Neither The Marketplace Nor The Tribunal...

Posted: 2/29/2008 9:08:00 PM
Author: Terry Glavin

Neither The Marketplace Nor The Tribunal: When 'Intellectual Freedom' Is Betrayed
by Terry Glavin

In today's Ottawa Citizen, I take another look at the Vancouver Public Library's decision to present the morbidly anti-Israel conspiracy theorist Greg Felton as its featured author for Freedom To Read Week. I'm saying there's something dangerous going on here, but it's probably not what you think:

It is not harmless in Iran, where Felton's column appears in the Tehran Times, a propaganda front for a regime that has banned hundreds of books, just in recent months, and has shut down as many as 150 publications last year, throwing perhaps 1,000 journalists out in the street.

Neither is it harmless when Felton's writings appear in the newspapers of Arab countries where there is no free press, and no "marketplace of ideas" to sort things out, and the Khazar legend has lately returned to animate the hatreds of Israel's less literate enemies.

There is no remedy available from any Canadian human rights tribunal that can hold anyone adequately accountable for this. And to accept Felton's obsessions into the "marketplace of ideas" merely grants intellectual legitimacy to historical fiction and antisemitic legend, which debases the very purpose of free speech.

In the uproar that followed the library's decision, chief librarian Paul Whitney said it was all a matter of "intellectual freedom." It isn't.

I'm saying truth matters. I'm not claiming any special insight into the truth, but what I am prepared to claim is that if our public institutions settle into a way of thinking that regards transgressive gesture as intellectual courage, and grants legitimacy to any old version of the truth, then one version will ultimately prevail, and it will be the one proclaimed by men in shiny boots

Michel Foucault made that mistake, and nowadays, in Iran, free speech invites the lash, and puts you in a dungeon.

The problem isn't Felton at all. It's that conception of "free speech" where black propaganda is tolerated, accepted, and even welcomed. Like Ophelia Benson says, it's people "who think it’s far more important to be sensitive and respectful than it is to think clearly or tell the unfluffy truth. I don’t know what to do about them other than keep repeating, monotonously and without subtlety, that they are wrong and deluded and fatuous."