The Weekender: Rebels Without Claws (Or How We Should Stop Silencing Milo, Ezra and the Rest)

rallyfreespeech

How small and slight Milo Yiannopoulos seems not that I’ve seen him. Until his Friday night appearance on Real Time will Bill Maher I had assumed he had devil horns or was some kind of gargoyle looking guy, or something. Nope, he’s a skinny dope with a British accent that clearly enjoys being both the centre of attention and the object of revile, which is why all the reaction to him, be it Jeremy Scahill’s refusal to appear on the same Real Time episode as Yuannopoulos, or the riot that Berkley threw for his planned speaking engagement a few weeks back, is exactly what he wants. People hate Milo, and he loves it, which is why we should stop giving him and others like him what they want. 

This thought occurred to me this past Wednesday. While I was pecking away live tweeting the special city council meeting, down the road in Toronto, Ezra Levant was hosting one of his rallies. The so-called “Rally for Free Speech” was meant to coincide with another event also happening that evening, the debate on motion M103 in the House of Commons that called for the condemnation of Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims. Levant framed this is a matter of free speech, supporters framed it as a short shrift away from Sharia Law being instituted in Canada,  Iqra Khalid, the backbench Liberal MP that brought forward M103, just want to make life a little better for brown women like her in Canada.

There are several things wildly inconsistent with how all this came about. First of all, no one at Levant’s Free Speech rally seem to understand that the motion was non-binding, no law was being passed and no consequences would be filed if Parliament fails to cure Islamophobia. And while we’re at it, no where in the House of Commons will you find one person that will stand up in favour of Sharia Law because really, what western politician has ever come out in favour of Sharia Law. The real kicker though it that Ezra Levant, last defender of free speech, has blocked me, a silly small town community radio show host, from seeing his Twitter feed. I guess he believes in free speech, but not free listening.

This is thing we need to keep in mind with these people, and the thesis of this editorial, there are so many of us looking at these people, aghast at their ignorance, and the immediate thought we have is shut them down! We’re afraid the hate will catch and spread, taking us back down a road we thought we’d left behind decades ago, but what those people don’t realize is that the persecution complex is part of their schtick. Like teenagers that are told not to drink, smoke or have sex by their strick parents, they’re fighting the blowback from politically correct social justice crusaders that, they think, are trying to control what they say and think.

In other words, they want the fight. The fight makes them right because why else would people want to yell at them, protest against them, ban them from certain venues. That was another part of the story this week. A hotel in Toronto, the original venue for the rally, supposedly canceled on Levant when someone called and threatened them. Joe Warmington, a columnist best known for being the personal stenographer for the Ford family, offered no details about who or why the threat was made. A follow-up Canadaland article couldn’t offer any proof of a threat either, and indeed the manager of the hotel made it sound like they backed out because they didn’t like the tone of the Rebel’s event and the publicity.

Let’s be clear. The Rebel is repugnant. As a journalistic endeavour, it makes the Weekly World News look like Pulitzer material, especially since they’ve now descended into Black Face, and explaining why fascism is misunderstood, but it has its patrons who show their support both monetarily and by showing up to events like the rally. On the other hand, I’ve defended the Rebel when the U.N. COP22 conference refused to accredit them. Why? Because I would much rather see what they’re doing than force them into dark places where it’s harder to see. I want to address them as openly and honestly as possible because like all true endeavours of hate and prejudice they will, inevitably, be their own worst enemy. Isn’t it better we get to watch them fall?

And let’s agree on one other thing, vitriolic and violent reactions make no friends in the centre, which are the pensive people you always have to persuade off the fence in any political debate. When they hear about people being threatened or about property being damaged, they automatically turn off to the cause. Oddly enough, the great unwashed that for years have marched in G20 demonstrations have one thing in the common with all those people that voted for Donald Trump, they both think that globalization is destroying the middle class. But what do you think those Trump supporters think when they see people breaking storefront windows? They see no allies there.

The most powerful think that all those protestors at Berkley could have done is gather at the exit of the lecture hall or auditorium where Yiannopoulos was speaking, and stand there silently as he left the building and went to his car. No chants, no actions, and so quiet you can hear a pin drop as  Yiannopoulos confronted thousands of people who just so silently but pointedly wanted him to know that they didn’t like him being there. Like Ann Coulter before him, Yiannopoulos has learned that you can make a lot of noise not by being loud yourself, but by saying something that gets so many others to make noise booing you.

It’s no coincidence that Levant calls his publication the Rebel and has given himself the nom du guerre “Rebel Commander”, it makes is sound like he stands for something that the elite, the establishment, don’t want you to see, hear or engage with. It makes him sound like an upstart, or an iconoclast. He’s like Galileo, or Ghandi, another guy trying to do what’s right in a world that just wants to hold him back. Of course the opposite is true. The world is just leaving Levant and those like him behind, they realize now that the never-existed world of Leave It to Beaver is not coming back, and they’re having a tough time dealing with it.

In truth we should be grateful to the Levants and the Yiannopouloses for reminding us that despite society’s advancements, we still have a ways to go and that there are a lot of people that don’t want to go any further. Ideals are meaningless if they’re not tested, and if the progressive left is right, then we should confront this hard right turn with all the qualities we claim to cherish: openness, conversation, and debate. We know Levant is wrong, and deep down he probably knows it too, but we don’t have to keep playing into his fantasy of the scrappy maverick versus the evil empire. Scrappy Doo, maybe.

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