Iran, Integrity, and Obama's Birth

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Aug 04, 2009 12:48 PM
This post from The Economist uses text from Etemad Melli, an Iranian opposition newspaper, as an example of an assertion that needs no factual proof for it to be stated. Etemad Melli said this about the trial of former Iranian vice president and opposition blogger Muhammad Ali Abtahi:
Such confessions are almost always obtained under duress, according to human rights groups.
The Economist points out that for the confession not to have been obtained under duress would have been a inconceivable anomaly. There is no doubt that it's standard practice for the Revolutionary Guard to torture confessions out of its subjects and then coerce them into denying they've been tortured, so putting disclaimers around that statement is out of line.

The Economist uses this example as a starting off point to question the integrity of doing a second-take on other seemingly irrefutable facts, such as the fallacy of Obama's Kenyan birth certificate that emerged over the weekend. By investigating such issues, does one conduct oneself in the same way the Etemad Melli conducted itself when expressing even the slightest hesitation about the torturing of prisoners?
Is there not, at some point, a moral obligation to dismiss resentfully-motivated bad-faith nonsense out of hand?
Yes. On a "what's okay to question" scale, I'd put the fake Kenyan birth certificate maybe one tiny notch above the claim that the Revolutionary Guard doesn't torture prisoners, which probably occupies the same slot as, say, Holocaust deniers. 9/11 "truthers" are probably in the "it's possible they don't torture" camp, with the birthers being the "most okay" on the scale.

Laid out, it goes like this: questioning the Holocaust is as bad as questioning the Revolutionary Guard's torture practices, which is slightly worse than questioning 9/11, which is worse than questioning the Kenyan birth certificate. Questioning things at the bottom of the barrel, like the Holocaust, is morally unacceptable, but taking 5 minutes to discuss the birth certificate is probably okay. The issues in between can be filled in with the appropriate shades of grey.

What's not acceptable, I would argue, is doubting whether or not one has the commonsense and self-respect to determine what's acceptable and what's not. That's the downfall of moral relativists who lack the confidence and integrity to put their foot down in the face of injustice. I appreciate the question being thrown out there, but why not spend time filling in those shades of grey and calling out the facts of each case if you're in a position to do so? The Economist post does that, so they're in the clear. But people who don't even consider the nature of their skepticism, characterize their authority in appropriate terms, or recognize alternative viewpoints if they do happen to believe, say, that Obama wasn't a citizen are certainly, gravely irresponsible.

This doesn't even apply to the Holocaust-denier camp, of course. They're irresponsible no matter how judicious they are about their assertions.

As a side note, without knowing much about Etemad Melli or the context of the story, I'm curious as to whether or not the paper intentionally expressed doubt over whether or not the Revolutionary Guard does indeed torture it's prisoners. I hope the points raised about it aren't the result of unintentional oversight on their part, or semantic misunderstanding due to the language barrier.