I think I am living in the proverbial “interesting times.”
Recently, I wrote a blog on the Huffington Post Canada website about the case of an eleven-year-old girl who reported that her hijab had been slashed by a stranger on her way to school. The story received international media attention, but in the end, proved not to have occurred. Unfortunately for the child, she had been put in front cameras and microphones and had told her story in some detail. Her mother and younger brother also appeared before the cameras.
As many journalists know, you don’t get to write your own headlines. The headline I had suggested was this – Big News: Kids Make Stuff Up. The one Huffington Post printed was “Girl Who Lied About Hijab Attack Deserves An Apology.”
Suffice it to say that hundreds of people read the headline and not the article.
Here are a few examples of the vitriol that soon followed my blog [all sic]:
An addendum to my last post...the femnazi that wrote this article should be forced to go live in any Islamic hellhole...we should pay for her flight to Saudi Arabia or Iran or Somali and force her to live in an Islamic country.....that will wake up this elitist dolt!
I'm glad it happened. I don't blame the kid. She's been coached. I blame the parents and the writer, Ms. McLaughlin. Their hibabs make them look like Darth Vader and they aren't well received. Have they been told? Yes. Do they care? No. They are being encouraged to exert their power by the likes of Ms. McLaughlin, who gets her power through their actions.
Rubbish. Where they come from has nothing to do with it. However, what they believe, that mental cancer known as Islam, has EVERYTHING to do with it.
Etc., etc., etc.
As I watched the comments mount in number and spleen, I also noticed that the ones using profanity would disappear, replaced by, “This message was deleted.”
As well, several others seem to have just disappeared off the page with no comment at all. While I do not miss them, I wonder why and what the standards are for this kind of censorship.
Here is what the Huffington Post tells commentators:
The Huffington Post promotes a receptive, transparent and civil atmosphere for comments and users. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with other community members, the author of the post or staff members as long as those opinions are respectful and constructively add to the conversation. However, this community does not tolerate direct or indirect attacks, name-calling or insults, nor does it tolerate intentional attempts to derail, hijack, troll or bait others into an emotional response. We reserve the right to remove these types of comments where warranted. Individuals who consistently or intentionally post these types of comments may lose their ability to comment and, if we deem necessary, be permanently excluded from the community.
Who is protected by this rather vague and broad policy? If it is the original blogger, no thanks. I want to know who wishes me ill. If it is the community at large, how does that work? The amount of Islamophobia in the nearly 1000 comments still published would make even the hardiest hater blush.
The Huffington Post says it wants to create a safe space and civil discourse. I appreciate that. I too would like to engage in civil discourse. When I publish a blog, I actually hope to read some interesting arguments against my position. But, civility can be rather hard to come by, especially where religion is concerned. Nonetheless, even nasty people can be right. While I do not enjoy a lot of the comments that followed my blog, I reserve the right to read them, not read them, respond or ignore them. Freedom of expression never meant having the right not to be offended.
The following day, a friend presented me with a paper that had been hand-delivered to his home. It goes by the name “Your Ward News” and was hand-delivered because Canada Post refuses to deliver it. The paper calls itself, “the world’s largest anti-Marxist publication!” It is also anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-Liberal, to name a few more of its positions. In certain neighbourhoods, some residents have taken it upon themselves to remove copies of the paper left on their neighbours’ doorsteps. I believe they have done this without the residents’ permission or knowledge.
I tried to read the paper and can report that it is full of nonsense. It is the work of one or two rather rabid haters who don’t have much to say. But I am disturbed that Canada Post has refused to deliver it and that the publisher and editor appear to be facing hate-speech charges. I am pretty sure that if it were delivered to my home by Canada Post, it would quickly find itself in the recycling box, just like all of the other trivia that shows up in the mail. I do not want to be protected by Canada Post from being able to draw my own conclusions about a piece of litter. My freedom of expression includes the right to be exposed to words that condemn me, my community, and my religion. Without that right, I would have far less to write about.