Monday, January 14, 2008

Noxious Fruits: Ezra Levant Vs. Sunera Thobani

Glenn Greenwald defends Ezra Levant over at Salon. Not a bad read. However, his main argument does not seem particularly convincing. He writes:

For those unable to think past the (well-deserved) animosity one has for the specific targets in question here, all one needs to do instead is imagine these proceedings directed at opinions and groups that one likes. If Muslim groups can trigger government investigations due to commentary they find offensive, so, too, can conservative Christian or right-wing Jewish groups, or conservative or neoconservative groups, or any other political faction seeking to restrict and punish speech it dislikes.

[...]

UPDATE: Law Professor David Bernstein previously noted that Canada's hate speech laws have had unintended consequences, as such laws inevitably do:

Moreover, left-wing academics are beginning to learn firsthand what it's like to have their own censorship vehicles used against them. For example, University of British Columbia Prof. Sunera Thobani, a native of Tanzania, faced a hate-crimes investigation after she launched into a vicious diatribe against American foreign policy. Thobani, a Marxist feminist and multiculturalism activist, had remarked that Americans are "bloodthirsty, vengeful and calling for blood." The Canadian hate-crimes law was created to protect minority groups from hate speech. But in this case, it was invoked to protect Americans.

Just like Bush followers who bizarrely think that the limitless presidential powers they're cheering on will only be wielded by political leaders they like, many hate speech law proponents convince themselves that such laws will only be used to punish speech they dislike. That is never how tyrannical government power works.

Well, up here in Canada, Glenn, many hate speech law proponents are not as naive as you seem to think.

Let's take the case of Sunera Thobani. In 2001, not long after the 9/11 attacks, Ms. Thobani delivered a speech (condensed version here) to the Women's Resistance Conference in Ottawa, Ontario. The speech was pretty crass, nasty stuff, and certainly ill-timed, but for our our purposes the important thing is that it (shock! horror!) triggered a hate-crimes investigation.

Now, what did that mean here?

Well, it meant that a letter from, if I am remembering this correctly, an American citizen living in Vancouver, was sent to the RCMP, an RCMP officer went public with news of the letter in his own form of protest against the relevant legislation, the complaint was investigated amid a press uproar, and the investigation was dropped because essentially there was no case. Ms. Thobani's speech was delivered sometime in late September or early October, and the whole thing wound up in late October.

And that's about it. A speech intended to be controversial became even more controversial, Thobani bitched about harassment and probably felt a few days worth of extra stress, and...nothing. Sure she had to endure the weight of the legal process, but so what? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; the fact that Thobani is politically left (and herself a minority) should not put her beyond the reach of such laws, and the fact that she briefly became the target of a frivolous employment of these laws is not an argument against them. If it were, we would not have a legal system at all!

(And, incidentally, abusing the legal system is a topic with which our Ezra Levant is arguably quite familiar)

PS. A minor mea culpa, although my general point in yesterday's first post still holds--Ezra's falsehoods re Syed Soharwardy were still on his blog and in his youtube clip--by his January 12th post he has distinguished between where Mr. Soharwardy was trained (Pakistan) and where he lectured (Saudi Arabia)

PPS. h/t to Rusty Idols. I'm glad other Progressives are at least writing about this, especially since some apparently find my views on the subject "embarrassing".

PPPS. Note that Thobani's case is quite different from the case brought against Ezra. Greenwall conflates them, so I am doing similarly in the above.

The guy at D-World has a good post on Ezra today.

23 comments:

Ti-Guy said...

I wasn't all that impressed with Greenwald's sloppy and superficial analysis of this, considering this is an issue (the defense of offensive speech) he specialises in. But don't try to point that out to him, because he'll call you a "petulant Canadian." and accuse you of "moral superiority."

Wayne said...

Greenwald gets things right for once. Christopher Hitchens of course does a better job at defending and explaining free speech. And ti-guy the left in Canada do come off as morally superior even though they are not. The neoliberal fascists want, what they call free speech, on their terms. Which is not free speech at all? You ti-guy need to read Thomas Paine The Age of Reason or John Stuart Mill On Liberty.
Your not for free speech ti-guy, because you DO NOT LISTEN.

rabbit said...

There's little doubt that hate speech laws and HRC's will one day be used to try to silence those who are critical of Christians and Christian churches.

How could it not happen? Religion is specifically mentioned in the hate speech law (and probably in all HRC legislation) as a protected category, and all it takes is one overly sensitive person.

bigcitylib said...

Get 'em to come after me, rabbit. I'll become famous like Ezra and maybe I can make some cash-ola off this damn blog.

Wayne said...

Could very easily happen rabbit.

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." - Karl Marx

That sums up HRC legislation.

lenny said...

"The neoliberal fascists want, what they call free speech, on their terms. Which is not free speech at all"

That's the first halfway intelligent thing you've said, Wayne, though I'm guessing it was an accident as a result of using words you don't understand.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoliberal

Wayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ti-Guy said...

There's little doubt that hate speech laws and HRC's will one day be used to try to silence those who are critical of Christians and Christian churches.

This is so nuance-free. What criticism of Christianity and of Christians do you have in mind here? That which is expressed by indulging in eliminationist rhetoric when referring to Christians? All those critics accusing Christians of pure, unadulterated evil? All those detractors of Christianity making no distinction between Christians and terrorists engaging in illegal activities?

What specifically, are you referring to? It's important because jurisprudence doesn't deal with vagueness; it deals with concrete things.

Ti-Guy said...

While waiting for a response from Rabbit...

Dymaxion World has a good post on this. I especially like this: ""Even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over."

I've always been really impressed by the fact that dogs can in fact tell the difference, often far more often than people do.

Wayne said...

"What specifically, are you referring to? It's important because jurisprudence doesn't deal with vagueness; it deals with concrete things." ti-guy

As I understand it, hate speech under Canadian Criminal Code does have to follow jurisprudence, the bar is set high to jump and the Crown has to prove intent to incite hate.

HRCs it is just an assummed right of a hearer not to be offended, thus having a far lower bar to jump to get a conviction.

Like John Stuart Mills said, truth is best dicovered through free speech. Canada's parliamentary system is founded on just that kind of belief.

The court system should be the ones to decide what is hate not an HRC. What rabbit fears could happen. They should go.

Ti-Guy said...

Wayne, I didn't ask you that question.

I'm really trying to avoid talking to you.

Wayne said...

The post at Dymaxion World is wrong. Warren is wrong. This kind of thinking may sound desirable, but WHO decides what is desirable and what is not.

Ti-Guy said...

The post at Dymaxion World is wrong. Warren is wrong. This kind of thinking may sound desirable, but WHO decides what is desirable and what is not.

Go over there and argue that, would you?

rabbit said...

Ti-Guy:

The federal hate speech law does indeed deal with jurisprudence, and the courts have (thankfully) interpreted the law narrowly.

HRC's, on the other hand, must hear every vaguely realisitic complaint brought to it (or so I've heard). What's more, HRC's do not appear bound by any great weight of jurisprudence.

The very act of bringing someone in front of an HRC chills free speech. It doesn't even have to be successful (although it seems the chances of success are excellent). This puts a powerful weapon in the hands of any protected group which does not want to hear criticism.

Regarding what could possibly be used for a complaint, it's not difficult to find stuff like this about Christian fundamentalists on the internet...

So they express their violence in their hearts, and their souls, and their politics. But at their core, they're no different. They hate all the same, and they'll happily bash with the power of a club or the power of the state.

That you might agree with above quote doesn't matter. What matters is that it could comprize a plausible complaint with an HRC.

Ti-Guy said...

The very act of bringing someone in front of an HRC chills free speech.

Chills speech that is incendiary and intemperate, you mean? I don't know. Seems the hate-mongers only become more livid and hateful, so I'm not sure it even has this calming, sobering, salutary effect.

It really is simply about holding people responsible for their actions.

So they express their violence in their hearts, and their souls, and their politics. But at their core, they're no different. They hate all the same, and they'll happily bash with the power of a club or the power of the state.

Where is this from?

What matters is that it could comprize (sic) a plausible complaint with an HRC.

Do you actually understand how the law works, or are you just more comfortable trafficking in speculation and paranoia?

Anonymous said...

If you can't understand what an egregious violation of rights this whole fiasco is, you shouldn't be allowed to blog either.

Ti-Guy said...

Let's face it...the neoconservatives are frauds. Intellectually bankrupt and morally corrupt.

Friend of USA said...

the fact that Thobani is politically left should not put her beyond the reach of such laws, and the fact that she briefly became the target of a frivolous employment of these laws is not an argument against them.

and why is not frivolous when the complaint is about cartoons?

Cartoons that have not caused ONE damn incident of violence in Canada?

cartoons that have been published before Levant did in dozens of publications across the planet?

Why one is frivolous and not the other?

rabbit said...

Ti-Guy:

Comprize is a valid spelling in some dictionaries.

A Canadian blogger approvingly quoted the passage. The blogger's site features a dog with a martini.

But here's the thing, Ti-Guy. You are the master of speech which is "incendiary and intemperate". It's your very stock in trade. Are you asking to be chilled?

You apparently support the HRC on this because you believe that only speech you disagree with will be effected. Well good luck with that.

Ti-Guy said...

Comprize is a valid spelling in some dictionaries.

Oh, c'mon. That spelling only occurs 7,770 times on the entire Internet, as opposed to over 20,000,000 for comprise.

Anyway, this isn't about me, Rabbit. You expressed concern over something that you can't back up very well.

I really can't do anything with that; irrational fears are not something I spend a lot of time on.

Anonymous said...

bigcitylib, your position can effectively be summed up as "big deal, so what?"

What a slippery slope you navigate. But do you know it?

Kevin said...

"Chills speech that is incendiary and intemperate, you mean?"

How do you define incendiary or intemperate? Do you want to leave that to anyone, especially a commission that may have a partisan grudge for which the pendulum may eventually swing against you with the next set of appointments? Intemperate? I fell off that wagon long ago on many issues, including and especially anything involving organized religion and its alleged right to dictate to me what I can do and say. I don’t have Ezra’s sanctimonious religious tendencies so trust me, I can really honk off the people who didn’t want the cartoons of their imaginary friend’s super best friend on earth printed. Incendiary? The cartoons did not incite riots. No really! Opportunist (not Levant in this case, no really, again!), radical religionists and political players in the “Muslim world” did that – even forging some of the cartoons to drive on potential rioters against western targets, both metaphorical and concrete.

One may question Levant’s tastes and intent, but not his right as a western publisher to publish in his news/opinion rag, of all things, newsworthy items and associated opinions of this very important issue. Free Inquiry did and so did a number of western journals of news/opinion. Why not the Western Standard, or whatever other hack rag that wants to do it? What is the point of discussing what happened without showing what caused it? Should a western publisher have to second and third guess how to present the base and core facts of a very serious and heavy issue or event? Should the trust their westernized, nuanced and hopefully spiritually secure readership or should they tremble from every potential superstitious twit and their opportunist enablers that may or may not be out there? If the latter is true, we should ban any and all media from newspapers to blogs lest anyone say anything that someone may take as provocative, “intemperate” or “incendiary” (like “There is no god, their prophets were full of it or delusional, their current "agents" are corrupt or in denial while living in an age of science, so what does that say about people who believe in them, including you?” Send me to the HRC, please, I must have hurt someone’s feelings and demeaned them with that and you don’t even have to explicitly include that last part to have some people very angry and “injured” by that provocative statement, but I suspect that there will be a number of fellow progressives who will defend me, and as such, I must hold my nose and defend Levant especially when he too supports free expression of ideas an opinion from the looks of things.)

More still we as progressive must see this case for what it is. The right for someone, anyone, to “blaspheme” or otherwise challenge the world view of whomever “prophet,” bishop, rabbi, iman, or witchdoctor. The Human Rights Story (indeed, the Human Story, itself) would not have been written without incendiary and intemperate subject matter. Do we stop the clock, move back, or move “recklessly” and proudly forward, maladjusted feelings be damned. I vote for option 3, no matter who is the current poster boy is for saying something “inflamitary,” “incendiary” or just … “interesting.”

Muslims Against Sharia said...

Canada: Freedom of Speech succumbing to Kangaroo Courts of the Human Rights Commission

Proceedings against Ezra Levant are nothing short of ridiculous, but let's consider the implications for moderate Muslims. This "investigation" will further divide Muslims and non-Muslims in Canada. It will give credence to radicals' claims that the West is at war with Islam. It will antagonize non-Muslims and moderate Muslims will be pushed towards radicalization. Regardless of the outcome, once again Islamists skillfully manipulated Dhimmi justice system and came out as clear winners. Thank you, Human Right Commission!

Muslims Against Sharia are proud to be the first Muslim group to publicly support Ezra Levant and denounce HRC inquisition
http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/2008/01/canada-freedom-of-speech-succumbing-to.html

Sign Free Dominion Against the HRCs Petition
http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/a-free-dominion-against-the-hrcs.html