Progressivism and Free Speech for All
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
-- John Milton
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
-- The Friends of Voltaire
There is a concerted right-wing effort to clamp down on liberal academics in the US. The attacks on M. Shahid Alam and Ward Churchill serve distinct notice that free-speech rights may be constitutionally protected on paper, but those rights are fragile.
The assault on free speech is not confined to the US. Canadian security bills enacted following 9-11 have severely curtailed freedoms enjoyed by Canadians. Several Muslim Canadians have been rounded up along with one infamous historical revisionist.
Sixty-five-year-old graphic artist Ernst Zündel, clad in an orange jumpsuit, sits on a pile of documents (because he is not allowed a chair) and sends off his last missives written with pencil stubs from his prison cell. He has just passed his second year of incarceration without charge. This prisoner is deemed to be a national security risk to Canada although he has no criminal record and is avowedly a Christian pacifist.
Zündel and his supporters have characterized his situation as a “political kidnapping disguised as a deportation, based entirely on drummed up charges.” The situation was allegedly stacked against Zündel.
Once two cabinet ministers signed the draconian national security certificate, Zündel was denied the right to cross-examine his accusers or to know all the evidence against him. The Crown needed only to convince Federal Court Justice Pierre Blais (a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service head) that it was not unreasonable for two cabinet ministers to think Zündel might be a terrorist. Now, Zündel has abandoned his fight to stay in Canada and is slated for early deportation to Germany, where he will be immediately arrested and tried for his controversial views on the World War II Holocaust.
Zündel’s lawyer Peter Lindsay said authorities had informed him there would be no wait for a Supreme Court of Canada review of his allegation of judicial bias or rule on the constitutionality of Canada’s anti-terrorism laws. Lindsay condemned the legal process as “unfair.” Said Lindsay, “We should care. But ... most of us don’t give a damn.”
Blais ordered the expulsion of Zündel, having determined him to be a hate-monger and threat. “Zündel’s activities are not only a threat to Canada’s national security but also a threat to the international community of nations,” opined Blais.
Zündel’s notoriety stems from his challenging the conventional history of the World War II Holocaust. He does not deny that there was a holocaust: “The Jewish community has been victimized, no doubt in my mind, … by National Socialist Germany; they were robbed of their human rights. … I say Germans should pay restitution, material restitution, … moral restitution to Jewish institutions.”
The German-born Zündel was at one point enjoying a comfortable, well-to-do life in Canada based on his success as a graphic artist. But he gave that up when he took it upon himself to correct what he saw as inaccuracies in World War II history. Said Zündel, “I owe it to myself, as a person, to humanity, to tell this truth as I found it, and as I know it -- to submit it to people. I don’t ask people to love me. I don’t ask people to even agree with me. I don’t ask people anything but to let me state my case and then for them to reflect on it.”
Zündel is not a holocaust denier. But Zündel objects to the holocaust being portrayed as an exclusively Jewish holocaust. “That Second World War was a Holocaust for everyone in it.… If we are to draw lessons from the Second World War, we must find out what led to this monstrous event … We must find out as people, as a planet, as human beings what really happened. Because otherwise we might well overlook when real holocausts are planned in the future.”
“Holocausts come under the guise of laws, robbing people of their civil rights, their human rights, imprisoning them for ideas; that’s how holocausts start,” says Zündel.
Since promulgating his views on the World War II Holocaust, Zündel has been threatened, a recipient of a mail bomb, physically attacked, and suffered an arson attack that destroyed his home. To compound his misfortune, he has been financially bogged down defending himself and his controversial views in Canada’s so-called justice system.
Canada does limit free speech rights when hatred is promoted against an identifiable group. Contrary to what is commonly thought, Zündel was never prosecuted under the “group hatred” act. He was charged under an old section of the Criminal Code pertaining to disinformation. This is incredible, as Zündel obviously believes in the verisimilitude of what he is saying.
At his 1988 trial, Zündel was tried and cleared in the Supreme Court for disseminating “false news” in the form of a reprinted 28-page revisionist booklet Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Verrall (but penned under the name Richard Harwood). The False News Law was struck down.
In his youth, Zündel professed a belief in the Jewish Holocaust and the gas chambers, but he now maintains that: “Revisionist researchers around the world had scientifically and forensically proven the Holocaust to be a racket arising out of World War II propaganda.”
Zündel stated that all his alleged crimes are Internet-related, dealing with the “Auschwitz Holocaust problem” and his defense of the German people. Vituperation is directed at the Zundelsite, which is adorned with Nazi-style flags featuring a “Z” fashioned after the swastika. The site carries the transcripts of his previous court appearances. Zündel considers this his legacy to revisionists.
The truth of Zündel’s claims, however, was considered irrelevant. The Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is responsible for investigating “hate crimes,” astonishingly concluded:
The truth in some absolute sense really plays no role. Rather, it is the social context in which the message is delivered and heard which will determine the effect that the communication will have on the listener. It is not the truth or falsity per se that will evoke the emotion but rather how it is understood by the recipient.
On 18 February, a crack did emerge in the rigidity of Canada’s national security laws. Adil Charkaoui, a Moroccan-born alleged terrorist agent, was finally released from a ministerial security certificate detention after 21 months in jail.
Federal Court Judge Simon Noel ruled Charkaoui to be released on $50,000 bail -- raised by several prominent Canadians -- subject to a number of strict conditions such as obeying a curfew and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Charkaoui is, however, only one of several Muslim men being held under national security laws.
It was not enough to affect Zündel.
Free Speech Trumps Ideology
A Marxist-Leninist friend was surprised that I would write about the ordeal of Zündel. He advised, “Forget about him. He’s a fascist and a Nazi.” But he relented to the degree that, harkening to the wisdom of Martin Niemöller, if Canadians remain silent about the human rights of Zündel then who will be there to speak out for their rights if and when their turn comes.
Zündel does present a case for a revisionist perspective on the World War II Holocaust. Given the far greater numbers of Soviets massacred by Nazis, and the killings of Romani and those deemed by the Nazis as inferior, the contention that the holocaust is exclusive to Jews is untrue; but what is undeniable is that Jews were a group targeted, rounded up, and transported to concentration camps and ghettos during World War II. Whether the killing of Jews was by gas chambers or not, the killing was an abomination. In any revisionist approach, this fact should be affirmed.
Zündel is not a sympathetic figure. He is an unabashed admirer of the Austrian-born and raised Hitler, who he lauds as “Germany’s greatest son.” It is unsure how this squares with his pacifist declaration. In the vein of Hitler, Zündel is also vehemently anti-Marxist. Marxism, according to Zündel, is a “psychopathic ideology.” In addition, he adheres to a doctrine of white racial purity.
Nonetheless, his incarceration and upcoming deportation are morally wrong. It is relatively easy for progressives to stand up in defense of progressives when their free-speech rights are imperiled. The real test for progressives, however, is to defend free-speech rights of those whose views are anathema to progressivism.
Kim Petersen is a writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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