Friday, December 03, 2010

Charge Flanagan

This news story says that Tom Flanagan, a former advisor to the PM, and a noted Canadian political scientist, has said some rotten things about Wikileaks should be assassinaed:


It is easy to be outraged at this. The founder of Wikileaks was him charged with incitement to commit a crime. I don't know Tom Flanagan. I've had some dealings with him on a professional level and found him to be ... well ... amazingly professional. Top drawer in fact.

Let me be clear about this: I've read Flanagan's work, particularly his stuff on First Nations, and I don't like it. Let me be clearer: it is bad. Personally, I'd like to believe that Flanagan would welcome this engagement with his ideas. I think it is bad for a whole bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that it does not meet the bar on scholarship. We can leave his politics out of the question. As scholarship, his work on First Nations is ideology parading as scholarship. It simply fails the test that most of us -- I teach at a university -- would apply to good scholarship.

All that is beside the point. Obviously, Flanagan has to right to express his opinion and obviously he was making a glib, some might even say, stupid comment. He was not advocating killing those with whom we politically disagree and so let's keep our heads about his comments and not overreact. Obviously, too, he should watch what he says and avoid making stupid comments. That is advice I'd give to my kids.

From the other perspective, those people who might defend Flanagan, don't go over the edge either. Just as Flanagan has a right to express his views, so too do the Wikileaks folks. You can't defend Flanagan's right to speech and not someone else's so if you are going to get mad at Wikileaks people, you better also be mad at Flanagan or you're a hypocrite.

The deeper issue is this: Why are so many people mad at Wikileaks? Why are so many people outraged, saying they threaten national security, etc., etc. What is it about these leaks -- other than some public embarrassment -- that is causing people to be upset? Is it just public embarrassment?

I saw a news show the other day with the "revelations" that supposedly came out of the Wikileaks releases. Folks, they were hardly revelations. US government officials were upset at Canada. Right-wing Canadians were pissed at other Canadian. The Canadian ambassador wondered about the competence of the Afghan government. Does any of this surprise anyone? It is all stuff we knew before and all pretty tame stuff, in my view. Sure, there may be some things that one should not say in "polite company" but that is parr for the course. Is there anyone out there who has not said something stupid in the wrong company and wished they could take it back? Is there anyone out there who has not more graphically said something to one person and then massaged their message for a different audience?

I don't have an answer to the question I just asked but I'd like to. Since Wikileaks with regard to Canada has been pretty tame; since there was nothing in the leaks that those people who follow Canadian/American relations or Canada's role in Afghanistan did not already know, why the big bru-ha-ha?
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