Saturday, November 8, 2008

Arena di Verona, 1966 "Celeste Aida"

Carlo Bergonzi sings Verdi's most famous tenor aria in the huge outdoor amphitheater known as the Arena di Verona.
From the golden age of grand Italian opera.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Dignity, Feelings, and Self-Respect"

The BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing the case of Mark Steyn and Macleans magazine in connection with the article "The Future Belongs to Islam" ended its session last week without issuing a ruling. No one seems to know when one will be issued. My guess is that the complainants -- the 3 Muslim students known as the "Sock Puppets" and their puppeteer Mohamed Elmasry -- their lawyer, and the bureaucrats running the tribunal are terrified of the torrent of mockery coming their way if Steyn and Macleans are found guilty. My other guess is that the Canadian press which has mostly been silent is waiting to see which way it goes before they come out for "human rights" or "free speech." But the hearing made it to the top of the June 12 front page of the New York Times.

Friday, June 6, 2008


.... But Canadian journalists and writers didn't speak up, because they were not Nazis. Then they came for the other white supremacists. But Canadian journalists and writers didn't speak up, because they were not white supremacists. Then they came for the Catholics who published their religious views against homosexuality. They came for business owners, such as a gay bar that wouldn't admit a lesbian and a restaurant owner who asked a marijuana smoker to leave his doorway. And now they have come for Mark Steyn, the witty Canadian columnist and author of the non-fiction bestseller “America Alone” -- in which he claims that Islam is increasingly becoming a demographic threat to the West and that this is true in every country except the US. They have also come for Macleans -- Canada’s prominent weekly newsmagazine -- which recently published an excerpt from Steyn's book. And they have come for Ezra Levant, publisher of Canada’s Western Standard newspaper, who printed the Danish Mohammed cartoons a couple of years ago.

So who are "they", and why are they harassing these writers and publishers? "They" are Canada's "Human Rights Commission" and its provincial variants. And they're harassing these people because of complaints made by members of a "protected" Canadian minority -- in this case, Muslims -- who are claiming that the publication of this material is likely to promote hatred of their group. They are using Canada's "Human Rights Act" as a basis for these complaints, specifically Section 13. (1) on "Hate Messages". This clause makes it a crime to publish "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination."

Note the word "likely". In other words, you the Canadian writer may not publish in Canada anything which MIGHT subject Canadian minority group members to hatred or contempt. No proof of damage, of actual hatred or contempt resulting from your writing is needed. Truth and an absence of malign intent are no defense: the Act also states that "innocent intent is not a defence, nor is truth, nor is fair comment or the public interest, nor is good faith or responsible journalism." The "complainant" doesn't have to pay anything. The "respondent" has to hire a lawyer and pay all the expenses of defending himself. The penalties are typically a "cease and desist order" prohibiting the respondent from publishing additional material in the same vein, and a fine of up to $10,000. Every one of these cases since they began over a decade ago has resulted in a win for the complainant.

This is happening in Canada, right now. Do Canadians realize how insane this is?

How did Canada arrive at a point where something called a "Human Rights Tribunal" can shut down the publishing of facts or opinions about a “minority” group -- solely on the basis of a complaint of hurt feelings from a member of that group? How has Canada arrived at a point where writing about and printing photos of rioting Muslims carrying signs saying “behead the infidels” can be legally designated “hate” speech (a “human rights” crime since it might subject other Muslims to humiliation) and the writer or publisher fined and/or ordered to “cease and desist” from further similar activity?

What? You may ask. No one in Canada is being tortured, executed, or even thrown in jail. Well no, it’s not Russia, China, Saudi Arabia. But Canada is a 1st World country. And Canadian writers are now paying lawyers and going to special courts on the basis of “human rights complaints” from people with no legitimate grievance.

Here's the problem. Everything tends to creep. Up until now, when only neo-Nazis and marginal crazies were the targets of these complaints, no one was paying any attention. Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant and their supporters are belatedly learning a lesson. Back then is when they should have spoken up, back when "they came for the Nazis".

But one can see why they didn't -- presuming they were even paying attention to what was going on. Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant would have been accused of being supporters of the very people whose free speech rights they were trying to defend: namely, Nazis, white supremacists, and other unsavory types.

Times have definitely changed. What ever happened to the concept that supporting the free speech rights of neo-Nazis, “hate” groups, or anyone you don't like, definitely does NOT mean you agree with them, support them, or want them to succeed? I thought this was all settled years ago. Do Canadians not remember those American Civil Liberties Union marches in support of the right of neo-Nazis to demonstrate in Skokie, Illinois? Is it no longer believed in Canada that by supporting the free speech rights of everybody you ensure that in the future no one can come along and deny you the same right? Only a few decades ago this was understood and didn’t need to be explained.

Keith Martin is a Liberal MP (Member of Parliament) from British Columbia and a minority immigrant himself. He recently proposed a motion that would abolish or amend the "hate speech" section of the Canadian Human Rights Act. On a panel discussion about the “limits of free speech in Canada”, Martin said that while MPs of both parties have privately been “supportive”, they’re afraid to go public because they think this will give the impression that they support neo-Nazis or bigots.

Another distinction that Canadians don't seem to understand is the difference between using the law to prohibit speech and all other means of opposing, protesting or limiting it in a free society. Government interference with free speech is "censorship." Members of the Canadian media who dislike Mark Steyn argue that he writes "hate" speech -- and that's the reason they support the Human Rights Commissions, i.e. the government, i.e. censorship, instead of a fellow journalist. The view of those supporting the HRCs is that without their intervention and imposition of penalties, hate speech will flourish and victims will multiply.

After reviewing most of these cases, I can't find one instance of actual damage to a minority person or group. I recall from living in Canada for a few years as a child that the most anti-Jewish ethnic group in North America was French Canadian Catholics. Yet no one stopped them from printing "hate" speech. Canadian Jews just shrugged them off and went about their business, unaffected in any significant way. For years, decades, centuries, different kinds of “hate” speech, anti-semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-black, abounded in the world and still do in some places. But Jews, Catholics and blacks have steadily become more powerful and more secure without any legal censorship of hate speech. And for Canada, where this has been particularly true, to think that minorities need this kind of legal protection is absurd.

What is particularly striking is that Canadian writers have become so fearful of being accused of "hate" speech for the slightest criticism of anything involving "protected" minorities, that they self-censor subconsciously without realizing it. We have forgotten that in a free society “hate” speech is legal. There is only one limitation on "hate speech", and that is promoting violence against people. Just because Canada doesn’t have a 1st Amendment like the US, nonetheless this dividing line between protected speech and speech that can get you arrested has always been understood. Strange, but the only group on the receiving end of hate-induced violence in Canada has been Jews, in a college community. And not from neo-Nazis, from Muslims. Yet the Canadian Jewish Congress, the main complainant behind most accusations of anti-semitic "hate speech", focuses on a handful of neo-Nazis and white supremacists writing on the Internet.

Martin points out that “we have very few true fundamental rights, but freedom of speech is truly one of those rights. We need to stand up for that right which separates us from despotic venal countries where people don’t have that freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a guardian of our peace, our security, our future. People gave their lives to give us that right. Let’s hope we look at this a human right for all peoples, whether they be a majority or a minority in our country.”

My late father was a Canadian diplomat, one of the first Jews in the Foreign Service. He was also an expert on Nazi and Fascist propaganda. He had been a foreign correspondent in the 1930s, then an advisor to the Wartime Information Board in New York. If he were alive today, he'd be appalled by the actions of the "Human Rights Commission". He'd be especially embarrassed by the current Canadian Justice Minister's recent claim in support of Canada's "hate speech" laws: something to the effect that if there had been "hate speech" laws in the Weimar Republic, Nazi anti-semitic propaganda wouldn't have been allowed to flourish and the Nazis couldn't have come to power and killed all those Jews. One would think that before making such a pronouncement, a government minister would actually read a history book or consult with a historian.

In Canada, "human rights" has clearly become a racket, and the world's most polite and civilized country is already living in a dystopian future.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Karsenty, France 2, and French libel laws

Philippe Karsenty is a French citizen who runs the media watchdog site "Media-Ratings". Several years ago he accused "France 2" -- France's main public TV network -- of knowingly broadcasting doctored footage that supposedly showed an innocent Palestinian boy being shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. France 2 sued him for libel and won. Yesterday he won his appeal in a French court. It wasn't easy.

It is disturbing enough that France 2 aired manipulated footage and used it to make false statements to support an inflammatory news piece about Israel.

It is even more disturbing that a private citizen who accuses the French media of doing this thus opens himself to being sued for libel by the same French media. And here I thought libel laws are supposed to protect private individuals from being libelled BY the media! France supposedly has a free press. Apparently that means that the French press is to be free from criticism and is in turn free to suppress criticism by suing critics for libel.

It wasn't as if Karsenty was making an idle accusation. He had spent many months and many euros studying the footage, despite not having access to all the dailies. He was able to show the court that Mohammed al-Dura was actually alive and moving at the point in the sequence when the French narrator said he was dead. There was no other footage of an actually dead boy. Karsenty also had a ballistic expert demonstrate that the shots fired couldn't have come from the direction of the Israeli snipers.

You can be sued for libel for this in France.


Sunday, March 30, 2008


It took a certain amount of courage (and film editing skills) to produce FITNA and post it on the web, knowing in advance what could be expected: threats of violence from Muslims, followed by censorship and "official" condemnation in the face of those threats. But it's not as if the Jews-Christians-atheists of the free West don't already know what is depicted in FITNA. We've read about and seen pictures of all this before. FITNA just ties it together in a 16 minute piece, showing how all these acts of violence, incitement, and hatred of non-Muslims are exact echoes of words in the Koran. The irony of course is that Muslims are again threatening violence against a person who has in essence done nothing more than expose their previous violence.

And he's been hung out to dry by the very media and politicians who should be showing solidarity, no matter what political persuasion they represent. They too have bought into the misperception that merely exposing Muslim violence is "Islamophobic". When the IRA was bombing London, did we refer to anyone who spoke negatively of that as "Eirophobic"?

What to do? Now if all of us in one fell swoop were to rise up and fight back against the kind of Muslim-generated violence depicted in this film or the threat of it at any time and at any place, things would start to change. If we as a group were to shout from our windows, "We're sick and tired of this, we're not taking it anymore, we're fighting back!", they'd be in for a surprise. If they stopped seeing us as soft, lazy, self-denigrating wimps, always eager to appease, and saw us instead as tough, angry, self-confident, organized, and, most importantly, ready to defend ourselves en masse ....... wouldn't this nightmare start to end?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Die Walküre at the Met

Last night I attended the final performance of Die Walküre conducted by Lorin Maazel. Maazel's interpretation was lyrical and introspective compared to Levine's. He is not afraid to let the orchestra play at less than maximum volume, building slowly to climaxes, rather than pounding away as Levine tends to do. Despite vocal unevenness from everyone except mezzo Michelle DeYoung, the Fricka, it was a profound, moving, almost religious experience.

Wotan's existential dilemma -- to either satisfy Fricka's request to punish the adulterous Siegmund and Sieglinde, or allow the Wälsungs to retrieve the Nibelungen gold and save the Gods -- is of course the proverbial rock and a hard place. What major political decision today, while accomplishing some short-term, politically expedient good, does not also contain the seeds of eventual disaster?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Opera and Free Speech

In Sept. 2006, a decision was made to close the Deutsche Oper's production of Mozart's Idomeneo because one small scene depicting the severed heads of Mohammed (and Jesus) caused security concerns (fear of violence from the practitioners of one of the "offended" religions.)

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit spoke against the closing, articulating perfectly the reasons why: "Our ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom must be lived on the offensive. Voluntary self-limitation gives those who fight against our values a confirmation in advance that we will not stand behind them."

Why don't other politicians get it, that this is the way to respond to these kinds of threats? Appeasement and apologies don't work.