Why must we fear our fellow humans?
HEATHER MALLICK HEATHER MALLICK IS A TORONTOBASED COLUMNIST COVERING CURRENT AFFAIRS FOR THE STAR. @HEATHERMALLICK
Despite the lip service we pay to the glories of free speech, it is slowly being silenced. The effect has been terribly damaging, all the worse for being gradual and unseen. Newspaper editors live in terror of offending, so they tone down anything that might shock or even interest. Columnists self-censor to protect their editors. Readers lose interest in these duller newspapers. The world has become thickerwitted in the years since social media users began millions of individual campaigns against free speech by those they disagreed with. Those still lurking on Elon Musk’s X shouldn’t forget what a horror Twitter was, a source of anxiety and misery. Now it’s a different horror, illiberal and antisemitic. Social media was where people learned to fear their fellow humans, who formed gangs and tormented anyone they deemed to have tweeted unacceptably, often destroying lives and careers. I can think of a half-a-dozen important issues that go unexplored publicly because of fear. And look at us now, with antiMuslim and antisemitic horrors happening worldwide, even in multicultural cities like Toronto, urged on by the worst, full of passionate intensity. But my point is not whether restaurants or stores are appropriate targets for demonstrators, it’s more that we are fighting over mere words. Thought is free. Why not words, within reasonable limits? “From the river to the sea, Palestinians will be free.” In Calgary, a man who said this to a crowd of like-minded demonstrators was arrested and charged with causing a disturbance. It’s a crime to say that? Of course not. It’s a perfectly good chant because, as seasoned demonstrators know, you need something that rhymes. It’s tough finding a chant for U.S. President Joe Biden whose unwise unconditional support for Netanyahu’s Israel will make this year’s Democratic Convention a real stinker. “Hey Biden, quit your hidin’/ You’ll be tried in (the International Court)/For Gaza’s little kids who died in …” I give up. What rhymes with Hamas? Whatever people say, their opponents cast aspersions, alleging that what they really meant was racist. But they don’t know that, they merely extrapolate and presume. The Hamas terrorist attack was a horror. The ongoing annihilation of Gaza by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forces is a is a horror of a different category because it is being committed by a government, not a ragtag group of hateful misogynist religionist killers. Hamas does not represent starving Palestinians, who have no institutional protectors beyond the UN. Who speaks for the innocent? Look at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, desperate not to say “ceasefire” perhaps because he needs a united front with Biden. “We need to see a cease — uh, we need to have a humanitarian pause so we can flow — we need to see a ceasing of the levels of violence.” It was awful to watch. “Humanitarian pause” is a foul piece of jargon. But that’s how politicians talk now, in mandated knots and euphemisms. Netanyahu doesn’t represent all Jews, especially Israeli Jews, most of whom can’t stand him. There is a middle ground, where Gaza has water, heat and food, where dead Jewish and Palestinian babies are grieved rather than used competitively. People are emotional; they say overheated things. Would it be possible to forgive them? If you want to collect lists of names of people who spoke up for Gaza, just to fire them or destroy their future, you may. It worked for the Stasi. Until it didn’t. But wouldn’t it be better to let them speak? It is valuable to hear Jewish voices, to understand that a hideous history has made Jews feel uneasy everywhere they live. The Palestinians need a safe place. So do Jews. If we could speak freely and confidently about this matter without fear of bullets, red paint and ugly words, we’d be further ahead. We are Canadian, so we hold both distressed populations in high esteem. Can we start there?