Sunday, January 13, 2008

"The Noxious Fruits of Hate Speech Laws"

Glenn Greenwald has a superb piece on the chilling effects of Canadian and European hate speech laws, in the context of complaints filed against Ezra Levant, who published the Danish Mohammed cartoons in a right-wing magazine that he puts out, and Mark Steyn, for an article in Maclean's magazine that excerpted parts of Steyn's recently published book, America Alone.

I've written several times before about the oppressive, dangerous hate speech laws which are common -- increasingly so -- in both Canada and Europe, whereby the Government is empowered to punish as criminals citizens who express offensive or otherwise prohibited political views. But here is a visceral illustration of what these sorts of laws engender that ought to give great pause even to proponents of such laws.

Ezra Levant is a right-wing Canadian neoconservative who publishes Western Standard, a typical warmongering, pro-Likud journal -- a poor man's Weekly Standard for Canadian neocons. In February, 2006, he published the Danish Mohammed cartoons, which prompted an Islamic group's imam to file a complaint (.pdf) against Levant with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, charging Levant with "advocating hatemongering cartoons in the media," and the imam specifically accused Levant of "defaming me and my family because we follow and are related to Prophet Mohammed."

Rather than dismiss the complaint as a blatant attempt to punish free thought and free speech, the Alberta Human Rights Commission announced that it would investigate. To do so, they compelled Levant to appear before a government agent and be interrogated about the cartoons he published, his thoughts and intent in publishing them, and the other circumstances surrounding his "behavior." Under the law, the Commission has the power to impose substantial fines and other penalties on Levant.

The hearing was closed to the public -- only his lawyer and wife were allowed to attend -- but Levant insisted on recording the proceedings and was directed by the Commission not to publish the video, but he did so anyway. Here are the noxious fruits of hate speech laws: a citizen being forced to appear before the Government in order to be interrogated by an agent of the State -- a banal, clerical bureaucrat -- about what opinions he expressed and why he expressed them, upon pain of being punished under the law. ...

Glenn calls the video "stomach-turning," and it is -- but it's also a stirring experience to watch and listen to Ezra Levant's refusal to accept the premise of his interrogator's questions. One cannot help but admire and respect Levant's impassioned and uncompromising refusal to define his "intentions" in exercising his free speech rights. In fact, listening to his contemptuous rejection of the idea that his motives for publishing the cartoons are determinative of his right to publish them, I found myself thinking about Paul Robeson's famous response when he was asked, during his forced appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee, why he had not stayed in Russia (where he was treated like a human being for the first time in his life): "Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?"

Now that's cognitive dissonance.

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