This Is Not A Story About Free Speech. This Is Not A Story About National Security.
(UPDATE: The full half-hour CHQR World Tonight radio interview version of this post's contents is here).
In his contribution to the cacophony about L’affaire Galloway, Christopher Hitchens is not wrong in the substance of the opinions he expresses here. It is just that they are wholly immaterial to the matter at hand. Hitchens is wholly wrong in his assumptions. He didn’t do a lick of homework. He fails, and fails utterly.
(UPDATE II: Appended to his Slate column today, Christopher writes: In my last column, it seems I may have done an injustice to the government and people of Canada in the matter of George Galloway's canceled visit to that country. For elucidation, please consult the following blog post. For my part, let me say it was not so much that Hitchens didn't do a lick of homework, but that the references he relied upon - Canada's national newspapers - are what led him astray).
The pretended difficulties that the fascist thug George Galloway has encountered in making his Canadian appointments are of his own construction and design. This has nothing to do with Geert Wilders, Skokie, or Jean Marie Le Pen. It certainly is not about “the risk of giving the power of censorship to any official.” It is not really a story about Canada's national security, either. None of these things are at stake here, any more than it was ever going to matter who won or lost when Galloway’s Canadian friends launched a court case to try and get Galloway in, the roundabout way.
Nevertheless, in the real world, something rather important did happen, and it actually did involve George Galloway.
A couple of weeks ago, a Canadian High Commission official in London had a conversation with someone in George Galloway’s parliamentary staff about the MP’s travel plans. The official then showed George Galloway the personal courtesy of writing him directly to advise him that a preliminary assessment of his admissibility to Canada was not favourable.
In that letter, Immigration Program Manager Robert J. Orr politely referred Galloway to certain provisions of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, specifically, Section 34 (1), which, among other things, cites “engaging in terrorism” as grounds to prevent a person from entering Canada. This provision concerns itself with the national security of peoples in faraway places; in this instance, with the security of the Palestinian people, and the Israeli people. In Canada, engaging in terrorism includes raising money for terrorist groups. In Canada, the death cult Hamas, the worst enemy the cause of Palestinian freedom has ever faced, is listed as a proscribed terrorist group.
Mere days before Orr wrote his letter, Galloway had delivered roughly $2 million (Cdn.) in vehicles, various goods and cash, directly to Hamas boss Ismail Haniyeh. Galloway boasted about this, and openly dared British and European authorities to charge him for breaking the sanctions against Hamas, and he went so far as to stage an event for Al Jazeera television in which he handed over a wad of cash in the equivalent of about $50,000 (Cdn.) directly to Haniyeh. Around the time Orr was composing his letter to Galloway, the British Charity Commission was preparing an investigation into the transactions Galloway was involved with in Gaza.
There is nothing occult about any of this.
In his letter, Orr noted that Galloway was not expected to make his Canadian appointments before March 30, and so he extended to Galloway the further courtesy of inviting him to make a submission to address his preliminary assessment of inadmissibility. The alternative would be that a Border Services Agency official might find himself obliged to make a final determination at some border crossing, informed only by the preliminary assessment, but without the benefit of a submission from Galloway himself. Orr also suggested an alternative to Galloway, to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit, but he also showed Galloway the further kindness of letting him know that it would be unlikely that such an application would succeed.
Instead of proceeding as he was so politely invited, Galloway had a Canadian law firm dash off a letter to Orr that included a citation from Galloway's Wikipedia entry, a denial that he was a member of Hamas, a complaint about Ottawa's affections for Israel, and several other subject-changing diversions. The letter did not deny (because it could not deny) what Galloway had openly boasted of doing.
Galloway hasn't even tried to enter Canada, remember. Instead, he has taken the opportunity to combine with his Canadian admirers to exploit the gullibility and general slovenliness of the press in order to tell a pack of lies, monger a lurid conspiracy theory about a secret plot hatched in Ottawa to silence critics of Canada’s engagements in Afghanistan, fabricate a free-speech controversy, and blame it all on the Jews.
That’s the story Hitchens missed, but he needn't feel lonely, because he wasn't the only one. It is a rare thing, though, when Christopher Hitchens falls for a story that never even happened. In all the foreign and domestic sniggerings, objections, protests and complaints about the way Canada and its officials have handled the Galloway file, you will have to look very hard before you find one - just one - that does not wholly depend upon an embarassing error of fact, a delusion, a conspiracy theory, or an outright lie.
Try it. You will be looking for a long, long time (see also Comrade Weiss, who has opened up a southern front for us on this point in The New Criterion).
To be clear: Despite what all Galloway's friends will tell you, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney did not ban George Galloway from speaking in Canada, or from not speaking in Canada, and neither did any Canadian official do anything of the kind, either. It did not happen. It did not occur. And it won't do to say, well, yes, but however you put it, the whole thing has only only served to draw more attention to Galloway and his "odious opinions." Something has given Galloway the attention he craves, to be sure. But he hasn't been given anything like the attention he properly deserves, and as for why this is so, well, that is a very good question. It is one of the more important questions raised by this whole affair, so I'll take a shot at answering it.
The bigger story in which l'affaire Galloway is a kind of defining moment involves a phenomenon that is playing out on the same tectonic scale as the emergence of a distinctly Canadian democratic socialism in the 1930s, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s, and the rise of libertarian prairie populism in the 1990s. As is often the case in such upheavals, journalists are the last to notice.
Something wholly new is emerging in Canada, in all the spaces where the Left used to be, in its activist constituencies, its traditional institutions, and its lexicon. Whatever name you want to give the thing, its noticeable features include a betrayal of progressive internationalism, a pathetic weakness for conspiracy theories, and a routine apologetics for antisemitism and terror. Its outlook is generally parochial, but its global engagements tend to align with fascism’s contemporary Islamist variants, even to the point of objective support for the Taliban.
To read most Canadian newspapers, you probably wouldn't have a clue that any of this was going on.
When Galloway visited Ottawa two years ago, he was every bit as famous as he is now. He was the guest of honour at a publicly-advertised 74th birthday party for the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. The SSNP is an unambiguously fascist movement with shiny boots and uniforms, its own distinctive swastika, and an anthem sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles.
Not one Canadian news organization reported Galloway’s Ottawa visit.
In these ways, a dirty thing goes unreported when it shows its true face, but when it shows the face it wants us to see, it is "widely reported," and this is the face the news media has grown accustomed to presenting to us. In these ways, stenography masquerades as journalism, and journalism becomes something else again. Remember: the "news story" about Galloway that ended up going viral these past few days never even happened.
In that story, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney became so frightened that Galloway would say something fatally witty about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan that he lost his mind and invoked some little known police-state power to keep Galloway out of the country, and thus irretrievably contaminated Canada’s vital bodily free-speech fluids.
This is the story we were all invited to freely discuss. To guide us in our deliberations, the usual pundits took pains to affirm the virtue of their own avant-garde tastes and prejudices by condescending to explain that Galloway is really just a flamboyant British philanthropist, and Ottawa was being mean to him because of his humanitarian work among the Palestinians, and well, you know, the Jews were being beastly about it.
Do you notice how this commentariat consensus wouldn't be so ubiquitous if some Zionist cabal was controlling the media in Canada? Good. Thank you for noticing. Here's something else you will want to notice.
George Galloway is what we used to call a fascist thug. But nowadays, his Canadian fan base, his megaphone-carriers and his booking agents include New Democratic Party MPs, Bloc MPs, the Council of Canadians, the Ottawa Peace Assembly and a legion of student leaders, trade unionists and “anti-war” activists.
Whatever name you want to give this phenomenon, it hasn't been getting the attention it properly deserves. It's been underway for quite some time.
We should be paying attention.