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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Editorial

Blurry Lines

by Don Webb

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Bill Bowler’s editorial appears in this issue.

Bill, I think we’re agreed: if the right to speak depends on who you are and what you say, then speech is hardly “free.” Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, noted in a decision that freedom of speech is intended to protect not majority but minority opinion. I would add that, as a corollary, the principle of free speech protects the majority against its own tyranny.

Elizabeth Renzetti explicitly criticizes the French government for arresting the likes of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. The fact that the French comedian has a record of anti-Semitism makes no difference. Start anywhere and the lines blur inexorably. Who’s next? Where does it end?

Renzetti says France has gone too far. Likewise, the U.S. declares that distinctions can’t be made. Thus, any speech — including, for example, that of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan — is protected. At least “any speech” is protected in theory. University courses in Marxism can be hard to find in the U.S., and various interest groups — including students — sometimes determine who and what shall not be heard.

Even from an American point of view, free speech is not entirely absolute; as everyone knows, shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre is not protected. Canada goes somewhat farther and takes more of a European viewpoint.

In Canada, Dieudonné’s “jokes” would be considered the equivalent of inciting to riot. I instinctively sympathize with the law. But who ought to draw the line: the government or the people? And if the people, money often shouts loudest. The lines become murky.

Is the principle of limits open to abuse? That is precisely the problem: would-be tyrants are unprincipled; they shift the line to exclude any speech they don’t happen to like. Anyone can supply examples; they’re frighteningly common.

Was bombing the Belgrade TV station an act of war or of terrorism? Wherever a military operates is a war zone. The military’s strategy can be criticized, but was Belgrade in 1999 the first attack on a communications centre? I doubt it. Nor do I think it has been or will be the last. Journalists have always been in a perilous position in zones of conflict; they risk being mistaken for combatants or presumed to be spies.

Is Paris a war zone? Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers evidently thought so, and their enemies were particular journalists and all Jews. Were the terrorists soldiers or civilians? The lines become distinct again when terrorism and assassinations are considered acts of war, even “unconventional” war. But does talking about it constitute complicity? It depends on who’s enforcing the law: Theoderic or Justinian.

Bewildering Stories cannot eschew controversy or provocative ideas without abandoning literature altogether. Would we publish Mark Twain or Voltaire? Immediately. We started with Cyrano de Bergerac, and we don’t intend to stop.

Of course, Bewildering Stories is not Charlie Hebdo; political lampoons are not our style. And everyone ought to know our motto: “Any story based on current events is out of date before it’s written.” But what goes for Charlie goes for us: Don’t shoot us for what we say or who we are.

Copyright © 2015 by Don Webb
and Bewildering Stories

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