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I was on CBC Newsworld's Faceoff two Tuesdays ago (May 16). Topic: censorship on the net. My opponent was Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Take a wild guess which side I took ...

The forces of censorship are amassing and, I hate to say it, if Canada maintains its traditions, we're doomed. The term net.cop will have a more real meaning than it does today.

Our saving grace might be the U.S. If the U.S. abides by its own tradition of banning very little speech, Canucks will always be able to get an account in the U.S. and thus maintain our voices. While the net.illiterate assholes on Parliament Hill play Emperor For A Day, citizens will telnet across the border and publish whatever they want, from American computers.

Here are the main three points I tried to make on the show:


Farber and his ilk are the moral descendants of book burners. But because books and printed matter have much stronger legal protections, The Modern Inquisition finds it easier to target CPUs and sysadmins.

Right now, the panic-mongers in government and the media blame just about every social ill on the net. But the main theme today is bombs: "You can learn how to make bombs from reading the net! This evil must stop!"

It's somewhat true. There is a file called The Terrorist's Handbook which circulates cyberspace. (It has a real wanky "WareZ d00d" feel to it and I wouldn't trust it for a second.) There's also The Anarchist's Cookbook making the rounds, which details everything from blowing up suspension bridges to cooking LSD in your kitchen. (Regard it with the same suspicion.)

Sure enough, when I arrived at CBC studios, I saw that Farber had a printout of one of these text files.

It was a good thing I had walked over to the World's Biggest Bookstore on my lunch hour and bought a copy of The Anarchist's Cookbook for $34.75. Information on bomb building. Right off the shelf.

"Ah, but that costs money," the pro-censorship forces would counter. "You can copy it off the net for free.

Anticipating that objection, I strolled over to the Metro Reference Library last Saturday. There, on the main floor, sat a horrible collection of terrorist information: the Encyclopedia Britannica. I grabbed volume 21 (right off the shelf), flipped to page 323 and read the section on explosives. I photocopied it for about a buck and strolled back out with the detailed description of how to make an ammonium nitrate fuel oil bomb -- exactly like that used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

I hope Allan Rock and the feds attend to this outrage immediately and write legislation to regulate these damn libraries.


Farber kept suggesting that Nazis and hatemongers are using the net as a propaganda tool. This is uninformed opinion of the first order. The net is terrible as a "propaganda tool" because it's a two-way medium. Newsgroups are interactive. Racists are forced to answer questions. When Farber says, "Millions of people see what these people write," complete the image for him: "Millions of people see these people ridiculed and humiliated in intellectual debate over and over again."

That is pretty ineffective propaganda.

In the finest of anarchist traditions, the net.community naturally produces people who rebut every hate-mongering pamphlet that denies the Holocaust happened. Canada's Ken McVay is one famous example. He's built an enormous reservoir of historical documents that permanently shred the revisionist pamphlets. Every time the same old pamphlets are uploaded to cyberspace, someone quickly tags on the real story.

"And that's the beauty of the Internet: once it's refuted in an honest and academic fashion, you can't run away from it," McVay says. "The most intellectual among them (revisionists) are stupid and completely inept when it comes to historical research. And, of course, they are liars. That being the case, why on Earth would anyone want to shut them up or force them underground? I want to know who I'm dealing with. I want to know where they are. And I want to know how their minds work."

It's dramatic to watch. No need for Thought Cops. As Deborah Lipstadt writes in Denying The Holocaust: "The main shortcoming of legal restraints is that they transform the deniers into martyrs on the altar of free speech."


Throughout history, censorship has only worked to uphold the status quo. It keeps the strong strong and the weak weak.

In 1871, Prussia's "personal honor" laws were intended to prevent insults against groups, such as Jews. Not surprisingly, the courts never upheld them for Jews, but rigorously used them to prevent criticism of Prussians, clerics and the military -- the status quo.

At the turn of the century, France never charged the anti-Semitic enemies of Captain Alfred Dreyfuss. Of course, when Emile Zola wrote his famous tract "J'Accuse," he was charged with libel against the clergy and had to flee to England.

In 1965, the British Race Relations Act was passed to combat racism. The first people charged under it? Black Power leaders, labor leaders, no-nuke activists. Britain's National Front thrives.

In 1974, Britain's National Union of Students passed a resolution against "openly racist and fascist organizations." It was designed specifically to prevent anti- Semitism. A year later, it was invoked to prevent Israeli/Zionist speakers from touring. The National Front was delighted.

Think all this is ancient history? How about Canada's infamous 1992 Supreme Court decision in "Butler vs. the Queen"? It was hailed by pro-censorship feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon as being a great step forward for women in the "battle" against sexual images.

Two-and-a-half years later, we find that it has been used by the authorities to seize and confiscate material from well over half of all the feminist bookstores across the country. In fact, Customs actually seized two of Dworkin's own books. It was also used against gays and lesbians. "Traditional" sexual material was never touched.

When are people who work for change going to learn that when they support censorship, they are building their own gallows? If they want to change society, why are they working to transfer still greater powers to the state? If they believe in change, they simply cannot support censorship.

The Master's tools will never dismantle the Master's house.


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