The Ideological Seeds of the Occuparty by Waris Husain

As the Occupy Wall Street protests slowly creep into every major city in the U.S., some have pointed to the futility of protesting, especially when the group is lacking a cohesive ideology. However, we know through the Tea Party that the energy generated from opposition protests can manifest into a new political force that can affect the American landscape. The entrance of the Tea Party has polarized the country’s decision-makers to a conservative angle, and it will take a focused effort by activists, lawyers, and writers alike as part of the OccuParty to challenge their effect. The formation of such a new party would require not only an attack on corporate domination, but also to force change in the government and require them to serve the interests of the “99%”, instead of the “1%”.

In this early stage it is dificult to surmise the ideology of Wall Street protesters, who range from labor union members to unemployed hipsters. However, there is a shared ideological message underlying demands by protestors for the government to increase taxes on corporations. This message controverts the Tea Party mantra, “Government can do no good” as the protestors are calling for more government to take more control over private actors. Such a demand is based on the belief that the government can indeed do “good”, but only when it is free from undue influences through lobbyists and corporate agents.

If one were only to focus on the financial institutions that have muted the voice of the 99%, this movement would have little effect on the decision-making in this country. It was democratic institutions, not companies, who passed laws that allowed for corporations to control the American landscape. It was the Supreme Court of this nation who created a legal fiction that gave corporations the same rights as an average citizen.  And thus, even if corporations are fostering corruption and buying favors, it is our democratic officials that are selling those favors.

While Tea Partiers point to this behavior as evidence that governments are inherently corrupt and can’t be trusted, their observation falls short. The central feature of a truly democratic government is that all decisions are based on the informed consent of the people. However, if there is a secret veil of corporate and lobbyist control over WashingtonD.C., then the public is no longer voting based on informed consent and is thus no longer engaged in a democratic process.

The secretive influence of corporations has further been set into law by the U.S. Supreme Court with the Citizen’s United decision that affirmed corporate personhood. This gives the same rights of political affiliation and free speech to corporations as average citizens receive under the Constitution. This means that Nike or McDonalds, worth billions of dollars, is considered a citizen just like you or I when it comes to campaign donations. Soon it will be impossible to run for elections without a corporate sponsor, and thus, it will also be impossible to serve the interests of voters when officials have corporate overlords.

Attacking these principles will serve the interests of the OccuParty by giving them a central unifying purpose: to restore our constitutional democracy by re-equipping citizens with informed consent. Such an action may be viewed as revolutionary by some, but is founded on the basic principle of the U.S. Constitution that requires the government to be subservient only to the people, not to secret interests. One should remember that eliminating corporate personhood would not violate the Constitution considering the document gave no rights or protections to corporations over common citizens.

Along with attacking the government for fostering corporate domination, the OccuParty will need to adopt an ideology concerning the rights of citizens. The protestors have by and large asserted that wealth must be redistributed, with greater access to social services like education and health care. The demands of theOccupy Wall Street protesters are diametrically opposed to the conservative world view that individual rights are supreme above all others. While some may assert that the demands are merely a fools hope, there is a political ideology that lies under the surface.

Germany’s constitution embodies a principle that may resonate with most of the protestors: as the State must respect the rights of the individual, but the individual must respect the rights of their community. From this basic idea, one can call for a redistribution of wealth because while one has the right to accumulate wealth, one does not have the right to do so without assisting their community. Under this perspective, one could advocate for individual rights like gay marriage because they do not negatively effect the rights of the community.

Though Tea Partiers tout Thomas Jefferson as a guardian for individual rights, they forget that Jefferson didn’t believe that the wealthy could accumulate wealth without owing a duty to assist their community. Rather, he purported that while the government cannot interfere with individual rights, people owe a duty to help their local communities. This means that the 1% elites should be required to assist their community by paying for programs like student loan forgiveness or universal health care, for example.

Liberals in America have long-complained about the lack of a viable leftist party that embodied the interests of Democrats and Independents alike, though the Green Party and Libertarians have tried in the past. In order to do this, the OccuParty should take actions both on the street and in court to challenge undue influence by elites on our democracy, and the subsequent lack of informed consent by the people. Further, the party should advocate for a hybrid individual-community rights system as an overarching ideology. Though politics in America has taken a conservative turn with the influence of the Tea Party, the OccuParty could serve as a bastion for liberal philosophy and restore democratic order to this nation at a critical time.

All Power to the 99%.

The Dehumanization of the Judiciary (via Wichaar.com)

By David Matthew and Waris Husain

The execution of Troy Davis this week was met with national uproar and protests in Washington D.C. Mr. Davis was to be executed for a crime he allegedly committed, even though most of the witnesses in the case recanted their testimony, indicating his potential innocence. The Supreme Court of the nation refused to stay the execution based on legal formalities that were not satisfied in this case. Instead of humanizing Troy Davis as a man about to lose his life to an unjust system, our courts employ a rigidly technical jurisprudence.

In America, the legal community has focused so greatly on upholding legal technicalities that judges and lawyers disregard the human impact of their decisions.  An undue reliance on legal formalism has pervaded in the Supreme Court, resulting in a mechanical application of the law that favors the law’s logical form over its ability to promote social well-being to the people it serves. A more pragmatic and humanistic approach to jurisprudence is needed to interpret law in its proper context, not as merely an end in itself but as a means to fulfill human needs and values.

The demand by the public for the judiciary to act even in the absence of precedent stems from two ideas: (1) the public’s discomfort with allowing a potentially biased system to take the lives of citizens, and (2) the lack of respect for human dignity implicit in the death penalty.  Either way, such contentions can only be addressed by a court that recognizes and upholds the principles of wisdom as much as it applies the rigid technicality of legal formalities, so as to value the human impact of the decisions made by the Courts.

I. THE CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

            The continual use of the death penalty in the U.S. seems draconian when compared to the rest of the developed world who has banned the practice. But fundamentally, the continuation of the death penalty relates to the technical nature of legal analysis amongst lawyers and judges in the U.S. With a technical perspective, the courts have worked to uphold their own decisions, and since executions were commonly upheld throughout America’s history, the status quo has remained etched in stone.  Indeed, a vital function of the Court is to adhere to precedent – and Justice after Justice has largely done so in mechanical fashion.

The Supreme Court’s legitimization of capital punishment has created a particular culture surrounding the state-sponsored murder of citizens. Not only does a technical upholding of a barbaric practice allow for its continued use, it also has inspired a blood-lust amongst the people. This was especially apparent when a crowd at a Republican Primary Debate cheered Rick Perry for announcing that he has presided over more executions as governor of Texas than any other American governor in the past decade.  It is ironic that the same crowd of people who distrust the government from competently delivering health care or education, can trust that same State entity with determining the fate of someone’s life.

 

III. INJUSTICE IN ADMINSTRATION

Some were angered by the Troy Davis case because there were suspicions of racial discrimination, as Mr. Davis was African American. This classification alone exposed Mr. Davis to the death penalty more likely than a white counterpart, as 89% of defendants subject to capital punishment in the U.S. are either African American or Mexican-American. Several advocates have presented cases before the Supreme Court that used social science data to explain that capital punishment was being used discriminatorily against the nation’s minorities. In such cases, the court relied on its legal formalism to reject social science data, and maintained the practice of capital punishment despite the existence of information suggesting that innocent people were being executed by the State.

However, legal formalists would argue that despite discrimination that might exist in society, we can trust the courts enough to adequately determine a person’s guilt and subject them to death as a penalty. The South African Supreme Court rejected this very idea, stating that no court in the world should be able to put a person to death when inequality or discrimination existed in that society. They stated that,

“the outcome (of a capital punishment case) may be dependent upon factors such

as the way the case is investigated by the police, the way the case is presented by

the prosecutor, how effectively the accused is defended, the personality and

particular attitude to capital punishment of the trial judge and, if the matter goes

on appeal, the particular judges who are selected to hear the case. Race and

poverty are also alleged to be factors. – S v. Makwanyane

Even though Europeans had slaughtered thousands of innocent black citizens using the death penalty in South Africa, the new Supreme Court chose not to exact revenge on their colonial masters. The Constitutional Court correctly raised concern over the very real possibility that circumstantial factors of societal inequality may lead to incorrect judicial rulings.Understanding the inherent fallibility and imperfections of the legal system, South Africa refused to accept capital punishment as being an appropriate solution that imperfect courts of law are capable of responsibly administering. The U.S. shares a similar history of discriminatory behavior towards certain minority groups, yet formalists argue that the U.S. system can somehow fairly administer the death penalty. Unlike South Africa, where the judges had the wisdom to understand the potential human cost of allowing the death penalty to continue in a discriminatory society, American judges have dehumanized our judiciary with their undying allegiance to formalism.

III. HUMAN DIGNITY AND THE DEATH PENALTY

There is another group of people who wish to repeal the death penalty based on the idea that executions violate the modern concept of “human dignity,” even if administered perfectly by the courts. This principle is acknowledged in several constitutions around the world and is a basic right in most international human rights treaties. In Germany, Article II of the Basic Law states that “every person shall have the right to life and physical integrity. Freedom of the person shall be inviolable.” This has been interpreted to prohibit the use of capital punishment against any citizen.

Germany’s constitution and courts draw on their scarred history of the Holocaust and World War 2 as inspiration for the abolishment of the death penalty.  During the reign of Nazi dictatorship an estimated 40,000 death sentences were handed down.  In response to this atrocious abuse of power, in 1949 German’s Parliamentary Council emphatically articulated its commitment to abolishing the death penalty:

“As the extent of Nazi atrocities and abuse of the death penalty became clear,

everyone was horrified, and the founders of the Federal Republic of Germany

decided the State could never again be allowed the power to kill.”

This acknowledgement of past atrocity empowered a modern Germany to learn from its grave mistakes and seek to never repeat them. They understood the real human impact of the loss of life, which is completely disregarded in the United States with its rigid maintenance of the death penalty. If one looks through the history books of the U.S., the nation was built on the genocide of a native population as well as the enslavement and abuse of African Americans. Yet, unlike the Germans, the American legal community had no such self-realization allowing the society to progress forward with the changing times. This is partially the reason why the execution of Troy Davis was so disheartening to so many across the world.  Once again, it reminded us of America’s arrogant refusal to correct past wrongs, and once again our poisoned judiciary shrunk at the opportunity to stand up to its moral obligations.

Predictably, few in the Supreme Court have acknowledged the importance of human dignity in their legal analysis.  Justice Brennan explained how the death penalty relates to the newly developing ideals of “human dignity”, when he stated “the country has debated whether a society for which the dignity of the individual is the supreme value can, without a fundamental inconsistency, follow the practice of deliberately putting some of its members to death…the struggle about this punishment has been one between ancient and deeply rooted beliefs in retribution…. on the one hand, and, on the other, beliefs in the personal value and dignity of the common man.”

IV. WISDOM IN THE COURT

            Thus, we can now come back to the situation of Troy Davis, whose appeal to the Supreme Court was denied even though many of the witnesses in his case recanted their story. The reasoning behind the court’s decision was lauded by some legal formalists, as the court upheld the prior decisions allowing for capital punishment in the face of abject discrimination. While legal formalists rely on case law, the ultimate law of any nation is its constitution and the basic feature of all constitutions, we argue, is that they protect human dignity and equality.

            In Furman v. Georgia, Justice Brennan argued that all capital punishment should be banned in the U.S. because the society no longer accepts it as an acceptable form of punishment (which is true today as 60% of Americans want to ban the death penalty). However, he explained through the Constitution, that the Eighth Amendment banned the use of cruel and unusual punishment, and that the definition of “cruel and unusual” would change over time.  Justice Brennan stated that Constitutional protections “must draw [their] meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Therefore, the judges are tasked with the job of monitoring the “evolving standards of decency,” which cannot be done purely through a scientific legal rigidity and upholding past decisions.

            This requires that a judge display one characteristic: wisdom. A judge embodies wisdom when he/she recognizes the human impact of the decisions they make and understands the spirit of the laws. It is an obvious contention that laws and constitutions, at least nominally, were created to maximize human happiness and ensure equality, but a focus on legally formalistic arguments lends to decisions that result in injustice and misery.

Thus, a judge espousing higher law principles of wisdom possesses the ability to apply the law in a manner contextually related to the human experience.  A judge shouldn’t apply the law as if it is an infallible science, but rather should acknowledge imperfections in the law that have led to inequalities and socially manufactured economic and ethnic divisions. More generally, lawyers must possess the courage to pragmatically address such inequalities and divisions in restorative fashion, in an attempt to make society whole again by reconciling the past, not ignoring it.

V. CONCLUSION

While we train our lawyers and judges to be skilled in the technical facets of the law, we do not value an independently developed internal wisdom that a judge possesses by way of experience and inner-reflection, as opposed to external study and recitation of doctrine. This doctrinal formalism has dominated our Courts – and trickled down into our lower courts and judicial methodology in general. Thus, courts will continue to exact injustice and take the lives of innocent people if it does not adjust its decisions to the environment / characteristics of each specific case and value human dignity and life above all else.

If a wise judge were given the chance to examine capital punishment with regards to the gross racial disparity in execution rates, they would immediately work to ban the punishment all together. Alternatively, a wise judge could also assess the development of society’s values, which have redefined human dignity to include a protection against state-sponsored murder. The American legal system must catch up to progressive constitutional mandates that prohibit the death penalty.

Love and the Law: An exerpt from Bulleh Shah (Required reading if you have studied the law)

Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) was a Punjabi Sufi poet, a humanist and philosopher from what is now considered Pakistan. As one of the leading figures in social thought and spiritualism, Bulleh Shah continually challenged the norms of society, be it materialism or hate for one’s fellow man.

While his work is expansive, the following passage was picked for a personal reason.  Throughout my career as a law school student I have felt an internal stuggle between what I would call my “Universal Self” (or innate sensibility of “fairness”) and the technical nature of the law as embraced by practioners and academics. Several justices over the years, the worst of which is Justice Scalia, have treated the cases that come before the US Supreme Court as a time to showcase thier talent of rationally explaing a inhuman or heartless decision by the court.

Most law school students in the first year, before they have been indoctrinated to accept the notion that injustice can/must be done in order to maintain the court’s precedent, always raise questions of a court not deciding the “right way” even though the Justices were maintained a high level of technical legal analysis. That is because we come into law school believing in our own internal moral compass, again what I would call a relationship to the Universal Self, and the process of learning the law forces one to take actions that may violate one’s own moral code becuase it is the “technically” correct thing to do.  

So I present Bulleh Shah’s verse which I will label as Love and Law. Though he presents teh argument as lambasting the laws created around religions by organizations and priests, but it easily translates to the abject focus on technical rationality in the modern legal forum.  This has been a more significant and epiphany inducing peice than anything I have read in law school- so for all the young lawyers, PLEASE READ THIS!

Love and Law are struggling in the human heart.
The doubt of the heart will I settle by relating questions of Law
And the answers of Love I will describe, holy Sir;

Law says go to the Mullah (priest) and learn the rules and regulations.
Love answers, “One letter is enough, shut up and put away other books.”
Law says: Perform the five baths and worship alone in the temple (reffering to the 5x daily prayer of Muslims) 
Love says: Your worship is false if you consider yourself seperate from the Universal Self.

Law says: Have shame and hide the enlightenment
Love says: What is this veil for? Let the vision be open
Law says: Go inside the mosque and perform the duty of prayer
Love says: Go to the wine-house and drinking the wine, read a prayer

Law says: Let us go to heaven; we will eat the fruits of heaven
Love says: There, we are custodians or rulers, and we ourselves will distribute the fruits of heaven
Law says: O faithful one, come perform the hajj (pilgrimage), you have to cross the bridge
Love says: The door of the Beloved (God/Allah) is in ka’baa; from there I will not stir 

Law says:  We placed Shah Mansur (a contraversial Sufi Saint) on the stake
Love says: You did well, you made him enter the door of the Beloved (God/Allah)
THE RANK OF LOVE IS THE HIGHEST HEAVEN, THE CROWN OF CREATION.
OUT OF LOVE, HE (Allah/ God) has created Bulleh, humble, and from dust.   

Sovereign Of the Week: Anna Hazare (Fasting against corruption)

Hunger striking Indian activist Anna Hazare has called for mass protests by his supporters against corruption. The 72-year-old campaigner is on the fourth day of a fast to push for stringent new anti-corruption laws. He wants his followers to “fill India’s jails” in a mass campaign of non-violent civil disobedience on 13 April.

Thousands of people have joined Mr Hazare’s protest. In recent months India has been rocked by a string of corruption scandals. On Thursday, the government agreed to include civil society members in a new panel which Mr Hazare is demanding be set up to draft tighter anti-corruption legislation. But differences remain over who will lead the panel and whether it will have legal powers.

Mr Hazare has said he wants the “jail bharo” (fill the prison) movement to take place across India. “But you should participate in the agitation keeping in mind Mahatma Gandhi. There should be no violence anywhere,” he told his supporters.

India’s governing Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi has urged Mr Hazare to give up his fast. She said his views would receive the government’s “full attention” in the fight against corruption. Doctors are checking Mr Hazare twice a day to monitor his health. The 72-year-old says he will refuse food until the government accedes to his demands.

There has been widespread support for Mr Hazare with protests and hunger strikes reported across India. Some 2,000 people have joined the activist at the historic Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, where he is conducting his fast. Correspondents say Mr Hazare has rallied people across the country disillusioned with the recent spate of scandals – he is highly respected as a social activist with an untarnished reputation.

Some of the recent corruption scandals to have angered Indians include a multi-billion dollar alleged telecoms scam, alleged financial malpractices in connection with the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and allegations that houses for war widows were diverted to civil servants.

Last month the head of the country’s anti-corruption watchdog was forced to resign by the Supreme Court on the grounds that he himself faced corruption charges.

Charles Kenny- Dont Mess With Taxes

Published in Foreign Policy

Every spring, the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based advocacy group, announces Tax Freedom Day: the date by which the average employed American will have earned enough income to pay off his or her taxes for the year. This year, that day will be April 12. The Adam Smith Institute, a London-based, free-market think tank that makes a similar calculation for Britain, suggests that British taxpayers will have to work until around May 30 to pay off their own dues.

Tax Freedom Day is a clever-enough gimmick if your aim is to stir up ire over the government stealing income that rightfully belongs to the good people who have earned it through the toil of their labors. In an environment where Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is considered an expert on fiscal policy, it might even work. But it is worth remembering that, from a global perspective, how much we earn is actually 95 percent luck and maybe 5 percent toil. And it isn’t heavy-taxing big government that affects your income — it’s bad government.

The idea that anyone who works hard enough can become rich is a powerful one; for Americans, it’s not just appealing but central to national identity. The problem is that this vision of social mobility doesn’t hold true within the United States — and on a global scale, it’s just plain silly. The reason you earned as much as you did last year has far less to do with how hard you worked than with where and to whom you were born. In the United States, of those children born to parents in the bottom 10 percent of incomes, around one-third remain at the bottom as adults, and over half remain in the bottom 20 percent. Only one out of 77 children born into the bottom 10 percent of incomes reaches the top 10 percent as an adult, according to Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis writing in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

But the advantages of being born rich rather than poor in America — large though they are — pale in comparison with the advantages of being born in a wealthy country rather than a developing one. The average rural Zambian will enjoy a lifetime income of about $10,000, compared with a lifetime income of around $4.5 million for the average resident of New York City. That’s not because Zambians are all soulless and corrupt. It’s because a Zambian with the same skills, intelligence, and drive earns a lot less in Zambia than she would in the United States — as is made abundantly clear every time a Zambian moves to the United States and starts earning a lot. The same people doing exactly the same job earn much, much more if they move from a poor to a rich country to do that job. In 1995, a construction carpenter’s wage in India was $42 a month. In Mexico, it was $125 a month. A South Korean carpenter, by contrast, made almost 10 times what his Mexican counterpart did; an American one made almost 20 times more.

For those of us lucky enough to be living in a rich country, are taxes really holding us back from a life of ease? In a word, no. Over the (not very) long term, it isn’t tax rates that decide how much money you take home — it is rates of economic growth. If a British person in 1984 paid no taxes at all, receiving as manna from heaven infrastructure, health care, education, policing, pensions, welfare benefits, and all the other services that the state provides, his or her take-home income (adjusted for inflation) would still be below that of post-tax Britons today. The same would be true of an American in 1988. People in the West are lucky enough to have been born in — or nearly as lucky to have moved to — countries that have seen a lot of economic growth over the past two centuries. That’s the reason they’re rich.

 Of course, an anti-tax advocate would respond that low taxes and a correspondingly small government are the secret to a country’s riches — an idea that is appealing, widespread, and very wrong. The last 100 years or so have seen the fastest rates of global economic growth in history; they’ve also seen the biggest governments of all time. From William Easterly and Sergio Rebelo writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research to Ross Levine and David Renelt in the American Economic Review (as well as numerous other analyses), economists have consistently failed to find robust cross-country evidence that a government’s size — measured by tax take or spending as a percentage of GDP — has any bearing, positive or negative, on its economic growth. Want further proof? Many developing countries see personal income tax receipts that would make a Tea Partier tip his tri-cornered hat in admiration, amounting to less than 2 percent of GDP. If a small income tax burden really was the determining factor in driving growth, those countries would all be richer than Luxembourg.

But while there isn’t a proven link between government size and economic growth, there is an important relationship between the quality of government and growth. If a government can’t ensure a basic level of security, stability, fair dealing, and public goods like infrastructure and education, whether it’s large or small is irrelevant — that country will be poor. If the government is providing those basic requirements, it doesn’t matter if it’s also blowing 10 percent of its GDP on bridges to nowhere, high-tech bombers for the last war, or corporate subsidies for ethanol production — that country will be rich. Better government equals richer people — it is as simple as that.

So why do rich people think it is all about effort rather than the luck of the draw? For one thing, there’s the oft-repeated finding from social psychology that people blame their own failures on circumstances beyond their control (“I was fired because the boss never liked me”) and the failures of others on personal flaws (“He was fired because he never did any work”). The reverse also holds: People take far more credit than they should for successful performance as part of a group, particularly if they do not know other group members personally. All of us — not only the rich — are just incredibly narcissistic by nature.

The second factor is that when we make comparisons it is usually to our peers, not the world as a whole. And our peers tend to have gone to the same type of school, work in the same field, and live in the same part of the world. Within these narrow groups, income differences — however small on a national or global scale — are more likely to be about ability and hard work. The fact that you earn more than your colleague who joined the firm at the same time as you did probably does have something to do with your different personal characteristics. The fact that you earn more than a peasant farmer in Lesotho doesn’t. At the same time, you rarely stop to care about how much a peasant farmer in Lesotho earns — despite the fact that the income gap between you and the farmer is many multiples larger than the gap between you and your colleague. However powerful our psychological foibles and narrow frames of reference may be, though, they are beside the point when it comes to public policy.

There are lots of reasons to hate current tax codes — not least because they are ridiculously complex and stuffed with loopholes for groups that can afford the best lobbyists. And governments the world over remain wasteful and spendthrift — including America’s, of course. Especially in poor countries, people ought to be focused on making government more efficient, equitable, and transparent — an effort that will entail lower government revenues in some cases and less government regulation in lots of cases. But the focus should be on better government, not smaller government. And the idea that taxation takes money that is rightfully ours alone, or that if only we managed to reduce the tax burden by a few percentage points we’d all be rich, is laughable. If you are in a wealthy country and it is tax time, be thankful you live somewhere where government works — and pay up.

Waris Husain Editorial: The Art of Right-Wing Distraction


Politicians have always employed distractions to confuse the public and avoid scrutiny on substantive issues,  but the right wing of Pakistan and the United States are especially adept at this skill. The issue both countries face stems from the Spring of Arab Democracy, which has inspired dissents around the globe to challenge the interests of the old-guard elite upheld by conservative leaders.  Rather than address the underlying concerns of citizens, these conservatives are able to grapple the national discourse and turn attention away from the issue at hand to focus on an insignificant story of their choosing. While nothing can stop the party machines in both countries from using irrelevant distractions, the people should become more aware of what information they are receiving and why.

            The American Republican Party has always used mudslinging tactics against its dissenters, and the practice continues today as illustrated in Paul Krugman’s article about Professor William Cronon. Professor Cronon wrote an article criticizing the legislation to ban unions in Wisconsin led by the Republican Governor, Scott Walker. Professor Cronon argued that Mr. Walker is violating a long-running respect for unions as well as challenging the ideal that collective bargaining is a key component to an industrialized democracy. Cronon went on to claim that this legislation, and others directed by the Republican Party, are capitulations to corporate interests.

            In response, the Republican Party did not address the points raised by Cronon with regards to corporate control over the right- wing agenda.  Rather, the Republicans have requested that the university, Prof. Cronon teaches at, allow them to search his school e-mail. This is a thinly veiled attempt to look through this scholar’s personal exchanges to find some sort of ‘dirt’ that can be passed onto media outlets like Fox News, and blown out of proportion. The objective is not only to scare any scholars who wish to challenge the Republican Party’s corporate agenda, but also is to permanently discredit this specific scholar publicly.

            That is not to say that the American liberal intelligentsia is somehow silenced by the right-wing, but it seems that when the interests of the Republican Party are seriously challenged by some development, they will create distractions such as these. The reason the Republican Party should fear the words of Professor Cronon is due to the general atmosphere in Wisconsin and around the country vehemently rejecting Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation. There had been weeks of protests, marches, and sit-ins across Wisconsin’s state capital leading up to the legislation with thousands participating.

Much of these demonstrations were directly inspired by the events taking place in Arab nations, and it seemed that people from both sides of the planet were rejecting the interest of old-guard elites, whether political or financial. With the Republican Party constantly in bed with these elites, any challenge to this illicit relationship will be perceived as a threat. Thus, we see the Republican Party erratically attempting to create alternative narratives that silence the growing global dissent movement, and hide their illusive and illegal practices behind closed doors.

Pakistan’s right wing has similarly been confronted with a direct challenge through the Arab revolutions. Parties like Jamaat-I-Islami have rejected liberal secularism as a foreign concept to Muslim Nations, and have stated that if any revolution would come to Pakistan it would have to take the shape of an Islamic revolution. These presumptions have been disproved by the Nike-and- jeans wearing revolutionaries in nations facing democratic uprisings, be it Syria or Yemen.

The exclusively secular and tolerant face taken by the young generation of revolutionary leaders flies in the face of what parties like JI have said was impossible in Muslim nations. While no one can predict whether the regimes formed out of these revolutions will follow suit, it is clear that strong-man dictators across the region were removed not with Islamic chants, but with chants proclaiming the power of the people and democracy. Thus, young people in the Middle East offer hope to the young Pakistanis who see their society turning increasingly intolerant under the leadership of groups like JI. Nothing could challenge the rhetoric of parties like JI more than youth from across the Muslim world standing up together to call for democracy and freedom, not Shariyah and Gairat.

The way in which Jamaat-I- Islami has reacted to this challenging development is to raise the insignificant issue of the American pastor, Terry Jones, who burned the Koran last week. Prior to this public outcry was the Raymond Davis case, and both stories enjoyed a considerable amount of attention and focus by right wingers and their media affiliates.  Indeed, such a myopic focus on attempting to find any American to blame for the nations problems does not address the very real changes occurring in the mindset of people in neighboring Middle East. Such developments indicate a threat to the Wahabi politicized Islam sold by Pakistani conservative party leaders to distract the people from their lack of freedoms and access to resources.

Such a game of distractions can wind up burning the player, as Maulana Fazul Rahman has learned this week with two attempts on his life by extremists. Mr. Rahman has habitually stirred up anti-American sentiment amongst the people and extremists. Yet when WikiLeaks revealed that Rahman attempted to make deals with the American government, his life was at risk by the same people he helped indoctrinate, for the same anti-American motivations he engrained in their brains. Thus, there are very real consequences from attempting to divert the public’s eye from issues and spreading ignorance amongst the people.

Nations will all deal with the Arab Spring of Democracies in different ways, all attempting to pacify their public and de-motivate them from engaging in protests, however, the conservatives have long-perfected a strategy of distraction. Protestors from Wisconsin to Tahrir Square have shared the hope of eradicating the dominance of old elite interests, which is why the Republican Party is attempting to smear the name of its detractors now more than ever. Pakistan’s right wing is similarly fixated on a Florida pastor, rather than addressing the fact that their brand of revolutionary Islam has been attacked and some would say defeated by the secular uprisings of the Middle East.

Waris Husain Editorial: The Freedom to Offend

 

This week, the provincial assemblies of Pakistan and its President have expressed anger at the United States for allowing the burning of a Koran by Pastor Terry Jones in Florida. I have previously written about the common immoral perspective shared by Mr. Jones and Muslim extremists across the world, both irresponsibly seething hate and intolerance to the public. And while I condemn the Pastor, the U.S. Constitution defends his right to burn this sacred Islamic text without punishment from the state. The right wing in Pakistan has traditionally prosecuted and attacked those exercising free speech challenging their beliefs, and ask for the U.S. to do the same with Terry Jones. However, the U.S. system has been able to protect freedom and advance intellectually only by allowing an individual the right to offend others just as others have a right to offend him or her without government intrusion.

The development of America’s near-absolute protection of freedom of speech came from a presumption about human nature: that people would not value tolerance of others if it was handed down to them by the government. Rather, by prohibiting any government intrusion on peoples’ right to speak, the founders wished to create a marketplace of ideas where the public could pick and chose which ideas it adhered to. This meant that the government would not be in the business of indoctrinating the public by selecting which speech was permitted, but that the people themselves would determine the range and topic of their rhetoric and discussions

This concept is at the heart of American free speech and applies to Terry Jones in several ways. First, one should note that no major American news networks have given any coverage to this incident, and certainly none would risk losing their advertisement dollars by airing the disgusting images of Jones burning the Koran. This is not due to some ban by the U.S. government or courts, but is rather a choice made individually by each news corporation not to cover the story. Indeed, the right to free speech also carries with it the right to not speak, or to not give a hateful extremist any time on one’s private broadcast to offend viewers. It is more likely that if the U.S. government had tried to take legal action to stop Pastor Jones, the story would have been more heavily discussed in the media- but without such action, not many heard that the Pastor did such a hateful act.

Secondly, it is important to remember that Terry Jones is an outlier in the American society and not the average citizen, and his one voice of hate can be drowned out by the millions who disagree with his message and have the right to speak openly. Muslims have an equal legal right to protest Pastor Jones and even to burn the Bible (although such an act would violate the tenants of Islam and would be completely immoral).

Such a back and forth would certainly not produce any positive outcome, but is part of the open process that eventually strengthens a society and the citizens themselves. The society is buttressed by the simple fact that while you have the right to offend others, you have no right to use violence against them if they disagree. Criminal statutes apply regardless of the situation that led up to a violent action, therefore citizens grow by engaging in conversations with their opponents and learning from the experience rather than reverting to violence. This creates a marketplace of ideas where the best idea is the one that gains most support in the public, rather “might being right.”

The “might is right” doctrine applies in places like Pakistan especially through the hateful actions and rhetoric of right-wing political parties. The same parties that are petitioning the United States to prosecute Terry Jones supported not only a blasphemy law limiting free speech but advocated for the illegal murder of those who challenged the law like Salman Tasseer. The right wing doesn’t just advocate for violence, but continually instigates prosecutions against politicians, artists, and minorities for expressing their views. Thus, by creating an aura of fear and intimidation, the right wing parties of Pakistan and their terrorist allies hijacked the public discourse from the people, which has created a deficit in discussions and debates that can address Pakistan’s real issues.

As such, liberals have all but been silenced in the nation as they face death sentences against from political rivals if they merely engage in a debate with them. This is certainly a good sign for the religious right wingers but is an ominous sign indicating a breakdown in Pakistan’s “marketplace of ideas.” Thus, before Pakistan’s right wing advises the U.S. to follow its example and prohibit certain speech, they should understand the long-term benefits of protecting the freedom of speech with regards to creating innovative ideas that move the nation forward.

While such government inaction could leave a great deal in the hands of the majority, it also trains the majority to express their own opinions rather than relying on the government to learn about tolerance or interfaith harmony. Thus, rather than focusing on government censorship to quiet trouble-makers like Pastor Jones, the founders of the U.S. believed that people themselves should utilize their freedom of speech to challenge the intolerant opinion of Jones. This does not mean that one can use force against their rivals, but means that the louder majority can drown out hateful speech of Jones, with their own messages of harmony, tolerance, and love.