Florida Pastor Terry Jones sits in a 19th District courtroom.
Credits: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
When you wake up this morning, Terry Jones may or may not be in Toronto. He’s the controversial Florida pastor who once threatened to set 200 Qur’ans ablaze in memory of those who perished in 9/11. Already banned in Britain and Germany, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is still deciding his fate.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to decide.
Sure, many of Jones’ beliefs about Islam are either odious or repulsive. But if you truly believe in freedom of speech, you’ll support his right to come to our city, deliver his vile positions at a Queen’s Park event against equally controversial Imam Steve Rockwell, and head back to the U.S.
This is unfortunately becoming a recurrent issue in Canada. We’ve had problems with other controversial foreign nationals trying to enter our borders. The list includes British historian David Irving (accusations of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism), British MP George Galloway (donation to Viva Palestina during the Israel-Gaza conflict, which Ottawa associated as support for Hamas), and the late far-right Austrian leader Jorg Haider (reports of pro-Nazi comments).
Each and every time, various individuals and groups got riled up and demanded these interlopers be refused entry into Canada.
When you attempt to ban individuals and groups, you’re playing right into their hands. They crave this type of media exposure. They become martyrs for their particular causes. They attract larger audiences when they’re finally allowed to come in, such as Galloway. And they always have the last laugh.
I wasn’t ecstatic about these individuals coming to Canada, but that’s not the point. We shouldn’t restrict different opinions simply because they don’t mesh with our own views. To put it another way, there’s nothing tolerant about being intolerant just because you’re too thin-skinned to handle opposing points of perspective.
Not that this is surprising. Free speech is something many Canadians claim to treasure, but very few are willing to defend in a proper context. To wit, it’s the defence of ideas that we feel are appealing as well as unappealing. This means that the rights of people who love Jews or hate Jews, as well as the people who love Muslims or hate Muslims, must be defended at all costs in a free society. As long as people don’t incite or participate in violent behaviour, everyone has a right to be heard.
This includes Jones. For example, I believe he’s right to be worried about the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. He’s right to hate the terrorists who caused 9/11. Heck, he’s even right to promote the abominable film Innocence of Muslims in the name of free speech.
At the same time, Jones was wrong to suggest burning a Qur’an was a justifiable action. He’s also wrong about various aspects of Islam, as there are moderate followers of this faith — including Sun columnists, Salim Mansur, Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan.
That’s how free speech works, folks. You agree with some ideas, and disagree with others. You can’t force people to either like or respect something or someone — and reducing their freedoms only serves to make the situation worse. Instead, you defend and debate your positions and move on to the next topic.
The CBSA should keep out of this matter altogether. Let Pastor Terry Jones come to Canada, warts and all.
— Taube is a regular contributor to the Washington Times, and a former speechwriter for Prime Minister Stephen Harper