Loudwire recently reported that two members of the Iranian metal band Confess have been arrested for blasphemy. The band members -- ages 21 and 23 -- were arrested by the Army of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution on November 10, 2015. Iran's law permits the government to detain, torture, and execute so-called blasphemers.
The band members are charged with "blasphemy; advertising against the system; forming and running an illegal and underground label in the satanic metal and rock style; writing anti-religious, atheistic, political and anarchistic lyrics; and interviewing with forbidden radio stations."
For many metalheads -- such as myself -- heavy metal music is an opening into a grand intricate world of discordance and mesmerizing soundscapes. And it's puzzling when our peers don't recognize what we love as valid artistic expression. As a result, metalheads often feel alienated from and misunderstood by the rest of society. But to these young Iranian men, it has become far more than a mere feeling.
Confess has an online presence on Soundcloud. Please go listen, and you'll hear exactly why it is that protecting the basic and fundamental human right of freedom of expression is so important. Societal reform comes from a diversity of opinions being disseminated. If a government has the capacity to jail, punish, and kill people for sharing unpopular views, it attaches a price to what its citizens think. Expressing unpopular views in such an environment becomes costly, even deadly. Societies are only ever made worse off when a government has the ability to judge the value of what is expressed. And it's only the most horrible places in the world that capture their young men and kill them for speech "against the system."
Now, you may not like Confess's music. You may not like that they've chosen to express themselves through a loud and vociferous medium. But that's just a matter of taste, not of principle. Consider this fundamental tenet of a free society: it is too dangerous to grant a monopoly over expression -- artistic, political, or otherwise--to any government. No political authority should be able to decide what qualifies as artistic expression or determine the value of that expression. That's society's role, and we should never give it up.
It's easy to observe the travails of a far away metal band from the comfort of Canada. If I am being honest, their circumstances only bother me in a sort of intellectual way. But tyranny is only ever a generation away, and I worry that the current generation of Canadians lacks a principled appreciation of how important freedom of expression is.
In 2003, the Alberta Human Rights Commission decided that American death metal band Deicide did not violate the hate speech provision in the Alberta Human Rights Act. Although the commission came to the correct conclusion, it did so for the wrong reasons. Instead of offering a fulsome defence of freedom of expression and limitations on the government's authority to control artistic expression, the commission found that Deicide did not have a wide enough listening audience or popular appeal, even though the band had sold nearly 500,000 albums in the United States alone by that time.
Further, to this day, Canada has a Criminal Codeblasphemy prohibition on the books. Although it has not been used for many years and is likely unconstitutional under section 2(b) of the Charter, this provision still permits the government to imprison Canadians for two years merely for saying unsavoury things on religious topics. I met with my former Member of Parliament regarding this law in 2013. He expressed his regret that repealing this law would not be politically expedient since it might upset some of his constituents.
So here's where we stand in Canada. Those entrusted to resolve our disputes don't understand the importance of freedom of expression. Those elected as representatives don't find it inherently abhorrent for the government to control expression. And most troubling, the public probably doesn't get it either.
Now, Canada is in no way remotely as bad as Iran. Saying otherwise would be pure hyperbole. But don't get too haughty. In Canada, a metal band has been forced to defend itself in legal proceedings for saying unsavoury things. In Canada, we have our own blasphemy law intended to punish people for being insufficiently respectful of religion. And in Canada, we have an impoverished understanding of important role that freedom of expression plays in the growth and maintenance of a free society.
Our differences with Iran would seem to be a matter of degrees, not of principle.
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