Without Free Speech, Maintaining Freedom Becomes Impossible

In an op-ed found in the Toronto Star, Haroon Siddiqui defends Canada’s hate-speech laws by declaring “Free Speech Cannot be an Excuse For Hate“.

Of course free speech isn’t an excuse for hate. Nor is free speech an apologist for hate. And free speech certainly doesn’t condone hate.

However, it does not and must not prohibit its expression.

But if you read the op-ed, Siddiqui considers free speech to be the threat to freedom, not prohibiting it.

The specifics of the case make the point.

One staple of anti-Semitism has been that Jews have taken over the world, or are about to. Now Muslims are being accused of the same.

That Muslims pose a dire demographic and ideological threat to the West was the hypothesis of a 4,800-word article, The Future Belongs to Islam, in Maclean’s magazine in October 2006. Its reverberations are still being felt.

Last month, the Ontario Human Rights Commission called it “Islamophobic.” This month, the British Columbia commission held a week-long hearing. And the federal commission is weighing a report from its investigators.

The commissions are responding to petitions filed by a Muslim group that argued the article constituted hate and that Maclean’s refused an adequate counter-response.

What Saddiqui and others are arguing is that differences of opinion are no longer to be allowed to be argued in public forums if one side or the other, for whatever arbitrary reason – in this case declaring an article Muslims find offensive to be Islamophobic – views the opinion as “hate speech.”

Instead of arguing against the premise of the article or presenting an alternate premise and defending it, the hate-speechers prefer to muzzle the offenders through government coercion. Apparently the “right not to be offended” has become more important than that of free speech. Feelings are now more important than ideas.

Says Saddiqui:

But freedom of speech is not absolute. “Except for the U.S., virtually every Western democracy has laws against hate,” notes Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. “Our anti-hate laws are probably the most underused.”

He’s correct – freedom of speech isn’t absolute and no one has argued it is. The US has acknowledged, for centuries, that an incitement to violence isn’t covered by that right (violence being factual evidence of such incitement).

But our right to free speech does include, expressly and specifically, political speech which doesn’t incite violence. It specifically includes the right to hold and express an opinion without fear of censure by government. It accepts the fact that the opinions, premises or dissent may be controversial (and, in fact, considered by some to be hateful). But it trusts that the ability to openly express those ideas in a free and open forum and argue them completely with those holding opposing views to be sufficient for a free people to determine the validity of the ideas or their lack thereof.

Frankly, without such a right and its free exercise, it is impossible to maintain freedom.

What Saddiqui would instead do is let government arbitrarily decide what is or isn’t acceptable political speech and give government permission to quell that which it determines to be “hate-speech”. That’s because he doesn’t trust the public to make the correct decisions about the ideas expressed (i.e. come to the same conclusion as he has), so he prefers that the ideas aren’t expressed at all.

Giving government that power seemingly doesn’t bother Saddiqui, who apparently and naively believes that government will always make a wise decision. But when such a determination must be based in arbitrary opinions of what does or doesn’t constitute “hate-speech”, unilaterally giving government such power both theoretically and practically gives it the power to control all speech.

With government as the sole determiner of what is or isn’t hate-speech, it wouldn’t at all be a stretch to see today’s “islamaphobia” turn into tomorrow’s “governmentaphobia”.

After all, we all know that government is benevolent and only wants what is best for you. So it obviously can’t condone or allow “hate-speech” which would turn its citizens against its enlightened programs.

Can it Mr. Saddiqui?

Share this!

Enjoy reading? Share it with your friends!