Put those in the Do Not Recycle bin

A “free speech” discussion on Twitter, spinning off the discussion of Badar and FODI and saying “honor” murder is morally justified. It’s annoying the way people recycle dopy platitudes that, if you pause to consider them, are actually complete bullshit.


I favour so let them speak. Alternative is views forced underground.

No it isn’t. That’s a very popular cliché, of course, but that doesn’t make it true, and it’s not true. There are a lot of alternatives to letting Uthman Badar give a talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House saying that “honor killing is morally justified” other than forcing that view underground. Does Uthman Badar look as if he’s been forced underground? Has his view been forced underground? Hardly.

An even sillier one is

Only light can disinfect views we find abhorrent

Nonsense. Often darkness is just the ticket. Some abhorrent views become marginal and despised, and that’s a good thing. Often giving abhorrent views “light” in the form of public attention makes them stronger and more popular, and that can be a bad thing.

It’s just magical thinking to assume that public discussion of harmful ideas – ideas that encourage bad treatment up to and including murder of kinds of people – always and everywhere “disinfects” them. It’s not that easy.

None of this is easy, none of it is simple, and passing around worn-thin banalities that are false as well as banal, does not make it any more so.

Updating to add an item:

Another thing people get wrong about this is making it a matter of an audience’s reception, of our emotions about the claims – that they are “abhorrent” or “offensive” or “shocking” or similar. No that’s not the point; the point is that they have the potential to harm people.


  1. Kevin Kehres says

    Oh yes, by all means, let’s let him speak about the benefits of honor killings.

    While we’re at it, let’s have discussions about how great it would be to kill all the Jews, or lynch black men for looking at white women, or drag gay boys behind a pickup truck.

    Yes, let’s discuss the great benefits of such things. Please.

  2. Chris J says

    Often giving abhorrent views “light” in the form of public attention makes them stronger and more popular, and that can be a bad thing.

    The idea doesn’t even need to get stronger; attempting to keep bringing it up keeps the idea alive, rather than letting the light kill it. At some point, you need to let the abhorrent idea die off.

    Also, you can bring abhorrent ideas into the light of public discourse without endorsing the idea. We don’t need a KKK member endorsing racism to remind ourselves that racism was and is a big problem; there are other ways to do it. The public can be educated about the existence of “honor killings” and how much harm they cause without giving a platform to someone who argues that they are justified.

    The only reason to grant such a platform is if you think they have something meaningful and important to say. In other words, if you think that “honor killings” could indeed be justified. Sorry, I think we have enough of a developed moral sense to judge outright that killing people because of a personal sense of wounded “honor” is wrong. Full stop.

  3. carlie says

    On “sunlight is a disinfectant” : not if it’s algae. Then bringing it out into the light can cause a red tide that strangles everything else by sucking out all the oxygen and depositing toxins in the environment. So they can take that metaphor and shove it where the sun don’t shine. (heh)

  4. sinned34 says

    I’d argue that the only time “bringing it into the light” is worthwhile is when you’re trying to expose somebody who has abhorrent beliefs.
    Giving a platform to let a a guy who thinks it’s okay to murder somebody in his family because they’ve embarrassed him and is proud of it spew his abhorrent ideas to an audience is a bad idea. Everybody already knows this guy feels that way and he’s proud of it. At best, it teaches some people that there are still barbarians amongst us. At worst, he convinces somebody that he’s right.
    Know of a politician or other public figure who holds those disgusting beliefs but is trying to mask them? Shove all the microphones and cameras into their face as you can and make sure everybody knows the repulsive ideas that person clings to.
    The point is to try and and let people know that those ideas deserve no place in a civilized society, not to give those ideas a chance to spread.

    But I guess I’m just repeating what everyone above me has said.

  5. anbheal says

    There’s also just a whiff of colonialism and racism in the blithe exhortations to Free Speech and airing ideas, in this very particular context. Let’s say Louis Farrakhan had been invited to give a speech at Howard, and we learned that the topic would be about the black underclass arming itself and raging into leafy lane suburbia on a mission of vengeance, with a rallying cry of “Violate The White Women!”. These very same people would be screaming that Howard must revoke the invitation, that we cannot allow such an incitement to violence.

    Or surely if Badar had planned to give a speech defending the planting of IEDs in American and British subway systems to bring the war onto the shores of the imperialists. Free Speech would have never been mentioned, I suspect. They’d be preparing a cell at Gitmo for him.

    But someone spewing venom about killing poor rural brown ladies with funny clothes and funny languages somewhere far away? Well, in that case, the defense of Western ideals of free speech must remain sacrosanct. The victims are insignificant others, over in Wackystan, so let’s allow this obnoxious fellow to validate our existing conviction that Mooslims are Craaazy.

    If the barrel of the violence gun he’s waving around were pointed at rich white Christian people, there’d be no such appeals to sunlight and disinfectant.

  6. deepak shetty says

    I favour #FoS so let them speak. Alternative is views forced underground.
    When the speech essentially is intimidatory , violent in nature – then what it actually forces underground are counter views. Whats worse is it also forces behavioral change – How likely are you to go against your families wishes if prominent people go about saying how killing you would be justified if you did so with impunity?

  7. PatrickG says

    @ carlie:

    So they can take that metaphor and shove it where the sun don’t shine. (heh)

    Thanks! I really needed that laugh. 🙂

  8. sacharissa says

    I’m uneasy when people think debate for debate’s sake is a good thing. When abortion was in the news someone said to me that it was good it stirs up debate, but that often just means women’s bodily autonomy is being attacked.

    I’m also dubious when people say things like, “There should be no limits on free speech” without thinking through the implications.

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