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Friday, November 01, 2002

The Censorship Tar Pit

Jason Soon does not like the Most Blood-Hungry Warblogger Competition that Bill Quick has cooked up. I think Jason is taking it a lot more literally than almost every "contestant" intended---and that "almost" is a weasel word; I don't have anyone in mind as the Real Killer.

But while ruminating about it, Jason brilliantly makes a point that I've been meaning to bring up, when he talks about LGF at the bottom of his post:

[2] I think that Charles Johnson should ban some of the people who leave comments on his blog, particularly the nontrivial fraction who fail to make reasonable distinctions between all Muslims and Muslims sympathetic to/engaged in terrorism.

(Here I must interrupt. I don't think there are very many who do not make this distinction.)

It's clear that Mr. Johnson monitors the content of his blog and bans the occasional rabid anti-American/anti-Israel troll, so it's not as if he has a policy of allowing unfettered non-profane discussion. The selective censure of commenters indicates (to me at least) that Charles is at least somewhat sympathetic to the extreme views voiced on his site. I am loath to say it because I am more sympathetic to Johnson than I am to his critics, but I think that Johnson feels that there are no enemies on the right.

Jason's being...myopic...when he says "...I think that Johnson feels that there are no enemies on the right." He doesn't have a good grasp of how much territory there is to the right of Charles (who is, on other topics, quite liberal, by his own admission). I can't read every comment on every thread on the site, but I don't believe we've ever had anyone calling for "the Final Solution to the Muslim question"; I don't think we've had anyone call for internment of Muslims, or expulsion from the US/Europe/Australia. There's no one suggesting that killing a Muslim will send you to heaven; no one suggesting conquering Muslim lands and taking their dark-eyed daughters for your pleasure. In short, LGF's comments do not begin to approach the vitriol of a fiery mosque sermon, or even a Klan meeting.

When Charles posts something on LGF that comes out of Saudi Arabia---a snippet from Arab News, a quote from a university professor, a rant from an imam---the punters on LGF take it for granted that it is the official government position of Saudi Arabia. They are extremely unlikely to do this for almost any other country on earth, and the reason is that the government of Saudi Arabia clamps down hard on speech. There is no such thing as "free speech" there, except in that you are free to speak the government line.

(Obligatory waffle: Of course, the "government" there is kind of nebulously defined, in that it consists of a gaggle of princelings whose only common cause is a desire to continue ruling. There are degrees of West-hatred among them.)

But in essence it's true that anything you here published from Saudi Arabia is at the very least extremely unlikely to be offensive to the government.

If Charles were to do as Jason and others would like, and start censoring some of the comments, others would begin to do as Jason has done here---assume that the ones which get through are those Charles necessarily agrees with. Now Charles, even if he had time to vet every comment in every thread (which he does not), would agonize over the more dubious ones. "Would I really say that?" he'd ask himself. Maybe it was a bit farther than he would go. So he'd delete it. It may well be that he'd cut those which were too eager to defend the Palestinians and jihadis as well. Hey, if he's going to cut out those which were too hard-line, he ought to cut out those that weren't hard-line enough. After all, other people think the commenters are speaking for him.

And eventually all we'd get is some uniform batch of Charles-thought, so that there'd be really no need for comments. "Mega-dittoes, Charles!" we could all say, and have done with it. (Just like in Saudi Arabia. Only minus the torture.)

What's much, much more likely to happen is that Charles would just disable comments, and that would be a shame.