Controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones stands in a courtroom of the 19th District Dearborn Court in Dearborn, Michigan on April 21, 2011.
Credits: REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Terry Jones, the fringe pastor from Florida best known for his handlebar moustache and his ability to enthrall the media by threatening to burn the Muslim Qur’an, was denied entry to Canada on Thursday.
Jones was attempting to drive across the border, en route to a Toronto rally. But he was stopped by the Canadian Border Services Agency and subjected to a four-hour search typically reserved for suspected drug smugglers or terrorists. His luggage was opened, his car was torn apart and sniffer dogs were called in.
Jones was refused entry on a trumped-up pretext: 19 years ago in Germany he had been fined for calling himself a “doctor” (he claims he has an honorary doctorate in theology) and last year at a rally in Detroit, he was charged with breaching the peace. The Detroit charges were thrown out on appeal and Jones claims the German fine was overturned too.
But the CBSA had their fig leaf to cover up what they were obviously doing: making a political decision, not a security decision. The CBSA seized a placard from Jones’ car, reading “Islam is the new Nazism.” That’s got nothing to do with whether or not Jones is a “doctor,” but everything to do with his beliefs.
Some might argue that Jones is offensive, and that his one trick — threatening to burn Qur’ans — isn’t a particularly valuable addition to the public debate about matters like Islam and the separation of mosque and state. The media certainly thinks he is worth listening to: hundreds of journalists rush to record his every utterance.
But it’s not just journalists. In recent years, both the U.S. Secretary of Defence and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff personally phoned Jones to ask him not to burn a Qur’an.
The media is motivated by entertainment and conflict, and Jones provides both — and his Hulk Hogan-inspired fashion sense only fits right in with the media’s caricature of what Christian pastors are like.
But what is the Pentagon’s excuse? Their job is to defend the United States constitution, the first amendment of which protects freedom of religion, including the right to mock or blaspheme against any belief system, from Christianity to Scientology to Islam.
It is inconceivable that an army general would telephone a private citizen to warn them against insulting any faith other than Islam. And it is even more inconceivable that self-described civil libertarians — whether the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S., or the Canadian Civil Liberties Association up here — would have been silent had it been a militant atheist pestered by American generals or blacklisted by Canadian border guards.
Jones says border guards asked him about whether his rally would constitute “hate speech.” Jones surely hates Islam. But no more than many atheists do; no more than many Muslims hate Christianity. That’s the thing about most religions: they draw distinctions between what their adherents ought to love or hate. Twice the Qur’an says that the Jews should be “as apes — despised and hated.”
That’s the problem with laws against hate speech, or even against hate itself. Hate is a natural human emotion, as much as love or sorrow, and it often accompanies those other two. Hate can come from a feeling of grievance, and there are many who have legitimate grievances against the more aggressive forms of Islam. Many of those with grievances are Muslim themselves. Silencing a man does not end his hate — it likely causes it to grow.
Many people find Jones’ views offensive. But many people find gay pride parades offensive too. Martin Luther King Jr. deeply offended many people, and so did the Famous Five suffragettes.
We allow offensive people because we believe in freedom — and today’s hated idea may be tomorrow’s wisdom.
But it’s more than that. Because a border guard given subjective discretion to decide which hatreds are allowed and which aren’t, and which politics are acceptable and which are banned, is a dangerous power that no Canadian who believes in the rule of law should accept.