Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ann Coulter silenced by angry protesters at University of Ottawa.

Ann Coulter, the darling of the unbalanced US right, has had to cancel a speech to the University of Ottowa after fears for her safety grew when a group of two thousand protesters crowded the entrance to Marion Hall, posing a security threat.

In an interview, Coulter said she has given 100 to 200 speeches at colleges and this was the first time one of her addresses has been “completely shut down.” She said the incident reflects poorly on the University of Ottawa.

“It’s at the absolute bush league, bottom-of-the-barrel schools that you get the worst treatment and still, I’ve never seen this before,” she said. “I’m guessing the scores to get into the University of Ottawa are not very challenging.”
It's the kind of reaction that one expects from Coulter. Just the other night a Muslim student called Coulter out for her comment that Muslims should not be allowed to fly on American airlines and should be required to use flying carpets. When the student told Coulter she didn't have a magic carpet she was rewarded with a typical Coulter response: She told her to "take a camel."

These kind of racist stereotypes are what Coulter imagines is humour, and it's fascinating to see the reaction it gets outside of America's borders.

The American right wing, especially it's commentators, have become so extreme that Bill O'Reilly is beginning to look like some kind of cuddly uncle. He's no longer considered the dangerous loon which he once was, as, by employing people like Glenn Beck, Fox News seem determined to redefine what constitutes the centre of American politics. They have succeeded in making Bill O'Reilly appear reasonable, and that was no mean feat.

But, outside of the US, in places where we appreciate free speech but also recognise hate speech, Coulter sets off alarm bells.
"What Ann Coulter is practising is not free speech, it's hate speech," he said. "She's targeted the Jews, she's targeted the Muslims, she's targeted Canadians, homosexuals, women, almost everybody you could imagine."
It's just another example of the way the politics of the right in the US are found to be totally unacceptable outside of it's borders.

The protests were kicked off after university academic vice-president, Francois Houle, wrote to Coulter warning her that Canada had laws which forbade hate speech.
"Promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges," he warned her in the letter, which Coulter quickly leaked to the media.

"I've been a victim of a hate crime," she said in a CTV interview of Houle's letter. "I think he's accusing me of criminal proclivities."
Houle wasn't lying, he was actually warning Coulter for her own sake that such laws exist in Canada.
In Canada, advocating genocide or inciting hatred[9] against any 'identifiable group' is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada with maximum terms of two to fourteen years. An 'identifiable group' is defined as 'any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.' It makes exceptions for cases of statements of truth, and subjects of public debate and religious doctrine. The landmark judicial decision on the constitutionality of this law was R. v. Keegstra (1990).
Although the First Amendment of the United States expressly forbids any curtailment of free speech, Canada is certainly not alone in recognising hate speech. Lots of countries recognise this phenomenon.

But this really boils down to how Coulter's extremist views are seen outside of America's shores. I've written before about how the American right wing differ from their British counterparts.
Bush, when asked about the criticism of waterboarding - which he refuses to see as torture, despite the fact that the US itself has prosecuted people for doing that very thing - asked, "Which attack would they rather not have stopped?" He actually acted as if this could be sold as a "red pen or blue pen" scenario where one has to choose between torture and attacks.

No British politician could dare sit on national TV and make that argument. But in the US, Bill O'Reilly can sit on national television and actually argue that people who oppose torture are "despicable".

This is an example of just how radical and extreme the current American right wingers are.
There simply is no British equivalent to the Republican party, unless one reaches towards the BNP and other extremists. The Tories might sound like them on matters like tax cuts and deregulation, but when it comes to social policy they simply wouldn't dare make the arguments that are regularly made by the American right wing.

Any British politician who proposed
teaching creationism in schools would instantly be regarded as on the outer fringes of intelligent debate, but Bush argued for that very thing and was seen as playing to the base, rather than as someone who had blatantly lost his mind.

The notion that David Cameron could hope to get elected by opposing abortion is silly on it's face, and yet the Republicans put forward Sarah Palin as a candidate for Vice President precisely because she held such views.
The point of what has occurred here isn't really about free speech, it's about just how extreme the American right wing have become. There are things which Americans accept as simply part of right wing discourse, which are considered genuinely shocking when the people espousing such notions step outside of America's shores. As I've said before:
Every society has politicians who hold disgraceful positions on things like torture, abortion and gay rights; but I can think of no European country, indeed almost no country anywhere outside the Muslim world, where a political party who espoused such views could possibly hope to be taken seriously.
In the US Coulter may very well be seen as colourful, controversial and feisty. But, outside of the US, they see what she indulges in as what it actually is: hate speech.

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