In Winchester, Massachusetts (right next to my old home town of Arlington!) flyers reading “Islam is RIGHT About Women” suddenly appeared around the town, fastened to trees, utility polls and street signs in the familiar manner of those “lost cat” notices.
An “alarmed” woman brought two flyers to the Winchester Police Department, and officers subsequently found eight more, including one that was posted outside of an elementary school. The flyer presented multiple dilemmas. Police said the signs were not threatening and considered free speech. But because they were placed on town property, the flyers technically violated town ordinances. Yet those lost cat flyers were always allowed to remain.
Some residents were adamant that the signs should come down: one who spoke to a local TV station, Jim Leary, said, “Putting signs up that make people feel uncomfortable is unfortunate, particularly in this time and age.”
Really? Sounds like you’re not too fond of free speech, Jim!
The police took the flyers down. Constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh wrote, citing Members of the City Council v. Taxpayers for Vincent (1984), that the content of the flyers’ message is constitutionally protected, but that the city could take down the ones that violated town law so long as it wasn’t discriminating based on the viewpoint of the signs. But of course it was, since the lost cat flyers were never taken down.
What’s going on here? The Professor played dumb, writing,
“[W]as this politically self-defeating expression by a Muslim?…Was it put up by a critic of Islam who wanted to highlight certain traditional Muslim teachings? By a prankster who was trying to put people who are reluctant to criticize Islam, but who certainly don’t support conservative Muslim teachings about women, in a tough rhetorical spot? Only the Shadow knows.”
Oh, we don’t need the Shadow, Professor. The flyers were another example of the same diabolical but valuable public trolling discussed in this post regarding the “It’s OK to be white” stickers that mysteriously showed up on the Harvard campus in 2017, and were treated by the university like they were Nazi manifestos. Ethics Alarms posted an ethics quiz about it that flummoxed the knee-jerk progressives then still having the courage to engage here. It’s not OK to be white? It’s hate speech to say it’s OK to be white? Wrote now exiled Leftist commenter “Chris,” “The stickers are stupid. No one disputes that it’s OK to be white.”
This was one of the great hanging curve balls I’ve ever received here. I responded in part,
You know, it’s easy to deal with any problem if you make up your own facts. Nobody says its not OK to be white? This list took me less than 10 minutes:
Then there’s the Ethics Alarms antiwhite racism tag…https://ethicsalarms.com/tag/anti-white-racism/
As I may have mentioned, I was explicitly told that the only reason I was not hired as an Assistant US Attorney in DC …a life and career-altering result for me…was that I was white. Now, I think it is reasonable to assume that if I was not hired because I was white, there was something “not OK” with my being white. I’m not unhappy or bitter about this, but it happened.
The problem with being an ideologue, Chris, is that it requires distorting reality.
And this, of course, was the message the flyer-posters were sending, and if it makes people uncomfortable, too damn bad. (Incidentally, the flyers weren’t restricted to Winchester. They turned up in other cities around the world.)
A British-Libyan writer who uses the pen name Alaa al-Ameri wrote at Spiked,
At their best, these acts of public disobedience are examples of real-life Winston Smiths pointing out to the rest of us that ‘Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four’. Their persecutors, like his, are those who know and fear the truth of Smith’s next sentence: ‘If that is granted, all else follows.’
Noting that Winchester residents didn’t know what to make of the flyers, he continued,
The reason for their dilemma is obvious enough to anyone who has been paying attention. Western society has managed to convince itself (at least in public) that any statement criticising any aspect of Islam is, by definition, bigotry. As a result, Western societies have effectively decided to enforce Islamic restrictions on blasphemy, and called it ‘tolerance’. The strain of conforming to this lie is evident in the fumbling attempts by the interviewees to explain their objections. Do they believe that Islam is right about women? If so, why the objection? Do they believe that Islam is wrong about women? If so, in what sense is the statement an attack on Islam or Muslims? Do they believe that the author of the poster is saying that ‘Islam is right about women’, but doing so ironically? In which case, the objection can only be that the author is guilty of a thoughtcrime by stating that ‘two and two make five’ with insufficient sincerity. Or do they worry that they are guilty of thoughtcrime for noticing the irony?
I think the source of the objection is as follows: ‘I thought we had all agreed to pretend not to have any negative opinions about Islam. But this statement forces me either to agree with it, which I don’t, or disagree with it, which I’m not allowed to.’
Far from being “hate speech” or, as several sources have called them, “Far right hoaxing,” the Winchester flyers accomplished exactly what free speech exists to accomplish. It forced people to think…at least those people still willing to risk social ostracizing if, heaven forfend, they reach the “wrong” conclusion.
(I’m not even going to try to link this one on Facebook…)
Heck, I’m going to re-post the entire “It’s OK to be White” essay here. It’s right on point, and needs to paired with the Winchester flyers.
More than a dozen handmade stickers reading “It’s okay to be white” were posted around overnight in Harvard Square earlier as well as around the nearby Harvard Law School campus.
Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells, who is black, wrote an email to law students in the wake of what Stephen King might call “The Stickering”:
“It seems likely that these anonymous postings, made in the middle of the night, were provocations intended to divide us from one another HLS will not let that happen here. We live, work, teach, and learn together in a community that is stronger, better, and deeper because of our diversity and because we encourage open, respectful, and constructive discourse”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day—and watch your step!—is…
Do you think posting the stickers was unethical? Do you think the Dean’s response was responsible?
I have a few matters to note and subordinate queries…
- Apparently the idea was germinated on the forum website 4chan, a former Ethics Alarms unethical website of the month, which called upon followers to put up posters on Halloween night. The author of the original post on the site wrote that the group hoped the “credibility of far left campuses and media gets nuked” as a result of the incident, adding that they could help achieve a “massive victory for the right in the culture war.”
Does it matter who came up with the slogan and why?
- The reaction by Glenn Reynolds on Instapundit: “SO I GUESS IT’S NOT OKAY. GOOD TO KNOW.”
Of course this the stickers’ inherent “When did you stop beating your wife?”-style trap. Nevertheless, why isn’t that a fair and natural response to the Dean’s words?
- There are some terrific comments to Glenn’s link:
Okay, next move in this game: put up some signs saying “It’s okay to be black.” See what Harvard does then. Dares Harvard denounce those? But under these circumstances, dares she not?
Source: Harvard Crimson