December 5, 2006
Followup to "Why Newt Is Right"
Well, there seems to be quite a bit of misunderstanding of my last article in TCSDaily. I'll lay the blame for this solely at my own feet, since I'm the one who did all the writing.
The article is titled, "Why Newt Is Right," and if I could have added a subtitle, it would have been, "To worry about a catastrophic attack." It seems instead that many people added their own subtitle, something like, "To restrict free speech."
Arguing in favor of restricting free speech was not my intent. Aside from poor writing on my part, that it was nonetheless taken that way may show just what problems await us as the war continues.
For example, blogger Glenn Greenwald took special umbrage to the piece:
In a TCS Daily column this week entitled "Why Newt is Right," Josh Manchester talked about all the bad things that would happen in the event that a nuclear bomb were detonated in Long Beach, California, and then expressly urged measures for "physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism"Like I said, this is my fault for writing poorly. When read in context, this sentence was meant to show an alternative strategy to restricting free speech:
An offensive yet superficially benign way to accomplish some of these same goals might be to begin a cultural war against extremism. In addition to physically stopping or legally outlawing the ideas behind radicalism, such a campaign might seek to propagate competing memes, which appeal to the same core demographic that is apt to become extremists.I should have written, "instead of" where I did write "in addition to."
Let me elaborate upon this, since I obviously did a poor job in the article: Rather than merely restricting speech, as many would assume is what I was talking about, why not create competing ideas, and discredit those that appeal so strongly to the core demographic (young men) who are drawn to terrorism? In order to do this, I think many of the same things Newt mentioned would be necessary: technologies to disrupt and track extremist websites. As I tried to say in the piece, to merely restrict such websites is a defensive method.
To take an example: outlawing a website only gives it a sort of cache within the world of rebellious extremists. But a lampooning of extremist ideas in a comedic fashion, in a cultural manner that appeals to the demographic of extremism, would be much more valuable, and probably more successful in the long run.
For the benefits of monitoring terror sites instead of shutting them down, see this backgrounder by the Council on Foreign Relations.
Also, I don't think it's clear that Newt wants to restrict free speech. Instead, he was merely noting that the pursuit of terrorists and stopping attacks is going to require "a serious debate about the first amendment," and that it is better to have this debate now to "develop the appropriate rules of engagement." I don't think it's a straight leap from that to detention camps, and a police state, as the left seems to assume. I can't speak for Newt, but what I was more concerned with is things that we can do now that will serve the purpose of both preventing an attack and preserving the government. To me, this includes civil liberties. In fact, it's not just to me. I used the examples of the nuclear strategists Fred Ikle and Philip Bobbitt in the article. One of Bobbitt's pet peeves is that as of today there is no legal mechanism in place to quickly reconstitute the House of Representatives should a majority of its members be killed or incapacitated in an attack (the Senate does not have this problem, as replacement Senators can be appointed by governors). I'm no legal expert, but I believe that the only way to restaff the House of Representatives is to hold new elections. Even if these are scheduled to take place a few months after an attack, those months are likely to be when crucial decisions need to be made by the House, and when crucial oversight needs to take place as well.
In short, ask yourself: is the United States less or more secure in its freedoms if a plan exists to quickly reconstitute the House of Representatives after a catastrophic attack?
You might say that such measures are how the Nazis rose to power. I'd argue that "stockpiling laws" such as Bobbitt has advocated, is meant to stop such a nightmare scenario from occuring.
This in fact is the entire thrust of Fred Ikle's new book. It's no accident that it's called "Annihilation From Within." Here's an excerpt from the book's website:
Our greatest threat is a cunning tyrant gaining possession of a few weapons of mass destruction. His purpose would not be to destroy landmarks, highjack airplanes, or attack railroad stations. He would annihilate a nation's government from within and assume dictatorial power. The twentieth century offers vivid examples of tyrants who have exploited major national disasters by rallying violent followers and intimidating an entire nation.Frankly, Ikle is advocating a series of measures to prevent this from happening, not a series of measures that would make it more likely. If you need more evidence, I'll go get my copy and quote some more.
To be clear as well, just so I'm not misunderstood, neither Bobbitt nor Ikle argues for restrictions on speech.
Now Newt is a different story. As I tried to argue in the article, he's right to be concerned with the same issues as Bobbitt and Ikle. I think he's right to raise the questions of undermining terrorist communications as well.
If Al Qaeda were a state -- Qaedastan -- where we could clearly locate them, is there any doubt we would have destroyed their command and control infrastructure long ago?
The problem is that Al Qaeda, or jihad, or extremism, or however it can be identified, is not a state. It is more like a virus. It's command and control infrastructure is highly diffuse and a lot of it is located in cyberspace. To stem recruitment, I think we should offer counternarratives and competing memes. Newt thinks we should shut down recruiting websites.
Whichever of us you agree with, the point is that we are both concerned with preventing another attack. Newt is asking for a dialogue about free speech in order to figure out how to stop terrorism from spreading through the internet. To merely demonize him as wishing to restrict speech is to deny the very dialogue that he seeks.
I'm a blogger. I can appreciate the beauty of free speech. In a post a long time ago I once told "the troglodyte FEC bureaucrats and their draconian moronic henchmen in the court system" that "You can have my blog when you pry it out of my cold dead hands."
At the same time, as a blogger, I'm pretty in tune with the power of the internet to organize people and ideas. Jihad can use this power just as well as Josh.
I guess all of this debate swirls from the fact that cyberspace is both speech and a place. It's probably the one true commons in the world today.
Well, I hope that helps somewhat. Again, I wish I could have been clearer in my article.
Posted by Chester at December 5, 2006 10:18 PM
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Simple solution. Call it "hate speech" and leftist like Greenwald will jump right on the wagon.
Posted by: Prospector at December 6, 2006 8:56 PM
Permissible speech used to have a certain precision. It used to be understood that in the U.S. you cannot advocate "the violent overthrow of the Government." This was usually directed at Communists. which made it very unpopular with the Left. Today it would appear to be screamingly relevant to the Jihadis, near or far. But who, including Newt Gingrich, even mentions it? National amnesia? Guilt over "Red=baiting"? Creeping correctness?
Posted by: gringoman at December 6, 2006 10:53 PM
Can el Queda come to Detroit and recruit on the street corner for jihadis to overthrow the US gov? Or LA or New York? Kinda doubt it.
There is no such thing as free speech. Its a myth. Just like freedom. ..we don't have it.
All things are regulated, even our speech. I can't threaten to kill the prez or even my neighbor without risking jail time. I can't slander or libel anyone. There's that fire and a crowded theater thing.
Regulations govern our lives at every turn. The real question is what degree of regulation do we accept. Thats where our representative government comes into play. And it is we the people that must not only draw the line but see to it that our government doesn't cross it.
Here's the part where someone brings up the old quote "One that would sacrifice part of their liberty for a little security deserves neither" or something along those lines. Well, then none of us deserve liberty because we all sacrifice part of our liberty every hour of every day.
Can't drink and drive. Must obey speed limits. Can't litter. Don't smoke in certain areas. Must pay taxes. And on and on.
The key is keeping a firm foothold on our liberties on a very slippery slope. We gave up many liberties during both WWI and WWII and recivered them when the threat passed. We can do it again.
I'm a libertarian. I hate government control. But I realize it is necessary to have a civilized society.
Posted by: thewiz at December 7, 2006 10:59 AM
"But a lampooning of extremist ideas in a comedic fashion, in a cultural manner that appeals to the demographic of extremism, would be much more valuable, and probably more successful in the long run."
By George, I think you've got something there!
Could it be that the bad guys recognize this very thing, and that is the reason why printing a few cartoons created such an uproar? I don't think the Mohammad cartoons were presented "in a cultural manner that appeals to the demographic of extremism," and that may be one reason why they caused such backlash, but it's pretty clear that people react to that sort of thing.
Posted by: ExRat at December 7, 2006 4:16 PM