A recent appearance by Omar Khadr on the French-Canadian program Tout Le Monde has resulted in Twitter suspending the account of the popular CBC program, eliciting cheers from conservatives in Canada.
While the exact reason for the suspension is unclear, it is widely believed to be the result of a campaign by users who were upset that the program gave a platform to the convicted terrorist.
As usual, politics via social media has fostered an inordinate amount of hypocrisy, prompting many conservatives to completely abandon their main principle of unabated free speech, praising the decision as an affirmation of their hatred towards the former child soldier.
Yes, child soldier.
In any other context Khadr would have been rehabilitated, just like a 15 year old African child soldier would have been. But this was different. Khadr was not fighting against rival Congolese militias in a continent long spoiled by international interests. Instead, Khadr was in the Middle East, making bombs and allegedly throwing grenades at American soldiers, one of which killed a medic, Christopher Speer.
But all that is beside the point.
Even if there was video footage showing Khadr throwing the grenade, his age and circumstances should have been enough to label him a child soldier. He was groomed from the age of 11 by his own father, Ahmed Khadr, who was part of Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network. African child soldiers groomed by militants from an early age are almost always given a chance to rehabilitate, but they mostly throw grenades at civilians and rival militias, not American military personnel.
This doesn’t mean we have to revere Khadr as a hero, either. His story shouldn’t have to be a zero sum game, forcing us to once again plant a flag on one version of Khadr or the other.
In any event, Khadr was captured, tortured, kept in solitary confinement for years, abandoned by his home country, and eventually plead guilty before being repatriated in Canada where he served an additional 3 years in an Alberta prison.
He then won a lawsuit against the government of Canada who gave Khadr a 10.5 million settlement, and outrage ensued.
It is not an understatement to say that most of those who are against all-things-Khadr are overwhelmingly conservative. These same conservatives are almost always self-proclaimed champions of free speech, valuing the concept as one of the main pillars of a just society, and rightfully so. Without free speech we would be at the mercy of political zealots and those who wish to muzzle citizens or censor ideas that threaten those in power, or undermine the morals of religious groups.
Free speech is one of those issues, unlike gun control or abortion, that impacts every man, woman and child with equal thrust and protections. It gives us the ability to confront, analyze, bloviate, criticize and explore new ideas without the constraints of punishment if our speech is deemed offensive.
When Twitter suspended Tout Le Monde en parle from its platform, some conservatives kept their critiques focused on the audacity of the producers, or their overall contempt of Khadr himself, but others were borrowing the favourite tactic of the left when a controversial figure is invited to speak on college campuses; they questioned the CBC (one of their all-time favourite punching bags) for giving Khadr a platform, and felt the schadenfreude when Twitter suspended the show for “glorifying terrorism”.
One of the underpinnings of free speech – that listening to bad ideas is not a compulsory endeavour – was completely abandoned in favour of an emotional reaction to a man they hated. And Twitter, who has been heavily criticized for banning various conservative voices, obliged the mob again.
Twitter is a private company and can do what they like with their platform, but the principle of unfettered, uncensored, exchange of ideas is supposed to be absolute in the minds of millions of conservative Twitter users. It’s precisely what conservatives cite whenever some progressive demands a university rescind an invitation to Ann Coulter, or Jordan Peterson, or even Milo Yiannopoulos. That Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist is supposed to be irrelevant, a footnote in the free speech landscape that demands we approach all participants with the same principle in mind – either debate your ideological enemies, or simply don’t listen to them when they speak.
Twitter often suspends controversial people for manufactured reasons, as is their right. The platform is too large to police effectively anyway. But the humans who use Twitter are allowing the social network to manipulate their conduct, turning stalwarts of conservatism into part-time social justice warriors.