Terry Glavin • Harmful speech:
...the genie the VPL let out of the bottle is a pathology that makes demands that the "marketplace of ideas" can never meet without completely debasing itself, and that no quasi-judicial human rights tribunal could ever sufficiently remedy.More comment at Terry's blog.As I said in our comments section, here, the defense of intellectual freedom that would require the library to give a free room (with paid staff, security, etc.) to Felton's conspiracy and fear mongering, is a defense that subverts real intellectual freedom. The bad idea that "anything (legal) goes" in the name of "free speech" is popular as a certain kind of cowardly, and falsely apotropaic, ritual, because believing in "anything goes" is easier that doing real thinking about truth and value, and most of all about one's own position and responsibilities in a world in conflict. "Freedom to read" becomes a substitute for dealing with real existential questions, and the propaganda that is part of a world at war, where people are dieing, and many more will die, because of lies. "Anything goes" becomes a kind of last gasp Utopian project for a certain kind of leftist, or even libertarian, who has seen all the other more confident Utopian projects devolve into mindless violence.
Greg Felton came to his infamy back in the late 1990s in a way that is still commonly explained as a story of a plucky columnist who was fired from his job at the Vancouver Courier, a respectable community newspaper, because he dared to be critical of Israel.
The story is not true, but senior library staff more or less took the story at face value when Mr. Felton came asking for a venue. It clinched their decision to give him the Freedom To Read Week spot for his new book, The Host and the Parasite: How Israel's Fifth Column Consumed America. The title should have been a giveaway.
The library then advertised Mr. Felton as a journalist with "several awards for investigative reporting and column writing," but that wasn't true, either, so library staff had to fix it. But by then, the Vancouver Public Library was the host, and Greg Felton was the parasite, and there was no turning back.
Mr. Felton's thesis is that long before Sept. 11, 2001, a Zionist "junta" helped concoct a thing called al-Qaeda, and from the fruit of this labour the Zionists carried on with their plot to subvert the American Constitution and subject Muslims to mass murder.
The most cursory review of Mr. Felton's writings over the years reveals even more sordid claims. In his columns for various fringe Arab and Islamist publications, Mr. Felton has written that Zionists worked with Hitler's Nazis in the drudgery of incinerating Jews.
You can call this perfectly harmless all you like.
It is not harmless in Iran, where Mr. Felton's column appears in the Tehran Times, a propaganda front for a regime that has banned hundreds of books, just in recent months, and has shut down as many as 150 publications last year, throwing perhaps 1,000 journalists out in the street.
Neither is it harmless when Mr. Felton's writings appear in the newspapers of Arab countries where there is no free press, and no "marketplace of ideas" to sort things out, and the Khazar legend has lately returned to animate the hatreds of Israel's less literate enemies.
In those newspapers, Mr. Felton can now describe his new blockbuster on Zionist intrigue as the toast of Freedom To Read Week in Vancouver, and he can introduce himself as the author that Vancouver's beloved library embraced as an honoured son in his father's house.
There is no remedy available from any Canadian human rights tribunal that can hold anyone adequately accountable for this. And to allow Mr. Felton's obsessions into the "marketplace of ideas" merely grants intellectual legitimacy to historical fiction and anti-semitic legend, which debases the very purpose of free speech.
In the uproar that followed the library's decision, chief librarian Paul Whitney said it was all a matter of "intellectual freedom." It isn't.
When he welcomed Mr. Felton's delusions into an "open and public exchange of contradictory views," Mr. Whitney made a demand that amounts to this: This man will have his megaphone, and you will dignify him by debating with him or shut up.
This isn't something one can easily ignore. The library is not some seedy bookshop in a dodgy part of town. It is a cherished, taxpayer-funded, public institution that must be trusted to know the difference between real history and black propaganda, and between "contradictory views" and mere succour offered up to the torturers of Iranian intellectuals.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in free speech and have very little tolerance for hate speech laws. But for me or anyone to seriously exercise my free speech, I have to be involved in a real public debate about truth; and such a debate cannot be seriously sustained if there are no consequences for abusing the truth. Let people do what they will with their own resources. Public resources, however, are something else.
As I said in the earlier comments,
For someone to pretend to be open to all things and all people is to admit that we should have no real debate; because debate can't be real unless there is something, in the way of public status, to win and something to lose.Felton did nothing at his talk other than bluff about historical reality. The library should have called him long before the angry audience had to waste their evening doing so.
A defense of "free speech" that won't argue about who should and should not appear on the public dime is like playing poker without real money and real risk. Bluffing loses all meaning in such a game.