I hate Ann Coulter.
I am pretty sure I have hated everything the right wing ideologue has ever said. Her views are stunningly offensive and more often than not based on complete fabrications.
But, then along comes the University of Ottawa, invites her to speak, then warns her to be careful about what she says, and then ultimately shuts down her event because of threats of disruption. And so here I go again, having to defend the freedom of expression of those whose views I abhor.
That’s the thing about freedom of expression though. Everybody gets it, not just the people we agree with. Folks with middle of the road ideas don’t really need the protection. Rather, it’s the folks on the edge, the folks with the crazy out there in your face views that other folks want to shut down.
Like Ann Coulter.
Now, as a program administrator, I would never actually consider using my limited funds to invite Coulter to speak. I would rather invite someone who at least researches their stories, and is a bit more centrist than say Atilla the Hun.
But, someone did invite her. To a university. Where there is supposed to be some degree of academic freedom and freedom to express unpopular ideas.
But, the University issued a warning to her than Canada has hate speech laws and that she ought to be careful what she says.
The University of Ottawa academic vice-president François Houle wrote “I hereby encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here,” University of Ottawa.” Then added “Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges.”
The event was ultimately shut down, due to threats of violence.
Its true – we do have hate speech laws. And it is also true that they might extend to her grossly offensive views. To call her views racist is hardly an exaggeration.
Sure, we have hate speech laws and they should be respected. Or should they? I don’t think hate speech laws work, and I don’t think we should have them. We aren’t ever going to change racist or sexist or homophobic or just plain moronic views by censoring them. Usually, all we do is turn them into a hero, a martyr to the cause, and often, into a popular household name due to their prosecution (did anyone ever really hear of Ernst Zundel until he was prosecuted?).
And here’s the thing. Coulter is one of the most popular and pervasive and successful right wing lunatics in the United States. Her views influence people. Trying to censor her at a Canadian university is a bit akin to taking a fly swatter to a tank.
Coulter is out there, in America, influencing the public policy debate. There is a legitimate reason to invite her to speak. If you don’t want to listen, don’t go. If you hate her views, protest peacefully. Hold up placards that call her a racist if you like. But, if you do want to go and hear this for yourself, then you should have an opportunity. Ignore, protest, listen, debate, debunk. Whatever. But, don’t censor. All we just did was make her a martyr again. And we once again reinforced the idea that censorship is Canada’s second most popular past time, after hockey.
Here by the way are some outrageous Ann Coulter quotes, in case you aren’t up on her “political satire” as she calls it. Political satire? Well, it would be if Stephen Colbert said it.
“If we took away women’s right to vote, we’d never have to worry about another Democrat president. It’s kind of a pipe dream, it’s a personal fantasy of mine, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. And it is a good way of making the point that women are voting so stupidly, at least single women.”
“We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.”
“I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo.”
Yes, this is the rubbish that she spouts. But, censoring her is not going to make it go away. Censoring these ideas is not going to make these ideas go away. We just made her more of a hero.