Friday, September 28, 2012

Once Again On Blasphemy

Suppose you believe in Religion X and A is your God, and someone comes to tell you that your belief is false — A is a mere human and therefore he is not worthy to be worshiped. Would you call the scenario as a blasphemy to your religion?

If the answer is yes, then we have a problem because in reality, most religions — if not all — claim other religions are false or misleading. As you can probably tell, the above scenario is about Jesus. In Christianity, Jesus is God. In Islam, Jesus is not God: He is a human, one of the prophets sent by the almighty God.

In my previous post, 'The Law and Economics of 'Innocence of Muslims,' I argued that defining religious blasphemy is very difficult from the perspective of freedom of speech. Now I would like to emphasize the logical problem of having anti-blasphemy laws when we have so many religions in this planet. Thus, another reason why we should not support the existence of such law.

Why do we have so many religions? If it is true that all religions are the same, surely we have already converged all of them into a single faith a long time ago. But no, we know that will never happen because each religion claims the truth for itself.

Even in case where a religion accepts the possibility of having truth from other religions, it does not change the fact that such religion still claims the truth of its own teaching. I dare say that the policy of recognizing the truth of other religions is just a way to maintain stability rather than an actual confession of faith.
 
Why? Because it is simply illogical. A Christian can't say Jesus is God and at the same time accept the possibility that Muslim's claim that Jesus is not a god is true.

Or you may want to say that at the basic level, all religions teach the same things despite the differences of gods. But that would be another problem. Why bother having religion if the concept of God no longer matters?

The most important thing I want to show here is that there will always be a friction between different religions. It might be slight, but it might also be very sharp. Combine that with religion followers who have low tolerance level and we would have a great recipe for disaster.

Would anti-blasphemy law help? It depends. If we are talking about a law that will punish people who are considered as blasphemers, such law will not help at all. Even worse, it might be counterproductive.

An easy example would be the story of early Islam development. Prophet Muhammad must had spent years of his life in Mecca teaching Islam in the underground because his teaching was considered as a blasphemy among the Arabs at that time.

If not, why bother migrated from Mecca to Medina? Because Medina's citizen was more tolerant? Because it did not have the crazy people who will kill you because you are considered as a blasphemer?

How many early Muslims were killed arbitrarily in Mecca? How many of the killers were judged and deemed criminal for killing the early Muslims? We are quite lucky that the history changed and later on Islam became the religion of the majority in the Middle East.

Nowadays, Muslims can easily claim that those Arabs who worshiped stone gods are stupid and irrational. But the main reason why we can safely make that claim is because we are in the majority, not because we are absolutely correct or because those stone worshippers were indeed really stupid. That's the harsh truth.

This is why I don't support anti-blasphemy laws, because it brings us back precisely to the jahiliyyah era or pre-Islamic period. As long as you are in the majority, you will be fine. But not when you are in the minority.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that we will always be in the majority nor that we will always be able to protect our minority brothers and sisters out there in case the other majority group decides to retaliate against them.

My suggestion is still the same. Don't waste our time fighting due to badmouthing. We can simply avoid conflicts by letting people choose what they want to believe and what they want to share with everyone else, provided that no elements of violence is involved during the process. 

If in the end you are still suggesting people to fight back all bad mouthing using violence, then I'm afraid we have not evolved to be better men during the last 1,500 years.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Law and Economics of 'Innocence of Muslims'

I'll admit it: I have not watched "Innocence of Muslims," the anti-Islam film that has been blamed for causing ruckus around the world. Why? Well, I have more important things to do, one of them involves an amateur cooking competition with my friends.

Personally, in terms of importance, such movie sits in the category of "absolutely not important that even staring at the wall for 2 hours would still be better." The problem is, not everyone shares the same view. But before we discuss why Muslims are against the film, we should first study why some people are still trying to make a movie like this.

From economics perspective, the reason might be very simple: because with such a minimum cost, the movie can maximize the damages caused to the world, which I assume will also maximize the makers' own pleasure or benefit.

Why are the costs so low? Based on the comments of those who have seen it, "Innocence of Muslims" was a low-budget movie (bad editing, amateur actors, etc). And it is unlikely that the filmmaker - who, according to Wikipedia, resides in California - will face legal penalty in the United States.

The first reason might be the protection of free speech, though this is debatable. The second reason might be the fact that the United States does not want to show any weaknesses toward the demand of the Muslim worlds, including the terror they received in Libya which caused the death of the US ambassador and three other Americans.

On the first reason, the protection of free speech is indeed complicated. People may argue the movie is a hate speech. But what would be the correct standard? I mean, I've seen a lot of movies and jokes harassing Jesus in such a really bad way and yet, I have not heard any case in the United States sanctioning the makers. Should we measure hate speech from objective or subjective requirements?

The second reason is even more problematic. The movie undoubtedly triggers heavy protests from Muslim communities around the world. And within the protesters, some of them may use the event to promote their own idea of violence and war. Perfect timing indeed.

If the United States penalizes the filmmaker, it can be assumed by terrorists and war mongers that the United States is bowing down to their threat and thus, in the future, it would be easier for them to demand things from the United States as long as they kill certain US citizens.

In other words, the United States would also have difficulties in punishing the stupid filmmaker based on political reasons. I borrow this analysis from Prof. Eugene Volokh, a law professor from UCLA, and I agree with the basic premise.

If the filmmaker realizes the above facts (and I assume he was not stupid enough to bring the video online without thinking the consequences), it would be rational for him to actually publish the video since his own personal benefits outweigh his costs.

Unfortunately, this is inefficient and bad to the overall welfare of the society. Currently, triggering protests from the Muslim world using cheap tactics (such as this movie) has a success rate of almost 100 percent - if not 100 percent. And it is most likely that the protest can turn into a riot.

This is completely different if the movie is directed to, say, Christians. As I've said above, there are so many jokes and movies depicting Jesus in such a bad way that I am certain if you change the character into Muhammad, the makers will not live long enough to see another day. Heck, we even have a Jesus parody in Twitter.

Why do Muslims and Christians have such a different approach in handling these kind of issues? Could it be that it has something to do with education and living standards?

But as long as most Muslims continue to retaliate, I believe the cycle would never end. The supply of people similar to the above filmmaker might be endless and they will definitely take the advantages they currently have, i.e. free speech protection and political reasons.

The most efficient solution is of course ignoring these buffoons. After all an ant can't cause harm to a blue whale. The problem is, it will take a long time to reach that stage (if ever).  

I can only hope the majority of Muslims will follow the Prophet basic rule in dealing with bad mouthing: Just ignore those people. Good for your health, good for your image, and less trouble for all of us. We still have many urgent matters which are more important than a stupid movie.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Three-in-One Jockeys and Legal Avoidance

Someone said on Twitter that corruption will never be effectively banished if people are still violating traffic regulations, including the three-in-one rule by using the jockeys service.

Three-in-one policy requires vehicles to have at least three passengers on busy roads at peak hours. The jockeys are hitchhikers who are paid to ride in a car when passing the main roads.

I won't discuss whether such rule is valid under the current hierarchy of laws, but or the sake of this discussion, let's just assume the three-in-one rule is legally valid and binding. 

What I mainly disagree with the above statement is that using the service of jockeys is a violation of law that will somehow induce the people to corrupt - using a logic that if you can't be trusted for small matters, you can't be trusted for huge and important matters.

First of all, the rule only says that people who want to travel within the restricted roads must have at least 3 passengers inside their car. It doesn't stipulate that the people in the car must come from specific place or go to specific directions. Nor does the rule say that only certain type of people who really intend to use the car for traveling purposes might be considered as a legitimate passenger.

Having such condition would be an enforcement nightmare as finding the proof of violation and checking the overall background of all passengers would be very difficult, if not impossible. Not to mention the vagueness of the rule itself with respect to conditions for being considered a passenger.

Nevertheless, some people still think that the three-in-one rule is enforced in order to reduce the traffic jam, and using the service of jockeys will defeat such purpose. In other words, the use of three-in-one jockeys is a form of legal avoidance and should actually be prohibited.

The concept of legal avoidance is indeed confusing. On the one hand, it seems that you already comply with the prevailing laws. But on the other hand, you are deemed using the law to escape the consequences of your action which may violate the law's purpose or essence. Thus, your action will be deemed invalid.

To be honest, I refuse to admit the existence of legal avoidance concept. It is either you comply with the law or you violate the law. If there is no strict rule saying that you are violating the law, what would be the basis for some people to come and say that you are violating the law when you are still complying with the law? That would be absurd.

To follow the logic of people who support the existence of legal avoidance, take the three-in-one rule as an example. Bringing the jockeys in your car will let you satisfy the three-in-one rule. But because taking such jockeys somehow defeat the purpose of three-in-one rule, i.e. reducing traffic jam, you are already violating the law. The problem is, says who?

In any way, despite your choice of action, the three-in-one rule will most likely reduce the traffic all the time. Why? Because it creates additional costs for drivers to use the road during the three-in-one period. Either you take two more of your friends/colleagues or you pay for the service of jockeys.

The first type requires the costs of maintaining friendship, or maybe time, because you don't always have the same schedule with your friends. The second type requires the costs of paying jockeys or reduced level of security - after all, you are taking strangers into your car.

Thus, you can consider three-in-one rule as another form of tax or levy for the sole purpose of giving less incentives for people to travel within the three-in-one periods. If that's the case, then using jockey is not even a legal avoidance - assuming such concept exist - because you are still complying with the so called purpose of the rule, albeit in a different form.

This kind of act is completely different from mere traffic violation, such as trespassing the traffic lights. There is no doubt that such act is a violation because it directly breaches the rule. Under our criminal law principles, an act of criminal will always be considered as a criminal unless the defendant has a valid excuse - such as in case of force majeure or self defense.

Hopefully, you can see the difference. The key would always be whether there is a direct violation of a rule or not.

Next time, I would like to discuss whether there is a correlation between violating small rules with one's tendency to violate bigger rules, including corruption. Stay tuned.       

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