Freedom of the press is on trial in Canada.
The trial is before a court with the Orwellian title of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. The accused are Maclean’s magazine and author Mark Steyn. The crime: In mocking and biting tones, they wrote that Islam threatens Western values.
Had Steyn written that, given the Crusades, colonial atrocities in Africa and the slave trade, Christianity had been on balance a curse, he would not be in the dock. In the United States, these charges would have been tossed out by any federal judge, who would have admonished the plaintiffs that, here in America, we have a First Amendment.
The United States, however, is an isolated exception, as Western nations seek to impose wider restrictions on what has come to be called “hate speech.”
Questioning the Holocaust is a crime in Canada and Europe, as British historian David Irving discovered when he was sentenced to prison in Austria. To say the Armenian massacres of 1915—1924 were an attempt at genocide is a crime in Turkey.
In France, animal rights champion Brigitte Bardot has been fined $23,000 for provoking discrimination and racial hatred by denouncing Muslims who slaughtered a sheep in a religious ceremony. Bardot had been punished five previous times for her statements.
Censorship is making a comeback. Outside the United States, it is considered an acceptable price to pay for the new diversity Western Man seems now to value more than the old liberty.
In 1990, writes Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Chief Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court Brian Dickson wrote, in upholding the conviction of one James Keegstra for anti-Semitic slurs:
“(T)he international commitment to eradicate hate propaganda and, most importantly, the special role given equality and multiculturalism in the Canadian Constitution necessitate a departure from the view … that the suppression of hate propaganda is incompatible with the guarantee of free expression.”
There you have it. Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism and the equality of all religions, races and cultures requires the silencing of those who do not believe all races, creeds and cultures are equal.
The dogmas of the Diverse Society dictate that the cherished rights of the Free Society be sacrificed on the altar of social tranquility.
What has caused this reversal of the advance of freedom?
Nor is this anything new. Censorship has always had powerful patrons and not always benighted backers.
In the Middle Ages, pious men sought to silence heretics because they believed the Faith led to Paradise, while its loss led to Hell for all eternity. The Christian censorship we mock today was born of men’s deepest convictions about the most important thing in life: salvation.
Devout Muslims believe heretics and apostates should be put to death. Islam is the most important thing in their lives, and its truths are valued more than any freedom to mock them.
And, indeed, most men accept some form of censorship.
Most of us believe that published or spoken lies that ruin good names should be punished by libel and slander laws. Most of us believe there are military secrets that must be protected. Not a few Americans believe that the moral codes imposed on Hollywood by the Legion of Decency helped protect society from the toxic pollution that poisons our children. Most of us support FCC sanctions against filthy language or racist slurs on the airwaves.
Nor is government censorship unknown to America.
President John Adams signed the Sedition Acts, which called for the incarceration of journalists who wrote insultingly of him. Abraham Lincoln suppressed newspapers that denounced his war. Woodrow Wilson imprisoned the Socialist Eugene Debs for denouncing his war.
A new censorship is now arising. We read of speech codes on campuses, sensitivity training for freshman, and tribunals before which students are made to grovel and recant for joking references that offended some minority or other.
“The best test of truth,” said Justice Holmes, “is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the marketplace.”
Nonsense. Editor Elijah Lovejoy was lynched in Alton, Ill., in 1837 for advocating abolition — against the view of the marketplace. Truth is truth, whether the majority agrees or not.
Yet, one’s money ought to be on the new censors, for men who believe deeply in something, even when wrong, usually triumph over men who believe in nothing.
Today, the true believers in Islam and the true believers in diversity ber alles are making common cause against those who believe in freedom of speech and the press. As the former have the convictions and increasingly the power, they may prevail, and not only in Canada and Europe.
A new orthodoxy is arising. Freedom’s finest hour may be behind us.
Patrick J. Buchanan [send him mail] is co-founder and editor of The American Conservative. He is also the author of seven books, including Where the Right Went Wrong, and A Republic Not An Empire. His latest book is Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War.