Free Speech: It’s All In How You Spin It
At Rabble.ca, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations reports that elementary education reform theorist Bill Ayers is once again being barred from entering Canada. Lawyers for Ayers, who is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the Worldview Conference on Media and Higher Education on Thursday in Toronto, say that they have been stonewalled by Canadian government officials in trying to find a way for him to be able to attend. From the report:
“I am disturbed by the apparent inconsistency in the enforcement of Canada’s border,” said [OCUFA President Mark] Langer. “In the past, we have admitted Martha Stewart, a convicted felon. Just a few weeks ago, we also let in Geert Wilders, a far-right Dutch politician currently being prosecuted for violations of his country’s hate speech laws. Based on this record, one wonders if Ayers is being kept out of Canada for purely political reasons, something that is unacceptable in a free and democratic society.”
People are losing no time at all comparing this to the visit of outspokenly anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Canada. Jonathan Kay at The National Post reported being taken a bit aback by just how emphatically extreme Wilders’ views were:
“The word ‘Islamism’ suggests that there is a moderate Islam and a non-moderate Islam,” he told me during an interview in Toronto on Sunday. “And I believe that this is a distinction that doesn’t exist…
“… The totalitarian ideology contained in the Koran has no room for moderation. If you really look at what the Koran says, in fact, you could argue that ‘moderate’ Muslims are not Muslims at all. It tells us that if you do not act on even one verse, then you are an apostate.”
Unlike most critics of Islam, who tend to shy away from the explosive subject of Mohammed himself, Mr. Wilders forthrightly describes the Muslim Prophet as a dictator, a pedophile and a warmonger. “If you study the life of Mohammed himself,” Mr. Wilders told me, “you can see that he was a worse terrorist than Osama bin Laden ever was.”
Wilders himself is an inconsistency. At the same time as he is championing his own freedom of speech, he is also advocating for the banning of the Quran, Islamic schools and attire that derives from Islamic traditions (including but not limited to the burqa and niqab).
Being a stickler for consistency, I thought I’d run this by Ezra Levant, who tries to position himself as Canada’s free speech champion. He did, after all express support for a lesbian bookstore’s right to import porn on his June 13, 2011 program, and then repeat it the following night during his “Incoming” segment on The Source. He hasn’t always been entirely consistent, though, such as his adoption of the phrase “separation of mosque and state” during Wilders’ visit:
The censorship quip was facetious, but the point is valid, seeing as the phrase in question — which I heard in one of Ezra Levant’s broadcasts on SunTV — is clearly and obviously nothing more than spin. While one of Levant’s fans replied that “He also believes in seperation [sic] of Church and State; the mosque and state line is a modernized re-invention of the phrase,” Levant himself made no such expression of support for separation of church and state when he replied the following evening (it begins at 11:46 in this vid):
“Our constitution actually doesn’t have separation of church and state, though there are many constitutional rights given to the Catholic church, and our Queen is also the head of the Church of England, but in practice, we have a secular society — that’s the opposite of sharia law. And I think we should have separation of mosque and state.”
So back to Ayers, I tweeted to see if he’d likewise support bringing Bill Ayers to Canada:
The response was pretty quick, and started a flurry of other responses (sorry, you need to read it bottom to top if you want to see the whole thread, or skip to the bottom if you’re only interested in Levant’s reply):
The “Ayers is a terrorist” allegation isn’t new. In 2008, it was raised as a way to smear then-Presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Bill Ayers co-founded an anti-war group called the Weather Underground during his college years that did engage in some questionable activities, but Ayers himself was never convicted of a terrorist activity. He had some arrests for misdemeanors during his anti-war activities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but that is all. Did he engage in illegal activity? Possibly. Decades ago. In anti-war activism. Possibly enabled or even encouraged by FBI agents provocateurs. And certainly not in any way that makes him a danger to Canada today. He’s no more questionable than someone who recently stood trial for inciting hatred — though acquitted — and is still very deliberately skirting that edge.
So the argument works if you skip the nuance. But SunTV is quickly building a reputation for overlooking nuances of a story in order to make wide sweeping judgments and broad-brush assumptions. And Levant is proving to be no exception, such as Wednesday night’s speculation along with Kathy Shaidle about who would win a human rights complaint between a Muslim and a gay man… as though the actual action at the heart of such a complaint would be irrelevant (the Five Feet of Fury blogger glibly stated that obviously it would be the Muslim because gay men don’t know how to build bombs — I don’t have an exact quote here, but am paraphrasing as accurately as I can from memory).
Is Levant a showman? Yes. A Glenn Beck clone? Somewhat, and if he keeps bashing environmentalism as a lead-in to commercial sponsors who hype the environmentally-friendly virtues of their products, his show might go the same direction, albeit for a different reason. But a champion for all free speech?
It’s all in how you spin it, I guess.