Sunday, January 13, 2008

Glen Greenwald defends Ezra Levant

Well, not Ezra so much as his free expression rights.

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.

I've addressed the dangers of Hate Laws before, in the anti-censorship journal Gauntlet. Greenwald presents most of the same arguments I did. Laws designed to stop Nazis have inevitably migrated to lesser extremes of both the right and left and are having a chilling effect on the robust expression of political views.

I also argued that allowing extremists an opportunity to present themselves as martyred victims to heavy-handed government oppression could sustain them more than being ignored could.

I'm happy that Levant's magazine fell to the market forces of an insufficient reader base rather than as punishment for thoughtcrime.

The argument that such laws protect minorities is a little condescending and a bit of a false hope; The Wiemar Republic had stringent hate speech laws - look how well that worked out for them.

22 comments:

Mike said...

I'm with you Cliff. I'm probably one of the few lefties like you that are very uncomfortable with hate speech laws, human rights commissions and investigations. The answer to hate speech is more speech, ridiculing them and debunking their nonsense.

To keep them from speaking or publishing only drives them underground and lends an anti-authority credence to their otherwise nonsense arguments.

But then, I have actually read "Areopogetica" by Milton.

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 radicalize moderate Muslims. Regardless of the outcome, once again Islamists skillfully manipulated Dhimmi justice system and came out as clear winners. Thank you, Human Right Commission!

KC said...

Im with you guys. I dont know if I can really be called a "lefty" these days but Im terribly disappointed with the silence from the "progressive" side of the spectrum. Time was that it was them (the lefties) who stood up against demands by religious leaders that we govern our lives in accordance with their religious rules. It was lefties who stood up to puritanical religious morality on everything from sexual freedom to marijuana use. Nowadays not a peep when religious leaders insist that the state take action against those whose words (or in the immediate case, illustrations) offend their religious sensitivities.

Its embarassing frankly.

bigcitylib said...

This is what I posted to Glenn's blog:

Noxious Fruits (ie Ezra Levant)
Glenn,

The other tack for someone like myself who does not object the existance of HRCs in Canada is to say: fine, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Ms. Thobani (a lefty, lets assume) was subject to a complaint (made I think by an American citizen living in Vancouver): this means someone sent a letter to the police. The police considered it and did not go further with an investigation--because the charge wouldn't have stuck--though word of their POTENTIAL investigation got a whole lot of media play. In the end Ms. Thobani got some extra press coverage, and felt a bit of stress etc. Given what she SAID, I don't feel particularly sympathetic.

Similarly with Ezra. He will almost certainly be let off the hook for what he did (although he MAY be facing libel charges sometime in the near future). So what if he had to face the "process"? Mr. Levant is himself known for agressively playing the legal system.

KC said...

BCL - There is a threshold below which the police will usually tell you to take a hike without any real "investigation" (ie if I were to walk into the local detachment and tell them a dog stole my car). This complaint should have been handled the same way.

What bothers me the most about this whole thing isn't that Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn have to suffer the inconvenience of dealing with the commission. What bothers me is the overt attack on the whole notion of secularism and free expression by Mssrs Sowhardey (sp?) and Elmasry. These two have made it quite clear that they want to see any sort of offence against religious beliefs an offence. Its in that context that I see these complaints as blatant harassment and thuggery.

Ti-Guy said...

The last thing Canadians need are Americans interfering in our jurisprudence. Glenn Greenwald has made a career out of defending purveyors of hate speech and I applaud him for it because he does it so well. But given what passes for discourse in that country (not to mention the shredding of the Constitution), I really couldn't care less what he has to say about this.

I once had a little disagreement with Greenwald. He immediately lashed out, invoking the "Canadians are smug" trope. His nationalism/patriotism quite often manifests itself as anti-Canadian.

Cliff said...

Well somebody is certainly manifesting nationalist disdain...

Ti-Guy said...

Darn tootin'

Having witnessed the US media lie the Americans into an illegal/immoral invasion, I don't think their free speech absolutism has anything useful to tell us, as it ultimately results in a distracting and unappealling cacophony that sensible people either end up tuning out or end up spending a lot of energy (by engaging in *more* speech) in order to establish some order in the chaos.

I really think freedom of expression activists have bigger fish to fry than our human rights tribunals.

L-girl said...

The last thing Canadians need are Americans interfering in our jurisprudence. Glenn Greenwald has made a career out of defending purveyors of hate speech and I applaud him for it because he does it so well. But given what passes for discourse in that country (not to mention the shredding of the Constitution), I really couldn't care less what he has to say about this.

Do you read Greenwald? He does a lot more than "defend purveyors of hate speech". And he's not "interfering in [Canadian] jurisprudence".

You are criticizing US media and policy here. And that's fine. Likewise, it is fine for Greenwald to criticize Canadian policy.

Greenwald is not part of "what passes for discourse in that country" - he opposes all that - and he's not shredding the Constitution!

If you like the hate-speech laws, so be it. But don't act like people from other countries are not allowed to criticize Canada. That's the same jingoistic attitude Canadians hate in Americans!

Cliff said...

A threat to freedom anywhere is a threat to freedom everywhere and 99 out of a hundred Greenwald columns attack the examples in his own country you describe here Ti-Guy.

We've already seen how the slippery slope the Americans started down on human rights has dragged us along with them - and literally dragged Maher Arar onto a plain to the torture chambers of Syria. I would challenge any American who argued I had no business criticizing his country's excesses on those self interested national grounds and on the grounds of basic decency and international law that are not limited to national boundaries.

Greenwald has every right to critiques similar pernicious ideas in a neighboring country that could easily migrate to his own.

Ti-Guy said...

Do you read Greenwald?

All the time. He's one of my favourite bloggers. But on this issue, I disagree with him and have for quite some time.

You are criticizing US media and policy here. And that's fine. Likewise, it is fine for Greenwald to criticize Canadian policy.

I'm not objecting to him criticising our law (his critique is the same one Canadians have made for years now); I just don't think it has anything useful to tell us.

Greenwald is not part of "what passes for discourse in that country" - he opposes all that - and he's not shredding the Constitution!

I never said he did, and since I read his blog, I know exactly what he's been challenging. I think he is becoming increasingly concerned that government interference is a real threat to freedom of expression (and other rights), and is probably cautionning Americans about the evils of censorship, which is how he tends to view Canadian laws that address freedom of expression.

Cliff said...

"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."

If you don't think that's a useful point there - we will have to agree to disagree about the potential misuse of such laws.

The one American political bumper sticker cliche I have any use for is the old classic:
'I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

Cliff said...

And in the equal opportunity scrutiny department, Muslims Against Sharia who commented here get a closer look see here.

L-girl said...

"I never said he did, and since I read his blog, I know exactly what he's been challenging."

Ok, I guess I read you wrong. It appears from your earlier comment that you are saying exactly that, but I guess not.

However, I'm pretty sure there's only one way to interpret this:

"The last thing Canadians need are Americans interfering in our jurisprudence."

I hear that from American right-wingers all the time about Canadians. It's sad to see Canadians imitating them.

Ti-Guy said...

I hear that from American right-wingers all the time about Canadians. It's sad to see Canadians imitating them.

Well, I'm sorry you're sad that I'm quite sensitive to the issue of American interference with regard to our sovereignty, but that is an essential condition of Canada and is the reason it's existed as a separate nation on this continent.

but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'

That's easy to say.

I won't defend anyone to the death for their right to say something, especially the type of fraud Levant, Steyn and the rest of the neocon cabal traffic in.

I will defend to the death people being hauled off extra-legally and interned however. When I think about what I'd defend to my death, I think of the situation in which that would actually happen.

Cliff said...

So a private citizen critiquing a specific incident or set of laws constitutes an American interference with regard to our sovereignty?

Interesting.

L-girl said...

"Well, I'm sorry you're sad that I'm quite sensitive to the issue of American interference with regard to our sovereignty"

Ah, it's the old sovreignity card. An American citizen criticizes something about Canada, and there's a threat to sovreignity. That's absurd.

Also absurd is how you keep shifting the subject as you are called on it.

Ti-Guy said...

So a private citizen critiquing a specific incident or set of laws constitutes an American interference with regard to our sovereignty?

Well, it's part of a bigger picture. Media like The Western Standard (named after the American neocon publication The Weekly Standard) as well as Ken Whyte's stewardship of MacLeans represent the Americanisation of our media and a weakening of journalistic standards we've long enjoyed in this country. The defense of that with free speech absolutism strikes me as idolising a paradigm that I consider alien and which, as I mentionned with the Iraq invasion, has had disastrous consequences that we will be living with for quite some time to come.

Cliff said...

Belief in absolute free expression is an alien value? Fine, consider this one Canadian follower of that alien value.

Dipping into party partisanism for a moment, you certainly make the point I made here that it's the NDP who believe in protecting liberty more than the Liberals. Considering some of the more brutal acts of repression against protesters under recent Liberal governments, using anti-Americanism as a pandering cover for attacking free speech seems depressingly consistent.

I would argue that the Iraq invasion was in large measure a result of Americans turning away from the vales of free expression and opposing points of view. Remember the vicious attacks war opponents were subjected to? Remember the White House Press Secretary saying 'People had to watch what they said.'? Remember administration members calling reporters revealing the abuses at Abu Gharaib and Gitmo traitors?

Suggesting that unrestricted freedom of speech enabled the Bush administration and the attack on Iraq rather than it's suppression flies in the face of the real history of the last 7 years.

L-girl said...

"I would argue that the Iraq invasion was in large measure a result of Americans turning away from the vales of free expression and opposing points of view."

And you'd be correct.

There's a reason leftist Americans tend to be more pro-free-speech than their Canadian counterparts. We've been on the short end of the repression.

"Suggesting that unrestricted freedom of speech enabled the Bush administration and the attack on Iraq rather than it's suppression flies in the face of the real history of the last 7 years."

Thank you. I couldn't quite phrase it as succinctly as you have.

Because the Western Standard is pro-US does not mean defending Ezra Levant's right to freedom is therefore pro-US, and therefore a threat to Canadian sovreignity.

[I am both Canadian and American, btw. I left the US for political reasons. Just in the interest of full disclosure.]

L-girl said...

Correction: That should say "Levant's right to freedom ^of speech^".

Mike said...

For the record, while I take Cliff's side in this, I want to publicly distance myself and completely disassociate myself from the "Muslims Against Sharia". This is not a Muslim group at all, but a false front for right wing anti-Muslim propaganda and includes the babbling of bigots like Joe Kaufman and Pam from Atlas Shrugged. They have not Muslims on their blog, and while claiming to be from Afghanistan, have not articles in any language spoken by Muslims, except English - no Arabic, Pakistani languages, Pahsto (funny for a blog "from Afghanistan"), or Malay.

In short, they are liars.

Stageleft has a nice debunking of these guys. Avoid them at all costs. Don't let them agreeing on this issue make them seem reasonable - they aren't.

Popular Posts