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Last week, Canadians were presented with yet another example as to why offensiveness is not a fair or reliable criterion for restricting speech in politics.
At a Justice Committee hearing on May 28, Faisal Khan Suri of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council deliberatively chose to lump “conservative” commentators in with “anti-immigrant and alt-right commentators” and “mass murderers.”
Predictably, and for good measure, he also included Donald Trump among those inspiring the shooter who murdered Muslims in their own house of worship in Quebec City.
In the context of Committee hearings into online hate, Mr. Suri’s attack on conservatism as being akin to racism and violence was blunt.
Many books have been written on the subject of conservatism, and multiple definitions abound. Wikipedia likely hits the target by describing conservatism as “a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization” of which the central tenets include tradition, human imperfection, organic society and property rights.
In the same way that liberals, socialists, libertarians and others would object strenuously to being lumped in together with racists and murderers, conservatives, unsurprisingly, also take strong exception to this kind of smear.
In Europe, nationalist and so-called alt-right parties despise conservatives as much as they detest left-wing parties. Nationalists reject liberalism and conservatism, and have much in common with social justice warriors who leverage identity politics in order to advance their causes of equity, diversity and inclusion.
Statists of the Left and Right do not value the dignity of each human being regardless of the traits that a person is born with. Authoritarians of all stripes do not respect the individual, who is endowed with the freedoms of conscience, speech, religion, and association, and the right to own and enjoy private property.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper immediately confronted Mr. Suri’s unjustified slur, stating “… I take great umbrage with your defamatory comments to try to link conservatism with violent extremist attacks. They have no foundation, they’re defamatory, and they diminish your credibility as a witness.”
Had Mr. Cooper left it at that, it’s likely that no major brouhaha would have resulted. But Mr. Cooper went further, using a factual but inflammatory reference to the accused Christchurch mosque shooter’s manifesto.
Through his manifesto, which cannot easily be located on the internet and which I have not read, the mass-murderer apparently expressed his contempt for conservatism.
Mr. Suri (as well as most MPs on the Justice Committee) were no doubt deeply offended by Mr. Cooper making reference to a vile and genuinely Islamophobic document.
Who was more offended?
Mr. Cooper and conservatives, for being compared to mass-murders? Or Mr. Suri and Muslims, for having heard a contextual quote from a murderer-inspired, anti-Muslim document?
Nobody knows, and nobody can know. Feelings of offence are experienced personally and there is no objective measurement.
One can only guess as to the exact level of pain that various comments inflict on different individuals.
This is the point at which identity politics and the progressive doctrine of group oppression conflate. As most progressives tend to see it, society is perpetually in a state of group warfare because men oppress women, whites oppress non-whites, straights oppress gays, the rich oppress the poor, radical feminists oppress transwomen, and so on.
Lost in this reductionist vision is the fact that individuals lie, cheat, steal and kill, and that these behaviours are often inflicted on people of the same race, gender, or sexual orientation. Likewise, acts of kindness are often directed at those who have a different skin colour, religion or annual income.
This is not to deny the existence of racism, sexism, or other forms of group oppression, but rather to point out that a good world depends more on the practice of virtue and morality by individuals in their day-to-day lives than it does on Class A finally crushing and defeating Class B. Seeing people first and foremost as members of a race, class or other group (based on traits they were born with) exaggerates differences among unique persons, which is destructive to the idea that we all belong to the same human family.
The group warfare ideology cannot acknowledge that Mr. Cooper and Mr. Suri were deeply offended by each other’s comments, and thereafter leave matters alone. Mr. Suri would no doubt score higher in the so-called “oppression Olympics” than Mr. Cooper. Therefore, in a world where identity politics prevail, Mr. Cooper is made to apologize (and is removed from participation in the Committee) because his feelings of offence are deemed to be weaker or less important than Mr. Suri’s feelings of offence. This is ridiculous because nobody can judge who felt more offended.
Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Truth, evidence, facts and logic should be the sole standards used to evaluate public debate, not feelings of offence. If we love truth, we must support and protect the free expression and debate of ideas, in the House of Commons and elsewhere.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca).