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The mere discussion of Nazis should not warrant condemnation - it's necessary free speech

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Rise and Fall book: A discussion among UBC academics about a famous book detailing Hitler's regime was "offensive" to a pub waitress. (Photo from Bookedepository.com)

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It was September 2019; the dawn of the new school year was upon us, Vancouverites were enjoying their last few weeks of summer sunshine, and the Free Speech Club at the University of British Columbia was gearing up for yet another year of campus political drama. As is tradition, our club began the year with a pub night where members old and new could break the ice in a lighthearted setting.  

The upcoming year was particularly exciting for me. After a largely successful school year, the executives of our parent organization asked me to serve as president for a second year, the only president thus far to do so. Not only were we celebrating the opportunities presented by the upcoming year that night, but I was also celebrating the victories of the past.

While the free speech crisis on college campuses has been covered ad nauseum over the past decade, the pushback one will get against free speech on campus continues to amaze me. The passion of a young idealist creates a zealous campus activist – no matter how misguided they may be. After a year of political sparring, I knew I had to read more about the totalitarian ideologies which have inspired the suppression of free speech both historically and currently.

Among those books was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, a telling of history’s most vicious regime as viewed by an American journalist from the inside. I was slightly self-conscious about carrying the book around – it does have a big swastika on the cover, but the book encapsulated me to the point where I could barely put it down even when I had to get back to work.

Having easily entered my list of all-time favourites, I was eager to discuss the must-read with my friends back at UBC, many of whom are history buffs themselves. 

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While we were setting up the room we rented for our pub night, I struck up a conversation with one of the executives of our parent organization about the book. While he himself had not read the book, he had taken a course on the Holocaust the previous semester, so we had an interesting conversation on the topic of the Nazis and World War II.  

Little did I know that one uninformed waitress was actually listening in on our conversation, where the mere mention of Nazis clearly set off an alarm bell. To her, the very discussion of Nazis confirmed her vision of free speech advocates as essentially crypto-fascists, seeking to promote free speech as a vehicle to normalize far-right discourse in society. 

Journalist William L. Shirer who wrote the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Photo credit: Wikipedia.org)

Shortly after we finished setting up, the acting manager of the pub told us he needed to “have a talk.” We were informed that they would not serve us due to our supposed far-right beliefs, and when pressed on what he was referring to, the best he could come up with was that we were discussing bigoted beliefs towards Jews and homosexuals, which of course were topics discussed in Shirer’s book. 

Thankfully the director of our parent organization was able to relocate our pub night to a nearby Greek restaurant, and the night turned out to be a great success.  However the whole ordeal reveals a stark misunderstanding of Nazis and neo-Nazis among the general population despite us living in an age of increasingly concerned about their presence.

University of British Columbia library: Would the University of British Columbia library remove books like Shirers' as offensive?

Certainly the mere discussion of Nazis does not warrant condemnation. While we can expect the aspiring tyrants of our society to be deceitful, suspicion of civil liberties such as free speech out of fear of them becoming vehicles for creeping tyranny is as counterproductive as it is oxymoronic.  

In Nazi society there was no such thing as trust. The state permeated every aspect of life, and no one could be sure that the person they were speaking to was not an undercover informant. This did not result purely from the brute force of the Nazi regime, the process required a willing populace where brutality and racial scapegoating could provide the stability lost due to the collapse of civil society and the social cohesion it provided. 

Fear and distrust is the opium of totalitarianism. If we want to ensure “never again” means never again, we must be willing to engage with our neighbour and trust that they act in good faith. While there is certainly still evil in our world today, and we must always be mindful of it,  to assume anything but the truth only does service to those who wish to divide us for their own political gain.

The truth is: Most of us just want to provide a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.  

Noah Alter is a Jewish free speech advocate from Toronto. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Economics in 2020.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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