3.31.2009

heather mallick: free speech does not exist in this hamster country

From CBC's Heather Mallick.
The bold, relentless, in-your-face-and up-your-nose, five-times-elected British MP George Galloway is a Scot.

He was coming to Canada to make a speech. The Harper government will not let this Scot across the border.

I never thought I would see the day when such a travesty would take place in a country as supposedly open as Canada.

Have we forgotten also that this country was largely built by 19th century Scots, those champions of banking and public schools.

I assume they were looking for a climate more challenging than the cold relentless sleet of their notoriously comfortable homeland, a landscape more alienating than the Hebrides, a cuisine more excruciating than toothsome haggis.

If you've ever eaten moose meat, you'll know that the Scottish settlers found it a laudable meat. Sturdy food, that's what Scots like. These are people who toss cabers, trunks of small trees, for sport. There's no profit in it, no point. It's painful. That's why they do it.

The Canadian character is Scottish (Margaret Atwood extracted a whole book from this, which she called Survival) and French. (If we Canadians have any joie de vivre, it's in Montreal, and you know that's true.)

Don't mess with Scotland

Scots are implacable. You do not mess with them. The American government happily let Galloway in to speak his mind and what a fertile fierce eccentric mind it is.

I could listen to Galloway all night. He's practically Shakespearean in his fierceness and perfect phrasing. He's like Tony Benn (another troublesome British politician of the left) whose oratory was so valued that it was actually released on CD with an ambient soundtrack.

I listen to it at night sometimes. How these Brits can talk.

But the Canadian government will not let this type of person in to speak. What type, you ask?

Another clever Brit, the polymath Stephen Fry, calls them the QIs. It stands for Quite Interesting. It is a category that includes The Literate, The Talkers, the people with a sense of humour who add gaiety to our increasingly grunted national discussion.

Banning this argumentative, energizing Scot will make Canada look even more like what we are rapidly becoming: a hamster of a country, petting and fattening its dullness, silencing dissent, mocking artists, musicians and anyone who's creative, or odd, or not entirely mainstream.

Governments with tidying, controlling tendencies are fanatical about two things: borders and loose talk. Travel and chatter — these are the things that make the right wing nervous.

The more they praise free speech, the more you come to realize that they detest it and would in fact like to put a pillow over your face, right there in airport Customs.

People banning

The Jewish Defence League of Canada is boasting about having sparked the government into barring Galloway from Canada.

People banning? In my Canadian way, this strikes me as not really something to boast about.

"This is not about free speech," spokesman, Meir Weinstein told a British TV interviewer in a riveting YouTube video.

Galloway, Weinstein claims, has been supporting terrorists by attempting to bring humanitarian aid to ravaged Gaza and by donating money to the Palestinian leadership of democratically elected Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization in Canada.

The JDL "lit a fire" in the Jewish community to contact the federal government and begin a campaign against Galloway's visit, Weinstein told reporters. And sure enough, the Scot was banned.

Weinstein went on. "We will be looking into these organizations that have invited them and their links to terrorists as well."

Galloway's response was that one of the churches that invited him would be interested to know that. Nice touch, George.

Gorgeous George

Given Galloway's supposed "links," it's odd then that the British House of Commons still allows him to enter the room.

In Britain, he is known as "Gorgeous George" because he dresses so well, which may say something about Brit politicians' fashion sense that this is considered remarkable. I mean, Brits are pretty clever but they're often a sartorial shambles; they can look like their mother still dresses them.

Governments who ban free speech thrive in somnolent rodent nations. The U.S. government, in the pre-Obama era, refused to let in Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam. That inspired protests from the (pro-Bush) Tony Blair government, which rather liked its British singer/songwriter turned Muslim peacemaker.

In the McCarthy era, the U.S. government let an outspoken Brit into the country — the anti-Nazi Jessica Mitford, niece of Winston Churchill. But when she became an earnest Communist, the authorities refused to let her leave for some strange reason.

Martha Stewart, a felon, was briefly barred from entering Canada in 2005, lest she abuse free speech by introducing us to her frittata recipe, which I would like to say, frankly, needs some refining.

Free speech does not exist in this hamster country. I, for instance, cannot speak about the value of English literature at a university campus in Alberta because anti-abortionists dislike my pro-choice views and promise to riot over my presence, harming donations.

But if those same anti-abortionists are told that they cannot go on campuses and graphically liken women who have abortions to Nazi killers, then they complain that their "free speech" is being curtailed. Jeez, I only wanted to talk about the gently subversive novels of Barbara Pym and her touting the benefits of hot milky drinks at bedtime. But my feminist views apparently contaminate my speech, which must be cancelled. Fine, whatever.

Because of these experiences, I have learned to distrust anyone who uses the phrase free speech as a weapon to attack others. They want speech to be free when it is theirs alone.

Free speech is no longer a cause. It is a weapon used against those who wish to speak by those who don't wish to let others hear it.

I wish to hear Galloway speak and not only because he speaks so well. I am ashamed of what this country is turning into, a humourless place that celebrates unreason and the subtraction of ancient freedoms.

3 comments:

Stephanie said...

Bang on!! Thank you Heather Mallick.And thank you for posting this.

Cid said...

Here, here. I am, once again, ashamed of our government. We are rapidly falling into the pit of irrelevance on the world stage.

John F said...

Tories off Earth now!