Free speech for the ‘rabble’


I wrote this statement for a blog about Coulter in Canada events -
http://counteringcoulter.wordpress.com/to-bjorn/

That statement is a response to an e-mail (quoted at the bottom of that page) from a 'Free' Press organization.

Here's a bit more background -
The 'Free' Press Society (which was backing the Ann Coulter in Canada events) had sent out hundreds of event RSVP e-mails by mistake. The Countering Coulter blog then was set up to take advantage of that opportunity to reach people who had RSVPed for the event here in London, Ontario, Canada. Someone out here sent those people a message (much like this post) to ask them whether they would want to use the blog to communicate their concerns about the Coulter in Canada event in London, Ontario. After a guy from the 'Free' Press organization sent out an insulting and confusing rant about that e-mail and that Countering Coulter blog — in a message to the same e-mail addresses — I put together the reply on the blog page that I've linked to above.

In that writing I tried to hint at the limited effectiveness of blogging and e-mailing in general. Online activism and dialogue (via Twitter, and Facebook, and so on) are very overrated, and I didn't mean to reinforce the rhetoric and false hopes about 'digital revolution' and 'digital democracy' (Here are some relevant posts.)

To put this another way -
Free speech only can happen when there already is equality and justice in our everyday lives (with or without digital technologies).

On that Countering Coulter blog, it also should be clear that I wasn't approaching free speech as a vicious barking contest — in which ridiculous and blatantly false claims are fine and good.

When we respond to 'libertarians' and blunter neo-conservatives, it's also important to distinguish hate speech from tolerable free speech. I didn't try to draw any such lines in the writing on that blog page, but I have put some time into those sorts of conflicts, in the past. (Comments which I bothered to post here and here come to mind. I also put myself in the middle of a nasty hate speech conflict in a former Indymedia group here in London, Ontario; the Indymedia project went down in flames during that battle — which also was a matter of milder sexism, and other problems.)

In some cases, tensions and gaps in understanding are too far gone to warrant the time and effort required to take sides in a conflict. And those counterproductive spats happen a lot more on the Internet. The remarks on the "Other viewpoints" section of the Countering Coulter blog are cases in point.

This is the text on the Countering Coulter blog page -

=============
=============
 

Bjorn Larsen, of an “International Free Press Society,” has sent around an e-mail which dismisses this blog, while insulting those of us who will be editing this site. In that e-mail (which is quoted below), he claims that we are an “adolescent” group that is not willing to offer open arguments about ideas. Since those claims were made in a widely circulated e-mail, we would like to send this response to Bjorn, and anyone else he collaborates with:

First, we will note that even as Bjorn claims to speak on behalf of a a ‘Free’ Press organization, he nevertheless has suggested that we only should express our concerns at the “forum of the UWO setting provided.” Evidently weblog publishing is too public for this ‘Free’ Press organization; the contradictions here are laughably absurd.

E-mailing people who RSVPed for the event also has been portrayed as “sneaking in the back door” — even though all of the e-mail addresses we contacted were displayed to everyone on the list.

Free e-mailing and free blog posting clearly do not fall within the mandate of this ‘Free’ Press organization, which also would prefer to maintain exclusive authority over e-mails sent out through its contact list.

As for the free dialogue that supposedly will happen at the Coulter in Canada event here -
The people behind the event have let those of us who RSVPed know that “disrupting” or “recording” the event “will result in removal by security and/or police.” Those vague threats, and the security forces associated them, both are supposed to be compatible with free and open dialogue.

If this organization had its way, it seems that the vast majority of us only have shallow, token ‘freedoms’ -
Bjorn alludes to a vision of people coming together to “discuss, debate and argue, freely and in the open” the messages that Ann Coulter and others bring to this city, despite how no half-decent forum for debate has been provided. At the London event, no more than 45 minutes of Q&A time have been allotted — for an entire hall of event attendees, who will be listening to further statements from Coulter (and Levant) throughout much of that time frame. Before there could be genuine discussion and debate at the event, everyone in the room would have to be given equal speaking time. But the rest of us clearly are considered to be rabble who only should be able to make brief comments, before we then are drowned out by responses from Coulter (and Levant, and anyone else who is allowed to take centre stage).

Of course, we do not have platforms and resources that are equivalent to those of Coulter, in particular. As all of us know (on some level), there isn’t a free and level playing field here. The activists behind this blog are not mainstream media personalities, with publishing and broadcasting companies behind us; and no international organization is backing us either. The ‘Free’ Press has demonstated this glaring inequality by using its contact list to send out the insulting rant that we are replying to here and now.

Despite how this ‘Free’ Press organization has tried to pressure us to stop doing so, we are using the blogging and e-mail tools at our disposal to help common people to communicate their concerns about the Coulter in Canada event.

And we are glad that we have not revealed our names. Clearly we would have been targetted personally if we had done so. Otherwise, why would Bjorn (of the ‘Free’ Press) have demanded our names?

Yet, Bjorn also has posed this question -
“Why should anyone have concerns about the persons of ‘Ann Coulter and her supporters’? Is this now a personal battle as opposed to a battle of ideas?”
If the ‘Free’ Press truly does not want to personalize these matters, why are our names relevant?

We would rather not have off-base accusations from Bjorn et al directed toward us, personally.  Here is some of the aggressive nonsense that has been directed toward us so far -
http://counteringcoulter.wordpress.com/other-views/
Does the ‘Free’ Press organization support all of those statements?

As for what will be publishing through this blog -
We will not be posting personal attacks. Ms. Coulter’s clothing, personal relationships, and eating habits, are three of many aspects of her personal life that we do not consider to be noteworthy. This blog is here to cover issues (including homophobia, war-mongering, racism… etc, etc).

What exactly is the problem with our use of a blog and an e-mail message to respond to the Coulter (and Levant) event? How does it make any sense whatsoever to suggest that this blog actually is at odds with a public that could “discuss, debate and argue, freely and in the open” the messages that Coulter will be bringing to London? This blog is here to openly post arguments. The blog, itself, will not be a forum for debate, but material posted on it certainly could inform such debate.

We have not attempted to disrupt the Coulter in Canada event, and we will not try to prevent anyone from posting pro-Coulter statements elsewhere online. Unlike the ‘Free’ Press organization, we are not trying to restrict freedoms.

But we will use the freedom that we have to focus on people’s concerns about the Coulter in Canada event. We will not submit to Coulter supporters who have tried to pressure us to re-post anything and everything they have to say.

Yours truly,
Concerned students and citizens

————————–

[This is the e-mail from Bjorn that we are replying to here]

Dear Ann Coulter UWO Event Guest:

First of all, let me apologize for the error yesterday when an administrative email was sent to certain registrants, with their email addresses in full view. This was an honest mistake on our part and we take full responsibility for the problems this may have caused.

However, our error does not provide justification for “Concerned UWO Students” (unnamed such, as you may have noticed) to utilize this list to now attempt to smear our efforts in bringing Ann Coulter to UWO. Let these concerned students present themselves, in full view and fully identified, and express their “concerns” in the open, as opposed to sneaking in the back door and utilizing private email lists for their own adolescent purposes. In the marketplace of ideas, honoured by Canadian universities in the past, free men and women can discuss, debate and argue, freely and in the open.

That an anonymous blog should now be necessary “to help UWO students and Londoners to communicate their concerns about Ann Coulter and her supporters” is a sad reflection on the poisoned attitude of the writers. Why should anyone have concerns about the persons of “Ann Coulter and her supporters”? Is this now a personal battle as opposed to a battle of ideas? And if such concerns exist, should we not expect them to be aired in the open forum of the UWO setting provided?

The International Free Press Society (IFPS) and I myself in charge, brought the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard to Columbia University and Princeton University in 2009, and we did it openly and proudly, in the tradition of free and unfettered speech. Now we bring Ann Coulter to University of Western Ontario, Ottawa University and Calgary University, in order to present interesting viewpoints to what should be young inquiring minds, again proudly and openly. This is exactly the purpose of the IFPS and its sister organizations.

I look forward to greeting you all on March 22 at UWO.

Regards,

Bjorn Larsen
President
IFPS-Canada

Leave a comment