Saturday, February 04, 2006

Warren Kinsella

Firstly, I am a censor. I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression.

Secondly, I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, kill.

Thirdly, I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others - as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children.

And, yes, yes, yes: I believe we are entitled as society to place reasonable limits on the expression of actual hatred towards religious faiths. I believe that words and images that expose the tenets of a person's faith to hatred should be condemned and, where appropriate, punished. Expressing hatred about someone else's spiritual beliefs is not free speech. It is hatred, and it is almost always calculated to cause pain and hurt.

Which brings me, like everyone else this weekend, to the global debate raging about cartoons depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist. The cartoons have set off a wave of emotional protests and threats on a global scale - and have fostered a vigorous debate about what constitutes free speech.

I will not reprint the cartoons here because I have looked at them, and I can certainly see why pious Muslims would be so upset. The cartoons are offensive and hateful towards Islam.

I say that as someone who is a member of the board of the Canada Israel Committee, an organization never hesitant to oppose hateful expression emanating from Muslims and Christians (there are many, and they stretch back centuries).

I say that, too, as the same guy who used a Barney doll and a joke - the "Flintstones is not a documentary" line - during the 2000 Canadian election campaign. (I did so because Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day had repeatedly stated that his religious beliefs had, and would, inform his political beliefs. And because Canadian voters were therefore entitled, at that moment, to fully consider the ramifications of faith-based politics, as Day was then seeking the highest political office in the land.)

After that campaign, conservative writer Claire Hoy had written something angry about me, so I invited him to lunch. He showed up, and we had a great lunch and a great debate about censorship. Hoy told me hate laws were unnecessary, which is something a lot of conservatives believe.

So I asked Claire this: "Don't you think there is a difference between a young guy painting a happy face on his school wall - and a skinhead who paints a swastika, and the words 'DEATH TO THE JEWS' on the front of a synagogue? Isn't there a qualitative difference between one action, and the other? Hate laws are designed to address that difference, aren't they?"

Claire evenually agreed. There was indeed a difference between an act of mischief, and an expression of hatred.
And that's my point, here. Certain words and images can cause actual fear and pain and hate.

Last week, at band practice, we were talking about another Toronto punk group, called - and I'm not making this up - Tit Fuck Me Jesus.

I'm a church-going Catholic, and that band's name doesn't offend me in the slightest. Nor the stuff found on the covers of Black Flag records, nor the songs by my beloved Bad Religion.

But that's just me. And I can certainly see how someone else could be offended - really and truly hurt - by something like a band called Tit Fuck Me Jesus. And, just because I'm okay with that, doesn't mean that someone else has to be.

That's pretty much where I end up on the cartoons that depict Islam's prophet as a murderer. You might not find such things hateful or even hurtful, but many others do. Deeply, truly, honestly.

And, when all is said and done, what Muslims seek from the rest of us is not anything we do not already seek from them. Which is, mainly, a modicum of respect for the things they hold closest to their hearts.

I say they deserve that respect. And, if that makes me a censor, I'll wear that insult with pride.

So the cartoons are offensive but the band Tit Fuck Me Jesus isn't? I'm unclear on the point that he was making here. I don't see the cartoons as depicted Islam's prophet as a murderer either, they are depicting muslims murdering in his name (or a couple of the cartoons are anyways) and many of them in my mind make a valid point, or at least if could if muslims would stop threatening to behead people and burning embassies and sit down and actually have some open dialogue for once.

A more eloquent opinion

people who advocate for censorship are inevitably hypocrites, because they're calling for censorship of things they don't like. But if there's something they've said that others found offensive, well, that's different. Note the way Kinsella defends his own mockery of Stockwell Day's religious beliefs during the 2000 election campaign:

I say that, too, as the same guy who used a Barney doll and a joke - the "Flintstones is not a documentary" line - during the 2000 Canadian election campaign. (I did so because Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day had repeatedly stated that his religious beliefs had, and would, inform his political beliefs. And because Canadian voters were therefore entitled, at that moment, to fully consider the ramifications of faith-based politics, as Day was then seeking the highest political office in the land.)

You see, that was different, because Kinsella had a good purpose. He wasn't trying to incite hatred toward fundamentalist Christians, but just trying to say they're unfit to be Prime Minister.

If Kinsella were even trying to be logically consistent, he would have to admit that, while he doesn't find the name of that punk band offensive, some people most certainly would, and therefore they should be prevented from using it - using the full authority and power of the state, if necessary. And while he was at it, he'd admit that he should be charged under hate-speech laws for some of his own blog postings, such as putting the post-2004-election "Jesusland" map on his website.

The point is, where do we draw the line? "Where Warren Kinsella says we should draw the line" is not a good answer.

-Damian Penny