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December 26, 2014 12:24 pm

Hard Leftists Are as Guilty of Censorship as North Korea’s Dictator

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Flickr.

Nobody should be surprised that the dictatorial ruler of North Korea would want to censor a film that offended him, or even that he would feel entitled to break the law by threatening reprisals against the offenders. His actions emulate those of hard-left feminists, radical Muslims, university administrators, and others who seek to prevent the publication or distribution of material they deem offensive.

I recall an incident several years ago when radical feminists fired bullets through the windows of a Harvard Square bookstore to protest its sale of Playboy Magazine. I also recall being physically threatened by a group called “Dykes on Bikes” – a feminist motorcycle gang – for providing legal representation of alleged pornographers.

Then there is radical Islamic censorship that has become far more deadly. When some radical Muslims were offended by Theo Van Gogh’s film Submission, which exposed Islam’s demeaning views toward women, Van Gogh was murdered in cold blood and his co-producer’s life threatened by a Fatwa. Salman Rushdie had to go into hiding when a Fatwa was issued against him and his book, The Satanic Verses. The Yale University Press, fearful of threats of violence, censored the actual cartoons depicting Mohammed from a book about that subject, following violent reaction to the publication of the cartoons in Scandinavia.

More recently, radical anti-Israel students tried to get SodaStream products banned from Harvard dining halls, because they were offended by the “micro-aggression” represented by the location of the company’s factory beyond Israel’s Green Line. So instead of simply not drinking the product themselves, they tried to prevent everyone else from drinking it or even seeing its name!

Hard-left students, and even some on the soft left, have tried to ban sexist jokes and offensive classroom discussion on university campuses. Speech codes on many campuses are designed to prevent students from being offended by the comments of others.

The National Office of Amnesty International recently rescinded an invitation I had received from the Columbia University branch of the organization because they were offended by some of my views. And several universities, including Brandeis, rescinded offers of honorary degrees from proposed recipients because some students regarded their views as offensive. Other deserving candidates have been passed over for fear of offending some.

We live in an age in which censoring material that is deemed offensive by some is becoming widely accepted, especially among young people on the left.

There are, of course, major differences between using criminal means (violence, hacking, threats) and using arguably lawful means (speech codes, rescinding invitations) to achieve the censorship of offending material, but the results may be similar: self-censorship.

In my book Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law, published last year, I predicted that “self-censorship that results from fear of violent responses” will give “those who threaten violence an effective veto over what can be published in the United States.” Unfortunately, events since I wrote those words have confirmed their accuracy.

So why are we surprised when a foreign dictator tries to achieve what mainstream Americans – and indeed mainstream leftists around the globe – are trying to achieve: namely the “right” to be free from being offended.

This alleged “right” is, of course, in direct conflict with the most basic of rights in any democracy: the right to express views deemed offensive by some, and the corollary right to hear or see such views.

There are at least two ways a person can be offended by freedom of expression. The first is by actually having to read the offending book or see the offending film. In totalitarian dictatorships, citizens are indeed required to read and see what the dictator wants them to be exposed to. Not so in democracies, where we are free to choose our book and films.

The second is by simply knowing that others, who are not offended, may choose to read or see the offending work.

The first has a simple solution: don’t read the book; don’t see the movie; change the channel; drink Pepsi instead of SodaStream.

The second has no legitimate claim to acceptance in a diverse democracy. Citizen A should not be able to prevent Citizen B from reading or seeing something that would offend Citizen A if he were required to read or see it.

There are also cases in which the material in question reveals private information about Citizen A or portrays him or her in an unsavory light. In those cases, there are appropriate legal remedies – such as the law of defamation – for those who are harmed by what others read about them. Beyond that, being offended should never be the basis for censoring.

So if we really want any right to delegitimize what the North Korean dictator is ostensibly trying to do to us, we should begin at home: by delegitimizing the efforts of our own citizens to censor material that they find offensive.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, a practicing criminal and constitutional lawyer and the author, most recently, of “Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas.” This article originally appeared in Haaretz.

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  • You write that “radical anti-Israel students tried to get SodaStream products banned from Harvard”, I thought they had succeeded? It is utterly sickening the way various organizations even political parties (such as the Cooperative Movement in Britain) hits on Israel when NONE of what they say about it is true and there are many genuinely hideous regimes whose commercial products are readily accepted, such as China, Malaysia, etc.As for Amnesty International and Oxfam, they have been infiltrated by a couple of Jew-hating fanatics who have turned the whole charities against Israel. By the way, I own a Sodastream and I absolutely love it, I recommend it for everyone.

  • It’s not just the Left. I’ve written a considerable body of work from 8 books to newspaper pieces.

    I wrote this some months back. It underscores that we just don’t expect conservative news organizations to censor.

    I’ve found out since that the blacklisting was the result of writing about matters several months before they became news. Somehow such analyzing of trends and peoples made them look bad.

    Pretty silly, all around.

    I wrote this on the matter some months back:
    “Blacklisting and Censorship
    William Hunt

    There’s a modern idea now in both Democrat and Republican establishments of “I can have my say, but you can’t have yours.”

    The U.S. Constitution contradicts that idea:
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    As a writer and radio guest, my views are often not popular outside of the conservative and tea party. RINOs and Democrats don’t like me much, I fear. I’ve been blacklisted without cause at least twice.

    I note in passing that I’ve lost work for being honorable, and been excommunicated from a church for the same reason.

    We don’t have the luxury of believing lies today.

    The truth must be said. The truth must be written.

    The truth must be passed on to others.

    Lies harm. Lies harm those who tell lies. Lies harm those who tell lies to themselves. Lies harm those who are victimized by the liar and the liar’s actions.

    Lies are what brought our country into the sewer.

    There are those in western culture that love lies so much that they seek to shut up anyone who threatens those lies with truth.

    An example happened last week. I got a notice of blacklisting for “spam”.

    Problem with that was that I hadn’t logged into that service for several months. I’ve used it a handful of times, period.

    Naturally, I wondered what was up. Why a blacklisting?

    In a word, censorship.

    Some operation in Austria apparently just didn’t like me very much.

    Austria’s noteworthy because I’ve never had any reason to send an email to a server in Austria.

    Given Austria’s history of loving Socialism that goes back even before the Anschluss, it’s an interesting coincidence to be blacklisted by an Austrian outfit.

    Censorship is one of the tools that is used to shut people up.

    When a person states an opinion or quotes facts, it’s going to be both liked and disliked. Or even hated.

    If you haven’t already experienced it, it’s nothing short of amazing to watch a person’s reaction
    when you quote a fact they hate.

    What’s even more interesting is when someone on the other side of the fence reverses themselves. And then claims they said it all along. Read Fox News’ “Al’s Latest Global-Warming Whopper”. It’s of interest that I stated something very similar to his statement in Global Warming, Challenged in 2007 and 2008. (I wrote Fox News about the matter, who ignored it, despite their article on Al’s faux pax.)

    My website receives around 3 million hits per month, mostly from Europe, China, and Japan. I don’t even have advertisements on my site except my own books. No popups or other nonsense.

    About 9% of the views on my site have come from Germany, if I’m reading the web stats correctly. Austria? I don’t know. If anyone reads it in Austria, it’s not showing up.

    The dissertation on Socialism I wrote for my blog section “What IS Socialism?” seems especially popular in Socialist and former Socialist nations.

    I wanted people to read one of my books so badly before the 2012 election I put the ENTIRE book ONLINE for them to download. National Wave of Foolishness, Volume 2 is downloaded frequently.

    Whoever asked for or did this particular blacklisting was very likely someone who either didn’t like my books or my Op-Eds. Or both.

    Well, fine and dandy.

    But it’s wrong to make a false complaint.

    It’s called a lie.

    Ask Sarah Palin about how she had to quit her job as Governor from the blizzard of false complaints.

    When false complaints are used to try to shut someone up, it’s more than a lie.

    It’s hate.

    It’s hate of the truth.

    Hate is the motivation behind censorship today. An unbearable hatred of the truth.

    The Left today hates anyone who shines a light on what they are doing and what has happened to get us to this point. The one thing that evil cannot bear is the truth.

    Ever wonder why, when some Democrat congressman or senator lies in almost every sentence, they get bent out of shape for being called what they are? A liar?

    Calling a liar, a liar, is what we should do. It does no favors to allow someone to lie and call it “civility.”

    In the period before the last Civil War, we had those who wanted such false “civility”, as if that somehow would fix the problem of two such disparate opinions of humanity, one based on evil, one based on good. Read the complaints many of the time made about how the two sides were doing things that just shouldn’t be done— fistfights and worse even broke out among Congressmen and Senators.

    Wasn’t civil.

    Good and evil cannot be falsely “civil” without good losing.

    False civility. Just don’t make anybody mad and ignore why the two sides were so opposed. Just be nice to each other. Don’t say anything provocative.

    Naturally, such false civility didn’t work. It isn’t working this time, either.

    It’s not just the Left that censors and that is troubling. We expect the nazis, communists, international socialists, and other socialists of the Democrat Party to censor the truth. We don’t expect Republicans to do it.

    There was a recent time when my Op-Eds were being published in WND and a number of other papers, both online and paper pulp. At one point, I was offered a science reporter/writer position (unpaid) with WND.

    Then, without warning, not one of the online or pulp papers would accept my submissions. Not even those that had previously asked for more articles.

    The conservative radio shows were suddenly not interested, either.

    WHAM! A door had been shut, industry-wide.

    But… nothing happened. No explanation.

    Inquiries were ignored.

    Officially blacklisted or not, that wasn’t exactly ethical, was it?


    It backfired. Indeed, in several submissions on different issues, the papers in question would have been several months ahead of the curve if they’d printed my Op-Eds.

    An example was an analysis of the Muslim Brotherhood when the Arab Spring first began. No one wanted to hear what these people truly were.

    And so they found out the hard way.

    This is actually very common with those “outsiders” like me who write. The typical Journalism major spends their college time partying and upon graduation, they try to write about what is happening. As such, they often miss the obvious, because they haven’t “been there, and done that”. They have no real knowledge base to draw on.

    Unfortunately, someone who does have a specialization or a good general knowledge is a “threat”. We’re seeing that in many sectors of the nation today, not just journalism.

    Indeed, much of what is published today in online and pulp newspapers is extremely poor quality as compared to even 20 years ago.

    From what I’ve observed, blogs are often of superior writing to newspapers. More importantly, they are often written by people who actually have done things other than media. People who have skills, knowledge, and expertise that a journalist just isn’t going to have.

    Despite that, they are often ignored.

    Or even blacklisted.

    At some time, I hope our media grows up and stops censoring.

    If nothing else, it’s counterproductive from a very practical angle: pushing the mediocre doesn’t sell papers or advertising because people tend to go elsewhere. No customers, no money.

    Blacklisting without cause— or even worse, because what they say is true— does the media no credit.

    Conservatives should have nothing to do with it.

    Nov 10, 2014 addendum:

    I wouldn’t mind the censorship of my writings so much if the majority of material out there is like it was written by people with no professional skills in writing. Even recent events seem forgotten by most “journalists” and their articles tend to be wrong because of a lack of factual information and knowledge of history. When an outsider like me writes materials of college and professional level and it gets rejected in favor of the junior high level writing of most “journalists”, it rankles.

    Even in high school, I supposedly wrote at the 22nd grade level.

    What is the point of learning for a lifetime if the resulting materials are rejected for being too good?

    It’s similar in principle to a publisher that said I’d have to rewrite a book to the 6th grade level, despite very few books with that level of writing ever selling well. Some have tried to claim Bible translations like NIV and KJV are to that level, but much of the vocabulary is college level and higher in those translations, not being used in junior high school.

    Worse, many newspapers now read like pre-1991 Itar-Tass and Pravda. Most journalists today don’t have the basic knowledge base to ask intelligent questions. They partied, got drunk, got stoned, slept around, and otherwise wasted most of their time in college. And despite that want to “make the world a better place” or to “make a difference.”

    You don’t get information about the world from a bong. And that bong-use by most “journalism” students in recent years has crippled their ability to think logically and morally. Thus we get silly tripe that most of the public ignores or we get materials that so disgusts the public by that they quit reading the paper, stop listening to the radio, stop watching the TV news program, etc.

    The rash of newspapers going under should have been a clue.

    MANY pundits have said things like “it’s the content, stupid” when it comes to the failure of newspapers and books. It’s true. The professionalism just isn’t there, any more.

    We’ve always had some bad apples in the media profession, but today it’s particularly pronounced, with many companies not knowing good material from bad material.”

  • Yale

    The Left, Islamists, the Far Right, and many in the media and academia all believe they are entitled to rule by virtue of their superior intellect, morals, knowledge, wisdom, religion, etc. What they are trying to supress is the evidence that their claimed superiority isn’t so, because if it became widely-known that they’re no smarter, wiser, or moral than others, their only path to power would be to make a case that convinces at least a majority of the rest of us. We now they can’t do that because whenever they try they get clobbered electorally.

  • Freedom of Speech Limitations
    If you are in a theater and you yell fire, when there is no fire and cause injuries to the audience at large by your yelling fire you have forfeited you right to free speech.
    The same applies to anyone who promotes violence, incites the public to violence and sedition, Uses his freedom of speech to promote treason against the State.
    Israel has bent over backward in protecting the right to free speech.
    It is time for Israel to go on the offensive and utilize its laws to prosecute those who abuse their right to free speech, that right has its limitations.
    We must hold Arab-Palestinians accountable for teaching hate, honoring terrorist and celebrating terror attacks.
    Any capitulation or concessions to Arab-Palestinians demands breeds greater outrageous demands and more violence.
    Israel’s P.M. should tell them – if you are not with us to protect our people at all costs – you are against us and you are contributing to the continued violence.
    YJ Draiman

  • E benAbuya

    Time this was once again made required reading in the halls of Academe. Before we totally forget who we are.

  • Leo Toystory

    Considering Professor Dershowitz’s profoundly pro-Israel stance, his defense of Israel’s actions for survival, and his recognition of the tyrannical inclinations of the left – who ARE the main anti-Israel and anti-Semitic force in the Western world, I would like an explanation as to WHY he still associates with the left at all. There is no mainstream Democrat Party anymore, and it’s fairly obvious that leftist/Democrat policies are an absolute disaster in practically every area. Come on Professor, the Democrats don’t like you, anyway. Follow the path of Zell Miller and join those of us trying to keep America from turning into a total socialist thugocracy and who want to see Israel survive, because MOST Democrats do not.

  • Paul Cerar

    Yes, true, they are brothers-in-spirit. Both are fascists, both are of the devil.

    Paul Cerar
    Toronto, Canada

  • charlie johnson

    Leftist use truth like a milk cow but the pail ends up full of lies and the lies nourish their idiots that keep the funny farm going.