What do the horrific killings in Paris have to do with public support for Palestinian human rights in Canada?

we are all charlieIs this really what we mean by freedom of speech? Or is it thinly veiled islamophobia hiding behind freedom of speech? The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have been horrific. What do they have to do with defending human rights for Palestinians in Canada? Quite a lot, I think.

Canadian airwaves have been filled with reporting and commentary on the recent events in Paris. Over a dozen killed in the original terrorist attack, and many more including suspects and hostages in the subsequent events.

Most of the commentary in Canada has focused on the importance of defending “freedom of speech”. “Our values are under attack” said one editorial. “We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated”, said another, intimating that Canadian media should encourage publishing more such cartoons.

Of course freedom of speech is an important value that needs to be defended. Its main worth comes from the fact that it  allows us to criticize those in power, limiting their ability to abuse that power. That’s why dictators hate it.

Our right to criticize and even make fun of kings, presidents, prime ministers and corporate leaders is central to our democracy. But freedom of speech should not be a cover for expressing racist, misogynistic or hateful thoughts.

I am free to make fun of midgets, or mentally handicapped people, or Newfies, or lesbians, or obese people, but I don’t do so because it is mean, disrespectful, and hurtful.

Some of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed are disgusting – and seem aimed to ridicule not only him, but Arab/Muslim citizens of France.

Making fun of people in power is quite different from making fun of those who are disempowered – people of colour or aboriginal Canadians, for example. The former is fair game, the latter is not. France has a huge underclass (8%) of Arab origin, a product of its colonial past.

The social situation of Muslims in France can be compared to that of blacks in the USA. Who thinks mocking Martin Luther King is a wonderful way to defend freedom of speech? Only racists.

What Canadian thinks that caricaturing Jews (with moneybags or long hooked noses) would be a good example of “freedom of expression” – even if were legal to do so? Only a racist.

Fortunately, Canadian Muslims have become much better integrated in Canada than is the case in France. But Canadian Arabs and Muslims (including Palestinians) are still outsiders here. Different. A minority still looking for equality and respect.

Many Canadians are uncomfortable with Muslims and Arabs. Latent fear of Arabs is one of challenges we face in Canada to develop support for Palestinian human rights. We must deal with it directly.

The call to “have the courage” to reprint more cartoons mocking Arabs and Muslims under the banner of “freedom of speech’ is misplaced and dangerous. Whether intentionaly racist or not, cartoons like these are a distasteful and disrespectful attack on a minority.We must be careful that the defence of “free speech” does not become a cover for Canadian expressions of Islamophobia. It will make our task of developing support for Palestinians human rights even harder.


  1. The cartoon you chose is interesting. It asks “If Mohammed returned …” and it shows an Islamic State thug beheading Mohammed as he says, “I’m Mohammed, idiot,” while the thug says “Shut your mouth.” Clearly, it’s not anti-Islam, though presumably it (and your republishing it) would offend those Muslims who object to representations of Mohamed.

    Apparently Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said that the Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and Mohammed more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion.

    They’ve also hurt Muslims around the world. While Muslim organizations are denouncing the murderers, I’m not sure why you’re taking time to criticize the cartoonists.

    1. Hey Arthur,
      Thanks. For some Muslims whether Mohammed is depicted is important. However, in my view, what is really being mocked here are Muslims. Mohammed is a kind of avatar. (I think that’s the word). Kind of like drawing Martin Luther King, with ape like characteristics. What is really being mocked are black people everywhere. And everyone knows it instantly.

  2. Peter Larson posted: “Is this really what we mean by freedom of speech? Or is it thinly veiled islamophobia hiding behind freedom of speech? The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have been horrific. What do they have to do with defending human rights for Palestinians in Canada” Good points Peter and agree that these horrific events in France do nothing and even detract from the realization of Palestinian rights and an independent state of Palestine alongside Israel. Israeli propaganda has  tried frequently to conflate violent Islamic jihadism with the Palestinian movement by comparing ISIS el Qaeda to Hamas and thereby developing another reason to deny overall Palestinian state;rights on this “security” basis. Countries like Canada cultivate this fantasy by keeping Hamas on a terrorist list while resisting efforts by European countries and others to accommodate Hamas to even handed Israel Palestinian peace negotiations through a national unity government. Because of the attack on the Kosher supermarket Israeli ministers are again calling on French Jews to emigrate en masse to Israel because of anti Semitism in France including among the 10 percent Muslim minority. At the same time Israel tries to deny claims of many ME experts that the unresolved Israel Palestine situation has anything to do with incentivizing general Islamic Jihadism in the region. Mr Baird’s spokesperson recently criticized the Palestinian peace negotiator Said Erbekat  for comparing ISIS to Israeli settlement policy but FM Baird has never expressed opposition to the similar erroneous  Israeli charges. Canada would do much better in following the  French policy example to promote an Israel Palestine settlement by supporting the recent UN Security Council resolution on a Palestinian state and working actively towards this. Perhaps while mourning and memorializing these violent terrorist  events at the Unity March in Paris,  President Holland can reinforce an explanation of French policy on Israel Palestine to the visiting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to good effect Minister Blaney would do well to listen in and take some more useful policy recommendatio

  3. Peter, you say that “freedom of speech should not be a cover for expressing racist, mysoginistic or hateful thoughts.”

    I am not sure what you mean by “cover”. Do you mean “excuse”? Freedom of expression for me is just that – the freedom to express one’s thoughts, however ignorant or “disgusting” they may be, and to take responsibility for them in the court of public opinion.

    Making fun of the powerful is only one small part of the value of freedom of expression. Far more important, historically, has been the right, or absence thereof, to question or ridicule those who claim sole possession of The Truth. We should all defend that right, whether we agree with the views of those who take advantage of it or not. In fact, the real test of the right is when it applies to those we detest. Bad taste and disgusting thoughts are indeed protected by freedom of expression.

    You go on to say that it is fair game to make fun of the powerful, but not so the disempowered. I fear this verges on advocacy of paternalism when it comes to the contradictions of the disempowered, their advocates and their ideologies. I have come to understand that the greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of speaking the truth as we see it. Freedom of expression plays an important role here too. Intolerance is its enemy, whether expressed by those with power or without.

    As for hate speech, I oppose legislating against it. Experience has shown that identifying hate speech is anything but a science, and all too subject to political manipulation. Legislation is a poor substitute for a critical and active citizenry, habituated to debating social values and ready to ridicule ideas worthy of the same.

    1. Hey peter,
      Thanks for your comment.

      I too am very reluctant to endorse legislative prohibitions. I think we are better served by a culture of decency and respect. I don’t think we should legislate against mocking the mentally handicapped, or aboriginals or … But we should criticize it when it is done.

      Charlie Hebdo published lots of stuff that I would call racist.

      Many of the people who are now leaping to its defence claiming they are defending freedom of speech are doing so because they are afraid of Islam. (Netanyahu would be a case in point). Where was he when the Palestinian cartoonist Naj Al-Ali was assassinated in 1987. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naji_al-Ali).

      I am sure many think they are just defending a principle – “freedom of expression”. They may not realize how selective they are in its defence.

      1. Agreed. Still, I fear the evident hypocrisy in the West is also being used as a reason to deny the importance of defending this essential right here and abroad.

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