“If there are any Jew-haters in here, please raise your hand.” No response. “Ok, if there are any Jew-lovers in here, please raise your hand.” No responses, then suddenly a few hands meekly rise.These were the controversial questions posed by one former U of T student at the “Freedom of Speech includes the Freedom to Hate” debate at Hart House last Wednesday, which featured famed journalist Christopher Hitchens.Speaking on behalf of the government, James Renchen and Christine Veira upheld the resolution to decriminalize hate speech, while the opposition members Adrienne Lipsey and Roderick McKeown argued against it. In light of September’s rowdy Afghanistan debate, speaker Ethan Hoddes asserted that unruly behavior and protest would not be tolerated. Arguing for the government, James Renchen argued that without hate speech we “risk self-censorship.” By criminalizing hate speech, “we lose the ability to get at the roots of the problem,” he argued.Speaking for the opposition, Adrienne Lipsey argued that hate speech ruins a person’s “ability to function as an equal person” and that such discourse “creates a natural progression towards hatred.” Hate speech is “trampling the rights of others,” especially minorities, Lipsey said. Fellow opposition debated Roderick McKeown added that hate speech “creates a climate of fear” and that by allowing hate speech we are allowing “the freedom to hurt.”Finally, Hoddes brought acclaimed journalist Christopher Hitchens to the stand. Hitchens opened with a dramatic yell of “Fire! Fire!” and proceeded to comment about the parallels between Hogwarts dinning room in Harry Potter and Hart House’s Great Hall.Citing thinkers such as John Stuart Mill, Hitchens argued that without freedom of speech “you become the prisoner of your own opinion.”Hitchens also cited personal examples such as British Historian David Irving to demonstrate the unjust criminalization of hate speech. He contended that his friend Irving had recently been accused of planning to say something in Austria and now faced up to six years in prison.Going on to defend his own right to hate speech, Hitchens maintained that anyone who did not agree with his opinions “can pick a number, get in line and kiss my ass!” Arguing to decriminalize hate speech, he also preached that religion must be treated with ridicule and that militant Islamists are “poisoning society” creating a “cult of death and suicide. He argued religion is not only “the main source of hatred” but also “the main caller of censorship.”Bringing the debate to a close, the resolution decriminalizing hate speech was upheld by 205 to 87 votes. Afterwards, Hitchens briefly answered student questions while puffing on a cigarette in the Hart House courtyard.
Published: 9:00 am, 20 November 2006
Modified: 5:57 pm, 11 January 2012