Late last month, Faisal Khan Suri of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council testified before the Parliamentary Justice Committee on the topic of on-line hate speech – arguing, presumably, for the government to ban it. He asserted, without evidence, that “on-line hate is a precursor and indeed contributor not just to real-life hate, but murder.” Suri went on to reference the Quebec City mosque shooting and other “recent tragedies that have happened across (sic) the world,” adding some precision to his sweeping statement by singling out U.S. President Donald Trump and “conservative commentators” generally as purveyors of on-line hate that cause these kinds of outrages.
The latter connection drew the ire of Conservative committee member Michael Cooper, the first-term MP for St. Albert-Edmonton, who fired back by quoting from the manifesto of the Christchurch mosque attacker. The brief quotation was sufficient to show that that attacker was not sympathetic to conservative commentators or ideas. Cooper told Suri, not without justification, that he should be “ashamed” of making such a sweeping calumny against conservatism. Predictably, the Committee erupted in indignation at this attempt to turn the tables on a witness. Cooper was forced to apologize; Conservative leader Andrew Scheer reacted immediately by removing him from the Justice Committee; and, most ominously, the entire exchange was retroactively expunged from the Parliamentary record by the unanimous vote of the Liberal and NDP members. The similarities to the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 have been too obvious for even the mainstream media to ignore.
What was really wrong with Cooper’s point, though? We can debate the merits of mentioning the name of the Christchurch mosque attacker. But we can’t debate the validity of causally linking “conservative commentators” to mosque shootings without referencing the real motives of the attackers and, where their motives are in doubt, by researching the things they’ve written, said and done, and quoting their own words. If we want to understand these “recent tragedies,” and not use them merely to bolster our prejudices, we have to know and analyze what was said. This is normal. Historians must study Mein Kampf if they wish to thoroughly understand the causes of WWII. Nobody sensible believes that the mere act of reading Hitler makes one a committed Nazi.
Nor do we avoid using the name Marc Lepine or ban what he wrote about his motives for the École Polytechnique shooting in December 1989. On the contrary, we still remind ourselves of these things every December 6th – with leftist politicians in the forefront. We are not only allowed to mention the name “Anders Breivik”, the Norwegian who killed eight with a bomb and shot to death another 69, mostly youths, in 2011 – we can even read handily excerpted passages from his 1,500-page manifesto. The ravings of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, are published in book form – and even score a 90 percent “like” rating on Google!
In fact, all the well-known villains of history can be looked up, read about and discussed by name. So can most of the senior desert head-hackers of Al Qaeda and ISIS, the former group even publishing an on-line magazine. What is so special about the Christchurch mosque attack that requires such delicacy and circumspection? Why the sole exception? The UK’s left-leaning Guardian and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald both published his name several weeks back, when he appeared in court to face charges. On June 14, he pled not guilty to all charges, shocking the courtroom. Al Jazeera, the BBC, and the CBC all named him in describing the scene. So let’s just say the name of the man who, if convicted, will be confirmed as an evil monster: Brenton Tarrant.
Nearly all of the Canadian media reaction to Cooper’s intervention was visceral, emotive and immature. “He came to the meeting prepared to read from the attacker’s manifesto – ugh!” Or, “He spoke the name which is not to be spoken – eek!” Finding a calm, mature, rational reaction has been difficult. And that which in self-congratulatory fashion purports to be rational, isn’t. I present as “Exhibit A” the June 5th column of Andrew Coyne. It is in the guise of a friend of conservatism that he offers a model for how Cooper should have made his point in a more urbane and civilized way, one that might have gained universal assent.
Coyne begins in his typical manner, with irony: “…there is a well-known rule of argument known as the principle of charity, which obliges us to put the best construction on our opponents’ words and not the worst.” At least I charitably assume that citing this rule is intended ironically, given that nobody responded to Cooper’s intervention with the slightest degree of charity. In Coyne’s understanding, the rule of charity apparently has a caveat: be charitable, unless your opponent occupies a position on the political spectrum anywhere to the right of Karl Marx, in which case be as vicious as you please.
Coyne employs the principle of charity to misinterpret what the witness, Suri, actually said. “I’m going to assume,” continues Coyne in his script for Cooper, “that when you [Suri] included ‘conservative commentators’ in your list of terrorist influencers you did not mean to attribute responsibility for terrorist atrocities to mainstream conservatives, or to conservatism, which is an honourable creed professed by millions of Canadians.” But why assume a known falsehood? All manner of social justice warriors assert that mainstream conservative commentators, from Jordan Peterson to Mark Steyn and Tucker Carlson, influence terrorism. And heavens! – even lifelong liberal Richard Dawkins has been de-platformed for his allegedly anti-Muslim stance. Some have even gone on record calling Justin Trudeau a white supremacist.
Assumptions are for deadline-imperilled news commentators, not serious thinkers on Justice Committees. We have seen the leftist syllogism many times before: Andrew Scheer is Doug Ford, Doug Ford is Donald Trump, and Donald Trump is Hitler; therefore, Andrew Scheer is Hitler. In fact, by declaring Cooper to be persona non grata, Scheer more closely resembles Stalin, and Cooper disappears down the memory hole. (Isn’t tracing political lineages fun?) Why is it wrong for a mainstream conservative, a democratically elected MP at that, to forcefully rebel against this calumny? This ridiculous charge as an extremist? Seems more like a duty to me.
At this point, Coyne ceases to pretend to be making any point resembling Cooper’s views. He instead goes off on a frolic of his own: “These fears and resentments have proven fertile soil for opportunistic politicians, so-called ‘populists’ promising to defend ‘the people’ from whatever it is that is not ‘the people’ if only they are given power — only power that, due to the gravity of the alleged threat, must not be impaired by the usual restrictions of a democratic opposition, a free press, or an independent judiciary.”
For a moment, I thought Coyne was about to call out Justin Trudeau by name. The Liberal Party of Canada is the epitome of stoking fears and resentments among the people: finding systemic discrimination and genocide everywhere, climate catastrophe just a decade off, neo-Nazis in every mother’s basement, anti-abortionists marching en masse – the list goes on.
As for grasping at power and circumventing democratic norms, Trudeau is in a class of his own. He is the only Canadian politician I’m aware of who has expressed his admiration for China’s basic dictatorship (although admittedly, we also have elected Chavistas and Castrophiles, who seem to fly under the radar of the mainstream media). He wanted to gerrymander the electoral system to favour the Natural Governing Party. And when that project didn’t yield the result he wanted, he galloped away from the promise to make 2015 “the last election under first past the post” (the age-old system, inherited from Great Britain, by which the candidate with the largest number of votes is elected, whether or not that number is a majority of all the votes cast).
Trudeau is also the one whom, a strong case can be made, has obstructed justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair, whether due to naked political calculus or to favour friends of the party (or both), while professing concern about jobs. It is Trudeau who is sneakily trying to fetter and limit freedom of public expression, including in the media, through the re-introduction of s. 13 of the Human Rights Act, which would once again ban publishing anything that might offend anyone. And it is Trudeau who is now trying to purchase the media wholesale by raising fears that “uncertified” sources in social media could steal the coming election. Talk about exploiting the people’s fears.
Every day, I’m reminded of yet another way Trudeau behaves like those authoritarian creeps Coyne says he detests, and which he somehow believes are uniquely associated with “populism” or the “right.” But there is plenty of evidence of authoritarian “creepage” in our governing Liberals. If it’s not legislating police-state powers of search and seizure, it’s adding more and more to the mandates of the “human rights” tribunals (Bill C-16; reintroducing “hate speech” laws), or denying government funding to individuals and groups that oppose abortion in some measure. The list goes on. The time is past when fascism could be easily associated with the political right. For some time now, it’s the social justice warriors on the left who have been eroding individual liberties and, in many cases, dressing, sounding and acting just like fascists.
“Conservativism is about freedom,” says Coyne, “populism is about fear. Indeed, populism is not just different from conservatism. It is its opposite. Where conservatives see people as individuals, it divides society into Us and Them.” Here Coyne is arguing, and attempting to get you to believe, the logical equivalent of, “Whales are wet, whereas cacti are dry. Therefore, whales are the opposite of cacti.” Conservatism is a political and governing philosophy; populism above all is a method or style.
More accurately, conservatism is about conserving and protecting what has worked in the past, including a strong dose of liberty, free markets and broad individual rights. But the political philosophy that puts freedom first and foremost is classical liberalism, or libertarianism, and in Canada the party that most closely instantiates this philosophy is Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party. For all of Coyne’s professed championing of freedom, he has very little positive to say about Bernier’s movement.
If, as Coyne asserts, populism is about fear, then I suppose the populism one prefers will depend on which hobgoblins one is most frightened by. Some people (“conservatives”) appear frightened by such phantoms as airplanes being flown into tall buildings, trucks being driven through Christmas markets, murderous attacks on satirical magazines and cartoonists, followers of the Prophet trying to establish a caliphate in the Middle East while chopping off heads and throwing gays off buildings or drowning them in cages while the video cameras roll, bombs exploding at pop-diva concerts, sex-slave grooming – and a host of similar trivialities.
Others (“progressives”) are exercised by increasing levels of plant food in the atmosphere that might make the weather slightly more pleasant in 100 years. They are terrified of plastic in the oceans. They are also frightened nearly to the point of apoplexy by the prospect of abortion becoming illegal the minute they lose their grip on power. “Progressives” turn ghostly white with fear that an unregulated internet will cause a swarm of embryonic neo-Nazis to escape their mothers’ basements and take over the country.
And now we come to the pièce de résistance, which returns us to the Cooper affair. Coyne writes, “At the worst edge of [populism] are avowed racists and neo-Nazis, liberated from the margins of public discourse by social media and emboldened by the discovery therein of others of like mind.” Except that not all mosque shooters are white supremacists and neo-Nazis; all haters do not imbibe the same poison. Nor do they get their hate from “conservative commentators” or even the alt-right websites we are instructed to charitably assume Suri was referring to. But to know this you have to know something about what motivated the Christchurch attacker; and to know that, you have to know what’s in his manifesto. And for that, we require freedom of speech.
The Christchurch attacker is no stereotypical lunatic. His political philosophy is a unique mash-up of alt-left and alt-right shibboleths. He quotes Dylan Thomas’s Do Not go Gently into that Good Night in its entirety. He appears to have travelled the world extensively, and claims to have been welcomed wherever he has wandered, including in Muslim and Asian countries. He also claims not to hate Muslims, nor think that white Europeans are superior to the other “races”. In fact, he favours diversity – only globally rather than locally. He wants each ethnic group to preserve its own culture, within its own national boundaries. He believes that mass migration and the globalization of markets have had a homogenizing effect on the world’s population. He despises conservatives because they do nothing to conserve their cultures; rather, they promote the “corporatist” agenda of importing cheap foreign labour and cheap foreign goods so that the capitalists can make bigger profits. Thus he hates Trump as much as any certified journalist must.
Importantly, the Christchurch attacker self-identifies as an environmentalist and an “eco-fascist” – a term he uses three times – as well as a former communist and anarchist. In a Q&A with himself, he answers “no” when asked if he’s a conservative. He believes humanity is destroying the planet, and that this destruction is being hastened by mass migrations of populations with high birthrates into countries with low birthrates – what he calls “The Great Replacement.” He admires the basic dictatorship of China because of its one-child policy. The reason he attacked mosques is that Muslims represent the biggest body of “invaders” with the highest birthrates, and believes they will overwhelm the European ethnicity very quickly. He used guns in his attack because he hoped to provoke maximum civil strife over gun laws.
In short, the Christchurch attacker has some of the same “dark, authoritarian impulses” and is exercised by some of the same hobgoblins as many on the left. In the pie-chart graphic that opens his manifesto – an unsettling design mix of Mayan sun-dial and corporate presentation centred on a chilling swastika-evoking pattern – four of his eight desired policy categories are mainstream centrist to left-leaning. He is just as obsessed with “race,” ethnicity, and religion as the intersectional progressives.
No wonder the progressives on the Justice Committee wanted so desperately to expunge the record. We must not discuss it because the truth of the matter is severely at odds with the progressive narrative. Cooper appears to have recognized at least portions of this but his boss, Scheer, evidently didn’t think the truth was worth defending on principle, while Coyne is oblivious or has shielded his eyes.
Coyne has long presented himself as a rare friendly voice of conservatism in the mainstream media, and has long been regarded as such. Lately, however, his mask has been slipping. How did the strange metamorphosis of a national columnist who has hopped back and forth between the Globe and Mail and the National Post occur? Coyne’s reputation derives largely from his writing on economics, a subject on which he remains a sane voice in support of market freedoms and market solutions.
Over the years, though, Coyne has shifted his interests and his perspective. His early focus on matters economic segued into budgetary issues, and thence to retail political commentary, finally venturing into social and legal debates where his conservatism is intermittent and tenuous at best and his background knowledge less secure. Lamenting the rise of anti-progressive populism is his latest hobbyhorse. So when Coyne now pretends to be offering conservatives advice on how to position themselves on many of the hot-button issues of the day, conservatives should be wary.
“…It is we conservatives who ought to feel shame,” concludes Coyne-as-Cooper, “shame that such vile opportunists should be able to parade about as ‘conservatives,’ but even more, shame that mainstream conservative parties have been so unwilling to denounce or distance themselves from them.” So unwilling to denounce and distance themselves that they do so at every opportunity, even to the point where the leader throws one of his MPs under the bus after giving a forced apology for stating the plain truth, just because the certified journalists are emoting again.
If I were to give one bit of advice to conservatives in leadership positions, I would urge them to double down instead of backing down when the chattering classes or their social justice warrior revolutionary vanguard emote against them or those serving them. The people are smarter than they are given credit for being; they will understand a good explanation when they hear it. Scheer should have made a clear statement defending Cooper, and let progressives howl. Instead he appears insufficiently contrite to progressives (who will never vote for him in any case), and shifty and weak to conservatives.
The 18th Century English Bishop Joseph Butler famously said, “Everything is what it is, and not another thing.” Alt-left extremists are precisely that: radicals and fanatics whose motivations arise from progressive and leftist causes. It’s time that we start being honest about this and calling things by their proper names.
Grant Brown has a DPhil from Oxford University, taught applied ethics and political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge in the 1990s, practised family law in the 2000s, and currently runs a B&B in Stratford, Ontario.