Spineless and clueless: Charlie Hebdo, the Toronto Star and free speech

I’ve written books about the notion that, when it comes to speech, reasonable limits should indeed exist. Calling for genocide against a group of people, for example. Holocaust denial in the classroom. Child pornography. Here’s what I wrote about the issue of cartoons and religion almost exactly eight years ago to the day on this web site:

“I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression. I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, persuade people to kill.

I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others – as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children.

And, yes: I believe we are entitled as society to place reasonable limits on the expression of actual hatred towards religious faiths. I believe that words and images that expose the tenets of a person’s faith to hatred should be condemned and, where appropriate, punished. Expressing hatred about someone else’s spiritual beliefs is not free speech. It is hatred, and it is almost always calculated to cause pain and hurt.

Which brings us, two years later, to the global debate that raged about cartoons depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist – and Ezra Levant’s decision to publish them, repeatedly. The cartoons set off a wave of emotional protests and threats on a global scale – and fostered a vigorous debate about what constitutes free speech. That debate has been reignited by Ezra’s appearance before the Alberta human rights body a few days ago. (And I sense he is genuine about his libertarian view, by the way.)

After [the 2000 federal election campaign, in which I did this], conservative writer Claire Hoy had written something about me, so I invited him to lunch. He showed up, and we had a great lunch and a great debate about censorship. Hoy told me he objected to hate laws.

So I asked Claire this: “Don’t you think there is a difference between a young guy painting a happy face on his school wall – and a skinhead who paints a swastika, and the words ‘DEATH TO THE JEWS’ on the front of a synagogue? Isn’t there a qualitative difference between one action, and the other? Hate laws are designed to address that difference, aren’t they?”

There is indeed a difference between an act of mischief, and an expression of hatred. And that’s my point, here. Certain words and images can cause actual fear and pain and hate.

In early 2006, at a band practice, we were talking about another Toronto punk group, called – and I’m not making this up – Tit Fuck Me Jesus.

I’m a church-going Catholic, and that band’s name doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Nor the stuff found on the covers of Black Flag records, nor the songs by my beloved Bad Religion.

But that’s just me. And I can certainly see how someone else could be offended – really and truly hurt – by something like a band called Tit Fuck Me Jesus. And, just because I’m okay with that, doesn’t mean that someone else has to be.

That’s pretty much where I end up on the cartoons that depict Islam’s prophet as a murderer. You might not find such things hateful or even hurtful, but many others do. Deeply, truly, honestly.

And, when all is said and done, what Muslims seek from the rest of us is not anything we do not already seek from them. Which is, mainly, a modicum of respect for the things they hold closest to their hearts.

I say they deserve that respect.”

Sorry for the length of that excerpt, but I wanted to make a point, which is: I don’t think you can’t readily label me a knee-jerk anything-goes libertarian.  Nope.

But this morning, I just about drove my truck off the road as I listened to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. On it, the publisher of the Toronto Star, John Cruickshank, talked about how it was “wrong” – he used that word repeatedly – to publish even a link to the cartoons for which the staff at Charlie Hebdo actually died. I couldn’t take notes because I was driving, but Cruickshank – whilst whinging and sermonizing, without irony, about “free speech” – also said the Star wouldn’t publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons because they lack “context.”

I could go on ad nauseum about the nausea that induced in me, here, but let me be brief, because I have to get to work: Cruickshank sounds like a nice guy, but he’s full of shit.  Here’s why.

God gave us the powers of judgment. In Her infinite wisdom, She gave us the ability to look, and listen, and consider. She bestowed upon us the ability to recognize that there is, indeed, a qualitative difference between publishing a cartoon poking fun at a religious leader, and publishing a propaganda poster calling for all Muslims to be exterminated.

That distinction is apparently lost on Cruickshank and some other journalists this morning. If you look at what Charlie Hebdo was doing, you would see they weren’t in any way agitating for genocide, or knowingly propagating hatred.

Over the years, they were publishing cartoons that poked fun at several religions and religious figures. During the time that they did so, Islam became the world’s fastest-growing religion, at a rate of 2.2 per cent every year. While Charlie Hebdo was publishing satirical cartoons, to put a fine point on it, the sky – filled, as it is, with deities – did not fall.

Decide for yourself. I’m no free speech lunatic, and I did just that. Below, here are the Charlie Hebdo cartoons the Toronto Star – which invokes “free speech” for every single idiotic thing that they do, day in and day out – refuses to publish. My hunch is that some of you will look at them, some of you will laugh, some of you won’t, and all of you will go about your day (as I am about to), undeterred.

And if, well, one or two want to kill me for publishing them, send me a note, and we’ll arrange for a time and place to get together, to save us both some time.

FreedomDictatesWePublishThis


Two (possibly emotional) reactions to the Paris massacre

Both reactions somewhat emotional, as I say. One is to state that (I think) I was wrong.

In the Summer, I wrote this:

“On the much-read National Newswatch Thursday morning, then, a column on Harper and foreign policy was the top headlined item. In it, the Public Policy Forum’s Dr. Don Lenihan wrote that Harper’s approach to foreign policy “just might pay off at the ballot box.”

Writes Lenihan, who is influential in Ottawa: “Harper has positioned himself as a champion of democracy and is using his place on the world stage to stand up to tyrants and terrorists.”

Politically, “[Harper’s foreign policy moves are] starting to look like a very smart. By contrast with Vladimir Putin or Hamas, Harper can’t help but look good. Standing up to them looks even better. While he’s been criticized for being too one-sided, and even of shooting from the lip, lots of people agree with his hard line.”

Indeed they do. This assistant to a former Liberal prime minister is one of them. Harper’s willingness to be tough with the likes of Putin and Hamas – in effect, punching above Canada’s foreign policy weight class – is something to be admired, whether you agree with him or not.

But will it pay electoral dividends? Can Harper actually win an election against the surging Trudeau Liberals with foreign policy?

Not a chance.”

The events of recent months – the assassinations of members of our Armed Forces, most notably – have me reassessing my position. In dangerous times like these, people make important choices. In Canada, the choice is presently between, on the one hand, two Opposition leaders who seemingly oppose confronting and defeating terror in every possible circumstance – and, on the other hand, a Prime Minister who apparently believes handing out box lunches to the victims of ISIS is insufficient.

That’s my first response to the atrocity in Paris: we live in dangerous times, people know it, and they will vote accordingly.

My second response to what happened – and which I encourage everyone else to do, too – is to post here the cartoon of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi that Charlie Hebdo tweeted just prior to the murders of their staff. I guess my message is this: burn in Hell, you monsters. You can’t kill all of us.

This-is-the-anti-ISIS-cartoon-the-official-Charlie-Hebdo-satirical-magazine-tweeted-out-before-today


And now for more now now about Now

hollett_ford1
Hollett with a friend.

Assorted Now employees and friends of its owner swarmed this wee web site yesterday, taking umbrage with what I had to say about the magazine’s boss (Hollett has no pony tail!) and approach (we think it’s okay to run ads trafficking in girls!).

So, as expected, various other correspondents provided useful tidbits about the situational ethics of Now and its svengali – among them, the fun photo above with Now‘s boss, chumming with Rob Ford in the US, where fewer folks were around to point out how decidedly less-chummy he was with Mayor On Crack when back home. Here they are, with linkage. There’s more to come.

That stuff isn’t from me: it’s what others have said. Unregistered lobbying? Chumming with the far Right? Corporate hypocrisy? Making a fortune out of ads which degrade women? Cutting news staff to fund non-news corporate ventures?

All that sounds pretty corporate, to me, but what do I know? I don’t make the kind of dough Michael Hollett does.

And, what’s more, there’s no photos of me around, hugging Rob Ford.


In Tuesday’s Sun: coalition, accusation, repetition

Get ready.

You can always tell when a federal election is coming in Canada. The political parties commence a frenzy of fundraising. The commentariat start speculating incessantly about when, exactly, the election will take place. The media start writing profiles of backroom “strategists” who real folks don’t care about.

Oh, and conservatives start darkly whispering about coalitions.

It’s already happened at least a couple times on Sun News Network, the canary in the Conservative Party’s coal mine. As one of the network’s house Bolsheviks, I can tell you that Sun News is worth watching for that reason alone: it’s the place where the Stephen Harper Party first road-tests assorted talking points. It’s where they launch various trial balloons, to see what will float, and what will come crashing down to terra firma.

Thus, that hoary old chestnut, the coalition allegation. Harper and his party have successfully deployed it in 2011 and 2008, and they appear to be readying themselves to do so again. Worked before, it’ll work again, right?

Not necessarily. As the Conservative war room has discovered to their vexation, you can’t run the same plays in every game without the other guys eventually noticing. The attack ads that worked so well against Messrs. Dion and Ignatieff, for instance: the same sorts of ads haven’t worked as well against the fresh-faced Justin Trudeau, have they?

But the Tories are undeterred. If the “he’s in way over his head” ads aren’t peeling off thousands of soft Liberal votes, then the coalition canard almost certainly will. That is, Grits and Dippers (and, where available, separatists) are secretly plotting to come together to form a Satanic alliance post-election, thereby defying the people’s will, trampling on democracy, blah blah blah.

Here’s the proverbial fly in the coalition ointment, however: Liberals and New Democrats presently hate each other’s guts. We use that word advisedly: HATE. It fits.

They’ve always sort of hated each other, true. New Democrats see Liberals as soulless, venal hypocrites, interested in power and little else. Liberals see New Democrats as humourless, pious scolds who always prefer talking to doing.

But, lately, the level of enmity between Grits and Dippers has reached feverish proportions.

Dippers say that Justin Trudeau is the political Zoolander: an empty-headed pretty boy who talks a lot about the middle class, but who wouldn’t know the middle class if it bit him on one of his yoga-toned legs. Grits see Thomas Mulcair as Angry Tom, a crypto-separatist whose mere existence is imperiling their inevitable triumphant return later in 2015.

None of this Grit-Dipper odium deters Stephen Harper, of course. He spooked Liberals and New Democrats away from coalition-talk in the past and, by God, he intends to do so again. It worked.

No matter that his party, the Conservatives, was a coalition of the Reform/Alliance parties and the Progressive Conservative Party. No matter that he himself attempted an unconsummated, unholy coalition with the socialists and the separatists in 2004 – even writing a letter to the Governor-General about his willingness to enter into coalition matrimony. None of that matters.

What matters is winning, and Stephen Harper is rather good at winning. His opponents may deny, deny, deny that a coalition is imminent, let alone possible. They may point to the seamy and unseemly Parliament Hill sexual harassment cases – with accusation and counter-accusation flying back and forth – as clear evidence that the two parties heartily detest each other.

But, while all true, that’s all irrelevant. In the lead-up to elections, the truth is usually irrelevant.

Stephen Harper intends to make the coalition accusation again, by God, facts notwithstanding. It works.

It’s soon to be election time, after all, and coalition talk will soon be all the rage.

Get ready.