Tuesday, September 18, 2012

An Assistant Attorney General Who Can't Clearly Affirm Free Speech? [But See Update]

Thomas Perez
Assistant Attorney General

See Update At Botttom!

Thomas Perez, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, seems unwilling to clearly affirm the First Amendment to the US Constitution in a video from a Constitution Subcommittee hearing back in July, for he wouldn't give a direct answer to a clear question posed by Congressman Trent Franks:
Will you tell us here today simply that this Administration's Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion?
When Perez hesitated, Franks pointed out:
That's not a hard question.
Perez responded by declaring:
Well, actually, it is a hard question.
No, Mr. Perez, it's not a hard question, unless you're unclear about the concept of free speech or have some infringing agenda, such as treating criticism of Islam as racist hate speech and thereby agreeing with views such as those alleged to have been expressed by Professor Sahar F. Aziz, member of the Muslim advocacy group the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, who apparently argues:
[The State Department's] civil rights lawyers are top of the line -- I say this with utter honesty -- I know they can come up with a way [to redefine criticism as discrimination . . . . The word] Muslim . . . has become racialized . . . . I don't accept this formalistic cop-out that this is all about religion.
If this is truly what Aziz stated (and those brackets and ellipses do raise doubts), then I infer -- based on this quote and the rest of the what I've read about that meeting -- that she perhaps wishes to restrict criticism of Islam by redefining such criticism as discriminatory hate speech against a race. I note that she has published an article titled "Sticks and Stones, Words That Hurt: Entrenched Stereotypes Eight Years After 9/11" in the New York City Law Review (Fall 2010), a student-run publication of CUNY School of Law, and though I've not yet located a copy online to review, the wording of this title sounds consistent with restrictive views on free expression. Should this actually be the case, I would really like to know Perez's view on this issue, specifically upon Aziz's reported remarks, for he attended the summit on October 19, 2011 at George Washington University where Aziz purportedly stated this view, or so says Neil Munro in "Progressives, Islamists huddle at Justice Department" (The Daily Caller, October 21, 2011). I haven't found the transcript to this meeting, just an official pdf report by the Justice Department, so I can't confirm Mr. Munro's news report, and I am concerned that the title has the meeting at the State Department, whereas the article has it at George Washington University, a discrepancy that leaves me not entirely certain of this source (and Munro is known to be a staunch Republican partisan). Does anyone have a link to the transcript with Aziz's full words?

Anyway, whatever the case with Aziz's views on free expression, I'm very familiar with the tendency of some people to play the race card when race is far from the issue, and readers may recall my report on this some days ago, for I quoted an interlocutor who tried to make some of my remarks into racist ones:
You are being disingenuous with this example [female genital mutilation (FGM)]. You know full well that the most strident opposition against multiculturalism is not about criticizing the multiculturalists' alleged complicity to FGM. No, it is about immigration and the desire to exclude darker-skinned people from entering the country . . . . [L]et us not pretend as if THAT [opposition to FGM] is the problem that the opponents of multiculturalism are concerned about. If you are allowed to criticize multiculturalism because some crazies appropriate its good name, I can just as easily put you in the same category as the dyed-in-the-wool racists who clamor for higher walls along the border.
See how quickly one can be branded a racist for raising critical questions about such politically sensitive issues as multiculturalism or Islam? The aim of such re-branding is to shut down free speech, either by attempting to shame the supposed racist into silence or by outlawing the supposed racist statements as discriminatory.

My advice: Recognize this rhetorical trick, remain unintimidated, and defend free speech.

UPDATE: Michael Totten has an update in which Perez clarifies his position later in the same session:
Representative Jerry Nadler: I assume the department would make a commitment that you’re not going to offer a proposal to criminalize protected speech, to criminalize criticism of religion or of anybody else, other than in the context of a direct threat.

Perez: Right. We will do this work, as we always have, in a way that is consistent with the Constitution.

Nadler: Which means you cannot criminalize, uh…

Perez: Hate speech.

Nadler: Hate speech.

Perez: Correct.
I'm now wondering why Franks posted his interaction with Perez as if it were Perez's last word on the subject. Perhaps Franks was unaware, but there might be more to this than mere sloppiness . . .

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At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perez' repeated attempts to evade answering a clear, direct question that needed no context were disturbing. The right wing 'news' report can be taken with a grain of salt since there is no independent corroboration or primary source available. Given Perez' evasive response, I would not be surprised if the DOJ were exploring incorporate restrictions on public speech about religions or their adherents into the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


At 9:21 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I fear the same. If that were to happen, American law would be supporting shariah's restrictions on criticism of Islam! Even academic analysis would be discouraged. Mush of my blog would then surely violate US 'law.'

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to the video segment featuring Sahar Aziz as a panelist, unviewable on my iPad:


If "inflexibly partisan" 'liberals' like me are alarmed at the prospect of legal restrictions on religious criticism, then the DOJ could expect to face fierce opposition from across the political spectrum.

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks. I'll take a look -- and also link.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry about that. I noticed that all links for a search with th pe Sahar Aziz half-quote led to far rightist websites. That made me wonder about the video, so I clicked on the uploaded Truthseeker's username and the last video he or she posted before this one was about Obama's gay lovers. Though I think Perez' quote ought to be able to stand alone, i am interested in seeing the discussion that took place just prior to the AZ Congressman's question and found a link to the full hearing here., which I will watch later this week. Do let us know how the closely Aziz' quote circulating among far right websites matched up to what she actually said.

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I tried to watch the video, searching for Aziz's actual words, but at some point in that process, the video froze.

My computer tends to have this problem, so I'm hoping some reader will find the remarks and report back to us.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Due to a request from the commentator, I have deleted comment number 7, but there might be more later.

Jeffery Hodges

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