New Threats to Freedom
New Threats to Freedom
From Banning Ice Cream Trucks in Brooklyn to Abandoning Democracy Around the World
Thirty Great Writers On Cultural Trends That are Undermining Our Liberties
Edited and Introduced by Adam Bellow
Templeton Press 2010, 317 pp.
I attended a Free Speech conference last year in Washington D.C., and one of the speakers (a very well-known blogger) asked why it was necessary to have such a conference in a country with a constitutional amendment on free speech.
She missed the point. You don't need conferences on free speech in places like North Korea or Cuba. But they are necessary in places like the US because there are always 'new' threats – particularly as technology develops more and more rapidly.
The same can be said about this excellent new book, "New Threats to Freedom". One might wonder in this age where we have so much freedom: are there really 30 new threats? After all, we live in a time when communism has been defeated. It's even on its last legs in Cuba. China has turned to a form of capitalism. Enlightenment values are even taking hold in places like Afghanistan.
The answer is yes and no, and it all depends. Some of the essays in this book will truly alarm you. Some will have you wondering what all the fuss is about. And, some while pointing to a true problem aren’t really a threat to freedom.
Let’s start with some of the better essays. Bruce Bawer, who has previously warned us in two books about the danger from radical Islam, now discusses "the Closing of the Liberal Mind."
"9/11 was a test for the baby-boom and post-baby-boom generations. They failed. Talk about freedom, and they'll look at you with a condescending smirk. Criticize Islamic ideology, and they'll grow visibly uncomfortable at being in the presence of such bigotry. Talk to them about responsibility and sacrifice, and they will look at you as if you are some out-of-touch old codger or some character out of the Iliad. They call themselves liberals, but they have effectively aligned themselves with the most illiberal regimes on the planet."
Bruce’s essay struck a nerve with me. I have a whole host of friends from whom I now rarely see. I used to go dinner parties and dinners but invites have long since dried up. You see I might say something in support of Israel, or I might say something about Iraq or Afghanistan. Some of these friends used to love to debate for hours on end in University, but no more. They like their dinner parties to be 'pure' - no real discussion and no real debate.
I know that Bruce is now turning his essay into a book and I can’t wait.
James Kirchik in his essay on "Transnational Progressivism" writes about the coalition of Islamists, authoritarian powers like Iran and Venezuela, and what he calls "transnational progressives" who believe that, for the good of the world, America must be tamed.
"The transnational progressives also act in concert - thought not intentionally - with Islamists and authoritarians when they call for American surrender in the theaters of war on Islamic supremacism, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any of the other remote locales where our enemies plot attacks on American soil. When the insurgency in Iraq picked up force in 2005, congressional Democrats backed calls for a retreat, which would undoubtedly have led to even more bloodshed and a victory of Jihadism. As focus has shifted back to Afghanistan due to bettering conditions in Iraq (no thanks, of course, is due to American liberals for that development, they are calling for withdrawal there as well."
We can see this in Canada too with the NDP call to support our troops, but also to bring them home. The loony left really believe that Afghans object to the coalition fighting the Taliban, which is just not true. Unfortunately, lately in Canada (and elsewhere) there is also a chorus, from the right, who also object to the war in Afghanistan. Their reasons are many – oh, the terms of engagement aren't quite right, or they object to the mention of sharia law in the Afghan constitution, or they believe that the war is unwinnable. Whatever. The last thing we need is a coalition of the loony left and the isolationist right.
Christopher Hitchens writes in "Multiculturalism and the Threat of Conformity" about the cartoons of Muhammad that caused a lightning storm in the Muslim world. Not a single major American newspaper or TV network showed the actual cartoons, and we all know what happened in Canada.
"Things were not even allowed to get that far in New Haven. Rather, it was announced that a book about the cartoon controversy, written by a lady Danish professor of some standing, would not after all include a reprinting of the cartoons themselves. The authoress protested at this destruction of the very point and core of her book, but the publisher of the university press overruled her, saying that publication of the offending illustrations would "instigate" violence. To "instigate" is knowingly to try and bring about a certain outcome: how depressing that senior staff at the press of a great university do not appear to understand the meaning of a plain word. Even more depressing is the realization that such people have internalized outside pressure, to the stage where they take responsibility on themselves for acts of criminal violence that might, at some future date, be committed by other people. This is cultural masochism."
Last year, I was involved in bringing cartoonist Kurt Westergaard to Canada. He flew into Toronto, after speaking at Yale, and we took Kurt to do a one hour show with Michael Coren. Kurt brought with him several signed cartoons (he drew the cartoon with Muhammad and the turban bomb), and gave one framed cartoon to Coren. As I sat in the studio watching the interview, I wondered if Coren would indeed show the audience the framed cartoon he had just received. No such luck. The audience would not see the cartoon that Kurt was in Canada to talk about.
Dennis Whittle in his essay “Orthodoxy and Freedom in International Aid” has some stories that will just make you plain angry:
“By the end of my time in Indonesia, in early 1992, I was tired and ready to leave the World Bank and do something different. In March, however, I got a call from a guy at headquarters saying that Russia had just joined the World Bank and asking if I was interested in joining the new Russia department.
“But I don’t know anything about Russia,” I told him. I had studied no Russian language or history in school, and had little Russian literature beyond the classics.
“Well, none of us know anything about Russia,” he replied. “So, you will fit right in.”
Whittle goes on to describe some interesting initiatives in international aid that allowed for ideas from beyond a small group of ‘experts’ to be evaluated and perhaps funded. His essay has a hopeful ending.
Some of the so-called threats like Ron Ronebaum’s essay on Cyber-Anonymity, while pointing to a problem, don’t seem to be a huge threat. “The Rise of Antireligious Orthodoxy by Mark Helprin talks about the ‘atrophy and disappearance’ of religion in the west, but goes too far when complaining about “the dominant narrative of the modernism that replaces faith.” There is a threat from post-modernism – but faith may or may not be the answer. Perhaps faith in the enlightenment might be more than enough.
It would be nice to have a "Canadian" edition, or should I say, addition to this book. One essay that needs to be written is the threat to freedom from mediocre politicians.
It's embarrassing to hear our politicians, day after day, embarrass themselves no end - government Ministers who cannot explain or defend government policy – the whole census debacle made me cringe. Tony Clement seemed unable to explain why the Government was changing the census- perhaps it was the 25-year-olds on his staff who thought it prudent to announce a change with no substantive backup. Even if you agree with the decision, the Government came off looking as if they hadn’t done their homework.
And, this mediocrity affects politicians of all stripes. Michael Ignatieff is a very smart man, but you wouldn’t know it from his leadership of the Liberal party. Libby Davies of the NPD is caught saying she believes that Israel has been an occupier since 1948 - then admit how little she knows about the Middle East – and she’s the deputy leader of the NDP!
Two years ago, I went to question period in the House. I used to think that the earpiece you see everybody wearing is for translation. And, indeed it does provide translation.
But, even bilingual people need that earpiece. It's major function is to allow you to hear what people are saying over the din of yelling and heckling.
And, as I sat there listening, it became apparent that the opposition mostly asks stupid political questions ("why should we believe you now when you lied in the past?") and the government, the few times it is actually asked a real question, just turns it into a political answer (we're doing more than you ever did in power). It was horribly embarrassing, and I will never go back.
Back to the book. I strongly recommend it. You won’t agree with every essay, but so what? It will get you thinking, and that’s what counts. Now, can we have a contest to see who can write the best essay on threats to Canadian freedom?
Fred Litwin is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist.