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Free Speech for Nazis

Everything that’s wrong with the contemporary world can be inferred from the opening sentence to this article: “A memorial for Barbara Kulaszka, a controversial lawyer who made a career defending Holocaust deniers, took place at a public library in Toronto on Wednesday, despite calls for its cancellation.”

Okay, maybe not everything, but at least one thing.

And no, it’s not that controversial lawyers have memorials at public libraries. That’s a little weird, but maybe the neo-Nazis were kicked out of every decent place to hold a memorial.

It’s the last phrase: “despite calls for its cancellation.” What? Some people got outraged over something completely legal and within the bounds of library activity, and even TWEETED their outrage, and nothing was done to sooth their fragile egos? My god, what is this world coming to?!?!

Some of the criticism is ridiculous.

“Critics of the event said it was wrong for the library to give neo-Nazis and white supremacists a platform.”

A platform? Is a rented room in a library for a private event a “platform”? It’s not like the memorial was held in front of the reference desk or something. They’re not broadcasting from the library.

The lowest form of journalism these days is quoting people’s tweets as news, which is definitely not what I’m doing right now when quoting this tweet. It’s just my favorite in that it captures the manufactured outrage of social media with a complete disregard for anyone who has to operate in the real world:

I spoke to the chief librarian of the whole system & she won’t relent. Cites ‘charter’ & freedom of speech I said ‘who cares’ let them sue

It’s just dripping with outraged arrogance. The scare quotes around “charter,” because to hell with rules that everyone has to abide by if this tweeter doesn’t like them.

Freedom of speech? That’s only for people like him!

But nothing can top “I said ‘who cares’ let them sue.” Who cares? Really? How about the people who would actually be sued? You know, the ones who might actually face consequences in the real world, who can’t just sit smugly behind their smartphones pointing out how everyone else in the world isn’t as morally upright as them?

People like that, and there are a lot of them these days, annoy me.

The same guy gets quoted again. Maybe he’s a buddy of the person who wrote the Huffington Post article.

It’s all well and good to advocate for free speech, but Toronto Public Library needs to demonstrate common sense on who gets rental space

That captures the spirit of free speech hypocrites right there. Would he think it “all well and good” if Twitter shut down his account for being annoying?

What he really means is, “Freedom of speech is great as long as I agree with the speech,” which also really means he doesn’t care for freedom of speech at all. As long as he can rant on Twitter it’s fine, but people he disagrees with should just shut the hell up.

But that’s the low hanging fruit. This complaint from a Holocaust survivor probably resonates more:

My entire family was murdered by Nazi regime and I was outraged when I learned that a number of white nationalist leaders…have rented space at a Toronto Public Library…despite their long record of promoting bigotry and their disturbing ties to the neo-Nazi movement

Arrogant? No. Moving? Yes. Appropriate guide to public library policy? No.

One of many contrasts between Canadian public libraries and Nazi Germany is that libraries are open to everyone. As long as they peacefully assemble and abide by the same rules, everyone is treated equally, even if they’re hateful, sad excuses for human beings.

As a public space with rooms to rent, I assume the library has rules that everyone has to follow in booking the room. There are definitely rules that people in the rooms have to follow, and the library rather intrusively went out of its way to make sure the rules were followed. Due diligence done. No one was calling for race wars in the public library.

Everyone can be outraged at Canadian Nazis, instead of chuckling at the very idea, but most people with a clear head would realize that if the library starts deciding what subset of the peaceful public is worthy of using public spaces, it’s a slippery slope.

People are outraged at Canadian Nazis. Hmm. What other groups spark outrage? Transgender people spark a lot of outrage. Should they be allowed to have a meeting in the library “despite calls for its cancellation”?

No, only groups that advocate hate should be banned! Okay, what about Marxists? Can they be banned? They advocate hatred towards the bourgeoisie and free market champions everywhere. They also hate free speech unless they agree with it, because free speech is a liberal value. Here’s one attacking Jonathan Chait on just this issue. How would banning them fit into someone’s progressive utopia?

Situations like this are a good test of such liberal values. Do we really value freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, the idea of public libraries being open to all the public as long as they abide by the general rules for everyone? Or is that only for when we agree with the people?

How you decide on this case shows whether you’re on the side of free speech or suppressing speech you don’t agree with. If you’re for suppressing speech, remember, you might not always be the one doing the suppressing. There’s always someone who’s going to be outraged these days; next time they might be outraged at you.

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Comments

  1. I was a bit nervous going in to the article by the title. But I’m so glad about the direction you took. Now I’m a very opinionated person, if some of my comments doesn’t make that clear, and I disagree with a lot of folks. But one thing I hold dear is that everyone should have the freedom to say what they wish. So neo-nazis, even though I greatly disagree with them, should have the same freedom to spout out their hatred and vitriol and show how stupid they are, as someone who’s a lot less controversial.

  2. Hopefully the Toronto PL has significant security policies and guidelines in place, and has told the group there will be no “outside” security allowed. No one wants a repeat of the Kansas City PL incident.

  3. Of course if holding the memorial in the library space was legal under canadian law, the library was right to allow it.
    However, I understand from this article – and other writing on this site – that some people consider intellectual freedom threatened unless absolutely any kind of speech, even the vilest most hateful nonsense, is expressly allowed. I find this surprising as we set limits to free speech in my country without it being a problem – there is naturally an ongoing discussion about where the limits should be. Hate speech is considered contrary to our fundamental values, defamation is unlawful as well.
    The analogy between Marxists in general and Neo-nazis seems unfair. Marxism is a theory asserting that one social group is exploited and should take over It does not promote hate against a specific ethnic, racial or religous group for no other reason than who they are.

    • anonymous coward says:

      Marxism, in practice, has killed more than Nazis ever did.

      Free speech is fundamentally part of the United States History and identity. Repression of speech by government forces or violence is despicable and is only lightly better than mob rule. Combat hateful speech with fact and truth. Push it into the darkness under the rocks and it grows like mold. It dies in sunlight.

      There were recent times when, under the thought that it’s OK to censor SOME speech deemed vile would and did lead to terrible outcomes. It’s a rationalization made from a place of privilege that it’s OK to stifle the speech and freedom of those despised by the majority. It’s a dangerous place to be. Nothing good comes from it- and the assertion that it’s happened in another country without being a problem is too short sighted to be proven. Of course it hasn’t’ caused a problem to you- but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t caused problems.

  4. These “Nazis” are likely suffering from derangement, which probably makes them a protected class. Still, not fetishizing mental illness, were I making the decision, I’d have said, no Nazi funeral. If they made a fuss: hey, it’s your funeral, playing at being Nazis and all.

    But they are about as insignificant as it gets, a misdirection tantamount to fake news. “Hate speech” was coined as an instrument of power, which only rarely concerns a speaker’s “hatred,” and much more often “speech that others hate.” See France’s prosecution of Bernard Lewis after a perfectly civil scholarly dispute concerning the use or misuse of the term “genocide.”

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