Sunday, June 15, 2008

Freedom of speech stops for "vulnerable groups"

Somebody out there thinks Human Rights Commissions should be the judge of acceptable speech, in this case one Haroon Siddiqui:
. . . . freedom of speech is not absolute. "Except for the U.S., virtually every Western democracy has laws against hate," notes Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "Our anti-hate laws are probably the most underused."

The Supreme Court has upheld those laws. Jewish, gay and other groups have long advocated their use. Few Canadians complained. But now that Muslims are, many are.

"That's really what it's about," Farber told me. "When non-Muslims were using it, nobody really cared.
"People need scapegoats. It used to be Jews. Now it's Muslims, to a great extent. Tomorrow, it may be Bahais or somebody else ...
I always said Seals and Crofts should be watched closely.
"People should focus on the law, not on those using it. If the complaint is frivolous, the system will deal with it."

Barbara Hall, chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has offered a similarly clear-headed view.

Even while refusing to hear the Maclean's case – because her commission, unlike the one in B.C., does not have the jurisdiction to hear cases against the media – she used her "broader mandate to promote and advance respect for human rights" to speak out:

"Islamophobia is a form of racism ... Since September 2001, Islamophobic attitudes are becoming more prevalent and Muslims are increasingly the target of intolerance ...

"The Maclean's article, and others like it, are examples of this. By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to `the West,' this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others."

Her statement, posted on the commission's website, is worth reading. So is a blog by John Miller, professor of journalism at Ryerson University:

He calls the Maclean's article "xenophobic," and says it's riddled with errors. He ridicules the Canadian Association of Journalists for its knee-jerk defence, given that the article may have violated the association's own guidelines for fairness, accuracy, access and anti-discrimination.

People will always differ on what constitutes hate or where to draw the line on free speech. But most people would agree that free speech is not a licence to target vulnerable groups, let alone risk rupturing the common good in Canada.
Can anyone parse that last sentence? Put a "vulnerable group" into the equation and suddenly that inevitable difference on "where to draw the line" evaporates? You get the idea from Siddiqui that Steyn is the new William Dudley Pelley, but somehow I think that a world of discourse that includes, I dunno, John Pilger or Walt and Mearscheimer or Joseph Massad or Norman Finkelstein also has room for Steyn.

Political discourse would be greatly diminished if we could not criticize the activities and agendas of various groups: Repubicans, Democrats, the Religious Right, ultra-Leftists, truthers, Neo-Cons, moonbats, whatever, sometimes even--gasp--specific religious denominations. I once expressed disdain for the Israel-boycotting proclivities of a group called Presbyterian Church USA. Am I guilty of hate-speech, or does PC-USA pass the non-vulnerable test? I'm not moving to Canada to find out. (Hat Tip: Memeorandum)

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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