Sunday, December 30, 2007

Embarrassed to be Canadian

MacLean's magazine, of all the middle-of-the-road media, is being subjected to a small siege. Andrew Coyne summarizes the current situation nicely in this column.

To most of us, however, the CIC [ed: Canadian Islamic Congress] has seemed little more than a nuisance. They do not speak for Islam, and they are not the last word on the subject. They are entitled to their views, of course, but so, in a free and democratic society, are those with whom they take issue.

Or were, until recently. For of late the CIC has found a new partner in its campaigns: the state. Not content with tossing around incendiary charges of religious bias, the CIC has enlisted the force of the law to press its case. It has done so, what is more, not through any of the traditional legal means by which freedom of speech may be limited, nor with any of the legal system’s usual requirements of due process, but through a new and seemingly open-ended mechanism: the human rights commission. To be specific: the organization has launched a complaint against Maclean’s before the federal, Ontario and British Columbia human rights commissions, alleging that an article the magazine published last year, excerpted from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone, “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and Islamophobia.”

Coyne is far from believing that this Muslim organization is in any way unique in Canada in its hostility to free specch.

There are a great many people in this country who seem to have no clue about what freedom of speech means, or why it was invented. What is astonishing is to find so many of them in the employ of the human rights commissions.

With Coyne, I do not believe these organizations should have any role in regulating public speech. Our hate speech laws (which I also oppose) are bad enough, but this opens up yet another means of simply harassing those who say things you do not like. I very much hope that the outcome of these proceedings is that there are in the end none - the case is ridiculous on the face of it.

I am no major fan of Steyn, finding him often funny, but very superficial, and careless with facts and analyses. But he describes the situation extremely well here.

The most alarming part of his analysis is quite rightly how unusual it is even in Western democracies to maintain a proper commitment to free speech:

One of the critical differences between America and the rest of the west is that America has a First Amendment and the rest don't. And a lot of them are far too comfortable with the notion that in free societies it is right and proper for the state to regulate speech. The response of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to the Danish cartoons was to propose a press charter that would oblige newspapers to exercise "prudence" on, ah, certain controversial subjects. The response of Tony Blair's ministry to the problems of "Londonistan" was to propose a sweeping law dramatically constraining free discussion of religion. At the end of her life, Oriana Fallaci was being sued in France, Italy, Switzerland and sundry other jurisdictions by groups who believed her opinions were not merely disagreeable but criminal. In France, Michel Houellebecq was sued by Muslim and other "anti-racist" groups who believed opinions held by a fictional character in one of his novels were not merely disagreeable but criminal.

Note the carelessness (if it is that) here - for example, Houellebecq himself, not just one of his characters, has frequently said Islam is a stupid religion.

Mr Houellebecq told the court: "I have never shown the slightest contempt for Muslims but I have always held Islam in contempt."

And he did prevail in the French courts. But Steyn's fundamental point is that he never should have been there at all, and I agree heartily. Personally I have yet to come across a religion that did not seem pretty stupid to me, and when I say so I expect people to agree or disagree, but not to reach for judicial constraints, surely the path of scoundrels.

Steyn was asked by Hugh Hewitt recently what to do to support MacLean's in this case, and he answered that we should subscribe to the magazine. I have done so, recognizing the perverse incentive the magazine gets here. :-)


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