So, Ann Coulter successfully gave her speech at the University of Western Ontario on Monday. Upon arriving at the University of Ottawa yesterday, her talk was canceled by police due to the possibility of violence.
For all the action, go and see BCF’s rundown of the events. But I’m not here to talk about what transpired so much as I’d like to highlight two contrasting approaches to controversial speech.
At UWO, a student named Fatima Al-Dhaher challenged Coulter over some past remarks about Muslims. Specifically, Coulter gave a satirical comment immediately after 9/11 that America should invade Muslim countries and convert them to Christianity – taking a page directly out of the Muslim playbook. She also said that those innocent Muslims who would find themselves on Coulter’s version of a no-fly list should fly via “flying carpet”.
Though Coulter ended up dismissing the question, telling Al-Dhaher to “take a camel”, the young Muslim woman did exactly what us speech warriors have been suggesting for a long time: combat speech with more speech. Despite her connections to anti-Israel groups and Israel Apartheid Week, I commend her for taking the right approach.
Not so in Ottawa. After the threatening letter from the university vice-president, a small mob formed outside the venue, refusing to let anyone in. Free speech does not include hate speech, they said, conveniently neglecting any clear objective definition of what constitutes hate speech. I want to point out that Coulter’s speech at UWO involved a Q&A session, in which a critic like Al-Dhaher was able to ask her questions. Coulter has always been open for debates with her opponents. (UPDATE: the G&M reports that Coulter even pared down her speech to allow more time for Q&A)
But the crowd that crashed the Ottawa event doesn’t want a level playing field. They don’t want anyone to hear speech they don’t agree with. They don’t want any debate. They want to use the power of the state to shut down their opponents. As Susan Cole of “Toronto Now” tabloid admits, Canadians like herself have little regard for freedom, individualism, or free speech.
These are the attitudes are far more likely to cause violence than any supposed “hate speech”.