The Greg Felton-Vancouver Public Library Scandal Is Tonight

Posted: 2/25/2008 8:48:00 PM
Author: Covenant Zone logger

Note from Librarians for Fairness: We are posting the last
third of a long, most interesting essay by the Covenant Zone blogger. Please use the following url to read the whole article:

The Greg Felton-Vancouver Public Library Scandal Is Tonight
by the Covenant Zone blogger

What does it mean to appoint oneself a guardian of “freedom to read”? Does not such a pro-active role require some responsibility and accountability? Does providing access to intellectual nonsense in any way help people gain intellectual freedom? Shouldn't a guardian of freedom to read have some intellectual responsibilities to maintain certain standards, to put before the public not simply “controversial” authors, but authors who are actually capable of more than formal intelligence, authors in touch with reality, authors who don't depend on conspiracy theories to explain history?

Whatever you think of Felton - and even, for the sake of argument, let's say he is in touch with reality - shouldn't a librarian have some responsibility to be accountable for his choices of public speakers? Public resources, such as library time and space, with well-paid librarians and security in attendance, are limited. Who is accountable for the use of such limited public resources? Should librarians really try to hide their choices behind a morally relativist rhetoric of insuring access to all kinds of ideas, as Vancouver's head librarian, Paul Whitney, has done?

The library is not providing for an “open and public exchange of contradictory views” as Whitney claims, by providing Felton a platform. How does one exchange views with people who make incredibly false moral equivalences with little respect for basic empirical distinctions between Nazis and Israelis? You can't debate such people, you can only engage them in mud slinging. Some people are simply too attracted to the mere form of victimary thinking to be able to critically examine their dependence on such thinking.

The whole culture of postmodern cultural relativism is a culture of unaccountable elites hiding behind deference to “other points of view”, instead of taking responsible positions of their own when required. The Canadian Jewish Congress has engaged the library, behind the scenes, criticizing Felton's appearance at the library. The CJC has told Jews not to attend the lecture, not wanting to create a scene for possibly violent trouble makers. But by engaging the library behind the scenes, the CJC allows librarians to tell their critics that they are, in the jargon of today, “addressing concerns”, again without having to be publicly responsible for what is going on. This politics of unaccountable elites is not what the citizens of Vancouver who want to engage in the free exchange of ideas deserve.

Forget Felton. I want to hear from librarians. I want someone to take accountability for his or her program choices. If that fails, I want the library board and civic politicians to demand it. So, readers, please write them letters to that effect.

In his writing, Felton often pretends to be only attacking “Zionists” or the “Jewish lobby”; but in implying a great and treasonous conspiracy is at work to subvert the once free nations of the West, his writing stinks of the same rotten thinking that antisemitism has always been about. Felton's target may be tactically the “Zionist”; but in calling the Zionist, in essence, a stereotypical “dirty Jew”, the enemy within, he libels all Jews, even as he professes otherwise in his bizarre sentimentalization of the Holocaust victims, making them into victims of “Zionists”. How is one to take this seriously from an apologist for the Iranian regime, the regime that not only proclaims that it will one day destroy Israel, but supports, among its many evils, Hezbollah, the terrorist group that has just proclaimed open season on Jews everywhere?

I encourage all Vancouverites concerned with this implicit attack on our Jewish co-citizens to come and occupy a chair at the library tonight (central branch, 7.30, in the Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye room), silently and grimly doing a duty, attending but not engaging the unengageable, to make it clear to the librarians that we will not stand for such attacks on our shared civic covenant. Free citizens and free thinkers have a bond to work to guarantee the freedom of every individual, whatever his or her background. If “freedom to read week” means anything, it must mean that we will stand against hatred detached from reality and appealing to delusional resentments. It must mean that we distinguish between real thinking and mythical thinking and that we expect responsible public figures to also know and promote the difference.

Felton's appearance tells us something about the intellectual vacuity of many people in responsible positions in today's universities, libraries, and other cultural institutions. If we don't demand accountability, the culture can only get worse.