In the days following 9/11, then-US President George W. Bush urged Americans to go out and shop. If not, then the terrorists win.

His premise was that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt a culture they hate. It’s simplistic and ignores several mitigating factors and reinforces the Us Versus Them narrative. It was also clearly a pitch to keep American capitalism from falling in the toilet.

However, if you accept his premise and ignore his motivations, then his logic is sound. That is probably the only time I will say that about the most duplicitous and ridiculous President in American history, but if the shoe fits…

(sorry, had to)
(sorry, had to)

If you accept that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt Western culture, then shying away from a key aspect of it does, in fact, mean that they accomplished their goal or that they won.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bringing this up to justify or agree with anything Dubya did or said. Instead I’m trying to point out that his simplistic logic may give progressives a way to preserve the fundamental right to protest in a time of increased political repression operating under the guise of security.

Paris Attacks and the Climate Change Summit

Fourteen years and a few months after Bush urged Americans to shop, the Western World was rocked by another major terrorist attack. The assault on Paris last Friday, while not near the bodycount of 9/11, had a similar jarring effect on the culture in France and around the world.

Now that we are in the initial stages of rebounding from such a tragic assault, we’re getting images of Parisians going out to cafes and other public places, determined to show that their lifestyle, the Western lifestyle, will not be interrupted. Also, the Paris International Climate Summit, or COP21, will go on as scheduled.

Well, not all of it will. The heads of state and their entourages will show up. They will talk, form panels and talk some more and, of course, talk to the press. What we won’t get will be the marches, protests and other “outdoor activities” that usually accompany such global events. The French Government said that such events will not be authorized out of security concerns.

Outrage and Strong Arguments Preached to the Choir

This decision by the Hollande Government, understandably, wasn’t well received by pretty much everyone on the left of the political spectrum. There were social media comments on how this was nothing more than an opportunistic police state taking advantage of a horrible event. There were very intelligent op-ed pieces from people like Naomi Klein on how this would muzzle those most affected by climate change.

paris riot squad

I agree with all of it. The problem is, me and people who think like me or close to how I think aren’t the people that need to be reached. Shouting in the echo chamber that is the political left just won’t cut it this time, no matter how well-formulated and reasonable the arguments are.

When terrorists strike, quite a few otherwise reasonable and intelligent people are, understandably, scared shitless. Nuanced arguments don’t hold the way they do in normal times. Those hoping to establish a police state know this and are always ready.

Time to Dumb it Down, Bush-Style

It’s time for a new tactic. A new argument. One that will stick even with those temporarily thinking with their gut or their fear. The good news is we already have one.

If you want to know why blocking the right to protest at the Paris Climate Summit is terribly wrong, read Naomi Klein. If you want to convince pretty much everyone of this fact, even those on the right or the far right of the political spectrum, look to George W. Bush for inspiration.

The best part is, in this case, it is not just strategy, but the absolute truth. What is more fundamental to our culture than the right to free expression, the right to assembly and the right to dissent from and express your displeasure with the powers that be?

If the terrorists hate “our way of life” then they surely hate our rallies, our solidarity with fellow activists, our ability to protest the government (or multiple governments) in a very vocal and public way and our “freedom” to dissent loud and proud.

The right to protest is far too important to let slide in the face of so-called security concerns. While your anger, and my anger, may be currently directed at those who choose to use public fear to stifle dissent, making them the proverbial bad guy in this case doesn’t help.

It is a far more effective tactic to look beyond and remind those who would seek to cut off protest just who will ultimately benefit from such an action. The right to public dissent is, after all, far more integral to open and democratic culture than people shopping.

If you agree and want to make sure that everyone gets the message, then push aside your loathing for simplistic arguments and repeat after me:

“If we can’t assemble in opposition to the government, then the terrorists win!”

“If we lose our freedom of expression, then the terrorists win!”

“If we can’t protest, then the terrorists win!”

By now you’ve probably heard about the case of Mark Marek. He’s the Canadian guru of gore whose website peddles snuff films and all manner ugly of human depravity to millions of online users.

In a high profile case with connections to the ongoing trial of Luca Magnotta, alleged butcher of a gay Chinese student last summer in Montreal, Marek was contacted by someone with a horrific video of the savage murder and naturally couldn’t pass on posting such a juicy piece of unconscionable human misery. The video (1 ice pick, 1 lunatic) quickly went viral and became an internet sensation, and, to the horror of decent folks all over world, though not to Magnotta himself, the man most likely behind it became a household name.

Though Marek was released on bail by the Edmonton Police, it is only a matter of time before his case comes before a judge. At which point he will be prosecuted on the basis of an obscure section of Canada’s Criminal Code that deals with offences “tending to corrupt morals.” If that weren’t old fashioned enough for your tastes, the provision from the 1892 law still includes phonographs!

Marek has done himself no favours whatsoever with his bizarre rambling statements. Some are in his own words, such as when he claimed that “God and truth” are on his side. Others are through a spokesperson, like when he recently posted a long-winded and, at times, farcical letter in which he made this terribly humble assessment of his lot in life: “This charge represents the most severe violation of the most fundamental human right in modern history! ”

Gosh! I suppose he’s never heard of the holocaust!??! Oh wait; he’s also a holocaust denier. Alright then, let’s just forget about the loathsome scumbag at the centre of this case for a moment and deal with the principle of freedom of expression at stake in this matter.

The question remains: is it right for the state to attempt to censor the exercise of freedom of expression, in modern liberal democracy by means of an admittedly archaic provision of the obscenity laws?

First of all, let us dismiss the superficial similarities between this case and the case of Remy Couture, the Quebec special effects artist who was rightly acquitted by the Quebec Court of Appeals on charges of corrupting public morals. While both cases involve alleged crimes under section 163 of the code, there was no suggestion that Couture had ever remotely broken any hate speech laws. Nor, for that matter, was there ever any evidence that the videos he produced caused any harm to the participants or the public interest.

By contrast, Marek knows full well that the subjects of his videos harm those directly involved in their making. In other words, unlike Couture, this isn’t about disseminating phony violence, realistic though it might have been; these are bona fide snuff films in which people have been maimed, killed, tortured or worse.

The reality of freedom expression (section 2), as those who read my blog regularly know, is that it is not absolute in Canada and never has been. We have section 1 of the Charter precisely for this reason. So that free speech can be limited by law, provided the infringement is minimal, proportionate with the stated objective of the law, and “demonstrably justified, in a free and democratic society,” as the saying goes.

That is why the courts have ruled over and over again against child pornographers, hate speech and, in some cases, pornography that is degrading towards women. Marek’s website meets all these standards, and then some, and thus should not benefit from the legal protection afforded by the Charter to all Canadians.