Hysteria from Conservatives over harmless motion on Islamophobia
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
February 15, 2017. ANDREW COYNE
Conservatism used to have some claim to being a coherent political philosophy. Of late it has become a series of dares. The most extreme voice will lay down the most extreme position, then challenge others to endorse it.
As often as not this has nothing to do with conservatism. It is rather a kind of moral exhibitionism, populist virtue-signalling, in which the object is to say and do the most intolerant or ill-considered thing that comes to mind — anything that might attract the condemnation of bien-pensants in the media and elsewhere, whose opposition becomes proof in itself of its merits.
The willingness to court such controversy in turn becomes the test of political purity. To demur, conversely, can only be a sign of cowardice, or worse, liberalism, a heresy that that would seem to have overcome much of the conservative movement, to judge by the ever-lengthening list of the excommunicated.
So we come to the latest of these blooding exercises, the “debate” over Motion 103, a private member’s motion introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. In the fevered imaginings of its online discussants, #M103 is decried as a bill that would forbid any criticism of Islam, if not the first step towards imposing Sharia law. I only wish I were exaggerating.
This hysteria campaign has been whipped up by exactly the people you’d expect, and pandered to by people of whom you might have expected better, including several Conservative leadership candidates. Pierre Lemieux has denounced it as “an attack on free speech.” Maxime Bernier asks whether “it is a first step towards restricting our right to criticize Islam.” Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, and Erin O’Toole have all come out against it, while Kellie Leitch, bless her heart, has set up a petition to “Stop Motion 103,” complete with a blue-eyed model with a gag over her mouth.
The only candidate to say he will vote in favour of the motion is Michael Chong. For this he has been excoriated as a sellout; it rather confirms him as a man of judgment and conscience. There is simply no reasonable construction of the motion that can support the claims made of it. It is not a bill, for starters: it is a simple motion, an expression of opinion, of no legal force or effect. It does not call for any ban or restriction on speech of any kind.
It merely asks the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” and instructs a committee of Parliament to study the matter. Yes, the motion is clumsily worded, and yes, it specifically mentions “Islamophobia.”
But the notion that this amounts to “singling out” one religion for “special privileges,” as some have claimed, is specious.
Yes, of course, all religious groups should be free of discrimination and hatred. But it does no disservice to the others to pay particular attention to one, at a time when that group is particularly exposed to both. After the slaughter of six Muslims at prayer in Quebec City, people of goodwill, not to say common sense, would understand why it might be timely for all of us to offer some assurance to members of that community.
It is, at the same time, understandable why there would be some nervousness around this subject. There is a certain school of Islam that would indeed place severe legal constraints on the right to criticize or ridicule the faith, just as there are lots of people, especially on the left, who would eagerly censor all sorts of “insensitive” speech.
This is what makes these issues so maddeningly elusive of resolution: it is not one thing or the other, but both at the same time. We live in a time both of much more widespread and open expressions of racism — thanks, internet — and of acute hypersensitivity to rude or even frank speech of all kinds. Each feeds off the other. But the alternative to “political correctness” is not bigotry and intolerance, and the answer to racism is not censorship. Indeed, we have too much of that already.
I’m not sure how many of those either praising Chong or denouncing him for his stand on Motion 103 are aware that he has at the same time proposed repealing Section 319 of the Criminal Code: the “hate speech” provision. But he is as correct in the latter stance as the former. Even a free society allows some exceptions to the liberties it enjoys — but a free society always insists that any such exception be, to borrow the language of our Charter, “demonstrably justified.”
The burden of proof is always on those who wish to restrict freedom to show why they must. At the very least they must show what harm it is they wish to address. In the case of “hate speech,” the harm is supposed to be the violence towards its objects that might ensue. But the Criminal Code already contains provisions against incitement to violence: that is, where the connection between the speech, and the violence that might reasonably be expected to result, is so immediate, so direct and so clear as to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
With the hate speech law, on the other hand, the fear is more generalized, more vague, more dubious: somebody somewhere might read this who might someday then be motivated to attack … someone. That is no basis for any kind of law, let alone one that would restrict something so vital as speech. If the other Conservative candidates want to fight censorship, let them join Chong in that cause, rather than this shameless demagoguery over a harmless motion.