We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and the in extent that we respect his theory that is wife is beautiful and his children smart.
-H. L. Mencken
In ages bygone there were few things a soldier feared more than a drum-head trial.
An accused soldier would be dragged before an impromptu court that upturned drum that served a table. Justice had nothing to do with it. With no standards of evidence, punishment was sift and severe. There were no rights to appeal. No rights to present evidence. You were guilty
until proven innocent — and even then you were still guilty.
If this scenario seems all to familiar and gives you willies, there’s a good reason for it. Freedom of speech and press in Canada have been dragged before a latter-day version of the drum-head trial, best known as a human rights tribunal.
I’ve written about this a couple of times now in the St. Catharines Standard and the 411 is this: In 2006, Maclean's magazine ran an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone. In the piece, Steyn writes what he thinks is the obituary for western liberal democracy. Pointing out the low birth rate of non-Muslims compared with that of Muslim immigrants, particularly in Europe, Steyn suggests the continent is on the cusp of being Islamified. And, he says, with those immigrants come the violent Islamists who wouldn't know the value of democracy from a public execution.
Now, while Steyn gets some things right, his somewhat paranoid thesis that democracy is soon going to be replaced by a barking mad jihadist theocracy is a bit too Oliver Stone for my tastes. But that really isn't the point.
Steyn's conclusions offended the sensibilities of some law students -known in the blogsphere as the Canadian Islamic Congress' "sock puppets"- who happened to be Muslim. After Maclean's refused to give them equal space to write a rebuttal by a writer of their choice (which the magazine could not edit) under a cover they designed (which the magazine could not alter) they enlisted the help of the Canadian Islamic Congress to drag the magazine to the Canadian, Ontario and British Columbia human rights tribunals, which are due to hear the case this year.
According to the CIC, Steyn's article misrepresents "Canadian Muslims' values" and damages their "sense of dignity and self-worth." It wants the government bodies to order Maclean's to give the students their rebuttal or at the very least want the magazine to be officially censored for saying things some Muslims just don't like very much.
Now, the CIC through their sock puppets, got to complain about the alleged mistreatment by Macleans in the National Post and other newspapers, and on TV and online. But they what want is to bring Macleans to heel and want the force of government orders to do so.
The first round was much of a fight at all. The Ontario Human R issued a statement saying it could not rule on the Steyn case because it is not part of its mandate - and then went ahead and ruled on the issue anyway in a statement you can read here.
Dripping with a staggering ignorance of the value of free speech, the commission's statement accuses the magazine of propagating racism.
"This type of media coverage has been identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance toward Muslims," the statement reads.
Surely the commission brings some evidence to support these claims, right?
Nope. None. Nothing. Zero. Squat.
The Maclean's stories "have been identified" as promoting racism? Really? By who exactly? Presumably the commission itself, because it does not cite a single source.
Maybe the commission provided some content analysis of the magazine, or pointed out where Steyn got his facts wrong? That's a big fat no as well.
In fact, the statement is merely a declaration, convicting the magazine of being a racist rag without having provided so much as a single shred of evidence. It then says what Canada needs is a discussion "about how narrowly or broadly society places limits on freedom of expression in order to protect the human rights of its vulnerable members." And the commission makes it clear where it stands: where free speech offends, it should be outlawed by the state.
Round two isn't quiet over. Unlike the almost but not really savvy Ontario commission, the British Columbia human rights tribunal was dumb enough to hold a hearing. Never mind the complainants are both residents of Ontario, the tribunal decided to go ahead with the drum-head trial.
Reports on the hearing demonstrate exactly why its time to wipe out these commissions, or at least limit what they can do. There are no standards evidence. None. So a professor whose claim to fame is a study of Bollywood films gets accepts as an expert on the Canadian media. But never mind she has no published work on the subject, she an expert, because, well, she says she is.
By that logic, I’m an expert on organic chemistry, even though I haven't actually done any organic chemistry, I'm really interested in the subject. Expert my aching ass.
Also, the bruised feelings of the complainants count as evidence, as do the writings of anonymous loonies on blogs in other countries. But actual evidence? Facts? No these do not count. In fact, the tribunal's boss is happy to declare to that the hearing is "informal." In other words, its like playing tennis without a net - and the loser is always the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Anyway, the hearing and the case is so sad it would be laughable if it wasn't for the fact that it presents a real and present threat to free speech in Canada. A guilty verdict is almost a inevitable. These commission and tribunals operate with a 100 per cent conviction rate. (You read that right. Nearly every person or group dragged before these demented kangaroo courts is found guilty. Imagine if one of our law courts had that kind of conviction rate? Imagine the political and legal fallout if no one was ever found not-guilty in a court to law!)
The only plus in this entire sad story is that a guilty finding will allow the magazine to appeal the ruling to actual court of law where things like evidence matter.
In any case, not content with waiting for victory, some Muslims leaders holding court with Barbara Hall -the grand poo-ba of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and would be commissioner of the thought police - declared this week that if Muslims are not given an "equal voice" in the Canadian news media, there will be dire consequences.
"And we have to tell them, you know what, if you're not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it's time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars,"said Khurrum Awan the main primary witness in the MacLean's case in BC. (check out the full story in the National Post)So where Voltaire is sometimes reputed to have said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," the CIC is saying, "I disapprove of what you say, and I will litigate to gag you."
These are utterly incompatible ideas and they show just how out of touch the CIC is with democratic ideals.
So what is going on here? What did Steyn say that was so horrible? Whether you disagree with his thesis or not, isn't the point. Steyn is not a hate monger. I mean, even if you hate America Alone, you'd have to admit he didn't write, say, Mein Kampf. Hitler's little diatribe in which he lays the ills of the world at the feet of the Jews and pretty much telegraphs what he would do if he ever had real political power is maybe the most horrible book of the 20th century. You'd be hard pressed to find a book that so defines hate speech. And yet as nasty as it is you can get it at any book store. In it, Hitler foreshadows his "final solution." What did Steyn do? Steyn can be a sacrastic cus at times, but he essentially looks at the problem in Europe, demographics and the rise of Islamo-facism and say "Uh, do we have a problem here?"
Oh and he quotes from radical ding-dong clerics who think that blowing themselves up on planes or in Jewish pizza joints gets them a front row seat at god's party palace. To the sock puppets et al, this is a real no-no. We can't actually quote what actual people actually said. Because, you know, then we might know what they actually think which might actually be of some actual importance!
Now why don't the sock puppets want Steyn to quote from radical Muslim leaders? Well, they aren't radical Muslims, of course, and they find the view of Jihadists offensive. And since they aren't crazy jihadists, Steyn has no business quoting people who are.
A bit mad, no? But it does highlight something interesting about this effort to high-jack free speech. These folks appear to believe that their religious are immune to criticism. Their religion cannot be spoken of in any way except in terms that they deem proper.
It comes down to something Douglas Adams said once, that is that believers think religion gets a special place in society where ridicule and criticism can't touch it. He said:
Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That's an idea we're so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it's kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is 'Here is an idea or a notion that you're not allowed to say anything bad about; you're just not. Why not? - because you're not!' If somebody votes for a party that you don't agree with, you're free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says 'I mustn't move a light switch on a Saturday', you say, 'Fine, I respect that'. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking 'Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?' but I wouldn't have thought 'Maybe there's somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics' when I was making the other points. I just think 'Fine, we have different opinions'. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody's (I'm going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say 'No, we don't attack that; that's an irrational belief but no, we respect it'.The fact is pretty simple. They don't like what Steyn said because it offends them. They don't attack the thesis of his book, not really. They don't go after his facts, or criticize his political analysis or debunk his claims. Instead they display their bruised feelings and say "Oh well look, some nutter wrote a blog saying hateful things after Steyn's book came out! Steyn is responsible for spreading hatred!"
It's rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that's grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise - that's a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think 'Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity', what does it mean? Why should it be that it's perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that's holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we've just got used to doing so? There's no other reason at all, it's just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it's very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it's very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you're not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn't be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn't be.
What they don't understand is that freedom of speech is not a negotiable commodity. It does not fall upon bended knee before the precious feelings of sectarian groups who want to muzzle anything they don't like.
If you are in favour of free speech, as Noam Chomsky once said, it means accepting you will be offended now and again. "Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin," Chomsky said. "If you're really in favour of free speech, then you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favour of free speech."
As I have said before, if these human rights tribunals side with the CIC and try to punish Maclean's, the government, provincial and federal, should promptly abolish them and replace them with something with a narrower and clearer mandate and limited powers.
We do not have a right not to be offended.
I have to ask what "human rights" have been violated by Steyn and company? Are Muslims in Canada now required to wear a crescent moon on their clothing? They are being rounded up, as the Japanese were and Native Canadians before them, and placed into camps and reserves? Are they being denied access to government services, to jobs, to the right to voice their opinions, to freedom of religion, to freedom of movement?
Is this pack of weeping, sycophantic, solipsitic chest thumpers and wanna be martyrs being denied a single right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? I submit the answer is no.
Whatever legitimate role this commission once had has been lost in an attempt to create a version of Orwellian Newspeak for Ontario. If the commission wrote 1984, Big Brother, not Winston Smith, would be the hero of the story
Human rights tribunals were designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace and ensure all citizens have access to government services regardless of religion, sex or race. They have absolutely no business ruling on the alleged offensiveness of articles printed in magazines and newspapers, never mind meting out punishments.
Now, these unelected and unaccountable commissions with no due process or legal standards of evidence are on the cusp of becoming agencies empowered to punish thought crime and blasphemy. A deep chill will fall over the fourth estate and the door will open for anyone to shut down public debate in the name of protecting their bruised feelings.
That isn't democracy and, ironically enough the CIC appears utterly unaware of this (or maybe they are and don't care), is a step in the direction to prove Steyn's thesis correct.