[R-G] In Defence of Lesley Hughes
christopherswebb at yahoo.ca
Thu Oct 2 11:12:31 MDT 2008
In Defence of Lesley Hughes
by Chris Webb
“I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Liberal politicians and journalists would have done well to remember
these weighty words of enlightenment philosophy when they dismissed and
attacked Lesley Hughes. Instead, political pillars of free speech and
debate have been replaced by narrow electioneering and name-calling.
Lesley Hughes is a brave and honest woman. She is a thoughtful and
respected journalist and someone who has spent the better part of her
life writing and standing up for the rights of the downtrodden. Here we
have a journalist and activist who has vehemently defended freedom of
speech for others and now finds it is lacking to defend herself.
If we have any hope that our country and society are to become more
participatory, more democratic and more inclusive, then we need to be
unafraid to practice something that seems to be sorely
lacking—particularly during this election period—critical thought. But
in order for this thought to be meaningful and constructive in changing
our society we need to foster it, not be afraid of it. Indeed, some of
the most controversial political decisions made during our lifetimes
have been made behind closed doors with almost no public debate. In
these cases the onus lies with both politicians and journalists to be
courageous, confront issues and bring them to the public. Whether it is
the imprisonment of Omar Khadr, Canada’s role in Afghanistan and Haiti,
or our domestic policies related to immigration and indigenous rights,
debate and action on these issues is part and parcel with democracy.
This is why we should all defend Lesley Hughes. Not because we agree
with her opinions or politics, but because we shouldn’t be afraid to
speak to the issues that matter and holding those in power to account.
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against
forgetting,” said Milan Kundera, and I’m certain Lesley would agree. No
one should feel afraid to hold those accountable who make decisions
affecting the lives of millions.
I’d like to be clear that I don’t want to waste a line discussing
9/11 because I believe that many of these theories are damaging to
popular mobilization around issues that matter—not unsubstantiated
claims—and actually detract from an empirical understanding of how
governments enter and benefit from war and imperialism.
I will touch on the charges of anti-Semitism that have been leveled
against her because I believe these are very worrying. B’Nai Brith
Canada called on the Liberal party to dismiss Hughes because of “her
antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories,” which they said “are not
reflective of the Liberal Party’s tradition of tolerance and respect.”
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum anti-Semitism
means “prejudice against or hatred of Jews.” Hughes does not mention
Jewish people in her column. She never claimed that Israeli companies
had knowledge of the attacks. She merely reported information that had
already been published in three mainstream newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz.
Whether these companies acted or not does not constitute anti-Semitism.
For a woman with a long history of anti-racist involvement this was
surely not her intent.
Unfortunately we now live in a world so polarized by war-on-terror
rhetoric and an ideology that demands patriotic obedience that we have
been afraid to ask questions and demand answers. This is also true of
journalism. If the New York Times had taken the time and ink to show
that the attack on Iraq was based on entirely false pretenses and that
there were no WMDs millions of lives could have been saved. But under
the auspices of neutrality and objectivity these questions apparently
could not be asked. The same is true of Canada’s involvement in
This fear has translated in the way debate about Israel is framed
both in civil society and the media. Any criticisms of Israel’s
policies are seen as anti-Semitic. A greater absurdity is without
precedent, except perhaps the charges of anti-Americanism laid against
those who question US policy. The arrests of hundreds of demonstrators
at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis last month shows
that voices of dissent are no longer welcomed even in the street, let
alone on the printed page.
This excommunication of Lesley Hughes from the Liberal party and her
condemnation in many editorial pages is about more than her ill-fated
blog. It is about demonstrating that there is no room for dissenting
opinions within mainstream political parties. Why? Because if freedom
of speech means lost votes then debate can be put on hold.
Canadians face increasing economic uncertainty, the fact that we are
still at war in Afghanistan and have taken little action to prevent
climate change. Stifling debate, especially within political parties,
cannot help in developing solutions to these problems.
I agree that there is no place for “conspiracy theories” in this
time because we face challenges that are far more real and urgent. We
should be unafraid to discuss these issues, particularly those of race,
religion and ethnicity in a country of such diversity as ours.
Indeed it is because we accepted the choices of our leaders after
September 11th that we now live in a world that is more unstable, more
unsafe and more unequal than before. Secret torture sites, illegal
prisons, war crimes, private mercenary armies, suspending habeas
corpus, destroying civil liberties, war-lord governments. These are the
true conspiracies of our time.
I wish that we had more politicians like Lesley Hughes, and in
defending not only freedom of speech but critical and dissenting voices
I will defend her.
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