of a higher station to someone of a lower station, and feel that something is wrong. I refer to this complex of emotional responses to unequal life-stations as the "Stone Age Trinity."
I suspect that there are rather more than three such drives, which creates a more complicated picture than the piece admits. Cassandra's first-cited article has to do with one such complication, which arises from the fact that men and women relate to each other differently from the way that men relate to other men. To whit, it is not clear that a man looking at a woman feels either guilt or envy or indignation when considering her status: there is an entirely different emotional structure at work.

The Scrivener piece on female-female relations suggests that there is yet another structure at work in those relationships: Just as men look at each other with a different structure than they use in considering women, so too do women seem to regard each other differently than they regard their relations with men. This is true, as the article makes clear -- indeed, it is the article's main point -- even with women who have spent a lifetime studying the issue and trying to "correct" it. Yet, as the subjects admit, it is simply hard code. The best you can do is try to override the programming consciously -- the underlying feelings do not go away.

The Chesler piece cited overlaps with the Scrivener piece at exactly that point. After a lifetime on the front lines of feminism, attempting the very "corrections" that the above article mentions, Chesler has reached the point at which she feels the need to offer a partial critique of modern feminism. It is really a mild critique. In spite of her hostile title (which was probably chosen by an editor, not her), she has very positive things to say about the movement that has involved her life's work -- but expects that this critique will be regarded as a "betrayal," that her attempt to criticize the status of the movement will result in her being thrown out of the movement.

What's do be done about that? Not very much -- and it isn't happy work. We feel happiest when we do what comes naturally to us, and what comes naturally to us includes thrusting out of the group those who depart in sharp ways from the underlying social dynamic. The preservation of that dynamic is often seen as being more important than the truth value of the claims being made by those thrust out -- witness the trial of Socrates, which makes the point that this is a human rather than a female issue. Yet the best kind of person can't accept that, and go along with what is common but is not right.

Again we see that there may be a "duty to be unhappy" in ethics -- you have to be mindful about thrusting aside your happiness if necessary to uphold the truth. You have, in effect, to be ready to go into exile, to drink the hemlock, to enter the monastery, or to start the war.


Play Deguello, If You Dare:

Back in Eighteen Thirty-Six,
Houston said to Travis
'Get some Volunteers and go
'Fortify the Alamo.'

On the sixth of March, 1836, Mexican forces under General Santa Anna overran and slaughtered a band of volunteers and adventurers defending the mission at the Alamo. Theodore Roosevelt wrote its history, and I will not try to better him.

It was a fascinating band that took up the defense. Though he was not there himself, Sam Houston gave the orders. Houston was a man from Tennessee who had spent much of his life living among the Cherokee. He was so much a friend of the Cherokee nation that he abandoned American society for their company a second time, going into the West to join them after they were forced from their lands by the Jackson administration. Yet he left them, again, and came -- not again to Tennesee -- but to Texas.

The commander of the Alamo was William Barret Travis, who is here treated to an old-style biography, which begins: "Travis, WILLIAM BARRETT, Military Officer, Commander at the Alamo, Hero." It speaks poorly of us that we don't still write biographies in just that way.

There was the adventurer Jim Bowie, who gave his name to the finest type of fighting knife in the world. His biography ends: "During his lifetime he had been described by his old friend Caiaphas K. Ham as "a clever, polite gentleman...attentive to the ladies on all occasions...a true, constant, and generous friend...a foe no one dared to undervalue and many feared." Slave trader, gambler, land speculator, dreamer, and hero, James Bowie in death became immortal in the annals of Texas history."

And of course there was Davy Crockett, who gave the language almost as many idoms as Shakespeare, though fewer took hold on the language, more's the pity.

It is the mark of the greatest men that they inspire other great men to follow them. Teddy Roosevelt thought enough of Davy Crockett to name his hunters-and-conservationist association The Boone and Crockett Club. It still exists today, and is open to public membership. "Past Club member accomplishments include: the protection of Yellowstone, Glacier, and Denali National Parks; the foundation of the National Forest Service, National Park Service, and National Wildlife Refuge System...." A fitting legacy for an American hero.

Remember the Alamo, and the thirteen days of glory. "Be sure that you are right, and then go ahead!" So may we always, America.

Geek Girl

A Geek Girl:

Gwa45 is a very proud father.

And so he should be. It was only the other day that I bought Beowulf's first toy gun, after all.


History & Irony:

A small item of today's news: AT&T to purchase BellSouth. I can't help but notice how nearsighted the article is. "AT&T was formed by San Antonio-based SBC's acquisition of AT&T Corp. in November," it says.

Well, yes, sort of. The details are right, if your only interest in the question is in tracking the here-and-now status of the telecommunications industry.

AT&T is one of those few American companies -- like Colt or DuPont or Smith & Wesson -- whose corporate history is old and interesting enough to be worth knowing. Their corporate website has a history section, although the milestones page is better. AT&T "was formed... in November" only in the worldview of investment traders; for the rest of us, it was founded in the nineteenth century by Alexander Graham Bell. "AT&T became the parent company of the Bell System," the history page tells us, "the American telephone monopoly... The system broke up into eight companies in 1984 by agreement between AT&T and the US Department of Justice."

That's a little sleight of hand there: 'by agreement with the Justice Department,' as if AT&T had really been in favor of the idea. In any event, one of those companies was Southern Bell. I know because, when I was a boy, my father worked for AT&T; and later for Southern Bell; and later for BellSouth, but that gets ahead of the story.

Southern Bell broke up not too long after AT&T was forced to divest itself of the Bell System. The corporate structure, used to monopoly protections, started tossing out everything that wasn't immediately profitable. Three major spinoffs: the Southern Bell Corporation, BellSouth, and BellSouth Advertising and Publishing (BAPCO), which runs the Yellow Pages.

AT&T purchased the Southern Bell Corporation some time ago. Now, it's set to repurchase BellSouth. I recall the period of the breakup reasonably well, and I remember listening to many stories about how it was screwing up everything for everyone -- that the market wasn't being well served by forcing the divestiture.

Well, my father was apparently correct. After twenty years, AT&T will be back in charge. Was the exercise in free markets worth the chaos? That's hard to say; but the system worked, apparently and eventually, just as he said it would.

Defending the First

Defending the First:

Junaid Afeef is a Muslim lawyer defending the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in the Daily Illini -- or, rather, defending Acton Gorton, the man who published them. It's unusual for the lawyer to have a more interesting story to tell than his client, but on this occasion, it's the truth. He has composed a thoughtful letter, and it deserves some thought in return. I suggest you read all of it, via the link; I want to respond only to certain parts.

I am offended by the rude and vile depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. I am disturbed that so many enlightened people in the West fail to see that these bigoted caricatures maligning the entire Muslim community are symptomatic of a rapidly growing, irrational hatred for Muslims. I also am dismayed by the idiotic and shortsighted response to these cartoons by Muslims all over the world.
I have to express both sympathy and support, but also disagreement with some of his fundamental assumptions. As a Muslim, he may be disturbed by a depiction of Muhammad with a bomb for a brain. As a Westerner, though, he should be able to see that the icon speaks for its maker, and nothing else. A picture of Muhammad is not Muhammad -- "Ceci ne pas une pipe," or "The Treason of Images" is surely one of the core insights to arise from Western visual art. The cartoon does not depict Muhammad, but only the cartoonist's own thoughts about Muhammad. They say nothing about Muhammad as he really was, and only something about Muhammad as he is imagined.

Imagined by whom? Having not seen any comment by the cartoonist himself, I can think of two possible answers.

1) It is possible that the cartoonist himself imagines Muhammad this way. Influenced by the violence carried out in Islam's name -- not in some distant Reformation or Crusade, but now today and worldwide -- he has come to imagine that Muhammad is a poisonous influence, a time bomb that turns men into murderers.

2) It is also possible that the cartoonist is not attempting to depict Muhammad as he, the cartoonist, sees Muhammad. He could be attempting to depict 'the Muhammad of the terrorist.' Having read quite a bit of the literature put forward by various Islamic terrorist groups, it does seem almost as if they themselves envision Muhammad in these terms: a figure whose primary commandment is to carry on a war, with the goal of bringing an Islamic state across the world. Whatever else exists in Islam became secondary long ago, as the case of the 9/11 hijackers demonstrates: the injuctions against alcohol and rampant sexuality are cast aside, by "martyrs" who dallied in strip clubs. The laws that were meant to promote civilization fell away; all that was left was the bomb.

If the cartoonist were trying to paint a critique of al Qaeda's vision, this is a telling one. It might also be shocking, as this post by a co-blogger at Cassandra's hall was shocking to me:
Every year, over 12 million young children die before becoming United Nations Secretary Generals, many perish without ever having the opportunity to save the planet or publicly condemn Israel. To put this number into perspective, one child who has never been a UN Sec Gen dies approximately every 2.6 seconds, or almost 33,000 per day.
This post goes on for some time, and (as it happens) includes a cartoon with the potential to shock a Westerner. I was going to snarl about it: no fan of Kofi Annan am I, and indeed I believe we should end our participation in the UN once and for all. Nevertheless, surely the suffering of the children in Africa is no matter for jokes.

Yet, on reflection, I realized that the joke was likewise pointed commentary -- and their point was not one with which I had an argument. The complaint is of Kofi Annan taking massive payoffs from Dubai (most recently), while millions of children starve. Annan, an African himself, might be expected to feel something for these fellows, and if '22 cents a day' can save a child (as we used to be told), what could his millions do?

Fair enough: but couldn't that be said without the offensive, shocking cartoon?

Of course it could. And if it had been, I would have passed over it without stopping to think the matter through at all. Having written Annan and indeed the UN off long ago, I would have passed on to something else as soon as I realized it was a comment on one or the other. For the author to get me to consider his point, he needed my attention.

For those reasons, I think the Muhammad cartoons -- in spite of the turmoil associated with them in the short term -- have been a service rather than a crime. We are now thinking things through that are difficult: consider the several recent posts on Islam, which I have tried to defend and uphold. Sovay, at least, felt that I did a poor job of it; but as I said, Islamic history is not my field. I can only speak of the good things I have seen, and the Muslims I have known, the pleasure I have had in their company and the valuable insights I have gained from their conversation.

In addition, Muslims are now thinking through some difficult things. Mr. Junaid Afeef is coming to terms with the fact that there is what he calls 'irrational hatred' for Islam in the West even among 'enlightened people.' Yet he knows as well as we do what the source of those feelings are -- and I think he is wrong to call them irrational, or for that matter "hatred." There are rational reasons to be concerned about Islam as it appears to be practiced today: this map, for example, was composed by someone who has apparently come to a point of opposition to Islam, but it is not an irrational opposition. It is the result of a study of data, the very data encoded into the map.

If we are going to address this feeling that concerns Junaid Afeef, we can't do it by trying to sneer it down as "irrational hatred." There are very rational reasons for the concern, and it therefore deserves a rational response rather than emotional argument. This is a practical issue for those who want to defend Islam: even if emotional argument silenced those who are concerned -- for example if the use of shaming language like "irrational hatred" were to cause people simply to stop voicing concerns about Islam in public -- the effect would not be to put an end to the feelings of concern. It would be to leave those concerns, which are based on empirical observations, to fester. You might silence dissenters, but you would not end the dissent.

It would also serve to mask the degree of discomfort, so that the case for Islam would always be worse than it appears. No one might say anything in public, but their unspoken concerns would play out in ways that drive policy -- in the privacy of the ballot box, for example. Chester argues that it is precisely this which is driving the politics of the ports deal: that the Democratic party, by voicing concern about Arabs having control of the ports, has tapped a huge sentiment among the American people (indeed, the very one Junaid Afeef is talking about), a sentiment that has been hidden in our politics because neither party has heretofore been willing to say anything negative about Islam or Arabs. Yet the sentiment is there, hidden and lurking and unaddressed.

If that sentiment is to be lessened, it cannot be by silencing those who feel it. It has to be done by openly discussing and examining their concerns, the reasons that underlie those concerns, and by proposing both reasons for holding the alternative view, and plans for improving the situation. Out of that kind of a discussion, a better relationship can emerge.

In silence, we risk the dynamic that Chester forsees: a festering concern that worsens among Americans until someone realizes how successful they can be politically if they tap into it. In that case, the model of thinking -- an anti-Islamic model -- could shoot from being something people were ashamed to say in public, to the model that governs the nation, without a real debate on the merits of the model. Today, we have the opportunity to debate these questions without them driving policy. Leave it to fester, and we may find the policies are being enacted while we try to debate whether the model that underlies them is valid.

For what that might look like, see this other Chester post. "Internment" is already being suggested by some -- but that brings me back to the letter with which we started:
There is evidence of the erosion of First Amendment rights of Muslims everywhere. Muslims are increasingly being forced to suppress deeply held beliefs, candid political observations, and personal convictions for fear of governmental and vigilante reprisals.

Today, imams who speak to Muslims about matters of self-defense and jihad as Qur’anic injunctions are in jeopardy of criminal prosecution for incitement. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, anyone who dares to link U.S. policies with Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorism is vilified and demonized. At this rate non-violent civil disobedience by Muslims very soon will be characterized as providing material support and aid to terrorists.
In fairness, I don't think I've seen any evidence of vigilante reprisals against Muslims in America (nor Europe, that I can call to mind); although we have seen some examples of Muslims in America taking matters into their hands. Still, Muslims could be feeling fear of vigilantes, even if there are no vigilantes.

Government action, however, is a reality. I mentioned below my Scottish Muslim friend. He called to report having been questioned by the FBI -- if he is accurately reporting the facts (which I always doubt with this fellow, whose talent for storytelling often seems to run away from his devotion to pure truth), he was reported for having a heated political discussion with an Air Force NCO over the question of whether Muslims shouldn't just be interned in the fashion of Roosevelt's dealing with the Japanese during WWII. Apparently the NCO didn't know he was a Muslim, and so spoke his mind openly and without the self-censorship of potentially offensive ideas that we are debating here today.

There are several things to be said about this case:

1) The FBI is right to investigate such claims. My old friend occupies what is a minor but sensitive position on a US Air Force base. As a civilian contractor, if he becomes a counterintelligence concern it is an FBI rather than a Military Counterintelligence problem. The FBI would be derelict if they did not pursue a complaint of this type.

2) Nevertheless (again, if he's correctly reporting the facts) he is entitled to his political opinions, and ought to be able to have a debate of this type without fear. The FBI may need to investigate him if there is a report, but he needs to have confidence that such an investigation will get to the truth of the facts, and if the facts are as he states them, he needs to have confidence that the FBI's investigation will lead to exoneration.

3) The military NCO is a difficult case. The military man does not enjoy the same rights of free speech that other people do; as an officer of the military, he has to be conscious of his duty to defend all Americans. In an appropriate context, he should be able to express whatever ideas he has -- even ones we might consider impolite or shocking -- but he can't do it in just any context. Under the circumstances (again, if the facts are correct), this could be taken to be a creation of a hostile work environment: that is to say, as a matter of law, that the contractor's rights not to be offended at work take precedence over the NCO's rights to think out loud.

4) However, as I've tried to argue above, we do need to leave space for the expression of these ideas. If he were engaged and challenged rationally, it is entirely possible that the right spokesman could convince him that his ideas were wrong and dangerous -- indeed, I suspect Chester could. Most likely, they are ideas that haven't been thought through: and they won't get thought through unless they are challenged from outside his mind, which they can't be if he's not allowed to express them.

My respects to Junaid Afeef for his devotion to freedom of speech, and his recognition that defending Islam requires defending that freedom -- even, or perhaps especially, when it is being used to say negative things about Islam. I look forward to a day when he does not have to feel concern about his fellow citizens' intentions. I trust, and do believe, we can get there: and, like him, I think that open and honest discussion is the only road.