In Which The Volokh Conspiracy’s Commitment to Civic Freedom of Association and Expression Takes an Interesting Turn

by Henry Farrell on November 30, 2009

I know that there is some competition, but David Kopel’s “explanation”: of the minaret vote as perhaps the only plausible response that solid Swiss burghers could make to secret conspiracies and sweetheart deals between their government and the “Islamonazis of Tehran” surely ranks as the most flat-out insane Volokh Conspiracy post ever. If I were one of the saner Volokh conspiracy contributors (there are several), I would be considering as rapid and public an exit as possible to avoid reputational contamination.



norbizness 11.30.09 at 4:41 pm

And I thought Andy Dick’s character on Less Than Perfect was just a pale imitation of his News Radio character, but hey, what are you gonna do?


roac 11.30.09 at 4:41 pm

Oddly enough, the comments over there average out more sensible than the ones on the minaret thread here. IMO.


monboddo 11.30.09 at 4:52 pm

I think the “saner” contributors basically boil down to Orin Kerr and David Post. But I like roac’s point about the commentators — as Volokh has gotten nuttier, it has actually attracted a lot of good, non-nutty commentators, which perhaps explains why David Bernstein has started disabling comment on his posts.


a.y.mous 11.30.09 at 5:24 pm

Damn! Where’s Belbo when we need hm? Must be drinking on Garamond’s tab again. Has Abulafia been ported to Linux yet? And this guy did his theses on the Templars! Irresponsible! Italy’s muted shirts can do good as well, so it seems.


lemuel pitkin 11.30.09 at 6:04 pm

Yes, the comments on the Volokh post are remarkably sensible. (Why are those people there and not here?) Whereas Tyler Cowen’s sensible post gets the lynch mob. Go figure.


jncc 11.30.09 at 6:25 pm

If I recall correctly, David Kopel was the VC poster who (in one of his other columns) was prattling on before the election that Obama’s long deceased father was a Muslim.


roac 11.30.09 at 6:59 pm

I thought about Kopel’s hypothesis for a minute. He says (news to me, but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t so) that the Swiss government made a deal intended to lower the likelihood of Swiss people being blown up, while raising the same risk for unspecified foreigners. And he thinks most Swiss people disapprove. Altruism being the historical backbone of Swiss national culture. Well . . .

(Of course, if this is true, it is a hostile act against Switzerland’s neighbors and the US, and those governments ought to react appropriately. Which they may well be doing, since the present US administration apparently has the quaint idea that diplomacy should be conducted out of view of the TV cameras.)


Barry 11.30.09 at 8:25 pm

Henry: “If I were one of the saner Volokh conspiracy contributors (there are several),”

Hmmmmmmmmmmm, ‘saner’ is a comparative, not an absolute. Is this a dig at the whole bunch of them?


Naadir Jeewa 11.30.09 at 9:50 pm

The discourse amongst the left has collapsed in Europe. The widespread acceptance of the Dawkins rhetoric has not helped.

I never thought I would want to leave Europe and settle in North America.


matthias 11.30.09 at 10:24 pm

I can’t get over the fact that he actually typed “the Islamonazis of Tehran.”


Seeds 11.30.09 at 10:37 pm

The widespread acceptance of the Dawkins rhetoric has not helped.

Assuming that you’re referring to his views on religion, rather than genetics, have you actually read any of his “rhetoric”? And what relevence does this have to the post (either here or at VC), or, indeed, to anything?


Seeds 11.30.09 at 11:39 pm

Is there even the slightest possibility that the accusation could be true? I find it pretty implausible, but then if you’d told me that Switzerland has explosives buried in strategic bridges and tunnels, in case they ever need to isolate the country during an invasion, I’d have thought that was pretty unlikely, too. Parts of the Swiss government apparently have some weird ideas about keeping Switzerland safe.


Anthony 12.01.09 at 12:29 am

Is it unfair to notice that nowhere does Kopel actually say, or even hint, that the minaret vote is “perhaps the only plausible response” to the government’s “fecklessness”?


Henry 12.01.09 at 12:54 am

Umm yes – it is unfair to ‘notice’ it since Kopel is quite explicit:

As the Wall Street Journal noted, the initiative is not a particularly effective tool for accomplishing its proponents’ objectives, but _perhaps the Swiss majority decided that it was the only tool available to send a message to the political establishment._ [HF – my italics] … A Swiss television station recently exposed a secret deal between the Geneva police and the Iranian government: The Iranians would not commit terror in Switzerland, while the Geneva police would turn a blind eye to Iranian terror bases in Geneva. In the United States, such a revelation would set off a frenzy of newspapers advancing the story with further investigation about a gigantic local police scandal, but the Geneva papers did little with the story.”

This is just one of many examples of the Swiss elite’s feckless and amoral dealing with the Islamonazis of Tehran. Roger L. Simon has written extensively about the Islamist hate-fest at the UN’s “Durban II” conference earlier this year in Geneva, where “I watched as the Swiss President welcomed the Holocaust-denying-nuclear-bomb-buliding-mega-misogynistic-homosexual-denying-and-now-demonstrator-murdering-religious-psychopath President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.” The Swiss government has provoked a backlash from the Swiss people

The linkage between the vote as ‘perhaps … the only tool available to send a message’ claim and the ‘backlash against the Swiss Government/Tehran Islamonazis Access of Super-Duper Evil’ is both quite explicit and as, best as I can tell, entirely the product of Kopel’s own fevered imagination. Certainly it is not a theory I’ve seen being propagated by anyone who actually knows anything about Swiss politics.


djw 12.01.09 at 1:30 am

Assuming that you’re referring to his views on religion, rather than genetics, have you actually read any of his “rhetoric”?

Well, at risk of some early thread drift to an inflammatory topic, he did say raising your child Catholic is worse than sexual abuse of a child. So, there’s that.

(On topic: Holy Crap. I haven’t been over to Volokh in years, so I’m unfamiliar with this tool. Next thing you know they’ll be inviting Confederate Yankee and Dan Riehl to join the team…)


Shane 12.01.09 at 1:37 am

I remember reading this comment a while back, and loving it enough to actually copy and paste it to a file on my desktop:

“I enjoyed the days of Orin Kerr’s solitary blog, which was great despite being the most boring blog in the history of the internet, because it was free of Bernstein and Kopel.” -Comment by Tek Jansen at


Brett 12.01.09 at 2:06 am

Well, I don’t know – as for recent nutty comments, I’m pretty fond of Eugene’s claim that it’s not plausible that there could be restrictions on sharing weather station data because, well, Eugene doesn’t think that national meteorological orgs have a reason to think that such data would be “secret.”

If after a few seconds of thought (not research, mind you) I can’t imagine that someone would do something, it probably didn’t happen.


Orin Kerr 12.01.09 at 2:54 am

Thanks, Shane, um, I think.

On the broader question, I was under the impression that the post was about important culinary questions: Something about the proper response of burgers to the salmons of Tehran, albeit with some misspellings. Is that wrong?


Bongo Bains 12.01.09 at 4:21 am

#14 Henry’s exactly right. Read Kopel’s bizarro post in VC and also gawked at the oddball linkage. But hey… gotta work that demonic-mahdiwaiting-nukemaking-pontificating-Israelbaiting-holocaustdenying-soapboxhoarding-Americahating-evilofevils into the script somewhere. Ahmadinejad is even responsible swine flu… let’s get real.


Phil 12.01.09 at 7:58 am

Dan Riehl, far-Right hate-blogger? Dan Riehl, personally denounced by LGF? Is that this Dan Riehl?

O tempora, oh lordie.


Seeds 12.01.09 at 11:26 am

Way Off Topic:

Well, at risk of some early thread drift to an inflammatory topic, he did say raising your child Catholic is worse than sexual abuse of a child. So, there’s that.

Well… he has said that threatening your child with hellfire is a non-physical form of abuse, and also that his own experience of being molested hadn’t done any lasting damage. He’s certainly drawn parallels between both forms of “abuse” within the context of the RC church, but I don’t think he’s ever stated baldly that raising your child as a Catholic is worse than the sexual abuse of a child.

Slightly More On Topic:

But what does that have to do with Swiss people punishing their leaders for backroom deals with islamonazis by voting to ban minarets? If you absolutely had to drag the “New Athiests” into this (though really, do you?) at least criticise the Hitchens rhetoric, or the Harris rhetoric. They’re the ones who are closest to saying “it’s all untrue of course, but those scimitar-wielding Muslims are the real bastards…“. I don’t think any of them have written much about Swiss politics or investigative journalism.

Actually On Topic:

I was confused about the casual link too, when I first read the piece – putting it down as a bizarre non-sequitur – but as Henry says, it is there. First he just says that the Swiss are punishing their government by voting for the ban, then, asked for more detail by a commentator, he elaborates with the suggestion that the Swiss are angry about backroom deals with islamonazis, and their lack of information about those deals. Or something.


thinkocerous 12.01.09 at 1:02 pm

Conservatives’ reputations are based not on engagement with facts, but on willingness to advance dogma that is politically correct (in the conservative bubble). Just as the leadership of the GOP welcomes Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, and the teabaggers, so do the saner Volokh conspirators welcome Bernstein and Kopel. There is never a downside, in conservative circles, to being too nationalistic or too fearful of Muslims.


Mrs Tilton 12.01.09 at 1:14 pm

Seeds @21,

I don’t disagree with your general thrust; very much the contrary, in fact. Still:


I don’t think [Dawkins has] ever stated baldly that raising your child as a Catholic is worse than the sexual abuse of a child

From Dawkins’ 2002 interview with Emily Hourican in The Dubliner:

Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place

I think that might, at a stretch, be interpreted as a bald statement that raising your child as a Catholic is worse than the sexual abuse of a child.

Dawkins is weak on this point. Let me first lay my cards on the table, though. In that same interview, Dawkins also says The Roman Catholic Church is one of the forces for evil in the world. On that I agree with him unreservedly. That said, I really can’t take him very seriously when he is in unnuanced bomb-throwing mode, which is the most charitable interpretation I can give to his “catholic upbringing worse than sexual abuse” claim.

Dawkins can take a nuanced view when he wants to. He does so in that very interview, in fact, when he notes there are bad as well as relatively less-bad sorts of sexual abuse of children. Now, as a legal matter, all instances of sexual abuse should be harshly punished by law, even if some individual victim may be so resilient as to suffer no permanent physical or mental harm. And children differ: it’s possible that a kid who was victim of a relatively mild sexual assault might sustain worse and longer-lasting mental harm than another child made victim of a more brutal attack. Notwithstanding all the foregoing, though, it’s true that many instances of priestly sexual assaults on children are relatively less brutal than the worst instances; and all else being equal, a child subjected to repeated anal rape by a priest probably is likely to suffer greater long-term harm than a child subjected to the occasional surreptitious fondling.

So, why doesn’t Dawkins see the obvious? Just as there are different forms of sexual abuse of children, so too are there different forms of raising a child as a catholic. I am well aware there are some values of “raising as a catholic” that are in their psychological effects, if not worse, certainly at least comparable in harm with the worst sort of child-rape. But most RC children do not have the misfortune to be raised by fringe lunatic religious obsessives. For every catholic child whose upbringing is, in its harmful effect, the equivalent of rape, there must be many more who were (as it were) only fondled by their upbringing. And surely there are a vast many catholic people — probably the large majority — whose upbringing harmed them not at all, save perhaps for a heightened readiness to believe nonsense (and in the minds of many such people, that readiness may be hived away into a separate compartment and restricted to certain narrowly delineated kinds of nonsense — they’ll cheerfully tell themselves they believe in transsubstantiation for an hour each Sunday, yet approach, analyse and interact with the world as normal people do for the remaining 167 hours of the week). Or perhaps Dawkins does see that; but he doesn’t write it.

Dawkins’s hope is that the RC church (to name but one) go out of business. From his lips to the FSM’s ears, as far as I’m concerned. But while throwing bombs like “RC upbringing worse than sexual abuse” might be fun, it opens him up to plausible attack by those whose mission is to guard that church’s interests. If Dawkins wishes to speed the happy day when the Vatican can be turned into a museum of horrors, he’d be wiser to give effectiveness priority over fun.


That’s true. Dawkins despises all religion, obviously. But he is not exercised by the Ululating Moslem Hordes the same way Hitchens and, especially, Harris are. Here I think Dawkins has it right. Islam is every bit as silly as Christianity, and the violent and extreme forms of Islam that can thrive in countries where religion has not been tempered by forced cohabitation with liberal enlightenment values is a vile and savage thing. But for those of us who, like Dawkins, live in the Christian and post-Christian West, Islam is, compared with Christianity, a minor threat to liberty and happiness.


It’s been a long time since I found the signal-to-noise ratio at VC high enough to justify the time spent reading it. (For me it was David Bernstein who pushed the gobshitometre into the red zone; I don’t recall whether Kopel was even posting back then.) So I hadn’t realized the site has declined to the point where it could serve as fodder for Roy Edroso and the Sadlynauts. As Henry notes, Kopel basically knows nothing about Swiss politics. Possibly, some Swiss voters did back the anti-minaret referendum as a protest againt the purported deal between the Genevan police and Iran; possibly as many as three. There’s no need to resort to intellectual contortions to explain this result. It’s quite simple. Every society has within it an element of small-minded, unpleasant xenophobes. Switzerland just has more of them (including over 70% of the voters in Appenzell-Innerhoden, in whose remote and inbred valleys, one suspects, the Muslim presence is rather less than in Basel-Stadt) than a lot of other places, coupled with a constitutional structure that places only very modest hurdles before a tyranny of the majority. People like the referendum-supporters are not motivated by eagerness to strike a blow against Islamist terror. They are eager to use the apparatus of the state to put a disliked minority in its place.


alex 12.01.09 at 1:19 pm

“…an element of small-minded, unpleasant xenophobes”. Usually the majority, if you define the issues to be small-minded about, and the ‘strangers’ to be afraid of, broadly enough. Hence the general failure of plans for world peace, with ponies for all.


CK 12.01.09 at 1:29 pm

Henry @14

There’s a large difference between saying

1. the ban is the only plausible response that solid Swiss burghers could make, and

2. the ban is thought to be, by the solid Swiss burghers, the only plausible response they could make.

David Kopel says (2). You claim he says (1). This looks a bit of an unfair misreading to me. Given what he actually says, Kopel might even thing the decision is completely wrong. And (2) may well be true.


Mrs Tilton 12.01.09 at 1:34 pm

alex @23,

Usually the majority, if you define the issues to be small-minded about, and the ‘strangers’ to be afraid of, broadly enough

Oh, true enough. But the definition here was pretty narrow: Scary Brown Muslims. Ironic, as Muslims in Switzerland as a group must be among the world’s least “scary”. And given that most of them are of European rather than middle Eastern or south Asian descent, a fair few of them will be sadly lacking in brownness as well.

This referendum serves precisely the same political and social purpose as did forcing Jews in nazi Germany to wear the yellow star (and no, that’s not a Godwin Violation; I am considering the star abstracted from everythng else the nazis did): it is a humilating reminder from the majority that the minority are not co-equal members of the community.


Mrs Tilton 12.01.09 at 1:35 pm

Not only humilating but humiliating as well.


engels 12.01.09 at 1:42 pm

Yes, and if you define ‘Irish’ broadly enough, eg. to mean ‘anyone who has flown Ryanair at least once or ordered a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day’, then you have the result that most people in London are Irish. Fascinating, isn’t it?


Anderson 12.01.09 at 1:43 pm

On the broader question, I was under the impression that the post was about important culinary questions: Something about the proper response of burgers to the salmons of Tehran, albeit with some misspellings. Is that wrong?

Interpretive charity stretched to the utmost tensile limit. I love it.


alex 12.01.09 at 1:54 pm

@26 – what’s your point? Are you claiming, in contradistinction to my point, that a majority of people everywhere are nice, friendly humanrightsophiles prevented from exercising their commitment to freedom, justice and equality for all by the bizarre and inexplicable tendency of almost everyone who ever gains a position of political responsibility to act as if their constituents are, in fact, small-minded bigots? (The latter including when they, apologetically and half-heartedly, introduce measures which might in practice enhance international human rights, only to make noises about how terrible the consequences are whenever there’s votes in it.) Because if you are, I’d like evidence. It would certainly improve my mood.


engels 12.01.09 at 2:39 pm

So you are telling me I have to pick one of these two alternatives:

a) the majority of people are ‘small-minded, unpleasant xenophobes’
b) ‘a majority of people everywhere are nice, friendly humanrightsophiles [committed to] to freedom, justice and equality for all’

Let me ponder that one and get back to you…


Henry 12.01.09 at 3:12 pm

In response to #3 and #8, when I talk about “saner” members of the Volokh conspiracy, I am not talking about “members of the Volokh conspiracy I am inclined to agree with sometimes,” but instead the wider set of “members of the Volokh conspiracy whom I may agree with sometimes or may not agree with at all, but who seem to be living on the same planet as I am.” David Kopel, on the evidence of this and other posts, lives on a planet where cause, effect, and evidence of the relationship between the two operate in quite different ways than the ways that I personally am familiar with. I imagine that he is entirely sincere – I also imagine that he is quite mad (not in the clinical sense, but in the sense that there is something deeply, fundamentally wrong with the filters through which he perceives the world).


Seeds 12.01.09 at 3:52 pm

Mrs Tilton:

Thanks, the humble pie was delicious… :)


Henry 12.01.09 at 4:25 pm

CK – I really think this is a very strained reading. The “perhaps the Swiss majority decided that it was the only tool available to send a message to the political establishment” is restated without qualification after the Geneva police/Tehranian Islamonazis nonsense, as “The Swiss government has provoked a backlash from the Swiss people.” Not a hint of hesitation there – his explanation of the vote is explicitly rooted in his theory of Swiss government dhimmitude and kowtowing to the Iranian Ayatollahs. This is – to be blunt – a batshit insane theory of what happened in the vote, which has _no empirical support whatsoever._


y81 12.01.09 at 4:31 pm

To be honest, both Kopel’s and Healy’s posts on the vital minarets-in-Switzerland issue seem to use the referendum results mostly as an occasion for venting the author’s own grievances with the Swiss polity. But hey, it’s the blogosphere. Think of it as the sort of thing that an educated, interesting person might say at a cocktail party, not in a published article.


CK 12.01.09 at 5:04 pm

Henry @34

Yes – I agree the claims about a conspiracy between elite Swiss and Islamonazis stuff is pretty far out there, as does connecting that to the motivations of the Swiss electorate.

But it doesn’t strike me as a silly point to make to say that those voting for the ban might have done so because they think it is one of the best available ways of signalling their opposition to what they (perhaps irrationally) think of as troubling aspects of Islam – although I ‘ll defer to anyone with any knowledge of Swiss politics over this one! And that seems to me both the most natural and most charitable reading of what Kopke says in that paragraph.


Anthony 12.01.09 at 5:36 pm

Henry – a garbage can is not a very good tool for clubbing someone – it’s not very heavy and it’s rather unwieldy. But if you have a strong desire to club someone, and the only plausible tool you have is a garbage can, you will use it. In the same way, the Swiss majority felt they had no real recourse against their political class’ policies about something (probably immigration rather than kowtowing to Tehran, though), until a small group managed to put the minaret ban on the ballot.


Aulus Gellius 12.01.09 at 6:53 pm

36 and 37: but surely there has now been enough time and discussion for “deferring to anyone with knowledge of Swiss politics,” yes? Kopel was claiming that the Swiss people felt (and no, he doesn’t say he’s with them, but he is basically offering this as a defense of their actions)[1] that this vote was the only possible response to the government’s backroom deals with Tehran; and that the peaceful freedom-loving non-Iranian Muslim immigrant population of Switzerland just happened to be caught in the crossfire (Anthony at 37 treats this as a minor distinction, but it seems to me to be Kopel’s main point). This is supported by not so much as, say, a quote from a Swiss person saying something like “well, my vote may have had something to do with Iran.” Other people who do know what they’re talking about (here and at VC, for example) have since observed that actually, the people supporting the measure had used advertising that made it pretty clear that what they wanted was to kick muslims and non-whites (with no particular mention of Iran) out of Switzerland. It seems to me that driving Albanians out of your country is actually quite different from protesting backroom deals with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On the other hand, Kopel was correct that the Swiss wanted to make some sort of point about Muslims. Well observed indeed!

[1] This strikes me, actually, as basically worse than frankly agreeing with the referendum. He doesn’t say he disagrees with it — and on the Volokh blog, that’s a pretty striking omission — he just makes up bizarre excuses for those who voted for it. I mean, are we really expected to pretend that this was an unbiased, neutral analysis? Come on.


Aulus Gellius 12.01.09 at 6:58 pm

Also, can we get back to Seeds’ question at 12: what the hell is Kopel referring to when he talks about Switzerland making backroom deals with Iran? He doesn’t link or refer to any source, and I haven’t seen anything like this claim elsewhere (even on right-wing blogs, though I don’t visit them that often); but I also haven’t yet seen any responses of “no, here’s what really happened.” But I have trouble believing that either (a) this absolutely happened, and no one but Kopel noticed and he’s only mentioning it now, or (b) he completely made it up out of whole cloth, without even a shred of truth to base it on. So what’s the answer?


mds 12.01.09 at 7:50 pm

In the same way, the Swiss majority felt they had no real recourse against their political class’ policies about something

It’s Switzerland, which is just about the least likely country for a majority of voters to have no real recourse against the political class.


Anderson 12.01.09 at 8:17 pm

what the hell is Kopel referring to

My dear Aulus, one doesn’t refer to something now; one simply refers.


Cyrus Hall 12.01.09 at 10:54 pm

All this talk of the Swiss having no way to fight back against their unaccountable leaders is laughable. There have been a number of popular initiatives in recent years, also sponsored by the SVP, to restrict and hinder immigration. The most recent was something like four or six months ago. None have passed. If the Swiss wanted to chastise their leaders on immigration policy, this was a most strange way to do so. This was about islamophobia, and fear mongering, not holding leaders responsable.

Here is an extra fun fact for people: the SVP has the largest share of the Swiss parliament currently. They *are* the leading party.


Aulus Gellius 12.01.09 at 11:38 pm

Looking again, I see it’s not quite right to say Kopel doesn’t give a source: he quotes himself, from an earlier article he wrote, where he refers to an unspecified local Swiss TV station. And he says (pretty undeniably): “In the United States, such a revelation would set off a frenzy of newspapers advancing the story with further investigation about a gigantic local police scandal, but the Geneva papers did little with the story.” Kopel’s interpretation of this difference is that “Local [i.e., Swiss] investigative reporting appears weak.” There are, perhaps, other possible perspectives….


Not Swiss 12.02.09 at 10:10 am

I live in Switzerland, but this is the first I’ve heard of this Geneva police thing.


sam 12.02.09 at 11:18 am

Frankly, I was surprised that Kopel didn’t get some stuff in the post about the 2d Amendment, Heller, etc.


Francis D 12.02.09 at 2:41 pm

From Dawkins’ 2002 interview with Emily Hourican

And Dawkins states in The God Delusion that that was something he said in the heat of the moment and implies that he regrets making a blanket absolute statement. He does also say that according to some of the victims (one of which he quotes) the psychological abuse was the worse of the two. But also that his comment was a heat of the moment thing and that he’s not that hard line.


Henry 12.02.09 at 2:50 pm

When worlds collide – Emily Hourican is a friend of mine who I’ve lost touch with in the last few years. I hadn’t realised her role in all of this …


Anthony 12.02.09 at 6:02 pm

Aulus – it’s not so much a “minor distinction”, it’s me saying that I think Kopel is wrong on the particular issue. If the people of Geneva cared enough about the police chief’s actions a few years ago, they could have voted his boss out of office over the issue.

Based on what Cyrus at #42 says, it looks more like this was a vote saying “make the immigrants assimilate, dammit”, possibly combined with town-planning NIMBYism run amok on a national scale.


Alex 12.03.09 at 1:23 am

“also that his own experience of being molested hadn’t done any lasting damage”

Dawkins was molested?


conall 12.05.09 at 9:15 pm

minart vote – populism run riot. what’s needed is reflective policy, as per citizens’ juries

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