Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

29 July 2010

Personhood Colorado: Fetuses Are Like Slaves

By Diana Hsieh

On Tuesday, Personhood Colorado unveiled its campaign strategy for Amendment 62, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would grant full legal rights to zygotes:

Backers of a ballot initiative asking Colorado voters to essentially ban abortion in the state announced their campaign strategy yesterday, a strategy that includes comparing fetuses to slaves.

Members of Personhood Colorado unveiled their first campaign advertisement at a news conference at the Capitol. The radio ad, which will be aired in the coming days, compares the rights of fetuses to American slaves.

It features a fictitious slave by the name of George Stevens who says he fought to end the practice of declaring people as property.

"I fought so all slaves would be recognized as persons, not property, and we won," says Stevens in the radio spot, as patriotic war music plays in the background. "But today in Colorado there are sill people called property -- children -- just like I was. And that America you thought you wouldn't recognize is all around you, and these children are being killed."

The ad asks voters this November to vote "yes" on Amendment 62 because the measure declares unborn children persons, not property.

"And that's the America I fought for," concludes the ad.
Ari Armstrong and I will have more to say on this comparison in our revised policy paper on "personhood" -- please pledge! For now, let me say that Amendment 62 would make women the slaves of zygotes: they would be required to sacrifice their lives, their health, their plans, their goals to a tiny clump of cells. That's wrong, and any person who values human life ought to oppose it.

Read more...

26 July 2010

"Pro-life" Atheist Arguments Against Abortion are Fallacious

By Gina Liggett

A reader of Politics Without God calls himself a "pro-life atheist," and has commented that "there are plenty of atheist pro-lifers who oppose abortion on the basis of science and reason." But such arguments against abortion are just as irrational as those of religious "pro-lifers."

The "pro-life" atheist position is irrational because it does not adhere to the law of identity and it misapplies the concept of rights.

By the Law of Identity, a Human Being and Embryo Are Not the Same Thing

The "pro-life" atheist assertion that "abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being" violates the law of identity, which Ayn Rand explains as: "To exist is to be something....it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes."

What is a human being? A common secular dictionary definition defines human as: "of, belonging to, or typical of man (Homo sapiens)... [and] having or showing qualities, as rationality or fallibility, viewed as distinctive of people."

Ayn Rand defines a human being as a living biological being with the distinctive characteristic of a kind of "consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason... [A human] is a rational animal." Ayn Rand further explains that reason is a human's fundamental means of survival, it is how an individual forms values and it must be exercised by one's own volition. This is the essence of the human being, qua human (despite when things go wrong, like head injuries, birth defects, Alzheimer's disease).

To further elucidate the distinctiveness of the human being, it is through this uniquely human process of reason that knowledge about reality is not only sought, but communicated to others across time. We don't have to wake up in the morning, discover electricity, manufacture a coffee pot, and discover how to cultivate and harvest foods to make fresh hot coffee. In contrast, every generation of animal, such as a wolf or squirrel, repeats the same cycles of reproducing, obtaining food and fighting predators according to the natures of their species -- by the law of identity.

What is an embryo? In the same vein, an embryo is not a human being. While an embryo possesses DNA just like the plant Botrychium lunaria, the quality of having DNA is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to meet the identity of a human being. An embryo, beginning with one cell containing a complete set of human DNA then developing into a fetus, has its own characteristic identity, like every other entity in the universe.

The distinctive and essential characteristics of an embryo are that it is potential human life, it is physiologically attached to the human mother, and it undergoes embryological cell division and differentiation according to DNA "instructions." Its survival and growth are entirely passive and autonomic, and completely dependent upon the biological viability of the mother it is attached to. It has not yet entered the world as an autonomous, singular, separate entity.

An infant is a human being and so is a pregnant woman. But once it is born, even as a day-old infant, he is forced to interact with the world at large and begins the process of developing a capacity of reason that will enable him to survive -- as human qua human. The infant begins with perceptual-level reasoning--he wails and screams when perceiving hunger or a wet diaper. In contrast, an embryo functions entirely autonomically, passively receiving nutrients via the umbilical cord attached to the placenta. A pregnant woman, whose faculty of reason has developed beyond the infantile perceptual level, has learned that she can meet her need for pickles and ice cream by going to the store. A different woman with an unwanted pregnancy decides that having a baby is not in her best interest according to the values she holds by choice, by reason.

The atheist "pro-lifer" is dispensing with the law of identity which distinguishes a human being from an embryo when he says: "..it is ludicrous to then go on to say that 'it is the woman's choice' (to have an abortion). It is as ludicrous as saying that you believe slavery is wrong, but that people should still have the choice whether they buy a slave or not. Science tells us that abortion kills a human being."

This statement muddles two different entities. Science and the law of identity tell us that a slave and a pregnant woman are both human beings -- but an embryo is not; it is an entity called "a potential human being."

A Human Being Has Rights, an Embryo Does Not

Since I have established by the axiomatic law of identity that an embryo is not a human being, an embryo does not have the "inalienable right to life" written in our Constitution by the Founding Fathers, as some "pro-life" atheists claim. This becomes clear when you integrate the law of identity with a proper application of the concept of rights.

Ayn Rand succinctly clarifies what the right to life is:

"right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life...Individualism regards man--every man--as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being.
Because of the law of identity, there is a distinct difference between a born human being and an embryo. They are as distinctively unique by identity as a brain cell (with its full complement of human DNA) is to a malaria-transmitting species of the Anopheles mosquito (also with a full complement of its DNA).

The inescapable truth is that human rights apply only to humans, qua humans, not to embryos---anymore than rights apply to Anopheles.

Simply put, "[an] embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn)."

So there is no difference between religious and atheist (aka "scientific") positions against abortion. Both dismiss with the law of identity and erroneously claim that an embryo is a human being with a right to life.

One is Anti-Abortion Only By Accepting the Moral Code of Altruism

"The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value."

Atheist anti-abortionists are just as altruistically-minded as religious anti-abortionists: both uphold the idea that a woman who does not want to keep a pregnancy must do so anyway, despite her right to exist for her own sake. In order for the atheist anti-abortionist to say an embryo has an "inalienable right to life," the human mother must surrender her rights for the duration of the pregnancy with complete disregard for her own life, values, and rational self-interest.

But in a free society, individual rights do not just come and go or float about. They are not temporary depending upon a medical condition. A woman doesn't suspend her right to life and self-determination when becoming pregnant! In a free society, she must not be compelled to surrender to an imposed morality of altruism and self-sacrifice against her will because of pregnancy. Even a born human in a vegetative state retains the right to life (even though he requires a proxy spokesperson to act in his or her behalf).

In a repressive anti-abortion society, a woman keeps her status as a human being with that society's cultural rules only as long as she is not pregnant; but loses that status like a sacrificial animal when she's pregnant. If you extend the illogical, then men should lose their rights every time they have sex, because that could possibly cause a pregnancy (even if birth control is used, because of course birth control sometimes fails).

The Anti-Abortion Position Cannot Resolve the Inherent Conflict of Altruism

Some anti-abortion legislation deigns to permit abortion "if the life of the mother is threatened." Well, just how far does that go? On the brink of death when CPR and resuscitation are required in the case of a complicated pregnancy? When the mother is bleeding out and needs multiple blood transfusions? When she's past the point of no return on full life-support?

The correct answer in a non-sacrificial society is: Abortion should be allowed when the woman decides as a volitional human what constitutes a threat to her life, her values, her existence as a rational being.

Never can the "interests" of a fetus override the right to life and liberty of a born human. Only by the morality of altruism and the use of force can a society allow an embryo to hijack a woman's uterus and compel her to sacrifice her life and values to ensure the completion of a pregnancy. Only under dictatorial laws where individual rights do not prevail (such as in theocratic countries like Saudi Arabia or communist societies like Soviet-era Romania, for example, is a woman a fleeting human being.

The Right to Abortion is Absolute Because the Law of Identity and Individual Rights are Absolute

At all times, from the point of birth, a woman retains the right to life and the right to her body. At all times, from the point of birth, the woman's right to life is enduring, and does not fluctuate according to her fertility status.

The choice to retain a pregnancy is foremost predicated upon a woman's consent to incubate potential life. And it is nobody's right -- atheist or religious -- to deny her this choice.

By the law of identity; by the morality of individualism as against altruism; by the science of reason and individual rights, the right to abortion must not be abrogated.

Read more...

22 July 2010

Pledge for an Updated Policy Paper on Colorado's "Personhood" Amendment

By Diana Hsieh

Once again, the religious right is launching a massive assault on reproductive rights in Colorado and other states. Help the Coalition for Secular Government fight back by pledging for an updated policy paper showing that "personhood" for zygotes is destructive to human life!

In 2008, the theocrats of the religious right gathered the requisite signatures to put a "personhood" amendment on Colorado's ballot. Known as Amendment 48, this proposed amendment to the state constitution sought to define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the Colorado constitution. Amendment 48 was defeated resoundingly with 73% against and 27% in favor.

Unfortunately, the crusade for "personhood" did not perish with Amendment 48. Instead, the crusaders went national, expanding the activity of Personhood USA to over 30 states. They're back in Colorado for the 2010 election with Amendment 62, a slightly modified version of Amendment 48.

Colorado's Amendment 62 would grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. It proposes:

An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term 'person' as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.
If passed and enforced, the measure would require abortions to be punished as first-degree murders, except perhaps to save the woman's life. It would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus -- including the birth control pill. And it would ban viable forms in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. The measure poses a grave threat to the life, liberty, health, and happiness of the women and men of Colorado.

In 2008, the Coalition for Secular Government published a policy paper by Ari Armstrong and myself entitled Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. We devoted countless hours to write, publish, and promote the paper. We're proud of the results of that work: our paper offered the only substantive moral critique of the proposed amendment and a detailed analysis of its effects.

Now Ari Armstrong and I need to update that policy paper for 2010's Amendment 62. We want the new paper to reflect the changes in the language of the amendment, as well as better address the arguments made in favor of "personhood." We'd like to discuss the worse political climate in Colorado, plus the spread of the "personhood" movement to other states. And once again, we'd like to promote the new paper via media releases, op-eds, and letters to the editor.

That work will be substantial: Ari and I expect the project to require two solid weeks of work from each of us. And we have other pressing demands on our time.

So we're asking you to contribute to the update of that policy paper by pledging your money in exchange for our work. We want to raise $2000 in pledges for the new policy paper -- by August 3rd at noon. In return, we promise to deliver the revised paper by August 31st, then promote it until the November election. If we raise less than that $2000 in pledges, we'll still revise the paper, but we'll scale back our efforts accordingly. If we raise more than that $2000 in pledges, we'll collect just $2000, pro-rating each pledge accordingly. Your pledge won't be due until we release the updated paper. That's because you're not pledging for effort but for results. If we don't release the paper for some reason, then you'll owe nothing.

If you want to stop the theocrats in Colorado and other states ... if you want to preserve our rights to abortion, birth control, and in vitro fertilization ... if you want to protect the health and lives of American women -- please pledge using the form below!

In the "Question or Comment" field, we'd love to hear why you're supporting our fight against the "personhood" movement. If you have questions or arguments that you'd like to see addressed in the updated policy paper, please include those too.



Most of all, thank you for your support!

Questions and Answers about Pledging

How much should I pledge?

That's entirely up to you. You should pledge whatever amount our efforts are worth to you, in light of your resources. Any pledge is welcome.

How can I know what positions and arguments policy paper will contain?

I'd recommend that you read the original version of the paper: Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person. We're proud of that work: we stand by all the claims and arguments in it. In addition, you can read CSG's summary of and publications on Amendment 48, as well our recent blog posts on Amendment 62.

Will anyone know that I've pledged?

Your name, e-mail, pledge amount, and comment will not be published or otherwise shared with anyone outside CSG unless required by law.

What if I change my mind after I pledge?

If you wish to increase your pledge, you can always pledge more. Just submit another pledge to be added to your existing pledges. If you make a mistake in your pledge, you can e-mail me at diana@dianahsieh.com before August 3rd. If you want to back out of your pledge... well, I won't have any legal way of enforcing this contract, but if you welch on your bill, you're a schmuck!

When will I find out whether you've gathered enough pledges for the full revision?

The pledge drive ends at noon on August 3rd. Sometime that day, I'll e-mail everyone who pledged with the results, as well as post an announcement to Politics without God.

How do I pay?

You'll be able to pay via PayPal, or you can send a check or money order. I prefer PayPal, but paper methods are fine too. (I will collect the pledges, then split those funds evenly with Ari Armstrong.)

Will my pledge be tax-deductible?

No. The Coalition for Secular Government is a non-profit corporation in Colorado, but the paperwork required by the federal government for tax-exemption is simply too burdensome.

What if I'm not satisfied with the policy paper?

If the policy paper doesn't offer the value you expected, then we will void your pledge and refund any money paid. All that you have to do is e-mail me explaining why you're dissatisfied.

Why are you doing this?

Ari Armstrong and I have devoted much time and effort to battling the religious right, but we have many demands on our time. We want to make sure that others value the work that we're doing, and we want to be fairly paid for that work.

What do I do if I have some other question?

Please e-mail me at diana@dianahsieh.com. I'll update these questions to clarify as needed.

Read more...

20 July 2010

Three Arguments for Blocking Cordoba House

By Ari

This article originally was published July 2 on Ari Armstrong's blog.

Cordoba House, the proposed Islamic center within the damage zone of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, richly deserves moral condemnation. Whether it should be forcibly blocked is another matter. Here my goal is to explain and engage the three most important arguments for blocking the construction of Cordoba House. I conclude that, while two arguments don't succeed, a third might.

1. "The organizers of Cordoba House promote bad ideas."

Advocates of blocking Cordoba House frequently cite the horrible views espoused by the center's lead organizer, Feisal Abdul Rauf (an Imam and United States citizen). As I have reviewed, Rauf has failed to condemn Hamas (though he has condemned terrorism in the abstract), partly blamed America for the 9/11 attacks, and openly advocated Islamic Sharia law in the U.S.

The problem with blocking Cordoba House because of the views advocated by its organizers (as I have reviewed in a first and second article) is that thousands of other American Muslims, leftist intellectuals and activists, and libertarians have expressed identical or substantively similar views. Thus, the same case should apply to all those other thousands of American citizens, who, logically, also should be forcibly stripped of their property or use of it to promote their ideas. Yet, to date, I have heard not a single advocate of shutting down the Islamic center claim that they want to also target all those other American citizens.

Here I am addressing the promotion of ideas, not criminal acts. I have seen no evidence that the organizers of Cordoba House (the property's legally recognized owners) have engaged in any criminal or terrorist activity. Anyone who commits violent acts, shelters or finances terrorists, or directly promotes terrorist acts has committed a crime, and, as Steve Simpson notes, existing criminal code already addresses such matters. In cases of such crimes, appropriate action extends far beyond merely blocking the criminal's use of property. Anyone guilty of such crimes should be prosecuted and imprisoned upon conviction, and at least all property related to their crimes should be confiscated. In such cases the central issue is the crime, not the use of property, which would be restricted only as a consequence of the criminal sanctions.

Amy Peikoff has pointed out that it is possible to argue that promoting Islam is itself a criminal act:

[T]here probably are good legal arguments that could be made to stop this, arguments that need not presuppose that our government has formally declared war. This approach is tricky, of course, because you can't say that someone doesn't have a right to property, simply because his views, which he plans to promote via use of his property, at root negate the principle of private property. Plenty of ideologies do that. So this gets back to the problem of recognizing the unique nature of Islam in this regard. To make the proper sort of legal argument I have in mind – something along the lines of a well-defined trade embargo, or perhaps a charge of conspiracy to commit a crime, or, as James Valliant has suggested, solicitation to murder – one has to recognize that the distinguishing characteristic of Islam as a religion is its doctrine of Jihad, which is, in effect, an incitement to violence, even though many individual Muslims aren't violent and never will be. If you don't believe this about Islam as such, then you will naturally reject this approach.
However, if this argument succeeds, then the logical conclusion is that all Muslims in the United States who advocate Islam should be branded criminals. Yet nobody who advocates the forced blocking of Cordoba House argues that all Muslims who advocate Islam should be targeted with criminal proceedings.

Indeed, the very implication reduces the position to absurdity.

The reason the position implies absurd applications is that the mere advocacy of an idea does not inherently or automatically lead to violent actions. Consider some comparisons.

Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff argue that Kant is inherently evil (because willfully dishonest), and that his views logically imply the total abnegation of individual rights. And yet nobody argues that advocates of Kantianism are criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

In her talk, "Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World," "Ayn Rand explains why mysticism is altruism's precondition, and why dictatorship is its product." She argues that faith as such logically implies the outright "destruction of the modern world." And yet nobody argues that all Christians are criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

Communism explicitly demands the sacrifice of the individual to the collective. And yet nobody argues that all Marxist university professors should be branded criminals because of the ideas they advocate.

Even if someone openly advocates an idea that logically entails violent actions, that person need not become violent (as Peikoff notes). Ideas motivate people to action, but not in any deterministic sort of way. Often people decline to enact (or they simply fail to comprehend) the logical consequences of their ideas.

What violates rights is force, an action. An idea cannot violate rights. While a bad idea can motivate one to criminal action, the mere advocacy of an idea is not itself criminal.

This applies even to ideas held by America's enemies. I agree with Leonard Peikoff when he states:
Treason... is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime. And the enemy has to be defined in objective, physical terms, as a reality of physical attack, or the objective threat of physical attack. I better clarify what I mean by "aid and comfort." If you give material assistance, or weapons, that is aid and comfort. If you urge the [American] soldiers to desert, that is aid and comfort. If you propagandize, urging specific actions, riots and strikes, etcetera, at home, like the Beatniks did during Vietnam, that is aid and comfort. ... If you send food packages to the insurgents or the Iranis in the Iraq war, all that is aid and comfort. ... [Y]ou have to draw a line between physical, concrete aid and comfort, and a broad moral stand on an issue of national concern which you have every right to take. ... You are certainly entitled on intellectual grounds to denounce a war, and even to say the enemy is morally superior to us. You're entitled to say this. But what you're not entitled to do is then go out and specifically help that enemy win the war. That is the big difference. It's a crime to advocate a crime, to help perpetrate, to be an accomplice. It is not a crime to advocate a legal change in the policy that is leading to it. You get the difference between sending food to the insurgents and condemning the war in Iraq.
(As an aside, Peikoff also argues that "it has to be a declared war" for a charge of treason to stick. He says, "All wars which are not declared have no status." Absent a declaration of war, he states, "no rules of war or treason can apply... unless it's an emergency" preceding a formal declaration of war. However, my understanding is that charges of treason may be brought in spy cases even when the United States is not at war, so I think that in certain cases treason can apply outside a formal declaration of war.)

If the advocacy of certain ideologies is deemed inherently criminal, consider what such a legal precedent would mean for the rest of us, say, if fundamentalist Christians gained even more influence over government. Paul Hsieh has offered some good examples. Here's another: in his new book To Save America, Newt Gingrich argues that secularism is inherently socialistic and that it poses an "existential threat" to America (p. 6). If we're going to turn people into criminals for the ideas they advocate, secularists may be among the first in the gulags, however misguided the attack on them.

Absent concrete evidence linking Cordoba House's organizers to crime or terrorism, then, they cannot be prosecuted as criminals, and their center cannot properly be blocked on those grounds.

2. "Cordoba House would embolden America's enemies."

Advocates of forcibly blocking Cordoba House, however, can offer some other reason for doing so, besides the views advocated by its organizers. For example, they can argue that building an Islamic center within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks inherently emboldens America's enemies, apart from the particular ideas the organizers advocate. I think that is the approach Leonard Peikoff is taking in his recent podcast on the matter.

By my understanding, Peikoff would advocate blocking Cordoba House, regardless of the particular views expressed by its organizers. Even if Rauf enthusiastically condemned Hamas, declared America's complete and utter innocence regarding the 9/11 attacks, and openly opposed Sharia law, I think Peikoff still would advocate blocking Cordoba House. By this view, the case for blocking Cordoba House does not depend on the particular views of those organizers (beyond their general endorsement of Islam); it depends solely on the location of the proposed center.

Advocates of blocking Cordoba House have made some extraordinary claims about its construction. Leonard Peikoff suggests that our "metaphysical survival is at stake." Amy Peikoff suggests that to allow Cordoba House would be to "let ourselves be wiped out as collateral damage."

At initial glance, such claims seem like wild hyperbole. If Cordoba House is built (as it most likely will be, all of our debate notwithstanding), Western civilization will not immediately come crashing down around our heads. The buildings of New York City will not suddenly crumble into dust. American women will not all start wearing burqas the next day. Cordoba House might encourage America's enemies to rejoice, gloat, and redouble their commitment, but it will not put food in their bellies, improve the lethality of their weapons, or strengthen their muscles.

Moreover, blocking the construction of Cordoba House (extremely unlikely in today's political context) would not somehow magically make Iran's nuclear facilities disappear, grant Obama the spine to stand up to America's enemies, or remove the deadly restrictions placed on America's soldiers. For most militant Islamists and Americans, life will continue as before whether or not Cordoba House reaches completion. (Indeed, most Americans never even will have heard of Cordoba House upon its construction.)

What, then, are those claims getting at?

The central argument, I believe, is this. The location of Cordoba House is indeed supremely relevant. Its location was selected expressly because the building was damaged by the 9/11 attacks. Regardless of the views and intentions of the center's organizers (actual or stated), an Islamic center, within the damage zone of the 9/11 attacks, cannot help but embolden America's Islamist enemies and signal America's moral capitulation. The message to America's enemies is essentially this: "You are strong, and America is weak. If you attack us, you can profit from your attacks. If you destroy our buildings, you can build a shrine to your ideology there as a sign of your conquest." Such a center can only spur on our Islamist enemies to further violence. Such a principle of capitulation indeed threatens our long-term survival, according to this argument.

Notice that the argument about location depends solely on the impact of the Islamic center on the motivation of America's enemies, not on any material benefit it might bestow to those enemies. The relevant impact takes place entirely within the heads of the Islamists.

Thus, the building of Cordoba House represents a symbolic victory for America's enemies, and blocking it would constitute a symbolic victory for America's self-defense.

The question, then, is whether a symbolic display may ever properly be proscribed legally. My initial reaction is to say no; the First Amendment properly protects symbolic expression, and only actions (including active provocation of violence) properly may be criminalized.

Consider protests involving the burning of the American flag. Many conservatives want to pass a Constitutional amendment banning the disrespectful burning of the American flag. (Burning a worn flag to respectfully dispose of it constitutes proper etiquette.) I learned about flag etiquette from my grandfather, who fought in the Pacific Rim during World War II. Whenever I see an American flag, I think about how my grandfather had to walk a field picking up body pieces of his friends after the Japanese bombed his camp. I will not tolerate the disrespectful burning of an American flag in my presence; if I can maintain sufficient composure to do so, I will leave the scene. Conservatives argue, and I agree, that disrespectfully burning an America flag symbolizes a hateful attack on the essence of America. Nevertheless, I do not advocate legally prohibiting the disrespectful burning of an American flag, and I know of no Objectivist who advocates banning it.

The fact that I experience revulsion toward the burning of an American flag does not justify outlawing the activity; likewise, revulsion towards Cordoba House does not justify forcibly blocking it.

Does the situation change in time of war? During all-out war, our very society, along with the legal system that protects our rights, stands at risk of utter destruction. May certain symbolic expressions therefore be prohibited in times of war?

Peikoff and others offer the example of Pearl Harbor: should the United States government have allowed a Shinto shrine near the site of the attack during WWII? (At first, I presumed that such a scenario was impossible because Pearl Harbor is a military base. However, looking at the map of the harbor, it is clear that it is surrounded by neighborhoods, golf courses, and farms. I have never been there in person.)

While others seem to think it is perfectly obvious that such a shrine should be prohibited in times of war, even if the shrine's organizers are known to have no ties to violence or the enemy, it is not obvious to me. I don't see what difference such a shrine would make either way. Think of it this way: should the United States government expend energy, during time of war, to forcibly stop construction of some ridiculous shrine? When the United States government is developing atomic bombs and blowing the holy hell out of Japan, is a shrine really what either side is going to be worried about? I submit that if the Japanese are gloating about the shrine (in this hypothetical situation), if they spend even a minute thinking about the shrine, then the United States has failed to effectively prosecute the war. If the shrine is a big deal to the enemy, then that signifies America is already losing the war.

There may be other very good reasons for blocking the Shinto shrine -- see the third argument below -- but its symbolism does not strike me as a forceful one.

Imagine you witnessed a street fight, and Fighter A spits on the shoe of Fighter B (who cannot escape the fight). What would you think if Fighter B agonized over the spittle and tried to carefully clean his shoe before proceeding with the fight? I submit that Fighter B should ignore his shoe and concentrate on smashing in the face of the aggressor.

Likewise, I submit that it is precisely this obsessive agonizing over Cordoba House that reflects a posture of defeat and surrender. Why would people spend one minute of their time trying to get rid of some damned prayer center, when they could spend that minute urging the United States government to take decisive action against America's true enemies? What exactly are our priorities, here? (I do think the debate over Cordoba House is useful insofar as it helps reveal the nature of America's enemies.)

I should address a couple of arguments from the other side. Amy Peikoff argues that symbols can indeed be important, and she points out that the U.S. ought not have handed over the Panama Canal to Panama. However, I fail to see how the U.S. handing over a U.S.-built structure to a foreign nation is comparable to the federal government not taking action regarding Cordoba House. In his podcast, Leonard Peikoff suggests that building Cordoba House is comparable to somebody who violently attacks your house, then later buys your house for a shrine. But there is an obvious difference: the builders of Cordoba house, however bad their ideas or evil their intentions, are not the same individuals who planned the 9/11 attacks.

We may criticize Cordoba House for its symbolic significance, but I fail to see how blocking a symbol accomplishes any serious goal or in any way compensates for failing to execute a real war.

3. "Cordoba House is uniquely positioned to promote violent Islam."

Even though Cordoba House's organizers have explicitly denounced terrorism, at least in the abstract, and even if they actively discourage terrorism, still Cordoba House might prove to be an especially strong lure to would-be terrorists, precisely because of its location. Even if Cordoba House's official policy opposes terrorism, the center's managers cannot hope to monitor the private meetings that take place within its walls. It might, then, become a place where potential terrorists meet and hatch their plans.

This seems to be the point Edward Cline is arguing in his recent, thoughtful article.

Those who find such threats implausible need only look to recent headlines; a couple of examples should suffice.

On May 4, the Washington Post reported:
A man was arrested late Monday night in connection with the failed Times Square bombing, administration officials said. The suspect, Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen from Pakistan, allegedly purchased the sport utility vehicle that authorities found packed with explosives in New York on Saturday night. ...

An FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force had taken over the investigation Monday amid growing indications of a possible international connection, U.S. officials and law enforcement sources said.
A June 18 follow-up article reports: "The suspect in the attempted bombing of Times Square received $12,000 from the Pakistani Taliban to carry out the plot, according to a federal indictment released Thursday that formally charges Faisal Shahzad with receiving training and support from the militant group."

On June 29, Bloomberg reported:
A Guyanese man, on the eve of his trial, pleaded guilty to his role in a plot to blow up New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Abdel Nur, 60, entered a guilty plea to a single count of providing support to terrorists before U.S. District Judge Dora Irizzary in Brooklyn, New York. The judge said the trial of Nur's two co-defendants is scheduled to begin tomorrow. The three hatched the plot in January 2006 and circulated their plan to an international network of Muslim extremists, prosecutors said.
Rauf himself has granted that special effort is required to "make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals." But what if Rauf's efforts prove inadequate at Cordoba House, which due to its location will prove a particularly strong draw for such "radicals?"

Moreover, some have speculated that Cordoba House will receive international money, probably in some cases tied to nefarious governments. The fact that tainted funds may be available again represents a failure of U.S. foreign policy. If the funds are tainted in a serious enough way, that might justify legal proceedings against Cordoba House based on existing laws. The point here is that if tainted funds indeed go to Cordoba House, that might accompany especially nasty influences.

To me, this third argument is by far the strongest rationale offered for blocking Cordoba House. The United States government could essentially state, "Look, we have good evidence that at least some people who would attend Cordoba House have evil intentions, and, given we are in the middle of prosecuting a war, we don't have the resources right now to investigate all the related issues. Therefore, until we have decisively won the war, your religious center is on hold, on the grounds of wartime emergency."

Of course, given the United States government has not, in fact, declared war on America's enemies, and indeed refuses even to recognize the ideological motivation of America's enemies, and even actively appeases many of America's enemies, I do not imagine that the current administration would actually invoke such an argument.

Moreover, I think the United States government could both prosecute a successful war and investigate possible terrorist plots at Cordoba House. Indeed, if it is true that Cordoba House would prove especially appealing to would-be terrorists, then it might even be advantageous for the U.S. government to watch them collect all at one spot.

If would-be terrorists aren't meeting at Cordoba House, they're not simply going to disappear. They're probably going to meet somewhere else. The premise of this third argument -- that Cordoba House would attract terrorist plotters -- actually seems to justify letting the center be built, so long as the United States government actively tracks suspected terrorists there.

On the other hand, perhaps Cordoba House would embolden more Muslims to plot violent attacks than otherwise would do so, even if they did not actually visit Cordoba House. However, this seems tentative and speculative to me, like the second argument reviewed above, and therefore a weak basis for legal action. In any case, Cordoba House might embolden more terrorists only in the context of a weak overall U.S. foreign policy. If the U.S. government decisively demonstrated the failure of militant Islam, no symbolic structure could overcome that.

However, as noted, I regard this third argument as a forceful one.

* * *


I have described what I see as the three major arguments for blocking Cordoba House. As I've indicated, I'm not persuaded that any of the arguments succeeds, though the third argument could gain force depending on the circumstances. If any critic believes that I have missed an important argument, or failed to see the strength of an argument, I hope that critic will explain the error.

Whether or not Cordoba House is built, I think it is important that those concerned about the Islamist threat refrain from blowing the significance of Cordoba House out of proportion. We must remain focussed on making the case to the American public and to its government that we need to get serious about defending the nation from militant Islam.

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15 July 2010

What About the Forty Other Islamic Centers?

By Ari

As I note in my updated article about the proposed mosque near the World Trade Center, passionate debate continues on the question of whether the mosque should be allowed. I have a few questions for those who would forcibly block the building of the mosque. These are not rhetorical questions; I'd appreciate some real answers.

1. If the United States seriously waged war against the state sponsors of Islamist terror, would the proposed mosque even potentially be able to get tainted funds, and would its building present any real problem?

2. With the Obama administration actively appeasing America's enemies, handcuffing American soldiers in Afghanistan, and standing idly by while Iran develops nuclear weapons, do you seriously believe that the addition of yet another mosque on American soil is what will make America appear weak to its enemies?

3. If you give the federal government, or any local government, the authority to deprive United States citizens of property rights, without trial or due process of law, do you seriously believe that such power would be limited to blocking the building of the mosque?

4. Granting that at least some of the organizers of the mosque sympathize with at least some dangerous Islamist goals, what do you think government policy should be with respect to the many college professors and leftist leaders who have sympathized with the 9/11 attackers?

5. If you believe the mosque near the World Trade Center site should be forcibly blocked, what do you think should happen to the forty other Islamic centers a short distance from that site? (I composed my list simply by searching for "mosque" in New York on Google maps; obviously which sites are included in the list may be open to debate.) What about all the other mosques and Islamic centers in America?

Picture 1

Update: I posted three brief comments to Diana Hsieh's Facebook page, and I thought them worth repeating here:

I think Diana's point about formally declared war is relevant; how can the United States government convict someone for treason for aiding an enemy the United States refuses to recognize?

I see the two sides largely converging. The first side essentially argues: The mosque should be blocked, because it would support America's Islamist enemies, and it can be blocked by just means. The second side argues: The mosque should not be blocked, unless it can be shown to support America's Islamist enemies, and then only by just means. The remaining debate is over what constitutes relevant support for America's enemies, whether the mosque's organizers in fact offer such support, and, if they do, what means would be just to block the mosque.

Final thought: I can think of little that would make more of a mockery of the United States than to fight Islamist terrorism with zoning laws. "You better stop killing us, or we'll zone your asses!" We cannot fight a war with zoning laws, and the attempt is both futile and embarrassing.

July 15 Update: I originally published the above commentary on June 28. I spent the next few days continuing to think seriously about the issue, and my more mature position may be found in my July 2 article, "Three Arguments for Blocking Cordoba House."

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13 July 2010

Muslims and Sikhs Show Arrogant Disdain for Patient Safety

By Gina Liggett

Islamic and Sikh Healthcare Workers Scoff at Patient Safety in the name of God

In a recent capitulation to "multiculturalism," the British Department of Health has exempted complaining Muslims and Sikhs from complying with a specific dress code implemented to reduce the spread of so-called "super bugs" in health care settings.

Bluntly, these religious followers are now allowed the capricious indulgence of putting their faith before patient safety!

In 2007, the British National Health Service started requiring all health care personnel providing direct care to patients to be bare from the elbows down, so that following contact with each and every patient, hands and wrists could be thoroughly and properly washed. The scientific (i.e., not religious) basis for this reasonable rule was that the pernicious "super bugs," MRSA and C Diff, were found to cling onto providers' long lab-coat and shirt sleeves, neckties, wristwatches, and wrist jewelry, thus transmitting these often deadly disease-causing microorganisms directly to the next patient.

The Muslim women got exempted because it is an "offense" to their religion to show bare skin, even below the elbows. The Sikhs wanted to keep wearing their wrist bangles as long as they were pushed up their arms during patient contact. But guess what (for those of you who haven't fought the vicissitudes of fashion) those damn things slide back down where they can end up coming in contact with super bugs! Muslim and Sikh health care providers "may" wear disposable protective long sleeves; but to quote Derek Butler, chairman of MRSA Action UK, "My worry is that allowing some medics to use disposable sleeves...compromise(s) patient safety because unless you change the sleeves between each patient, you spread bacteria. Scrubbing bare arms is far more effective."

"Super Bug" Epidemiology 101

Indeed, thanks to the early-scientific inquiry and common-sense of the Mother of modern Nursing and Epidemiology, Miss Florence Nightingale, the gold standard for preventing the spread of disease in health care facilities is the simplest practice of all: thorough handwashing before and after each and every patient contact.

But how about some background information on what these "super bugs" are and why they're such a threat to human health. MRSA, or "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas" and C Diff, "Clostridium difficile," are bacteria that have evolved to develop resistance to antibiotics as newer generations of antibiotics have become part of the arsenal against infection and as the prescribing of antibiotics has become more widespread (a stunning demonstration of the power of evolution). These bacteria have become very prevalent in hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities in recent years. There are also other "super bugs" evolving to become ever-more-resistant to antibiotics, presenting a grave challenge not only to health professionals trying to control the spread of these awful germs, but to developers of new generations of antibiotics.

These are not benign bugs! MRSA can cause serious infections of the skin and respiratory tract. Severe infections of MRSA can also lead to sepsis, in which bacteria escape into the blood stream leading to an immune response that can cause organ damage and death. Patients die by the tens of thousands in both the U.S. and Britain because of this organism.

C Diff lives in the intestinal tract of many people, including the healthy, but the "good" bacteria in the gut keep it in check. Many hospitalized patients develop C Diff infection after taking antibiotics for some ailment; these antibiotics kill off enough good bacteria, allowing C Diff bacteria to overpopulate and release toxins that cause diarrhea and even severe inflammation of the colon.

These are hearty bugs! MRSA can be present in people without causing symptoms, meaning these people can be carriers. If a patient has MRSA infection or is a carrier, or if someone has the C Diff diarrhea, the germs will be present on their body and surfaces they touch. This is why health care facilities isolate these patients, require health care workers to wear barrier gloves and gowns, and most importantly require them to thoroughly wash their hands after patient contact. In Britain, authorities added the additional requirement of bare arms below the elbows, so sleeves don't get dragged in bacteria that can be transmitted to the next patient and to enable good hand and wrist washing.

Compliance With Infection Control is Enough of a Problem Already

In Britain, there is some evidence that the 2007 infection control practices are having a positive result, but compliance is not uniform.

When health care providers don't properly follow infection control practices, they risk transmitting these bugs to other patients, who may be susceptible because they're in a weakened immune state due to their illness or other health problems. This is exactly how these super bugs have spread and evolved to become such a threat to patients' health and lives.

Multiculturalism-Sensitivity is in Conflict with Patient Safety

Infection control advocates are having a hard-enough time getting personnel and facilities to comply with the guidelines known to work. Just getting health care workers to simply wash their hands has been an ongoing problem since the Crimean War!

Now British health authorities are reversing direction, subordinating science and sound medical practice to religious doctrine, literally threatening the lives and health of patients.

How would you like to be a patient in a British hospital, cared for by a Muslim doctor who insists on protecting her Islamic dignity by wearing long sleeves that have contacted the spores of C Diff residing on the bed rails of Patient Number 43589403298? Do you like watery diarrhea and cramping?!

Would you like your surgical incision to become infected with MRSA from Patient Number 98039817298 whom your Sikh doctor wearing religiously-correct bracelets has just seen? Do you like pus and fever?!

The Western World Must Fight for its Standards

I can best characterize the haughtiness of the British Muslim and Sikh health care workers by using a crude American expression; but let's just say it has to with their holier-than-thou belief that "their own excreta lack the noisome vapors characteristic of everybody else's." Thus, they exempt themselves from rational rules designed to save human lives, arrogantly shoving their religious practices in the faces--and bodies--of patients.

"Dutiful Diarrhea!" "Mercy for MRSA!" Praise Be To God and Allah for worsening the spread of British "super bugs!"

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01 July 2010

Cordoba House and the Real Feisal Abdul Rauf

By Ari

The proposed Islamic center near the World Trade Center site is called "Cordoba House," apparently in honor of Islam's conquest of Spain.

The Washington Times reports:

The building was purchased in July 2009 for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real-estate investment firm tied to developer Sharif El-Gamal. One of the investors was the Cordoba Initiative, an organization chaired by Ms. Khan's husband, Faisal Abdul Rauf. The initiative listed less than $20,000 in assets in 2008 and has received less than $100,000 in contributions since it was founded in 2004. The ASMA has assets of less than $1 million. The principals will not explain how their cash-poor organizations can hope to undertake such a major project, but Ms. [Daisy] Khan [executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement] claims that, "Cordoba House will be a new entity whose funding sources will be independent from the funding sources of ASMA and Cordoba Initiative." Odds are the money will come from overseas.
The Daily Mail offers more details:
The mosque is part of a proposed 13-storey Muslim community centre, which will include a swimming pool, gym, theatre and sports facilities.

The building, which was damaged by the fuselage of one of the hijacked planes, is at 45 Park Place -- just two blocks from Ground Zero.

It formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory store. The store's two selling floors were destroyed when the landing gear from one of the planes tore through them during the attacks.

Construction is due to begin on September 11 next year – the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
The New York Times adds:
The Sept. 11, 2001, attack killed 2,752 people downtown and doomed the five-story building at 45 Park Place, two blocks north of the World Trade Center, keeping it abandoned for eight years.

But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.

The building has no sign that hints at its use as a Muslim prayer space, but these modest beginnings point to a far grander vision: an Islamic center near the city's most hallowed piece of land...

The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, "where a piece of the wreckage fell," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, "sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11."

"We want to push back against the extremists," added Imam Feisal, 61.
Several facts become clear from these accounts: the site of the proposed Islamic center was, in fact, damaged by the 9/11 attacks; the store that used to occupy the space left because of the damage; the location was purchased specifically for the construction of an Islamic center within the zone of destruction; and the center's lead organizer publicly declares that his purpose is to oppose terrorism.

How far can we trust Feisal Abdul Rauf's proclaimed intentions? And how much do his real intentions matter?

The Imam states:
My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. ...

People who are stakeholders in society, who believe they are welcomed as equal partners, do not want to destroy it. ... And there's no better demonstration of our desire to build than the construction of this center. ...

The project has been mischaracterized... It is not a mosque, although it will include a space for Muslim prayer services. It will have a swimming pool [etc.] ...

And, yes, the center will have a public memorial to the victims of 9/11 as well as a meditation room where all will be welcome...

The center will be open to all regardless of religion. ...

What grieves me most is the false reporting that leads some families of 9/11 victims to think this project somehow is designed by Muslims to gloat over the attack.

That could not be further from the truth.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11. ...

Freedom of religion is something we hold dear. It is the core of what America is all about, and it is what people worldwide respect about our country. The Koran itself says compulsion in religion is wrong.

American Muslims want to be both good Americans and good Muslims. They can be the best assets the United States has in combatting radicalism.

They know that many American values -- freedom of religion, human dignity and opportunity for prosperity -- are also Muslim values. ...

I have been the imam at a mosque in Tribeca for 27 years. ... My work is to make sure mosques are not recruiting grounds for radicals.

To do that, Muslims must feel they are welcome in New York. Alienated people are open to cynicism and radicalism. Any group that believes it is under attack will breed rebellion. The proposed center is an attempt to prevent the next 9/11.
While he does publicly condemn terrorism, notice a couple of peculiarities with his claims. First, he grants that, without active intervention, mosques do, in fact, become "recruiting grounds for radicals," i.e. violent Islamists who hate and want to destroy America and impose universal Islamic law.

He also claims that Americans must make Muslims "feel they are welcome" in order to "prevent the next 9/11." However, not feeling welcome is no good reason to commit terrorist acts. Muslims are morally obligated not to commit acts of terrorism, whether or not they feel welcome. Many groups have come to America that have initially felt unwelcome, and they have nevertheless refrained from slaughtering others and learned to enter the culture. Perhaps Muslims would feel more welcome if more Muslims would publicly denounce Islamist terrorist acts and organizations.

While Feisal Abdul Rauf claims that he "hates terrorism" in the abstract, he could not in fact bring himself to condemn the terrorist organization Hamas. He declined to declare Hamas a terrorist organization when repeatedly given the opportunity during a June 18 radio interview.

Moreover, while the Imam claims to endorse freedom of religion, he has explicitly called for Sharia law, arguing that religion should help shape "the nation's practical life" and that "religious communities [should have] more leeway to judge among themselves according to their own laws." In other words, he calls for the enforcement of explicitly Islamic law, at least among Muslims in Islamic "religious communities," as the Taliban continues to accomplishes in Afghanistan, and as various Islamic leaders have proposed for parts of Canada and Europe.

He is all for "freedom of religion," if that means religion's leaders are free to forcibly control their followers. Indeed, in his defense of Sharia law, which he laughably asserts comports with secular law and the Declaration of Independence, Feisal Abdul Rauf grants that he would forcibly impose "a certain amount of modesty" on the faithful (as defined by Islamic leaders). He states bluntly: "What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Quran and the Hadith."

I do believe the Imam about one thing: I do not think he intends Cordoba House merely to promote Islamic gloating over the 9/11 attacks. I believe his core purpose is vastly more sinister.

[See Ari Armstrong's blog.]

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