Thursday, March 10, 2011

Maimonides on Internet Censorship, Martyrdom, and Hanging Corpses

by Avromie

The newly proposed internet ban by some choshuvah askanim  leaves me itching for some actual Rabbinical guidance. But where to look? Of course! Sefer Hamitzvos, Negative Commandment #66, the Mitzvah of not leaving corpses hanging overnight. Let's see the Rambam:

When someone worships idols or curses God according to specific requirements, he is killed and his corpse is hanged. However, it can't be left hanging till the next day. The Rambam's reason for this commandment is that someone will see the hanged man and think of the curse that he said, thereby repeating it in a way. How about idolatry? The Rambam brings a verse from Bamidbar which proves that 'idolatry' is also called 'blaspheming' in the Torah.

A few questions come to mind: Why would someone repeat a curse of a hanged man in his head? Assuming he would, why wouldn't he do it on the first day as well? And how would one repeat an act of idolatry by thinking about it?

It seems clear to me that the Rambam's rationale has to do with the power of suggestion. A person living under a government that punishes harshly for cursing God or worshiping idols might very well be scared into obeying. If a person caught doing those things is killed and hung up, another citizen's initial reaction will be shock and probably a strong subconscious reaffirmation of what not to do.

But when the person sees the guy a few more times and gets over the shock, he might begin to have other thoughts. Like, Hey, there is another side here. This guy had an opinion and stood up for it. That's wrong, but kind of respectable. And who tells me what I can or can't do? Just because you have power and I don't? Well, you can't control my thoughts, can you? I'm gonna think about it right now. Hey look, nothing happened. That's interesting. And like that, dissent is spread amongst the ranks.

Now, since I believe that the Torah is divinely mandated, I also believe that it's laws, which are true and just, should be protected. But I don't think that banning sites from speaking about molestation and corruption has any basis in the Torah. Consequently, a ban on the internet, using the tactics of going after the advertisers, will simply make more martyrs like Vos Iz Neias, and in the end, just cause more dissent among the rank and file.

Fortunately for all of us, in the age of the internet, the only way to cut down on negative speech is by attacking the problem, not the speakers.

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