Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"Fight for Freedom" Town Hall aired by (Washington DC) WJLA "News Channel 8" as part of its "Your Voice, Your Future" series; I am in the audience

ABC affiliate WJLA aired the “Town Hall: Fight for Freedom: Your Voice, Your Future” from its headquarters in the Rosslyn “downtown” area of Arlington VA, almost on the Potomac River.
This broadcast is the latest in a series of Roundtables (half hour, no audience) and Townhalls (one hour, with studio audience)  aired at 7 PM EST on some weeknights on News Channel 8 in Washington.  I was in the audience, on the second row, and this time the event was in the Second Floor Studio of the building, rather than in the Arisphere (which is larger and which is easier to move around in). 

There was a technical issue in that we could not hear some of the outside feeds during the show.
The panelists were Frank Gaffney from the Center for Security Policy (link), Clifford May from Foundation for Defense of Democracies (link)  Jane Hall, journalism professor at American University (link), and Faheem Younus (“Muslimerican”, link) as well as, remote, Representative Scott Perry (R-PA), direct line from Harrisburg.  Jeff Barnum moderated.

Scott Thuman reported on several stories, including a decision by Japan not to allow its journalists to travel to Syria and Iraq, after the recent execution of another Japanese journalist by ISIS.  He also reported on a blizzard of “copythreat” threats against commercial airline flights on Twitter, which can be traced and can result in 5 years in prison.  Another clip concerns the use of flashy social media to recruit young men and women from western countries, a campaign that works mostly in Europe but that has resulted in the arrests of a few young people from the US. 

One of the audience, a Muslim woman, challenged Gaffney for his alleges support of Islamaphobia.  Later questions concerned whether the US should put “boots on the ground” in Syria.  But the most important question may have been those concerned about how journalists can continue honest reporting, when ISIS attacks them and executes them.  The honest answer was, maybe, we can’t.  Totalitarian societies go to great lengths to prevent information about what is going on to get out.
But the most sobering moment came when Gaffney mentioned Salman Rushdie, the target of a fatwa from Iran in the early 1980s for the book “Satanic Verses”.  True, the threat came from Shiite rather than Sunni Islam.  But it shows that the concern isn’t limited to just drawings and cartoons.  Gaffney said that European nations should have withdrawn diplomats from Iran immediately.  Instead, they told Rushdie, a British subject and definitely not a resident or subject of Iran or any other Muslim country, to hire bodyguards and that “he had a problem.”  That is when free speech in the west became jeopardized.

As for the cartoons, Younus said that not publishing images of Muhammad should be a matter of conscience, not law, but he compared the practice to using the “n” or “f” words in the US (to refer to “blacks” or “gays”). 
Later Younus got into a debate with the other panelists on whether there is something in Islam that condones violence against non-Muslim civilians as justified by religious scripture.  There was some discussion of the scope of Sharia law, particularly when it deals with secular interactions with non-Muslims.  Some of it got heated. There was a suggestion, from Gaffney at least, that the point of the ISIS behavior extends beyond scripture to simply a need to control others ("apostates") as part of the ideology, a religious analogue to Hitler or Stalin (or Kim Jong-Un).   
The audience included several Muslims, and several journalism students from American University.  I was in the queue to ask a question but time ran out.  So I asked the question of the panelists in person after the broadcast.  I was going to ask them to comment on the (Cato Institute) book “The Tyranny of Silence” by Flemming Rose from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, at the time of the Cartoon Controversy in 2005.  The book was written before the assassination of Charlie Hebdo and other journalists in Paris in January 2015.  I would have mentioned Moly Norris.  Gaffney immediately reacted to my mentioning her name, and regretted likewise not having time (in just one hour) to get to the implications of how her situation was handled by the FBI (similar to Rushdie, who did not go into hiding or change names).   I don’t think we have a word in our vocabulary for this problem, it’s a kind of “socialization-induced chilling effects” familiar in ganga and organized crime.  Alfred Hitchcock has explored this problem (as close as ever in cinema) with his two versions of “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. 
This forum could have used a full 90 minutes.  
Update (later 2/10):  NBC News just released a news story about hacking social media of a military spouse, here.  This is along the lines of the Town Hall, but in a critical area we didn't have enough time to cover. 

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