Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Freedom to Offend

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States do not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.

Two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress say the magazine, Maclean’s, Canada’s leading newsweekly, violated a provincial hate speech law by stirring up hatred against Muslims. They say the magazine should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their “dignity, feelings and self-respect.”

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, which held five days of hearings on those questions here last week, will soon rule on whether Maclean’s violated the law. As spectators lined up for the afternoon session last week, an argument broke out.

“It’s hate speech!” yelled one man.

“It’s free speech!” yelled another.

In the United States, that debate has been settled. Under the First Amendment, newspapers and magazines can say what they like about minorities and religions — even false, provocative or hateful things — without legal consequence.

These are the opening paragraphs taken from this morning's coverage in the NY Times of an obscenity that was going on here in town last week. For the full NY Times story, read here.

Several bloggists alerted me to this story when I returned from holiday. They, and I, have been surprised by how puny the media and public reaction has been to this nightmare.

Maclean's magazine and Mark Steyn have both said publicly that they hope they lose this case so that the merits can be argued in a real court, not the quasi-judicial farce of the Human Rights Tribunal where the sacred cow is HURT FEELINGS, for god's sake.

The people in this case who are claiming hurt feelings, by the way, have had no problem characterizing Jews as rats and vermin who need be exterminated.

This is both a simple and an extremely complex matter.

But let me say this:

I am a Jew.

The Holocaust is a central and abiding through line in my mental and emotional life. It rears its ugly head unbidden on average once a week and has for a great many years.

One of my favorite Rabbis says about the Holocaust, "Forgiveness is not in the equation. You cannot forgive the monstrous."

I agree with him.


None of the above means wallowing in victimhood or self-pity or stopping in one's tracks from living life to the fullest.

Nor does any of the above mean I want to curtail any fool's right to say any foolish thing.

When you say something stupid, foolish, hurtful or damaging, these are my choices: Change the channel, toss the newspaper, laugh at your idiocy or denounce you in equal or louder voice.

We cannot, must not have the "state" regulate expression of opinion. Offensiveness is the central right of a healthy democracy.


Anonymous said...

The old saying "He who has the gold rules." In Sam's case he had 'the gold' and only those who 'sucked up' got a few pieces of his 'hoard.' Now that is the way to keep your fellow NPAsses in line in my opinion. Maybe the braying will stop until the Fall elections?

PelaLusa said...

The Canadian Jewish Congress was wrong to stifle the speech of Zundel et al and the Canadian Islamic Congress is wrong to stifle the speech of Maclean's.

Interesting times ahead.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home David.