Why we need Anne Coulter
Right-wing rabblerousing, freedom of speech, and why this woman won’t go away
On March 23, a group of peaceful protesters prevented right-wing American figure Anne Coulter from delivering a speech at the University of Ottawa. In reaction, the ever-classy Ms. Coulter condemned the University as a bush-league school worse than the stupidest American university. Coulter’s stirring rendition of the event tells that “The police called off my speech when the auditorium was surrounded by thousands of rioting liberals — screaming, blocking the entrance, throwing tables, demanding that my books be burned,” a statement which has yet to be proven by police or witness reports. She called the event and her correspondence with the University administration “a hate crime” perpetrated against her, and vehemently criticized freedom of speech in Canada. It is worth acknowledging that the speech at the University of Ottawa was cancelled by Coulter’s own party. The resultant media blitz was exactly what Coulter’s career has been based on—an insistence on rhetoric and inflammatory speech with a disproportionately low level of substance.
First of all, most people would wonder why Anne Coulter would want to come to Canada. This is a woman who, along with Republicans Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, is famous for extremist right-wing views and polemical rhetoric. On a Fox News broadcast in 2004, she made the comment that Canada “better hope the United States doesn’t roll over one night and crush them. They are lucky we allow them to exist on the
same continent.” So why bother coming here? The reason she visits Canada on a lucrative speaking tour, reportedly charging upwards of $10 000 per engagement, is because our freedom of speech protects her. Surely Coulter would not seek a speaking engagement in Israel, or Iraq, after the inflammatory comments she has made in regards to these countries.
At a speech at the University of Western Ontario on March 22, a Muslim girl in the crowd questioned Coulter’s previous comments in regards to Muslim people. Coulter previously suggested that Muslim countries should be invaded by the United States, their leaders killed, and all Muslims converted to Christianity. She stated that Muslims should be denied air travel and made to use their “flying carpets” instead. 17-year old political science student Fatima Al-Dhaher asked Coulter whether, as a Muslim girl, she should be converted to Christianity. Al-Dhaher then stated that she didn’t have a magic carpet, to which Coulter responded that Al-Dhaher should “take a camel.”
Imagine such comments given in a country without free speech, or Canada’s propensity for self-flagellation. The reason Ms. Coulter is able to speak at high-paying engagements and has a career at all as a hate-mongering talking head, is that she is protected by freedom of speech. It would seem, despite her rhetoric, that Coulter is not in favor of freedom of speech. At a University of Florida speech in 2005 she said “They’re [Democrats] always accusing us of repressing their speech. I say let’s do it. Let’s repress them. Frankly, I’m not a big fan of the First Amendment.” And what, then, is the alternative? A flip of the coin. Heads, a regime that favors your point of view and places you on a pedestal, where your words are taken as gospel. Tails, a regime that silences you for good. Without freedom of speech, Anne Coulter would be subject to a not-so welcome party at the border and a dirt cell.
I don’t believe that she fully endorses half the things she says. In a culture where sensationalism sells, the more shocking the message, the more attention garnered (precisely why this is the last time my keyboard will ever type the name “Anne Coulter” again). It is a shame that her over-the-top hate-mongering clouds some valid points (bear with me). We should have a dialogue about free speech. There is a presumption to shout about free speech with little knowledge of its ramifications, history, or particulars. When you hear the term “freedom of speech,” you can usually count on it being followed by a big fat political sermon. It is used often, but has become one of those strange word combinations devoid from literal meaning. We need Anne Coulter, if only to remind us why we are opposed to what she says. Freedom of speech is a right in some countries, but it is a privilege much of the world is not privy to—not fixed in stone but often subject to regime change.
In Canada, freedom of speech is limited by section 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code. Section 318 states that it is illegal to promote genocide. Under section 319, it is against the law to publicly incite hatred against people based on colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation, unless the statements can be established as true, or the statements were made in “good faith” (there are several subsections on what “good faith” entails—consult the Criminal Code of Canada website for more details: http://www.efc.ca/pages/law/cc/cc.part-viii.html). What does this mean? A person who cites violence against other cultures and oppression based on one or a combination of the categories above can face criminal charges in Canada.
Canadians don’t believe in freedom of speech? I would wager that 2000 students in peaceful protest is a pretty clear form of freedom of speech. Allow me to exercise my freedom of speech when I say “Au revoir Ms. Coulter. Don’t let the Charter hit you on your way out.”