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Semiformalishmaybe

Bound, Modern Hands

Seeing all the good coverage of the disaster in Haiti is an excellent way to make one feel helpless. Donating is one thing, but if there were some way to know I'd be helpful, I wish I could pack a backpack and sleeping bag and take a few weeks off to head down there to help do whatever's needed (not speaking the language would be a major barrier). The death tolls are nearing 100,000 according to the news.. The effective lack of a government the country has had for several years continue to complicate repair efforts.

Britain has banned theocratic group Islam4UK, which I think is the right decision but for the wrong reason. Choudary (leader of I4UK) has long been a controversial figure known for what's probably intentional provocation of the rest of society, declaring illegitimate the government of the UK, comparing all British presence in muslim countries to nazis, conducting cultural marriages while actively discouraging people to match them up with civil marriage because that would legitimise the state, and so on, all while claiming that someday all of Britain would be under Sharia and encouraging his members to graduate to militant groups across the world. This ban fits with a plan for the group to march through areas where dead British soldiers are honoured.

I believe that Islam4UK merits a ban, but not for the reason it was banned. Insensitive statements intended to offend should not be considered banworthy in western societies. We have traditionally not prohibited such things, trolling they may be, because of two reasons. First, it is very difficult to draw the line were we to want to, and second, because the ability to offend, particularly to protest the direction of society, is precious and necessary to the function of society. Drawing a line in culture and institutions is often difficult, even if we allow the lines to be a bit fuzzy (as our laws are - the dream of a legal system that could be administered by automata, even those with a full understanding of human nature and very good abilities to understand the truth, is a very different dream than any humans have ever lived under. Formal freedoms in our system may be dominant (hence rule of law), but they are not absolutely so. Redrawing our legal system on any kind of first principles would sweep away centuries of protections against humans abusing each other, centuries of precious adaptation). While the idea of formalising cultural norms into laws and enforcing them involves drawing a lot of lines in the sand, some lines are easier than others. Could we imagine, for example, coming up with a set of tests for "inappropriate offense" of the same legally enforcable, workable flavour as our existing laws that would effectively cleave the spectrum of possible behaviour into neat illegal/legal categories? What kinds of possible defenses might be permitted? On the second point, notions of when a law is just have always been contentious in society, and the independence of moral conclusions of a citizenry from the structure in which they reside limits the extent to which corruption or error of the present leadership must persist. A tight grip on expressed truth both turns mistakes into death-pacts and limits possible subtleties (e.g. we are "pretty sure but there is reasonable room for disagreement"). While it is not desirable for society or the state to consider these matters completely hands-off, offense is not itself an appropriate reason to ban. (however, on a non-legal level, I hold that Godwin's law should be strongly adhered to in society, specifically the version with correlary and expansion as follows: "In a political discussion, anyone who mentions or alludes to Hitler or the Nazis as suitable comparison for someone's proposal/perspective immediately loses the discussion (on a personal level - the actual merits of the matter are not decided) and loses substantial respect of everyone who hears about it).

Islam4UK merits a ban, for different reasons. First and most easily, it has preached violence theoretically for some time, taking an active effort to "graduate" people into actual militant groups that have carried out attacks all over the world, which they can then officially disclaim. While this may not be the "clear and immanent danger" standard that the US has (what he says and does *might* be legal in the US), the US has (I claim) struck the wrong balance with free speech here, allowing dangerous groups to exist under monitoring in the hope that they would either step over the line as an organisation or go away. I hold that the people deserve better protection than that (oddly, the only example that comes to mind where they attacked people who theoretically posed a danger was when those same people were actually working *for* the public good (ref: McCarthy gegen American Communists). Second, it steps over an established pale in Western tradition - that against theocracy. This is a relatively easy line to draw, and reflects a longstanding commitment worthy of enshrinement as a pale. Any group working for theocracy (establishing Sharia, or any other kind) merits a ban. Finally, it *may* cross over another (somewhat fuzzier and significantly newer) pale, for excessive differentiation/subordination of the role of women relating to men. This is an appropriate pale (it would be worthy to become a strong pale), and some forms of some faths certainly breach it, but the consensus may not yet be strong enough for it to be considered active enough to go further than monitoring and considering gender equality to be an active state stance.

It is interesting to see conservatives of one sort (Choudary's flavour of Muslims) clashing with conservatives of another on the streets of Britain.

Does Choudary have even the slimmest point? Should we be sympathetic to some of his views? Perhaps, or at least on a few points we could imagine a reasonable person coming to some of Choudary's positions without becoming an Islamic extremist. If, for example, we took the criticism that military presence of Britain in Afghenistan is illegitimate and a power grab seriously (which one might, based on Britain and the US have done so numerous times in the past, and that the World Bank is fundamentally about pushing economic domination - I do not actually believe the situation in Afghenistan is necessarily so, but I think it is a reasonable (although probably mistaken) conclusion, and that even if it were, it would provide benefits to our values as well and so accept/promote it as part of a nation-building programme), one might naturally come to see the British and American militaries as being (regardless of the morals of individual soldiers) part of an imperialist, harmful force and thus either celebrate their failure or say they have what's coming to them (depending on if we believe people in a military are absolved from anything they might directly or indirectly do as part of that institution). The comparison to Nazis is (as it always is by Godwin's law, but also otherwise) inappropriate - at most, this would make them like the British troops that imposed Christianity, nicotene, and other western abuses on China (leading to the Boxer rebellion) at the beginning of the 1900s. I think given a few reasonable differences in philosophy, one could thus desire to dishonour the soldiers as part of wanting to dishonour an unjust military action (and I believe that protecting the possibility of expression of those reasonable positions is worthwhile).

Thus, I divide what Islam4UK did to get banned from what it did that should have gotten it banned.

Fortunately, Islam4UK's ideas are in extreme minority in Britain, among British Muslims as well.

It's a bit weird seeing these kinds of discussions from the Whitehouse on Youtube - reminds me of the lively discussions in the software engineering classes I took in undergrad.

Probably the best way to understand Ahmadinejad's standing in Iran right now is to say that it's a bit worse than BushJr's, but about as polarising.


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A bit irritated with both my laptop and my desktop's sound cards for making different (soft) noises based on CPU usage or disk usage. I guess this could be because modern soundcards are lousy and do things in software that they really should do in hardware, but perhaps it's just interference.

Recently have been exploring the different Pestos that Whole Foods has to offer.

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