Monday, April 11, 2005

You've got to be taught to be afraid

Turn over a rock, and you wouldn't be surprised what crawls out: WINNIPEG - A First Nations chief in Manitoba says media coverage of David Ahenakew's hate trial will increase aboriginals' hatred of Jews and make the former leader of the Assembly of First Nations a martyr. Ahenakew is on trial for promoting hatred against an identifiable group over comments he made at a conference in December 2002, when he praised Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust and referred to Jews as "a disease." In a letter faxed to the Winnipeg Free Press, Roseau River Reserve Chief Terrance Nelson said he doesn't agree with Ahenakew's views. But he claims Jews control Canadian media and ignore First Nations issues. In the letter, Nelson singled out CanWest Global Communications; its owners, Winnipeg's Asper family; and their newspaper, the National Post as "the voice of Jews." You know, I think the late Izzy Asper would have been proud to have such repulsive anti-Semites for enemies. It just proves him right. Last week, Ahenakew's lawyer Doug Christie said the reporter who wrote the newspaper article quoting Ahenakew should be charged with a hate crime. Christie said reporter James Parker, who used to work for the CanWest-owned Saskatoon StarPhoenix, knowingly disseminated hate by writing the article in the first place. If found guilty, Ahenakew could face up to six months in jail. Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judge Marty Irwin is expected to rule on the case on June 10. I don't think hate speech laws are necessary or desirable. They only serve to make those with reprehensible opinions hide, rather than letting us know exactly where they stand, in order to treat them accordingly. This doesn't seem to be a point in their favour, either, if the defense can (if very improbably) claim that Ahenakew, as the original spewer of hatred, isn't responsible for its content, but the reporter who disseminated his remarks is. That's gall. Also worrying is the contention that the trial will "increase aboriginals' hatred of Jews." If that's true, there's something very, very wrong with the society and culture propped up by the infantilizing and paternalistic reserve system, something that I doubt would be quite as present with an aboriginal population fully assimilated into mainstream Canada. Isolation breeds psychosis, particularly of the scapegoating type - and it wouldn't do to scapegoat those nice, welfare-bringing WASPish bureaucrats from Indian Affairs, would it?

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