M-87 and the Demise of Free Speech

. The benign face of totalitarian tendencies.

Not one MPP, yes, nary a one of our elected representatives in provincial parliament, not on Conservative, not even the much-vaunted Sam Oosterhoof and all the rest of the Conservatives, raised a voice of protest, even a token one, against the recent provincial motion M-37 condemning, you guessed it, Islamophobia.  Emotionally-driven legislating is never good at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.  Newly minted representative Nathalie Des Rosiers put forward the motion, which passed with flying colours this week, as mentioned, unanimously.  Here is the motivation for the motion in neophyte Des Rosiers’s own words:

I decided to table this motion as one of my first gestures as a new MPP, partly because in my riding of Ottawa-Vanier, I had the occasion to hear many of the members of the Muslim community who confided in me about the way in which they had suffered different incidents of racism

The last time I checked, Islam was a religion, not a race.  Agreed, that a lot of members of a certain race, or part of the world, happen to be Muslim, but we should be clear about our terms, especially when law is concerned. There are also a lot of Muslims who are not from the Middle East, and there are a lot of people from the Middle East who are not Muslim. Are we to understand that religion and race are now inextricably confounded? That could cause a lot of confusion. In fact, there used to be a strong and vibrant Christian presence in that part of the world, now diminished almost to non-existence due to the strenuous efforts of a certain other religion, whose tenets our benign leaders now want to make above reproach.

To be clear, a ‘motion’, as many sympathetic commentators have emphasized, does not make anything technically illegal.  But a motion such as this is propaedeutic to law, and certainly creates an environment of fear, hesitancy suspicion in speaking, writing, even thinking, anything on the topic at hand, especially if one is on the wrong side of the State enforcers.

Here are at least a few problems with the Motion that come to mind:

How can one make fear illegal?  If it is not phobia they want to legislate, that should be made clear.

Does ‘Islamophobia’ actually therefore mean any a priori distrust or antipathy for Islam, or for Muslims, or both?

Given that there are any number of varieties of ‘Islam’, divisions between which are fueling a number of conflicts and wars across this globe, is there are any allowance for, say, a ‘phobia’ of Islam as propounded by ISIS?  Or is that perforce not ‘Islam’, because there is no Islamic terrorism, by definition?  ISIS members seem to think that they are authentic Muslims, indeed the only ones. Who is to say?

What constitutes Islamophobia? Written comments that are construed as ‘critical’ or ‘hurtful’?  Is this a subjective criterion, or will there be  a list of objective offenses, which is really the only things the law can cover (which I don’t think it should cover at all)? One would think that any serious public slander, and certainly any harm, is already prohibited by the Criminal Code. Why legislate further, and what is this attempting to legislate?

And why only Islam? Any number of groups receive criticism and abuse on a daily basis here in Canada and elsewhere, and anti-Jewish crimes are more prevalent than any anti-Islam. And one need not read too deeply nor broadly to come across anti-Catholic detraction and slander of the most vitriolic variety (which is really the only acceptable intolerance left).

Just today the papers reported that a Dutch man is being prosecuted for blasphemy for burning a Koran.  Whatever one thinks of the prudence or charity of such an act,  we should keep in mind that it is not really blasphemy (since it is not a divinely revealed book), nor, besides this, should such an act be remotely prosecutable in public law.  Is burning Bibles illegal? The Book of Mormon? The Torah? The Wiccan Guide to Hexes and Spells?  Why the Koran?  To ask the question is just about to answer it.

Need it even be said that broad, vague laws, even motions which are a prelude to law, especially those about speech and thought and one’s interior states, give far too much power to the State? M-37, and its federal sister M-103 (soon to be voted on) are a quick path to authoritarianism.  Shades of 1984, we are headed for a Ministry of Truth, wherein faceless bureaucrats will determine what is worthy of public discourse, and what will be out-of-bonds, even illegal.

My advice? Resist, and speak thy mind freely, until they come a knockin’. And then speak more vociferously.

Print