Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Surprising Survey

Are others have the same experience that I have been having, regarding the human rights case(s) in the news lately?

When conversations in my social circles turn to politics, I usually ask questions rather than offer my opinion. It's a learned habit, acquired out of instinct for self-preservation, because I don't share much in common with their views, and they hold little value on agreeing to disagree.
9-11 was an inside job, some would tell me. The US deserved every painful detail of that attack, others would say. All religious believers are dangerous, especially Christians, Americans are only in Iraq and Afghanistan for the oil, Bush steals elections, global warming is more of a threat than terrorists... I've heard it all, for years.

This last week, I have been undertaking a private survey of these acquaintances, asking them about their reactions to "The Mark Steyn Trial", to see what their side is saying and thinking about the assault on Free Speech currently underway through the bc human rights tribunal. By getting the opinion of those on "the other side", I thought I would learn how to express myself more effectively with those in the center, the potential allies that simply haven't heard of the case yet, and would react as I do to its infamy.

No one I approached had heard of the case, or of Mark Steyn. The younger ones had never even heard of Maclean's magazine. I wanted their honest opinion, so I tried to explain the case with as neutral an introduction as I could: I would say that it was about "a book excerpt" that was printed as a magazine article, an article "critical of radical Islamists" and of the West's response to them. That there was "an Islamic group out of Ontario" that was seeking to "sue" Maclean's for having published the article and for having refused to give the group equal space in their magazine to refute its arguments. That this group was using the word "islamophobia" to describe the article, and its author.

I deliberately sought the opinion of people I knew from previous conversations (and arguments) to be decidedly left-leaning in their politics. I confess that I was not prepared for the response that my little survey uncovered.

The people I surveyed get their news (when they follow current events at all) from the Georgia Straight, from the CBC, in one case from CBS, and not from any conservative internet source whatsoever, certainly not from Maclean's live-blogging from the courtroom. Bottom line: not one of them said that Maclean's deserved its fate... these people were all reflexively on Maclean's side.

I expected to hear detailed explanations on why censorship is necessary for certain voices or ideas, justifications for how state control of the press is the lesser of evils compared to unfiltered free speech; I expected to hear the "other side" so that I could better frame my own position, which I sincerely believe to be in the center.

The first person I questioned was someone with whom my last last political discussion had ended with him explaining to me why there was every reason to believe the US government could have knocked down the World Trace Center buildings in order to justify pillaging Iraq's oil. He erupted in fury when he heard the details about the Maclean's trial. "I'm sick to death of these [censored] being 'offended' all the time and trying to tell us what to do!" He threw down his pen onto his desk to accentuate his outburst, a display of anger I rarely see out of such a quiet and soft-spoken individual. The next on my list echoed the response of the first: "I don't want to sound like an Archie Bunker type", he snarled, "but if these guys don't like it here, why don't they all go back home." And so on it went, day after day, anti-American after anti-American, anti-Christian after anti-Christian, 9-11 truther after truther.

I must say I was caught completely off-guard by their anger, which was as commonly expressed as their pro-free speech position; where did this anger come from, I wondered?
I felt it necessary to point out that the canadian islamic congress doesn't speak for all muslims by any means, that we ought to be careful that in our anger we not paint a whole group with a single brush. To my further surprise, my position often triggered the very arguments I had tried to avoid: I was severely criticized for taking this centrist and, I thought, reasonable position, my left-leaning acquaintances challenging me for my belief in moderate Canadian muslims with the same condescending tones I frequently receive for defending my deep admiration for the USA.

Mine was a very modest, admittedly small survey of about fifteen people. But, when NDP voters, Green party donors and legalizing-marijuana supporters start criticizing islam as this sample did, can it be said that times are definitely a-changin' in Canada..?


Eowyn said...

Interesting, Charles Henry. I, too, have been informally sounding out friends of various political persuasions, and have gotten uniform support for Maclean's, Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant et al.

Of course, we have the First Amendment, which is fiercely protected by people of ALL political persuasions (barring a couple of cranks who try and tamper with it now and then). Additionally, everyone I spoke with thinks the "tribunal" idea is itself scary.

truepeers said...

Maybe it is all a sign of religious belief, of a "secular" global religion that can't stand competition and defines itself against all its forebears.

Eowyn said...

True, truepeers. I've wondered all along why secularists go into such hysteria about religion. My feeling -- most of them (most of us, indeed) grew up in the Judeo-Christian tradition of personal responsibility. Baby-boomers, additionally, grew up in conditions of unprecedented comfort, as their Depression-era parents wanted to give them everything they'd been denied. When baby-boomers came of age, they saw government as being mean old parents demanding they actually DO something in return for what they'd been given (but viewed as some kind of "birthright"). Hence, they took the religious training of childhood and blamed it for expecting them to do their bit.

My take, anyway.

Findalis said...

They are afraid that if one is censored, they one day will be.

Plus they see a minority group getting "special treatment" when there should be none.

Anonymous said...

“They are afraid that if one is censored, they one day will be.”

This sounds right to me. I buy the ‘slippery slope’ argument when it comes to free speech. Today you can’t mock Muslims, later Christians, and after that it’s ideological groupings. I suspect that people from various ideological persuasions can see down the road when it comes to limiting speech rights. Conservatives, who are under the greater pressure at this moment, would be wise to invoke the ‘slippery slope’ aspect of their argument when debating an otherwise uncertain colleague.


Charles Henry said...

I think you're on to something... that's very good advice, and I'm definitely going to start including that in my ongoing conversations on this subject.

Charles Henry said...

Did you see the article that the New York Times published on the Mark Steyn affair? It ran wednesday I think...

It was mentioned at one of the live-blogs (Ezra Levant's I believe) that there was a NY Times reporter on the scene... well, if I read the point of their article correctly, it implies that "the Canadians are on to something with this concept of erecting more and more limits to free speech; maybe we should look into it. After all, the Europeans are doing it!"

Very scary. Increasingly, the university-educated young people are accustomed to limits to their speech, and soon probably won't think twice about having those limits extend beyond the campus into their daily lives.

This is why the American blogs should be all over this story, to safeguard your rights before they are eroded from under your noses, as happened up here with us.

Eowyn said...

Charles Henry, I did hear about that NYT piece -- my first reaction was, "Oh, another crank, he'll disappear." Now, I'm not so sure.

And you're right about bloggers -- thankfully one of our biggest and best known,, has been staying with the story, as have others.

Anonymous said...

You know, I'm actually for the legalization of marijuana, and a firm decrier of the war on drugs.

I'm not sure what you're implying there at the end....

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