Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Time to free up speech - hate speech

A while back I reminded myself that it was time to post on the hate laws in Canada. While the intent of such laws, like so many, is admirable, laws that impinge upon rights, or in this case, trample upon the freedom of expression, invariably backfire and are used for purposes for which they were not intended by the framers.

Hate laws were brought about partially by demands from and with the full support of various Jewish groups. They wanted to stop the Ernst Zundels of this world from propagating hate against Jews. The result has been far from expected as jewishmag.com writes:

Canada is widely regarded as a model multicultural society; tolerant, peaceful, fair. To be sure, we have our share of bigots, racists and malcontents. But we are a progressive society. Progressive societies resolve their internal differences peacefully, and respectfully. And if some should confuse intolerance for truth or mistake might for right? Well, unlike the US, we also have criminal hate censorship laws, as well as assorted human rights, equity, and hate speech codes to set them right. But before anyone thinks of emulating the "true north strong and free," they better have a close look at what is happening on progressive Canadian campuses.

And so, Benjamin Netanyahu and Daniel Pipes cannot equally freely, or fearlessly, speak at any progressive, multicultural, Canadian campus. No pro-Zionist can. But just about every self-serving anti-Zionist demagogue and Israel-demonizing progressive ideologue can. Hate is whatever those with the power to disrupt, destroy, and silence, say it is. And so, only the Jewish voice is a campus security concern. Hate censorship has been hijacked. A shelter against illegitimate promotion of hate has been turned into a sword against legitimate exercise of Jewish voice.

How could it be otherwise? Censorship is force not talk. It is not about demonstration of right, but an exercise in might. Might is a double edged sword. In the end, the sharper edge, as is the nature of might, belongs to the more belligerent, or the more popular, not the more tolerant or the more civil. The popular have sympathy. The belligerent have force. The tolerant, and civil, have only words. By legitimating hate censorship, Jews have robbed themselves of rights to their own words and armed those of their intolerant adversaries. Jewish students on Canadian campuses find themselves neither with equal freedom to speak nor equal freedom from hate. The message is clear: if you are visibly Jewish you do not equally belong, even as every other historically vulnerable community – blacks, gays, Asians, transsexuals, Arabs, and Muslims – does.

There is a lesson in all this. Jewish faith in hate censorship and campus speech codes was a mistake to begin with. Rights to silence weaken, rather than strengthen, the Jewish voice. To be sure, freedom of speech carries risks. But for the tolerant, a political culture built on censorship might, at the cost of talk is, in the end, riskier still. Inclusion by silencing is tolerance built on quicksand. Quiet is not the same as acceptance. Compliance is not comprehension. Jewish hate censorship has been a self-deceiving, and self-debilitating, ruse. In fact, progressive Canadian campuses were rife with undercurrents of singularly anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment long before the Concordia riot. But it took a Netanyahu to ignite the truth, and bring the failings of campus hate speech and equity codes to light.
While I take the point of the article, I do not suspect that Jewish speech is being repressed by these laws. The state is not charging the speakers under the laws. The problem for the Jews is that when you legitimize "offence" as being worthy of sanction, you are legitimizing the use of force to prevent/stop the "offence".

Offence is the key to freedom of expression. To paraphrase, I may hate what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it. This is the freedom of expression. Once there is a decision that certain speech is offensive and will be subject to state sanction; or when the state decides that it will not use its monopoly on the use of force to prevent a mob from committing acts of violence against those who have offended through speech, the right no longer exists. It is merely a privilege, subject to the whims of the majority or the mob. It is time to repeal these progressive laws which, like all progressive laws, is draconian in its result.

Some of my other posts on free speech can be found here.

Hat Tip: The Volokh Conspiracy.

cross-post: Little Tobacco

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