We’ve become a wimpy state, as well as a nanny state

Posted on January 20, 2011 in Inclusion Debates

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NationalPost.com – fullcomment/canada
January 20, 2011.   Lorne Gunter

Last week, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council barred the country’s 700-plus private radio stations from playing the 1980s Dire Straits hit Money for Nothing because a lone complainant in St. John’s, Nfld. objected to the word “faggot” in the lyrics. Just before Christmas, the National Capital Commission (NCC) caused one prominent Montreal chef to withdraw from a winter-festival gala dinner scheduled for this month when it decreed no dish could contain foie gras, the goose liver pate. Apparently the NCC had received “three or four” threats of “possible” protest by animal rights activists outside the banquet. Now, Tuesday evening the National Archives cancelled the screening of a film critical of Iran’s nuclear ambitions because, again, of mere threats of protest.

In addition to being a nanny state, have we become a wimpy state, too?

It used to be there actually had to be a violent protest before public institutions caved in and cancelled controversial events. That was unjustifiable, too. Police and officials should always seek to protect law-abiding speakers and organizers from the angry mob. Those who seek to disrupt events just because they disagree with the speakers should be the ones inconvenienced, not those exercising their constitutional rights.

Now, though, it seems the mere whiff of protest is enough for officialdom to bow to would-be protestors’ demands. Get together a group of unhinged radicals or zealots in someone’s rumpus room, make a couple of angry phone calls and – poof! – you can get your way and silence free speech and free assembly. Organizers, especially those connected with public institutions such as universities, museums and galleries, apparently care not a whit about free expression or individual choice. Their first instinct is to crater to protestors; let the forces of oppression and extremism have their way. Forget about preserving democracy and open debate, officials will act as the forces of censorship want.

Some of this has to do with the increased anger and vehemence of protestors, no doubt. In recent years, young lefties in particular have convinced themselves that only their positions are fact-based and only their positions can save the world. All other opinions are lies, as well as being threats to mankind and the planet. Therefore they are justified in any action they take to stymie opposing views, which they also believe are unworthy of free speech protection. They truly believe they are doing a public service when they shout down speakers or force the cancellation of events by smashing windows or jostling attendees outside the doors.

And some of this has to do with police timidity. I know, it’s easy for me to say police should be more robust in their handling of loud, disruptive protestors; I’m not out there putting my physical safety on the line the way officers have to. Still, it seems police are reluctant to confront hateful protestors determined to get their way. There’s too much bad PR for cops should they have to rough up an anarchist or sophomore socialist, so they recommend more quickly than they use to that organizers close the doors.

But mostly I also think political correctness has so infested the minds of most officials that they can’t bring themselves to say “no” to protestors. When pro-Palestinian protestors seek to shut down pro-Israeli events on university campuses, I think administrators give in because heeding the mob’s blackmail is the easiest way to avoid violence. But I also think they give in quickly because they share the protestors’ ideological and political stands. It’s hard to defend one’s opponents’ free-speech rights and harder still to tell those you agree with to settle down and go home.

Remember that last year when the University of Ottawa acquiesced in the cancellation of an appearance by American conservative gadfly Ann Coulter, it had itself first tried to intimidate her to withdraw on her own by threatening her with hate-speech prosecution if she didn’t mind her tongue. It was clear administrators’ preconceived view of Coulter was the same as the one held by the angry crowd that gathered outside the venue. It’s not much of a stretch, then, to believe that university officials were less willing to call out the police to guard her speech than they might have been for a guest whose opinions were more in keeping with their own.

When officials at the National Archives shut down their building Tuesday night, so that a showing of Iranium would have to be cancelled, I doubt they did so because they agree with the regime in Tehran. But they probably have more sympathy with the worldview of potential protestors than with the organizers, the Free Thinking Film Society. So it was not hard for them to hide behind the threat of violence and cancel an event they likely had little sympathy for in the first place.

You don’t see a lot of rightwing protestors seeking to disrupt lefty events. But if you did, do you really think officials at the host sights would be so willing to cancel the events? Or do you, like me, think they might find a little more backbone to defend the speech rights of their co-ideologists?

The trouble with refusing to stand up to threats of protest is that it just begets more threats. For as long as cowardly officials are going to give in, hate-filled activists are going to be encouraged to keep uttering threats.

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