No Country for Bad Ideas


Under which circumstances would you say it’s appropriate to stone a man to death? What conditions would have to be fulfilled?

What if your ideas about circumstances and conditions differed from mine: how would we determine which of us was right?

If neither of our answers conformed to the generally accepted definitions of when it was and was not appropriate to stone a man to death, but we persisted in formulating them aloud in public, could we be prosecuted for our statements? 

Should we be subject to government sanctions for holding beliefs outside the mainstream with respect to when it was and was not appropriate to put people to death by stoning?

What about the age of consent for marriage and procreation? Females of our species can get pregnant from puberty, usually around the age of twelve or thirteen. We know this because they do (and historically always have). The possibility has nothing to do with morality: it’s pure biology. We know how young girls get pregnant, and we know it invariably involves a male. A pregnant twelve or thirteen year old may choose to keep her child. Do we all agree on whether or not she’s entitled to marry the father?  Pregnancy aside, is there an age at which it’s not only too young to wed, but literally criminal to suggest otherwise?

How about this: how about we say that anyone suggesting anyone could be stoned to death for any reason, or that thirteen-year-old girls could be permitted to marry or bear children for any reason, be banned from our country?

I can’t quite say I’m “asking for a friend,” but it’s probably safe to say I’m asking for an enemy:

He talks about stoning as a death penalty for men and women, and he “can say it openly.” Now the British “hate preacher” cannot cross the Danish border.
Signe Terp & Sara Hodzic,, June 20

It’s a fascinating article, if you’re able to step back and contemplate things philosophically for a moment.

It’s a putative profile of one Haitham al-Haddad, a Brit with a Ph.D. in Islamic jurisprudence, who is one of four British citizens recently added to Denmark’s “hate preacher list,” more formally known as the national sanction list.

(A Saturday article in Berlingske, by the same two journalists, covers the larger story of the four Brits just added to the list.)

According to Mattias Tesfaye (S), Denmark’s Minister for Immigration and Integration, the list is “a good tool to keep ‘traveling hate preachers,’ who battle Danish and democratic values, away from the lecterns in Danish mosques.”

Inclusion on the list means al-Haddad is prohibited from entry into Denmark for two years.

Terp and Hodzic open their article quoting from an exchange al-Haddad had in a British mosque nine years ago, in which he expressed support for English women getting married very young, and expressing apparent approval of a British girl being married at 12 and pregnant at 13.

They write:

Berlingske has been granted access to documents from the Danish Immigration Service that describe the 56-year-old, including the dialogue in the English mosque. The documents are probably responsible for his placement on the list. We herewith present a portrait of him drawn from those documents.

Their “portrait” consists of a mere 200 words. That’s more of a rough sketch than an actual portrait, but never mind.

They say he’s the chair of a legal council for the Islamic Committee of Europe. They say he writes posts on his own website and on Islam21C.

So he’s a blogger.

They say that “according to the documents from the Danish Immigration Service, the 56-year-old considers the Islamic laws and rules, called sharia, to be a ‘merciful’ system.”

So he’s pro-sharia.

They say that the Immigration Service emphasizes his support “for stoning as a death sentence for women—and men.”

So he’s apparently a progressive Islamist.

“If the crime is committed by a man, he should be stoned to death once the circumstances and conditions are met,” al-Haddad reportedly said during a 2017 debate.

In this context, al-Haddad mentioned that apostasy—abandonment of his religion—as well as murder and sexual relations outside of marriage can be met with the death penalty.

“I’ve said that apostasy—when the conditions are met—deserves the death penalty. I can say that openly. I’m not here to hide it,” he elaborated.

So he supports the death penalty for murder, adultery, and abandonment of the Islamic religion.

They note that al-Haddad visited Denmark four times between 2013 and 2015, and that he gave a Friday sermon at the Islamic Faith Society on Fyn in 2015.

They inform us that al-Haddad is believed to have been born in Saudi Arabia.

They also quote him as having said that “a man should never be asked why he’s beating his wife,” and that people sticking their noses into other people’s marriages is one of the biggest reasons why marriages break down.

That’s it.

That’s your profile of Haitham al-Haddad: a 56-year old British subject, believed to be of Saudi Arabian birth, who says and writes things that are so wildly anti-Danish or anti-Democratic that he must be kept out of Denmark.

There’s a lot to unpack here, as David Rubin likes to say, but I’d like to begin by unpacking one thing in particular and setting it aside for later. Specifically, al-Haddad’s fixation on “circumstances” and “conditions.”

The man has a Ph.D. in jurisprudence: he’s not saying those things accidentally.

There are very good reasons for saying, for example, that one supports dropping all red-haired, left-handed astrologers into wood chippers when the circumstances and conditions have been met, rather than saying categorically that all red-haired, left-handed astrologers should be sent through wood chippers, period. Those reasons relate to some arguments we’ve been hearing from the American left over the past couple of weeks. It’s too deep a digression for today’s post, so we’ll pick up on it tomorrow.

That can kicked down the road, we can start to unpack the other stuff.

Let’s get philosophical for a moment.

If you wish to change a law in a democratic republic, you must agitate for its adoption. You must build public support for it, you must seek out political allies to begin agitating for it within the legislative infrastructure of your nation, and so on. Because the thing you want to become a law is not already a law.

For example, I might like to propose a law to ban rap music being played on outdoor speakers in residential neighborhoods at any hour of any day. And I might like to propose that the punishment for violation be death. And I might propose that death in such cases be administered by oatmeal.  Drown the offenders in hot oatmeal.  Without any sugar or cinnamon.

Do I have the right to advocate for my admittedly insane legislative proposal? Not to advocate rounding up offenders willy-nilly and shoving their heads into bowls of hot, unadulterated oatmeal, but to advocate for changing the laws through whatever mechanisms have been established to do so?

If not, why not? Who gets to say which ideas are too crazy to contemplate? How do we know, how do we objectively establish, that the people saying my ideas are too crazy aren’t themselves even crazier than me? By what yardstick are we making that determination?

Anyone who knows me—and that certainly includes both readers of this blog—knows I have no sympathy for Islamism, and that in fact I believe the tenets of Islamism are entirely incompatible with the classically liberal western traditions of governance.

But I’m also a free speech absolutist.

I wouldn’t be much of a free speech absolutist if I insisted that cartoonists had the right to draw Muhammed playing nude hopscotch with leprechauns but that Islamist scholars had no right to advocate for Islamist ideas.

If al-Haddad wants to preach the virtues of wife-beating, stoning, and child brides, and to suggest such practices by legislated into law, let him.  He’s not actually beating anyone, or stoning anyone, or marrying any children.  If he did any of those things, then he should be prosecuted appropriately under existing laws.  If he’s only talking about them, so what?  Madonna talked about blowing up the White House, and she’s still allowed in Denmark.

Al-Haddad has some ideas.  They may be bad ideas, but he’s not the only one out there promoting stupidities.  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have articulated more than their share of clunkers, and no one’s suggesting we ban them from Denmark.

“Well,” the argument seems to go, “these aren’t just bad ideas, but hateful ideas, that go against Danish and democratic values.”

But doesn’t the idea that the government can censor ideas also go against our values?

Critical Race Theory and White Fragility also go against democratic and Danish values.  Should we ban Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo from Denmark?  Or, if you’re more of a leftist, should we ban Thomas Sowell?

Let’s broaden our lens even more: is the problem with Haitham al-Haddad himself, or his ideas? Presumably it’s the ideas he’s advocating that make the man himself a threat to Denmark: were he to convert to Lutheranism and begin advocating for nothing more noxious than a 32-hour work week, and he became the world’s foremost advocate for that idea, does anyone imagine Denmark would still feel it necessary to keep him out of the country?

But if it’s his ideas that are the problem, and his skill at evangelizing them, how does banning his physical presence on our soil keep his ideas out?  Has most of western civilization not just spent most of the last 18 months communicating primarily through digital media?  Is there anything to prevent the Islamic Faith Society of Fyn from letting al-Haddad address their congregants on a giant television screen via Zoom, Teams, or Skype? And won’t the government ban on his physical presence merely give him a little extra cachet? “You’ve got to see this guy, he’s banned in Denmark!”

You can block a man from Denmark, but ideas don’t apply for visas. Ideas don’t pass through customs.

I may be accused of being too sanguine about the power of one man with bad ideas: a little over a hundred years ago, historians might remind me, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II struck a powerful blow against Russia by deploying a single man against them: the Kaiser allowed a Russian citizen to be whisked from Switzerland through Germany into Russia in a sealed railcar: eight months later Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was running the joint, and we all know how that panned out. 

And let’s not forget the little lance corporal who passed the year of 1924 dictating his political memoir in a German prison.

Hitler and Lenin were advocates of some the most monstrous ideas in human history.  It would be an understatement to say that exiling or imprisoning such men was probably prudent. 

But it would also be an understatement to say that their exile and imprisonment weren’t effective: had they been, we wouldn’t even know their names.

Criminalizing ideas is such a bad idea it ought to be outlawed.