Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Barbara Hall Project and the right to hate

The two strongest human emotions are love and hate. These are natural emotions. By natural, I mean we are born with the capacity to feel either of them, or both of them. They are what make us human.

We learn early on from our parents, teachers and our own life experience that love is a positive but often painful force, while hatred can be destructive. Both can instrumental in motivating humans to do extraordinary things.

Our moral training helps us to understand how to channel these forces so that they do not overwhelm us. Some take to this training better than others. In fact, it is probably safe to say that the vast majority of people learn their lessons or our societies would simply not function as social orders.

What is it that we mean when we talk about a basic human right? We mean that as individuals we have a right to our own conscience, however it may be informed, for good or for ill. If my conscience leads me down paths that are destructive, then society provides remedies to protect others from me, in the interests of social order.

These remedies are a curbing of my behaviour. They leave my conscience free to learn what lessons it may from my experiences with these social remedies. In short, I have a right to hate, just not a right to harm somebody with my hate.

What troubles me about the Ontario Human Rights Commission is what I would call the Barbara Hall Project, the change in the OHRC's mandate to one of "education" (or perhaps, more accurately, like the Mao's cultural revolution, re-education), anti-racist advocacy and prosection. Barbara Hall is the head honcho of the OHRC and the BHP is an attempt to use the open-ended powers of a government agency, not just to curb bad behaviour that harms others, but to remake humankind into a hate-free brave new world, to try to excise from conscience the right to hate (like the Gobblers excising the daemons from children in the Golden Compass).

It is not about wielding a shield as much as it is slashing about, hither and thither, with a sword.

Consider the following quotes from a National Post interview with Ms. Hall, April 20, 2008:

"I think that part of freedom of speech is being able to say things and another part of it is being able to be critical of things that are said," she said. "I don't view it as a chill. I view it as responsibility."

According to Ms. Hall, complaints that are frivolous, vexatious or simply doomed to failure make up a "small" portion of the 60,000 inquiries and 2,500 formal complaints her staff process each year.

It is the complaints that are not made that give her more concern.

"I would say that for a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, to have 2,500 formal complaints a year, that that's a very low level," the activist lawyer and former mayor of Toronto said. In the long term she would like to see human rights complaints decrease, but in the interim they "may have to spike."

So what exactly is she trying to convey? There are not enough complaints and they have to go up before they go down. Given the annual population increase in the province of Ontario, which is in the tens of thousands, one might expect that, on a percentage basis, complaints would increase, but never decrease.

May have to spike? How would they spike?

This is not a description of the outcome of demographic increase; it is a prescription for something else. It is not about protecting people from harm, it is about doing harm to people because of their naïve belief that they have a right to their own conscience.

Consider these statements found on the OHRC’s website concerning racism and religion.

On race being a “social construct” rather than a biologically determined expression:

There is no legitimate scientific basis for racial classification. Genetic science now tells us that physical characteristics and genetic profiles correlate more strongly between “races” than among them. It is now recognized that notions of race are primarily centred on social processes that seek to construct differences among groups with the effect of marginalizing some in society.

While biological notions of race have been discredited, the social construction of race remains a potent force in society. The process of social construction of race is termed racialization.

Racialization extends to people in general but also to specific traits and attributes, which are connected in some way to racialized people and are deemed to be “abnormal” and of less worth. Individuals may have prejudices related to various racialized characteristics. In addition to physical features, characteristics of people that are commonly racialized include (inter alia):

· beliefs and practices

With respect to religion, there is apparently a qualified protection:

Religion includes the practices, beliefs and observances that are part of a faith or religion. It does not include personal moral, ethical or political views. Nor does it include religions that promote violence or hate towards others, or that violate criminal law.

If there is any doubt that the BHP is dangerous, a thoughtful comparison of these contradictory notions ought to set that to right. Remember that the BHP is informed by these insightful “philosophical principles”.

Let’s take the viewpoint that radical Islam, and those who promote it and support it, are inferior to the rest of us. Let’s just say we hate them, to keep it short.

According to the OHRC we would be accused of being racist, because we have “racialized” an identifiable group of people on the basis of their “beliefs and practices”. However, since the issue is one of religion and politics and it involves Islamic hatred towards others, and in some cases violence or breach of criminal laws, then it would be permissible to racialize those folks because that is not considered to be religious practice.

Or was the OHRC thinking about the Toronto mosque that last October carried advice on its website telling Muslims that they should avoid participating in the “evil” practices of those who celebrated Halloween and Christmas? Were we who celebrate those festivities being racialized? Is it all right to do that because that would be considered a normal religious practice; i.e. identifying evil and warning the faithful against it? No harm, no foul.

Sometime between now and the June 30 launch of the BHP missile, it would good if the OHRC gave this conundrum more thought and clarified the behaviour to be punished.

As a final thrust, all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam contain passages that racialize and call for violence or contempt for non-believers, meaning non-believers of their dogma. You don’t have to go further than the holy books to find divinely sanctioned and authoritative racialization, which are taught to millions of people.

Look for the BHP police coming to a pulpit near you -- or not.

No comments: