Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Monday, December 7, 2009

Event Blogging the Free Speech and Liberty Symposium: Rethinking the Lessons of the Holocaust

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk and consult the official audio record if you want to verify or quote anything.

Joseph C Ben-Ami is President and CEO, Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. Ben-Ami’s resume includes serving as Executive Director of the Institute for Canadian Values, Director of Government Relations and Diplomatic Affairs for B'nai Brith, and serving as a policy aide to Stephen Harper.

He has the most controversial and sensitive topic, Rethinking the Lessons of the Holocaust.

He thought very long and hard about this, and then long and hard again. There are some still living who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and he does not want to hurt them in any way. He is also worried that his words could be twisted and used by holocaust deniers.

He has not really experienced any personal anti-semitism until the last few weeks when he had to have some contact with holocaust deniers.

Max Yalden has a prestigious resume. He wrote a column in the national Post about the HRC saying that after two disastrous world wars and the horrors of the holocaust we are surely obliged to judge rather differently the issue of unfettered free speech.

He seemed to be saying that the Nazis were allowed to come to power and cause the holocaust because they were allowed to unfettered liberty to propagate their anti-semitism.

There is no evidence to support that.

To be sure there were those who supported the Nazis because of their anti-semitism, which was a plank in their platform. However they never won a majority of seats in any free election.

It must be noted that there were other tyrannies that arose in Europe at the same time that were not about anti-semitism. Mussolini's Fascism and Communist Russia are two examples. Although they had some anti-semitism that was not a major theme and some of them had leading figures in those movements that were Jews. The Italians also resisted the German anti-Jewish policies.

If so many other dictatorships were in power at the same time, could the Nazis have come to power without their racism? It is reasonable to suggest yes.

The question how did they come to power has no simple answer. They capitalized on several issues. One thing that helped, though, was the way they tried to suppress all of their opposition.

Malevolent dictatorships in general do not win over the population, they suppress dissent. The successful dictatorships don't use force to legislate uniformity but remove awareness that there is another option.

The lack of organized, coherent, opposing opinion helped to bring Germany to War (In WW1?)

What happened in Nazi Germany is not what happens when hate is tolerated, but when it is empowered. They did not invent the apparatus they used to suppress civil liberties, they used what the Weimar Regime already had in place. The Weimar Republic tried to break up meetings, banned political groups, and shut down newspapers in the name of protecting democracy.

As a matter of fact, one of Hitler's jobs was to spy on the national socialist parties, it was while doing that that he became influenced to join them.

Canada and others who fought Germany, except Russia, were strong supporters of liberties including freedom of speech. It is true they suspended some during the war years, but not nearly to the level of the dictatorships. There is no evidence that even these limits helped the war effort, but may have hindered such good things as protests of the Japanese internment.

You should be troubled by the willingness with which some young people are willing to engage in the activities that helped to bring the Nazis to power. He is not calling these people Nazis by any means, but these tactics that try to suppress all alternatives to the officially accepted view can be used by malevolent dictatorships.

Only small groups of people are ever actively engaged in arguing, most people just rely on getting information from those who are arguing.

These laws have the best of intentions. However the reality of politics is that you are never in power forever. Laws that you brought in for good reasons can be used against you by people who are malignant and can suppress your rights. While we are not on the verge of that in Canada, some people are starting to try to do that.

The only guarantee of our liberties, the only answer to bad ideas, is good ideas. We cannot bring in laws that could someday be used against us, to stop us from bringing forward good ideas.

I can say today that Ernst Zundel is a buffoon. What happens if I can't say that anymore?

Remember that the Weimar republic was a democracy.

Q1 This is what happens when governments deny opponents the opportunity to speak. You say that this is what happens not when hate is tolerated but when it is in power. I would suggest that this is also the case when peace is in power. Germany was building up a massive army and Chamberlain suppressed pro-war dissent. So it is not a matter of who or what is in power but whether free speech is suppressed.

A1 That is a very good point. To clarify, the empowerment of hate was addressing the suggestion that allowing hate will cause holocausts. By the way you can't stamp out hate. It is impossible. My point is that the Nazis did not come to power because they were anti-semites but because they used successful strategies. Then when they came to power they had the ability to rule tyrannically. We need to prevent governments from having illegitimate censorship powers because even democratic governments can be arbitrary. We should also be concerned about central control of education which is another topic.

Q2 Why is it easier for young people to be drawn into a we are democratic so you can't speak headspace. Thanks the young people who are here.

Q3 Challenges the idea that anti-semitism was incidental to the rise of the Nazis. It was central to Hitler. Hatred of Jews is an undercurrent that defines all despotic governments

A3 We can find some middle ground. Yes anti-semitism was central to the Nazis. It is an open question, would need to look at it, that it is involved in many dictatorships, perhaps it is a good indicator of where things are going. All he is saying is that if we could go back in time and remove anti-semitism from the Nazi party they would probably still have come to power and launched a brutal war. To say that without anti-semitism in the Nazi party none of these bad things would have happened is naive. This is about limiting power. Governments can't have the power to suppress dissent.

Q4 Sophie Scholl (some remarks about her being beheaded for saying something about social darwinism.)