By Bronwyn Eyre, The StarPhoenix March 27, 2010 7:23 AM
Calgary, Alberta. (Montreal Gazette)
The slogan-chanting students who shouted down U.S. pundit Ann Coulter at the University of Ottawa this week disgraced themselves, their university and their country.
If, as university students, they can’t grasp the concept that free speech is the bed rock of civilization, there’s not much hope for their intellectual growth.
Do they think progress in the world of ideas has come from embracing only the accepted wisdom of the day? Can’t they comprehend that freedom of speech is a hard-won achievement especially meant to protect ideas that may be unpopular?
University of Ottawa president Allan Rock (yes, our former justice minister), like any self-respecting university president, should have gone to pains to explain to the student body that a university that doesn’t promote freedom of speech isn’t a university at all.
And once he picked up on the gathering storm of threats preceding Coulter’s speech, Rock should have gone to the venue himself to help make sure she wasn’t shut down.
Instead, he refused interviews about the Coulter fracas and later contended it was cancelled by her own organizers. That’s like saying the tailor closed his shop, without mentioning that the Mafia was putting a squeeze on him.
Rock later issued a risible statement claiming, “Freedom of expression is a core value that the University of Ottawa has always promoted. We have a long history of hosting contentious and controversial speakers on our campus. Last night was no exception.” (I think you’ve got a problem with the definition of “hosting,” Mr. President.)
It’s well-known that Coulter — who’s had an accomplished legal career and has written numerous bestselling books — is an incendiary, often outlandish provocateur.
But as University of Alberta political scientist notes, her political invective is in the tradition of Lenny Bruce-like satirists.
“Her bright writing, sense of irony and outrage is what makes (her) so refreshing,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of her book Treason. And according to the New York Times, “a great deal of research supports (her) wisecracks.”
Author Andrew Ferguson has compared Coulter to liberal comedian Bill Maher (Coulter and Maher, incidentally, are friends). “They are ‘publicists’ as the term was once applied to public intellectuals like H.L. Mencken and William F. Buckley — mediators between the world of ideas and the world of popular culture.”
In other words, Coulter sounds like an ideal candidate for a university guest lecture.
The rich irony of the mob-like mentality that greeted her in Ottawa — her reception at the University of Calgary was much more welcoming — is that she was in the country to talk about political correctness and freedom of speech.
Imagine our dystopia if such deranged behaviour as we witnessed at the U of O greeted all controversial speakers.
This week, for example, veteran Canadian journalist Tony Burman was in Regina to discuss the imminent availability on Canadian cable TV of Al Jazeera’s English language international news channel.
What would the speech-preventing U of O students say if students there had set off the fire alarm, intimidated the speaker and succeeded in shutting him down? (I think we know that it would be another instance of “Free speech for me, but not for thee.”)
After all, many observers complain Al Jazeera isn’t above broadcasting much hatred and bigotry — particularly against Jews — including the mufti who once said on-air: “There can be no peace with the Jews because (at Passover) they suck and use the blood of Arabs.”
If that’s not hate speech, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, letting controversial speakers have a forum often exposes them for what they are. For example, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became a laughing stock in the West when he told students at Columbia University in 2007 there were “no homosexuals in Iran.”
Sometimes, being open to other views can also change one’s own.
Not long ago, for example, I regarded filmmaker Michael Moore as an irritating, one-sided publicity-seeker. But after seeing Sicko and Capitalism: a Love Story, I came to see him as a genuine populist whose message regarding U.S. health-care discrepancies and Wall Street greed carries a lot of truth.
On the national news Tuesday night, a U of O student said she wanted to hear Coulter because she’s “a kind of Michael Moore of the Right.” What a great insight. What a refreshing attitude.
© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix
[Ed note: see also this this editorial in the Calgary Herald. ]
The auditorium was surrounded by a mob of thugs at what passes for a ”university” in the Third World socialist cesspool on our northern border:
“There was a risk there could be physical violence,” said Canadian conservative activist Ezra Levant, who was scheduled to introduce Ms. Coulter. . . .
In an interview, Ms. Coulter said she’s given 100 to 200 speeches at colleges and last night 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 yet 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.”
Coulter had been warned in a letter by university official François Houle that Americans call “rights” don’t exist in Canuckistan, which may explain why the junior jihadis in Ottawa decided it was open season on blonde pundits:
Coulter said that letter set the tone for and encouraged the protesters. She said it’s well known on the campus speaking circuit that conservatives need to travel with security staff, as she did.
“I’m pretty sure little Francois A-Houle does not need to travel with a bodyguard,” she said. “I would like to know when this sort of violence, this sort of protest, has been inflicted upon a Muslim — who appear to be, from what I’ve read of the human rights complaints, the only protected group in Canada. I think I’ll give my speech tomorrow night in a burka. That will protect me.”
James Fulford notes that “Anti-Americanism is respectable among Canada’s elites,” although I doubt the thugs at Ottawa could be part of any “elite,” even by Canuckistani standards. Via Kathy Shaidle at Five Feet of Fury, here’s video of an interview Coulter did on what passes for television news up there:
[Ed note: The rest of the interview can be found at this Youtube user]