When U.S. right-wing pundit Ann Coulter attempted to speak at the University of Ottawa in March, protesters gathered outside the lecture hall and effectively shut down the event. The crowd boasted signs branded with “Love,” “Respect,” and “Free Speech Stops at Hate Speech,” and chanted “Ann go home!” until police and security advised Coulter to cancel her speech in the interest of her safety. The demonstration came after University of Ottawa vice-president academic and provost Francois Houle sent Coulter a letter advising her to “educate [her]self as to what is acceptable in Canada” and to “weigh [her] words with respect and civility in mind.”
Now, I cite this example in hopes that the security personnel at the University of Lethbridge will be adequately prepared for what I expect to be another vehement uproar. Indeed, I’ll bet those same demonstrative individuals are already making their way west to protest yet another exploitative exercise of expression. “Free speech stops at hate speech!” Yup . . . any day now . . .
Well, maybe they just haven’t heard yet. Joshua Blakeney, media coordinator of globalization studies at the University of Lethbridge, has written a piece for the alternative e-weekly The Canadian Charger where he gleefully rejoices in Christopher Hitchens’ recent throat cancer diagnosis. Hitchens, a journalist and pundit, is known for his stanch views on religion and unapologetic support for the war in Iraq. Contentious as his politics may be, it’s hard to deny he’s a brilliant speaker with a quick wit, a reputation he managed to uphold during a recent interview with Anderson Cooper where Hitchens discusses his impending death.
But for Blakeney writing in The Canadian Charger, it seems “impending” can’t come soon enough. The cancer is “something to be celebrated,” writes Blakeney, a U of L Masters student, “because it deprives the war propaganda machine of one of its most erudite apologists.”
“As I was contemplating this revelation, I couldn’t help feeling that the neoconservative armchair warrior was getting his just desserts,” Blakeney continues.
Then, after toting some 9/11 “truths” (Blakeney studies under prominent 9/11 conspiracy theorist Prof. Anthony J. Hall) and other wisdom about Iran and Israel, Blakeney concludes his “Hitchens deserves to die” thesis:
“It is fair to say that if cancer is good enough for babies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and soon Iran, then it is good enough for [Hitchens].”
Ironically, The Canadian Charger originated as an outlet to counter “hateful” messages printed in Maclean’s magazine, which were brought to (and later dismissed from) human rights commissions. Yet curiously, here beholds a piece where the terminal illness of someone is rejoiced because of his political beliefs.
“I wouldn’t rejoice in someone’s sickness unless it was someone as ghastly as Christopher Hitchens,” Blakeney told the National Post. His inability to write “could well reduce cancer rates,” he continued. “He is a dangerous demagogue who made a career out of selling aggressive wars that cause cancer. . . . I haven’t stooped to his level.”
Okay everyone; are we all ready with our placards? “Love,” “Respect,” “Free speech stops at hate speech!”
Of course not. Blakeney’s not entertaining in hate speech. Fallacious and vile cheap shots, but not hate speech. But then again, neither was Coulter. So I’m wondering where the student unions are on this one. Where’s the protest to ensure a “safe space” for Iraq war supporters on campus? After all, if we have the so-called “right to not be offended” in one case, aren’t we going to uphold it in another?