There’s a debate rumbling over at Harry’s Place, part of which revolves around Ezra Levant’s character and motive, as if they were the issue on which one’s view should hinge. But if Levant wished to be gratuitously offensive towards the deceased founder of a dismal 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 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 avenge 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. Being “offended” has often been the claim of bad people hearing good ideas, and those who find their censorious umbrage rewarded will be inclined to seek it out more loudly than before.
Vitruvius has provided the following quote, by H. L. Mencken,
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.
Yet I’ve seen several commentators, chiefly on the left, indulging in self-satisfied ad hominem and 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. But 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 scumbag or a saint. This isn’t about whether one feels Levant’s political views make him a bad person or a terrible dinner guest. This isn’t simply about personal animosity and the individuals in question. If Levant is subject to this bureaucratic harassment, then others may share his fate - people whose views and personality one may be less hostile towards. If I moved to Canada, I might conceivably find myself in a similar situation, given time. Would that be okay? Or would I warrant some exemption because I’m such a nice guy?
If Levant can’t publish those cartoons, or other things deemed heretical or “hateful” by Islamist ideologues, then freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are profoundly compromised. 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. And it’s unlikely that this problem will be confined to Canada. If Syed Soharwardy and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada prevail, rational debate will most 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 rigour why it is one isn’t a Muslim, or why the Qur’an is not the “uncreated” word of some hypothetical deity, or why one finds Islam to be an absurd contrivance. 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, self-preoccupied and somewhat depressing.