It started with my essay in yesterday's Vancouver Sun
about the Vancouver Public Library's decision to showcase the notorious, Jew-obsessed conspiracy-mongerer Greg Felton, author of The Host and the Parasite: How Israel's Fifth Column Consumed America
, as the library's featured author for its upcoming Freedom To Read Week.
City Librarian Paul Whitney has now weighed in
with a response to my essay, also in the pages of The Vancouver Sun. His response raises some unsettling and wholly unexpected questions.
Whitney's version of events has now put him in the dodgy position of having to approve or deny a written request from Vancouver doctor Joel Shapiro to go the extra mile during Freedom To Read Week for two more library events - one about the "Mohammed cartoons" controversy (which refuses to go away
) and another about the bloodcurdling tally of racism and genocide in Islamic states.
And Howard Rotberg
, author of Second Generation Radical: The Struggle Against The Second Holocaust
, has also written to Whitney with a convincing case that the library would be wise to showcase some other authors and "banned" books
, concurrently with Felton, to get out of the mess it's made with some semblance of dignity.
Which means this is all going to start getting very interesting, very soon. But back to some troubling aspects of Whitney's account.
To begin with, it just doesn't quite fit with the straightforward explanation I was provided by the library officials more directly involved in the decision to showcase Felton. Senior library staff told me that when they were approached by Felton, they were unaware of the black propaganda for which he is best known, and that none of them had read anything but an excerpt of his book. Indeed, the library hadn't yet acquired a single copy for The Host and the Parasite
for its own shelves.
So how to explain Whitney's version, which is that in reviewing Felton's request for a venue at the library, his book was found to be, well, legal, but also "provocative but not hateful"? Whitney had read it, but the other library staff had not? Did Whitney have some role in the decision?
And what's all this about a library's responsibility to provide its patrons with all manner of books, "including those that may be considered unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable"? Isn't this the same Paul Whitney whose free-speech timidity earned a rebuke from the British Columbia Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee, when he was the boss librarian in the City of Burnaby, Vancouver's neighbour? Ah, yes, so it is. The very same Paul Whitney
Back then, Whitney refused to allow library patrons to read Diana Russell's Against Pornography: The Evidence of Harm
. A "provocative" book, I gather, but not hateful. And legal, as well. Topical. Maybe even controversial.
So why was it wrong to merely allow people to read a book like Russell's, but it's right, and indeed righteous, to provide a free, public platform to an apologist for the book-banning regime in Tehran whose Islamic propaganda agency is behind a newspaper Felton writes a column for? Before Whitney's letter, Felton's invitation was more or less an honest mistake. Now, Whitney would have us believe that something rather more exalted is going on. Something about "intellectual freedom."
And what does Whitney mean when he says that my essay was "a spirited condemnation of Greg Felton's views and his book"? In what way?
I didn't write about the contents of Felton's book, and I never claimed to. It's the product of a crank publishing house that's situated somewhere in the bleak Arizona desert and is almost wholly concerned with spacemen and thought control. I've read excerpts of Felton's book. I'm fully conversant with its thesis. I've read Felton's slanders against the Jews on white-supremacist websites, and I' quite familiar with the Medieval legends that Felton persists in reporting as fact. This is "intellectual"? These are his "views"?
I've spent far too much time reading through Felton's voluminous ouvre to insult anyone's intelligence by stooping to mount a condemnation, spirited or otherwise, of anything he writes. Facts alone condemn Felton. They need no help from me.
My essay was about words, and specifically the way words can be made to hide meaning rather than reveal it. I observed that this is a way that lies are made. I asked a simple question about the polemics Felton and his kind engage in: If it isn't antisemitism, then what is it? And I deferred to the British novelist Martin Amis, whose answer is, yes, it is a kind of antisemitism.
That's about the only "spirited" opinion I offered. In my essay, I actually didn't express much of a clear opinion on the virtue of the Vancouver Public Library's decision to provide Felton with this exalted platform. You want a spirited opinion? Okay. Here it is.
The Vancouver Public Library is welcoming Greg Felton as though he were an honoured son who has come home to his father's house. In so doing, the Vancouver Public Library, or at the very least City Librarian Paul Whitney, has resorted to citing "intellectual freedom" and the library's role as "a forum for an open and public exchange of contradictory views."
In so doing, the library, under the guise of free speech, no less, has afforded legitimacy, and even a sanction of decency, to what is actually a grotesque infringement of free speech. It is a demand that we either dignify people like Felton by debating with them, or shut up.
It works like this.
Nowadays, perhaps especially among the urban intellectual caste, you cannot raise your voice against even the most foul antisemite, if that same antisemite uses words such as "Israel" or "Zionist" in the same breath as his other veiled utterances of Jew-hatred. You will be told that you are equating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
You will be told, 'This is part of a legitimate debate.' But if you say, no it isn't, you will be told, 'This is just how the Jews suppress free speech to silence criticism of Israel.' If you say, 'That sounds like one of those old antisemitic canards; show me some evidence that it is true,' you will be called a Zionist, which is one of the worst things you can call someone these days. If you talk back, you will hear someone calling you a Zionazi. You will soon hear people telling you to shut up.
In order for the kind of polemics and legends Felton disseminates to find a privileged place in Whitney's "open and public exchange of contradictory views", one must acquiesce to the demand that a veiled and nuanced Judeophobia has a proper place in "legitimate debate," and we must submit to that very specific and particular sort of demand to shut up. This is not the way lies are made. It is the way they flourish, and spread, and debase the very purpose, function and possibility of "free speech" in an open and democratic society.
And that is precisely and exactly what is going on here.
One last point.
Whitney also wrote: "We were aware of the freedom-of-expression debate surrounding Felton's departure from the Vancouver Courier, where he was a columnist, and therefore felt this reading was relevant for Freedom to Read Week."
Most of that "freedom of expression debate" unfolded on Neo-Nazi internet bulletin boards almost a decade ago, but nevermind that. What occurred back then is actually directly relevant to Whitney's predicament now.
What happened back then was an inexperienced reporter by the name of Greg Felton had gotten himself a column, and before long he was writing offensive rubbish about Israel, and about Jews. There was huge protest by the newspaper's readers.
The Courier just happened to be circulated and distributed mainly around a part of Vancouver, centred on Kerrisdale. It wasn't once called the Kerrisdale Courier for nothing, and Kerrisdale and its environs just happens to be home to a lot of Vancouver's Jews.
The newspaper owner eventually responded to his readers' protests by making a sensible business decision. He legally terminated Fenton's employment. This explains a lot, it seems to me, about Felton's lingering obsessions.
Call it a "freedom fo expression" issue if you want. I would have thought it was rather an instructive example of citizens and newspaper readers making a media company accountable to their sensibilities, and the limits of their tolerance for bullshit. Things like that should probably happen more often.
It might just be that the imbroglio at the Vancouver Public Library will be resolved by a similar democratic engagement, and a cherished and vital taxpayer-funded public institution will be held similarly accountable.
UPDATE: My previous post on this subject concluded with a little video, to encourage a sense of humour about all this. It was intended to illustrate the point that in the face of bigoted provocation and slander, my crowd is inclined to responses other than the "let's debate!" approach and the "let's file a human rights complaint" method. The Dohertys and the Coyles prefer one alternative response, but to illustrate another, which involves a kind of feint, as though you are simply walking away, let me now introduce you to the Thornhill, Ontario flying column of the Chaim Herzog Battalion of the Ancient Order of Hibernians: