Tired and Emotional
Afterthoughts

A Magnificent Riposte

If you haven’t yet watched this stirring exchange between MoToons publisher Ezra Levant and Officer Shirlene McGovern of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, I urge you to do so now.

Here’s Levant’s opening statement. Note Officer McGovern’s expression throughout.

And on the subject of ‘permissible’ intentions

Officer McGovern said “you're entitled to your opinions, that’s for sure.” Well, actually, I’m not, am I? That’s the reason I was sitting there. I don’t have the right to my opinions, unless she says I do.

A transcript of Levant’s opening statement can be read here. Here’s a brief extract:

For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights. This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values. It is also deeply procedurally one-sided and unjust. The complainant – in this case, a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, and who has called for sharia law to govern Canada – doesn’t have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose – the process has become the punishment.

The cartoons were published to illustrate this article (free registration required), which is also discussed here. Words of support can be sent via Mr Levant’s website, where more clips and commentary are available, including this on the causes of Islam’s image problem.

Update

Related. And. Also. Plus.

Please bankroll my insensitivity. 

Comments

Ophelia Benson

Another choice bit -

"The commission was meant as a low-level, quasi-judicial body to arbitrate squabbles about housing, employment and other matters, where a complainant felt that their race or sex was the reason they were discriminated against. The commission was meant to deal with deeds, not words or ideas. Now the commission, which is funded by a secular government, from the pockets of taxpayers of all backgrounds, is taking it upon itself to be an enforcer of the views of radical Islam. So much for the separation of mosque and state."

David

Ophelia,

Every clip has at least one nugget. There’s a debate rumbling in the comments over at Harry’s Place regarding Levant’s intentions and general character, as if that were the pivotal issue.

http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2008/01/13/one_angry_man_motoons_editor_on_trial.php

But if Levant wished to be gratuitously offensive towards the deceased founder of an absurd superstition, why shouldn’t he? That wasn’t his intention, of course, as is clear from the original article (which was about press freedom, cowardice and intimidation) and from his numerous subsequent statements; but the point remains that once state bureaucracy presumes to divine a person’s innermost motives in this way, the road to hell is being paved. The state cannot be empowered, or trusted, to protect hurt feelings - or injured pride, or vanity, or delusions of heresy. And it cannot extend preferential protection to those who may *choose* to be “offended” in order to gain political leverage or to censor ideas they happen not to like.

As Levant says on his website,

“We have the right to be rude. It’s not a cost-free right; being rude shouldn’t be. It marginalizes us socially; removes us from polite company; loses us friends. A business -- such as a magazine -- that is offensive may lose readers, advertisers and even staff and investors.

Publishing the Danish cartoons wasn’t rude -- by western, liberal standards. It wasn’t even rude by the standards of most Muslims, especially most Canadian Muslims. Even radical Muslims only ‘decided’ to riot in places like Iran and Syria when those two dictatorships had a need for an anti-Western riot -- not because any of the rioters actually saw the cartoons.

I was happy to answer for the conduct of our magazine to anyone who asked -- reporters, readers, the public in general. I probably get asked about the decision once a week, and it’s been two years now. But I won’t explain myself to the government.”

http://ezralevant.com/2008/01/i-dont-answer-to-the-state.html

The Thin Man

Indeed, Ophelia. This is somewhat akin to the notion of the Lord Chamberlains Office using it's infamous blue pencil, deciding for the nation what is acceptible.

I find it chilling that we seem to be sleep walking back to the terrible old days of unelected, unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats controlling what is permissible in the public arena.

I note that "Harrys Place" has linked to this piece and the comments there are terrifying in their lack of grasp of the range of views that freedom necessarily engenders (they seem not to understand that the very nature of freedom is the offensiveness of some ideas, or that to restrict ideas is the curtailment of freedom) and the absolute requirement of a committment to protect speech you disagree with.

I think Captain Picard, quoting a fictitious judge, said it best: "With the first link the chain is forged. The first speech censored, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."

McGovern and her ilk should be ashamed of themselves for this travesty.

Ophelia Benson

"Even radical Muslims only ‘decided’ to riot in places like Iran and Syria when those two dictatorships had a need for an anti-Western riot -- not because any of the rioters actually saw the cartoons."

And never forget that three of the cartoons that the Danish imams schlepped around the Middle East were not among the cartoons published by Jyllands Posten - the imams added them. One of the three was a complete fake, nothing to do with Mohammed or Islam at all - it was a farmer dressed up in a pig mask at an agricultural fair in France. That was of course the most 'offensive' one. That little bit of fakery probably got a lot of people killed. Why doesn't the ISCC sue the Danish imams?

David

And, as Levant says, it’s the rise of censoriousness and nuisance lawsuits by Islamist groups, among other things, that generates suspicion and ill-feeling towards some Muslims. Islam’s image problem is overwhelmingly the result of actions by Muslims who claim to speak for various “communities” or for Islam as whole. Including, of course, the grandly-titled Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the Edmonton Muslim Council, whose implausible complaints brought about the above exchange.

http://ezralevant.com/2008/01/violence-in-alberta.html

ET

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to the PM, the Alberta Premier, Ezra and the HRC:

Dear Sirs:

As a taxpayer, I am asking that the federal and provincial governments examine the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the activities of the Human Rights Commissions (HRC) with a view to disbanding the HRC.

The HRC began, to my understanding, as a forum to review alleged cases of discrimination in the workplace and housing. I am assuming a paucity of such cases that has led to the self-generated new role for the HRC, which can only be defined as State Censorship.

Section 13.1 of the HRA can only be described as a degenerate section. Incredibly, it bases its grounds for prosecution on pure speculation rather than facticity. I quote it below:

1)" It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination. "

Please note the basic axioms of analysis in this section:

a) The allegations referred to as 'hate messages' are 'likely to expose'. This removes the focus from any requirement for empirical evidence that the message actually did have an observable result that some members of the population were moved to a feeling of being hated and viewed with contempt by virtue of that message. Instead, this section refers only to the supposition that, in the future, the message 'might' expose... Not did expose, but 'might expose'.

Speculation has absolutely no validity in any legal procedure. Speculation is a subjective, irrational and non-factual process. To condemn a Canadian citizen on the basis of speculation about a future and purely hypothetical result is a violation of our rights.

b) Furthermore, basing a judgment on a future event, and attempting to directly link that future event (feeling of being hated or view with contempt) to one specific message betrays a profound ignorance of the cognitive process. There is no way that we can directly connect a subjective and personal perception to one and only one cause. Such a direct and singular link can only be found in mechanical systems. Human cognition is not mechanical and instead operates as a complex network of a lifetime of embedded experiences and memories.

c)The emotions of 'hatred or contempt' are entirely subjective. What may be viewed as an act of hatred or contempt by one person may be dismissed by another. No legal process should be based on randomness, that is, on the subjective perceptions of any one person.

In addition, three other factors must be emphasized.

The first is that there is no inherent 'right to be not offended'. The basic infrastructure of a democracy is its capacity to question, examine, explore, and debate its basic systems of belief and behaviour. This is the method - and it is the only method - by which a people can advance in their civilization. Certainly, those who hold one set of beliefs may be offended when an alternate set is offered; the only way to deal with this is the ancient rational method of dialectical debate and discussion. Such debate and discussion may offend, but our beliefs and behaviour cannot be removed from such ongoing rational examination. If we remove them, they rapidly become dogma. And we become trapped in that dogma.

Second, and vitally, this section of the HRC is in direct violation of the Charter of Rights, Section 2b, which guarantees us freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Not as a peripheral right but a fundamental right. I would like to question the governments, both federal and provincial, how they can permit a legal procedure to operate that directly contradicts a fundamental right.

Third, the unfairness of the financial aspect of the system is yet another violation of Charter rights, guaranteeing equality of treatment in the legal system. Under the HRA, the complainant bears no costs of the proceedings; the defendant, however, bears all the costs. This unequal financial burden sets up a situation where the defendant is, fiscally, immediately guilty. The complainant's costs are born by the taxpayer; the defendant's costs are born privately, which inserts a supposition of immediately being judged as guilty. This is a violation of our fundamental rights of innocence unless proven guilty.

The HRC has degenerated into what can only be called 'kangaroo courts' , operating against the basic principles of a free and open democracy, in violation of our rights, in violation of the necessary infrastructure of a rational and progressive people.

They should be disbanded immediately.

Brendan

A very good letter ET, you should perhaps consider gathering signatures. I would sign it, and I absolutely loath Ezra. He is a scum-bag, but free speech should also protect scum-bags to the letter of the law. I would argue that his appearance before the AHRC may be due largely to his "reputation" for borderline hate speech rather than the veracity of this particular complaint.

Trimegistus

It seems that since the HRC is violating people's human rights, some litigious Canadians should file a complaint with the HRC against the HRC. That would make for some fun when they have to interrogate themselves. I can imagine Ms. McGovern dashing from one side of her desk to another, asking questions and then stammering answers.

David

Brendan,

“I absolutely loath Ezra. He is a scum-bag, but free speech should also protect scum-bags to the letter of the law.”

It’s remarkable just how much ad hominem sneering has greeted this episode, chiefly from the left. Apparently, Levant is a terrible, terrible person – a grandstanding ne’er-do-well – and, erm, well, that’s the end of it. But – as you suggest - those who hang their argument on whether or not they happen to *like* Levant, or on whatever they take his motives to be, are missing the fundamental point he’s raised, which exists whether or not he’s a scum-bag or a saint.

If Levant can’t publish those cartoons, or other things deemed heretical or “hateful”, then freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are seriously compromised in an area of obvious concern. If Levant isn’t free to “insult” or “defame” Muhammad, or to disdain the religion he founded, then a precedent will have been set and all Canadians will have a new problem, whatever their view of Levant or his motives. And it’s unlikely that the problem will be confined to Canada.

If Soharwardy and the ISCC prevail, rational debate will likely be inhibited when similar subjects arise, as they no doubt will. As Levant makes clear, “the process has become the punishment” and the potential risk of similar, costly, experiences will affect decisions as to what may or may not be published and what facts may or may not be stated. The threat of nuisance complaints, considerable expense and state interference will influence serious public debate in areas of religious sensitivity - or at least in areas of Islamic sensitivity, which, unfortunately, covers quite a lot.

For instance, one would have great difficulty explaining in detail and with any seriousness *why* it is one isn’t a Muslim, or why the Qur’an is not the word of some unhinged hypothetical deity, or why one finds Islam to be an absurd contrivance.

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2007/11/explaining-why.html

Brendan

"It’s remarkable just how much ad hominem sneering has greeted this episode, chiefly from the left."

Yes indeed. He is worthy of most of the derision as well, as his journalistic tactics always rely on borderline bigotry and grandstanding. That said, he is certainly within his rights to publish cartoons or anything else as his opening statement rightly points out. He does make a valid point that the AHRC is outside of it's mandate here and that they, by their stated methods are seeking to punish "though crimes" which is a frightening to consider.

I think the AHRC investigates him at their own peril, as they are likely to bring about some uncomfortable questions about their own validity and mandate as a "low-level, quasi-judicial body," to the detriment of some who might legitimately need their assistance.

The more significant case in Canada will be that lodged against Mclean's Magazine who published an article by Mark Styne, "The Future Belongs to Islam." I'd rather Mclean's represent our free speech rather than Ezra Levant frankly, but saner voices will prevail in my opinion and if the only one to suffer this "process" as "punishment" is Ezra, heh, great. Read about the more serious complaint here if it has not already been noted:

http://www.cbc.ca/arts/media/story/2007/12/05/muslim-macleans.html

referencing this article:

http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20061023_134898_134898

ET

As noted, one's personal opinion of both Ezra Levant and Elmasry are irrelevant to this issue.

There are, however, several vitally important issues. The first is the fundamental requirement in a democracy for freedom of belief and expression of that belief, ie, freedom of speech. There is nothing to negotiate or debate about this freedom; it is a basic requirement of what is essential in human nature - which is, in its essence, the capacity-to-reason.

If we deny this capacity to reason, which requires a capacity to perceive and acknowledge differences about the realities in our environment, as well as a capacity to analyze commonalities about these realities, then we become unable to live as adaptive beings within this environment.

If we are denied the right to critically examine, review, discuss and debate ourselves, our beliefs and behaviour, our formation of societies, our development of systemic social modes of behaviour - then, we lose any capacity to live.

The reason is because our species has no innate knowledge; we must interact with our environment, experiment with our interactions, and develop, change, adapt and expand our knowledge base. The only means of developing our knowledge base is by critical discussion and analysis. This includes dissent. We must be able to reject knowledge, deny its viability, and change our knowledge. This is the primary mode of survival of our species.

Therefore, a society that deliberately denies the basic nature of reasoning and thinking, which is to say, that denies the right to reject, criticize, question axioms of belief -- denies not only our basic humanity (which is why freedom of speech is a fundamental and not peripheral right)...but, it inserts a deep internal virus-of-death inside itself.

pst314

I am reminded of what Al Pacino said to the kangaroo court in Scent of a Woman.

Muslims Against Sharia

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

ET

What has trapped Islam, as a system of belief and behaviour, was and is, its rejection of dissent. That is, it specifically rejected that basic property of 'being homo sapiens' which is, the capacity-to-reason. Reasoning requires dissent, examination of opposites, and coming to conclusions.

Islam, as I've said before, was actually a social/political movement, a nativist movement of the 7th century reacting to Byzantine encroachment on their pastoral land base. It set itself up as a militant reactionary force against Others, and insisted that its economic and political mode of life, pastoral nomadism, was not assimilated or lost to the expanding farming economy.

Islam therefore is primarily a social and political mode, valid only in a 7th century lifestyle. The enormous error of Islam was to attempt to preserve and maintain this lifestyle, not merely by militancy against farmers and Others, but by defining their way of life as a religion.

This act, defining a social and political set of beliefs and behaviour - which ought to be open to change - within the dogma of a religion meant that they couldn't change. Islamics specifically reject reason, they reject analysis, questions, dissent. This means that they have frozen their knowledge base - dead - within the 7th century. They are their own HRC. No-one can debate, question, examine - change or adapt.

A comparison would be - how would our society function if we also froze our knowledge base? What if we insisted that disease was caused by 'evil looks from others' and not by germs? What if we froze our political system into a two class structure and therefore rejected the development of a middle class and democracy? That's what Islam has done to itself.

Vitruvius

As y'all might imagine, I've been on this case like a dirty shirt. And while I have not yet distilled my thoughts to the point that I feel I am ready to write cogent letters to the media and the putative officials involved in this matter, I have now managed to at least come up with a summary of the situation as I see it, and have published that to my mailing list. If you're interested, it's here:

http://sagaciousiconoclast.blogspot.com/2008/01/ezra-levant-fights-for-your-human.html

David

Vitruvius,

I think it’s worth highlighting the H. L. Mencken quote:

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

I’ve seen some commentators hoping for whichever outcome will do most harm to Levant’s standing, as if the actual outcome and actual precedent were of no intrinsic importance. That so many people calling themselves “progressive” should hesitate to extend this basic right to someone they happen not to like is, if not offensive, then hazardous and somewhat depressing.

rc

A tangential point - these commissions might be better described as star chambers rather than kangaroo courts. This seems to capture their philosophical essence and helps to explain to people in historical terms why free speech and freedom of belief are so important.

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