Wilson Center Experts

Raphael Cohen-Almagor

Fellow
United States Studies

Expertise:
North America
;
United States
Affiliation:
Chair and Professor in Politics, University of Hull, The United Kingdom
Wilson Center Project(s):
"In Internet's Way: New Challenges for Liberal Democracies"
Term:
Sep 01, 2007
-
May 01, 2008

Since 1985 I have been studying free expression and political extremism in various democracies. I have published several books and dozens of articles analyzing pertinent concerns, most notably the trilogy The Boundaries of Liberty and Tolerance (1994), Speech, Media and Ethics (2001), and The Scope of Tolerance (2006). I have decided to enter into the field of free expression on the Internet because of my disappointment of the available philosophical and ethical literature on the subject. The literature is, in one word, unsatisfactory. Many speak of the futility of regulation because of the international nature of the World-Wide-Web and its vast content. In the United States, where more than sixty percent of the websites originate, almost all forms of speech are protected under the First Amendment. The Internet is conceived as a free highway, and the way to combat problematic speech is by more speech. Emphasis is put on education. However, education alone will not suffice to address the challenges posed by the Internet.The common denominator of all my research interests is boundaries. I am intrigued by the challenge of drawing practical guidelines: boundaries to freedom of expression; boundaries as to what extent can and should the liberal state interfere in the cultural conduct of illiberal communities that reside within the state; to what extent can and should liberal democracy tolerate political extremists that utilize the democratic machinery to destroy democracy; boundaries of medical treatment at the end of life. My studies are usually interdisciplinary, in the fields of political science, ethics and law. Most of the time, they are also comparative, looking at the same issues in several liberal democracies. Fortunately, I received some grants and fellowships that enabled me to conduct research in different countries, most notably from the Fulbright Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Canadian Government, the British Council, the Italian Foreign Office, the Volkswagen Education Foundation, Germany, the Hastings Center, New York, the 21st Century Trust, London, the Israel Ministry of Education and Ministry of Science, the AVI (Rothschild) Fellowship, Geneva, the Rich Foundation, Paris, and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The latter was instrumental in the publication of Euthanasia in the Netherlands: The Policy and Practice of Mercy Killing (Dordrecht: Springer-Kluwer, 2004), that was largely based on interviews with Dutch experts on end-of-life issues.This research on the Internet recognizes that this innovation contains the best products of humanity but unfortunately also the worse products of people. The Internet provides a fertile ground for racists, white supremacists, anti-government militias, and other violent groups. Should liberal democracies allow them to operate freely behind the shield of free expression, knowing that they will not confine themselves to the realm of speech and whenever possible they will resort to violent actions? What is legitimate speech, and when does it pass the verge of the acceptable?Furthermore, in our era of extremism, political violence, and terrorism there is an urgent need to study the Internet and to devise ways to mitigate or stop its harms. This issue is of special significance to the Western world, especially to Israel, the United States, and the United Kingdom that suffered from the evils of terrorism. Terrorist organizations are using the Internet for various purposes: Providing information to different audiences in different languages; seeking support; recruitment; planning of activities (Sept. 11); donations; acquiring legitimacy; creating virtual community, and setting the foundations for cyber-terrorism. Specifically, recruitment of potential suicide bombers via the Internet, and bomb-making recipes that are easily and readily accessible on the Internet, are tangible and concrete concerns. Should liberal democracies allow all this to take place? What are the proper boundaries to free expression when we balance one against the other the foundations of the "democratic catch"?The Internet highlights the need for a new approach to solving ethical and legal problems rooted in technology. The Internet is not the problem. The problem is that it is utilized by extremists to undermine our well-being as autonomous beings living in free societies. This study focuses on articulating specific solutions to specific problems and on providing a framework within which these problems can be identified and resolved. It seeks to look beyond traditional notions of sometimes starkly opposing roles for governments and private parties in addressing online social and legal problems and, instead, will strive to suggest a more balanced approach, one that learns from the experiences of liberal societies with different norms and legal cultures; one that harnesses the unique strengths and abilities of the public and private sectors in reaching viable, practical solutions to these problems.
 

Education

B.A. (1985-87) in Political Science, Sociology and Anthropology, Tel Aviv University (Magna cum Laude); M.A. (1985-87) in Political Science, Tel Aviv University (Magna cum Laude); D.Phil. (1987-91) in Politics (Political Theory), St. Catherine's College, Oxford University

 

Subjects

Arab-Israeli Relations,Ethics,Israeli Politics,Media,Middle East,Political Science
 

Experience

  • Chair in Politics, University of Hull, 2007 - present
  • Founder and Director, Center for Democratic Studies, University of Haifa, 2003-06
  • Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Studies, and Visiting Professor at the Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 2003-04
  • Associate Professor, Department of Communication, and Library & Information Studies, University of Haifa, 2002-06
  • Chairperson of Library & Information Studies, University of Haifa, 2000-03
  • Member, Public Committee on the Dying Patient, Ministry of Health, Jerusalem, 2000-02
  • The Fulbright-Yitzhak Rabin Senior Scholar, and Visiting Professor, School of Law and Department of Communication, UCLA, 1999-2000
  • Senior Lecturer, School of Law and Department of Communication, University of Haifa, 1995-99
  • Member, Israel Press Council, 1997-2000
  • Founder and Director, The Bioethics Think-tank, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 1995-98
  • Research Fellow, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1992-95
  • Post-Doc, Department of Political Science, Bar-Ilan University, 1991-92
  • Chairperson (1985-87) and Founder and General Secretary (1983-85) "The Second Generation to the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance" Organization in Israel

Expertise

Political Theory; Israeli Politics; Ethics; Culture Studies

Project Summary

This comparative research in communication, law and ethics aims to explore challenges that the Internet poses for democracies, and to offer principles to address problematic questions. Differences between the Internet and other forms of communication will be probed. Should we protect Internet speech more than other forms of speech? The study will shed light on the legal situation in Israel, the United States, Canada, and Britain. I explore the pros and cons of different strategies that democracies employ in fighting down problematic expressions in general, and on the Internet in particular, and examine how these democracies cope with hate speech, terrorism, and crime-facilitating speech.
 

Major Publications

  • The Right to Die with Dignity: An Argument in Ethics, Medicine, and Law (Piscataway, NJ.: Rutgers University Press, 2001).
  • Speech, Media, and Ethics: The Limits of Free Expression (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2001, second ed. 2005).
  • The Scope of Tolerance: Studies on the Costs of Free Expression and Freedom of the Press (London and New York: Routledge, 2006).

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