Meet arguments with arguments
Free speech and democracy
October 17, 2005
In a letter entitled "Outrageously homophobic", Sadegh Nashat attacks the publication of Aras Shahzadeh's article "I do not like homosexuality". Nashat demands that the editor "asks expert reviewers for advice." He seems to be insisting that the editor censors submissions and only publishes the ones that pass the test of political correctness. I find this contrary to the principle of democracy and free speech, and would like to voice my unreserved support for a free Iranian.com.
I too disagree with Shahzadeh on the question of homosexuality. Sexual autonomy is to me a profoundly moral question. It is about respect for human worth and dignity regardless of a person's sexual orientation. It may be a hard philosophical question to account for the notions of human worth, dignity, and autonomy. But it is not hard to see that societies which do not place human worth above and beyond sexual orientation tend to be more repressive and intolerant and totalitarian.
However, the point here is that Shahzadeh is fully entitled to articulate his opinion. Simply because some people may dislike his statements can hardly be a ground for censorship. Surely a democracy may occasionally choose to restrict free speech, if and -- in my view, only if -- there is a compelling ground to believe that it may incite harmful behaviour. But if such threats can be neutralized through counter-arguments and constructive criticism rather than censorship, free speech must prevail.
Nashat finds Iranian.com as an outlet for his antagonism and for personal attacks, rather than as a medium for offering conducive arguments and contributing to a free debate. When Nashat only chooses to attack the editorial policy or labelling his opponents "authors with poor or no intellectual resources", he himself displays little, if any, intellectual ability. It is not for the editor to determine right and wrong. It is for us to rise up to the intellectual challenge and meet arguments with arguments.
Nashat unqualifiedly postulates that Shahzadeh is wrong and signs it off in his capacity as Consultant Clinical Psychologist, as if he as an expert can dictate what the "Truth"' is and the reader has to take him for his word. It has taken us centuries to acknowledge the rights of homosexuals. Do we really want to replace the suppression of homosexuals with suppression of free speech of a new group, or do we rather want to meet anti-homosexual attitudes with rational arguments?
Below I attempt to do the task Nashat did not do, but only very briefly. The following are some of the most common anti-homosexual arguments. Not all of them are used by Shahzadeh.
The argument from disease: it is claimed that homosexuality is immoral because it causes illnesses such as Aids. What if modern medicine completely eradicates Aids one day, will Shahzadeh still despise homosexuality or embrace it?
A disease can never just by itself provide a reason for discriminating and despising its victims. Imagine a highly contagious disease hits a hospital, and a doctor in contact with a patient gets ill. It is unlikely that Shahzadeh will despise the doctor.
Wait a minute, he will probably shout out in protest. The doctor is doing something good for the patient. His case is very different from that of a sick homosexual, Shahzadeh can rightly claim.
This is true, but the example shows at least that disease on its own does not make a valid argument against homosexuality. Would there be any other arguments against homosexuality? I do not believe so. Lets look at some other anti-homosexual arguments.
Homosexuality is abnormal: abnormality does not provide a ground for discriminating a group. Many handicaps too differ from what is often regarded as normal, but it is not justifiable to discriminate them?
Homosexuality is animalistic: a similar argument was used in Victorian era to claim that heterosexual intercourse when a woman is penetrated from behind is animalistic and therefore immoral. I am oblivious of the behaviour of animals, but their behaviour can hardly constitute a normative guide for humans. As humans we sometimes embrace natural ways of life just as animals and other times depart from the natural and choose more cultivated ways of life.
Shahzadeh is right to prefer that his neighbours use fences rather than urinate to mark their territories, but if he is to denounce all that animals do he can barely allow himself to eat or sleep.
To procreate a new generation is a moral duty, therefore homosexuality is immoral, as it doesn't contribute towards the procreation of a future generation: will anti-homosexuals then despise nuns and monks to the same degree? I doubt if they do.
Homosexual partnership destroys the concept of marriage: a similar argument was also used until last century to condemn heterosexual couples who chose to live in partnership without being married. Many of today's marriages are in trouble because of cultural and socio-economic problems, alcohol and drug, disagreements about home and work, and other factors, not homosexuality. Even if it is true that homosexuality threatens the institution of marriage, it is morally questionable to suppress one group of people for the sake of another.
Homosexuality is a mental disorder: there is no scientific basis for this claim. I shall leave this discussion to qualified psychologists. However, even if it was true that homosexuality was a mental disorder, it would not at all constitute a moral ground in the 21st century for suppressing them unless it would gravely endanger the life and health of other members of the society. I doubt, if Shahzadeh's life and health is in any way endangered by any homosexual.
Shahzadeh feels disgusted by homosexuality, therefore he believes it must be bad: Shahzadeh's personal emotions cannot earn as a rational justifying ground for discriminating a group. This is Shahzadeh's problem and he has to deal with it.
The fundamentalist religious argument: it is said that homosexuality is against God's will. The religious argument is postulated as an unqualified truth. As a non-believer I can only deal with rational arguments, not religious dogmas. Personal religious convictions, of course, ought to be respected as long as they do not inflict any harm on others. But convictions that lead to the suppression of a group of individuals are harmful and must be rejected.
I conclude therefore that none of the arguments above can offer a valid basis for justifying Shahzadeh's claim, and I strongly doubt if an anti-homosexual position can be sustained in any other way.
Best wishes to both Nashat and Shahzadeh.