Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Mar/10

24

Defending Ann Coulter as an American peculiarity

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At ScienceBlogs I defend free speech as an American cultural peculiarity which should be defended, not a human universal right (it simply isn’t empirically):

… Though seriously, I’m expressing a very cultural biased viewpoint here, an American one, and I’m of conscious of this. I really don’t see a point in castigating Canadians for being Canadians, they’re not China or Syria, but neither are they the United States. Even the British have insane libel laws which stifle speech operationally, though there’s a chance that the law might be tightened up. We alone should be the City upon a Hill where the blasphemers and peddlers of bigotry can take refuge, because we’re already the last best and only hope.

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19 comments

  • Ross · March 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Absolute free speech may be unusual, most countries wouldn’t allow the KKK to hold parades in black neighbourhoods and stuff like that, but I seriously doubt whether the suppression of mildly provocative conservatives like Ann Coulter or Mark Steyn is a traditionally Canadian thing.

  • Snippet · March 24, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Ross,

    Good point. Ann Coulter and Mark Steyn are not saying things that would cause “reasonable” people to become enraged, or that would do anything more than to annoy “reasonable” people.

    They say things that tend to annoy the sort of people who are easily offended and often respond very unreasonably.

    I find it interesting that none of these incendiary speakers who have inspired the Canadians to get in touch with their inner free-speech-curtailer have made their reputations by offending Christians.

    Or Americans.

    I suppose its possible that nobody up there ever criticizes Christians, or Americans, certainly not at public gatherings on college campuses.

    And that in that country that understands free speech’s rightful limitations so much better than we Americans, the only ones who are crossing the line just happen, by some coincidence, to be those who criticize Muslims.

    I think restricting speech that could be dangerous can be justified, but the question of WHY criticizing one group is so much more dangerous than criticizing other groups should be seriously addressed.

    Or is seriously addressing this question too dangerous to be tolerated?

  • kurt9 · March 24, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Even though I think Canada’s restrictions on free speech are wrong, I do think that Ann Coulter should respect the Canadian laws with regards to this if she is to present in Canada. If not, she should not go to Canada.

  • Snippet · March 25, 2010 at 4:37 am

    kurt9,

    Agreed. Ann Coulter should respect Canadian law. Also, to backtrack a wee bit, I heard parts of her speech, and she is so blatently offensive (and stupid) that the thought of her having a tough time getting invited to institutions of higher learning doesn’t necessarily seem quite so ridiculous.

    She’s actually deliberately baiting people, and she’s crossed the line that separates offensive candor from a kind of emotional arson.

    At first, I thought the, “Christianize them at gunpoint” thing was a joke, but it’s starting to look like it isn’t.

    Or like she’s playing a game with it.

    Just kidding… No, I’m serious… Yeah, sure, like I believe that…. So what if I do….

    Still, I remain convinced that the self-righteous talk of diversity and equality mask the real motivation for Canada and the The West’s rather sudden (re)discovoery that criticism of religion should be curtailed and even criminalized.

  • Mike H · March 25, 2010 at 5:07 am

    I would say that whilst free speech restrictions no doubt are based in culture to some extent, the gap between the U.S. and Canada/Europe in culture is narrow enough (and narrowing further in my opinion) that there is plenty of overlap between people i.e. you might find many Canadians/Europeans who are more in favor of unrestricted free speech than many Americans and vice versa.

    I’d say the difference is more one of political and legal tradition which of course you could argue is a part of culture though in history not necessarily one backed by popular approval. European culture after all created the thought that led to the American experiment. It’s just that this aspect of European culture didn’t politically win in Europe whereas it did in its American spin-off. And no doubt there is a bit of a path-dependent process here on both sides of the Atlantic as political stability and tradition develop their own gravitas.

    Modern European states are simply more in tune with their authoritarian forebears than they’d like to admit. Germany for example to this day uses the legal framework and thus legal concepts of Imperial Germany. No wonder then that censorship is a regular occurrence today both of material deemed obscene and material deemed hostile to the existing system of government. Modern Germany allows dissent of course, but so did Imperial Germany, back then and today dissent becomes a court issue if it goes beyond questioning particular policy and into the critique of the ruling system i.e. free speech is okay but only in a framework defined by the elite. This framework of what is acceptable is somewhat in flux and based on political expediency. Modern German laws were doubtlessly created with the intention of preventing another Nazi or a communist takeover but in reality of course they can be used by the elite of the day to repress whichever dissent they perceive as threatening or offensive. Jewish liberals in Europe criticizing Islam might be subjected to laws originally aimed at Nazis trying to kill Jews. A Thatcherite might be accused of incitement to hatred because his belief in competition is “social darwinism” and thus Nazi-like.

    I don’t think it’s a cultural issue, it’s an issue of political warfare and a tool in it. It’d be a mistake for America to simply tolerate infringement of freedom in Europe or Canada and write those things off as cultural peculiarities.

  • Black Death · March 25, 2010 at 5:15 am

    From the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

    Article 19
    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontier

  • Don Kenner · March 25, 2010 at 5:31 am

    The problem is not whether Canada should be allowed to be Canada, and not be expected to ape the U.S. The problem is two-fold:

    1) Canadians bristle at the idea that they don’t have the same commitment to free speech as the U.S. But clearly they do not, and should not pretend to.

    2) Canada allows Muslims to march with signs that read “Jews to the gas chambers” and “Hitler was right.” No, these are NOT isolated incidents, and this sort of speech is not limited to signs at a protest. So there’s the case of “free speech for me, but not for thee.”

    Of course, Canada does not have a monopoly on hypocrisy. But is Canada just being Canada (whether we like it or not) or is she failing to live up to her own rules?

    And should Canadian pundits and intellectuals scream at the United States and Israel for not living up to some universal standard of human rights if they are criminalizing certain forms of speech?

  • Susan · March 25, 2010 at 7:46 am

    “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

    – Dean Steacy, lead investigator of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as quoted by Mark Steyn in today’s NRO (The Corner).

  • Snippet · March 25, 2010 at 8:12 am

    >> (Don Kenner) And should Canadian pundits and intellectuals scream at the United States and Israel for not living up to some universal standard of human rights if they are criminalizing certain forms of speech?

    Excellent point.

    Next time Canada complains that we are immoral and unethical, we can just inform them of the fact that our values are different from theirs, and that they should stop trying to make us “Canadian.”

    And, since Canada has (for utterly mystifying reasons that elude us all) apparently officially abandoned the concept of universal human rights, they will understand perfectly.

  • Susan · March 25, 2010 at 8:43 am

    The Canadian proponents of restricted speech maintain that free speech is inimical to the higher Canadian values of “equity and diversity.”

    It does seem to me that you can’t really have either true equity or true diversity without free speech, but perhaps I’m looking for logic in all the wrong places.

  • mikespeir · March 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    There’s never been an absolute free speech right in any culture at any time. The debate is simply over where we should draw the line.

  • Clark · March 25, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Of course the debate is over where to draw the line. The problem is that the Canadian Human Rights Commission draws it in an idiotic way based upon the perception of whether a group in the past had power. If they were perceived to be powerful they are accorded far, far less free speech than those who were perceived to be less powerful. The problem is that the perceptions in terms of the present are often quite at odds with what the Human Rights Commission holds. Effectively it is a group of elites treating groups they don’t like as unworthy of full human rights. The very notion of rule of law entails that all are treated equally. Canada’s Human Rights Commission makes a mockery of rule of law.

  • Snippet · March 26, 2010 at 5:19 am

    The debate is over where to draw the line – IN THEORY.

    All debates regarding complex issues ultimately are.

    But…

    In this case, it is misleading to suggest that what we are seeing is some sort of honest disagreement over how much free speech a contemporary democracy can tolerate.

    It is a response to the fear of violence – and nobody believes, as obnoxious as Coulter can be, that she is going to be instigating the violence the authorities fear.

    So, if the Canadian government has decided that making Muslims angry is a threat to public safety, why don’t they just come out and say it, and quit with all this nonsense about diversity and tolerance blah blah blah.

  • Al Fin · March 26, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Canada is effectively enforcing Sharia law defense of Islam, not Canadian law. Coulter should indeed respect Canadian law, if it still existed. But the defense of Islam has essentially displaced Canadian law in this regard — as in Dhimmi.

  • Eoin · March 27, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    “So, if the Canadian government has decided that making Muslims angry is a threat to public safety,”

    In general the proponents of restrictive free speech argue that you could never shou fire in a theatre. This falls on many levels.

    1) In general people historically accused of causing a riot are accused of causing a riot by their side against the other ( for instance the anti-Catholic pograms in the UK). If the Danish Cartoons cause a riot, or an Ann coutler speach does, it is because someone else from the Muslim In-Group ( an Imam probably) mentions it in a speech were people are already gathered. You cant really cause a riot on television, people dont get out of their houses and riot. Riots happen where people are already gathered.

    2) That particularly phrase was mentioned in a Supreme Court decision which was over-turned by another Supreme court, partially based on what I said in 1)

    3) Every reasonable person would react to the fire in the Theatre by trying to get out – the unreasonable would not ( i.e. a child devoid of understanding, an imbecile, or a suicidal – all unreasonable in law). Since attacking Mohammed would not cause every reasonable person, but rather the believers in one particular myth to get angry ( and unreasonably so – since they should believe even by their own criteria that God will punish the transgressors) the two scenarios are not compatible.

    The Canadian court is arguing that the more powerful and riotous the movement against a particular form of free speech, the more the Canadian Government will support the angries, and not the speakers.

    What a vile country.

  • Susan · March 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Two things seem to be operating here. The first is that the Canadians are, simply, afraid of the Muslim population and want to placate it.

    The second is that, in my admittedly small experience talking to actual Canadians about this issue, they believe, or effect to believe, that all Muslims living in the U.S. are subject to a constant barrage of hate crimes from non-Muslims. So this gives them a chance to demonstrate their moral superiority to the U.S. “We love and protect our Muslims brothers and sisters in contrast to you Yanks, who oppress them and subject them to vicious attack.”

  • Pangloss · March 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Its distressing to see that so many have given up on the notion of absolute free speech.

    In the 70′s, there was universal acceptance (right and left) of “I may disagree with what you have to say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”.

    Yelling “Fire” in a theater is a limit on speech? Not really – it is a limit on inflicting injury.

    In the words of Zappa, “They are only words”.

  • Snippet · March 28, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Eoin,

    For whatever it’s worth, I wholeheartedly agree.

    It’s not the “hatespeakers” that are the threat.

    And that is the world’s worst kept secret.

  • Jeff Perren · March 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

    “not a human universal right (it simply isn’t empirically)”

    New reader, so apologies if you’ve covered this ten times before…

    What does the quoted statement mean? Are you suggesting that because it’s often not recognized it therefore isn’t a right? Or, that it hasn’t been codified into law everywhere (or even most places) therefore, etc?

    What empirical evidence (or absence of same) leads you to this conclusion?

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