Well, we did the TVO show and I doubt it was Must-See TV, even by the standards of Canadian public broadcasting. I succeeded in bouncing the Sock Puppets into agreeing to a face-to-face discussion, though it wasn't my finest hour or theirs. I believe the final words of the show were me saying, "Do you wanna go to dinner?", and Khurrum Awan yelling back, "No."
We didn't go for dinner, but we did have a relatively pleasant conversation after the broadcast that I thought was much more productive than the show. Khurrum was a bit chippy but the two ladies, Muneeza Sheikh and Naseem Mithoowani, are rather cute, even when they're damning me as a racist and hater. (Years ago, the BBC used to keep putting me up against humourless Marxist feminists only to find that on air I'd go all sweet on them and just make goo-goo eyes.) One confessed to finding me "mildly funny", which I took as a tremendous compliment until she remarked that she found "Little Mosque On The Prairie" funnier. Evidently by "mildly funny", she sets the bar down at world-champion limbo level. Heigh-ho. Still, even with dear old Khurrum, if I'd met him in an airport lounge on the other side of the world and we were stuck waiting for a flight, I think the conversation would go okayish. The post-show chit-chat was a useful reminder that everybody's media image is a reductio.
Nevertheless, we are stuck in our respective roles. I believe these Canadian Islamic Congress lawsuits - and, yes, I can hear the Socks yelling "That's a lie! They're not 'suits', they're 'complaints'," but that's a distinction without a difference if you're paying lawyers' bills and you regard, as I do, the Human Rights Commissions as a parallel legal system that tramples over all the traditional safeguards of Common Law, not least the presumption of innocence. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I believe these lawsuits are deeply damaging to freedom of expression. If they win (when they win) and the verdicts withstand Supreme Court scrutiny, Canada will no longer be a free country. It will be a country whose citizens are on a leash whose length is determined by the hack bureaucrats of state agencies.
And that leash will shrivel, remorselessly. One of the better points Khurrum made off-air was that this is the first (federal) "human rights" complaint by a Muslim group, and that when it was just the Jews and gays milking this racket we didn't have any of this talk about scrapping Section 13 and abolishing the commissions. And he's right. Which is why the Canadian Jewish Congress position is untenable. As I said in my speech to the "legal jihad" conference in New York a couple of weeks back:
Canada and much of Europe have statutes prohibiting Holocaust denial. Muslims are not impressed by these laws. "Nobody can say even one word about the number in the alleged Holocaust," says Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the favourite Islamic "scholar" of many Euroleftists, "even if he is writing an MA or PhD thesis, and discussing it scientifically. Such claims are not acceptable." But a savvy imam knows an opening when he sees one. "The Jews are protected by laws," notes Mr Qaradawi. "We want laws protecting the holy places, the prophets, and Allah's messengers." In other words, he wants to use the constraints on free speech imposed by Europe and Canada to protect Jews in order to put much of Islam beyond political debate. The free world is shuffling into a psychological bondage whose chains are mostly of our own making. The British "historian" David Irving wound up in an Austrian jail, having been convicted of Holocaust denial. It's not unreasonable for Muslims to conclude that, if gays and Jews and other approved identities are to be protected groups who can't be offended, why shouldn't they be also?
They have a point. How many roads of inquiry are we prepared to block off in order to be "sensitive"?
As my accusers see it, quite a lot. I was struck by something Naseem said to me on the sidewalk. I'd mentioned that I'd heard her on NPR saying that it was improper for me to attack "multiculturalism" because multiculturalism was officially embedded in Canada's constitution. And I said: So what? A free society shouldn't have an official ideology, but, if it has, I certainly reserve the right to object to it. If I'd lived in Italy 70 years ago, I would have objected to their official ideology (Fascism), and I object to Canada's, notwithstanding its touchy-feelier name. And she looked at me as if I was bonkers. I feel rather bewildered at meeting graduates of an elite institution in one of the oldest settled democracies on the planet who seem to think just because Pierre Trudeau cooked it up it's chiseled in granite. You can only marvel at what an amazing job he did of wiping a society's collective memory. What was the most depressing part of the post-game show for me was realizing that for my accusers the assumption is that every defect in society can be corrected by government intervention. They said one reason they went to the "human rights" thought police is because they're worried Rogers might buy, for example, The Toronto Star and install Ken Whyte, yours truly and the rest of the Islamophobes. Well, maybe. But look: right now, I'm "excluded" from The Toronto Star and so's every other conservative. We're "excluded" from the CBC, which is paid for by the tax dollars of Canadian conservatives. But so what? Society is not perfectable, and for a government tribunal to order the Star to run one Steyn column for every Siddiqui column in runs would only make things worse.
There's some talk on TVO's part of getting us together for a more civilized discussion, so we'll see how that works out. My only real objection was when Naseem said "Mark Steyn wants to be a martyr." Actually, that's more of a Muslim problem. (Whoops, Islamophobia alert!) But it's not true for me. I'd love to do as this alleged Islamic terrorist does and shout, "I'm outta here!" I'd like nothing more than never to appear on a single TV or radio show in the deranged Dominion ever again. But the "remedy" they seek for Maclean's "Islamophobia" is incompatible with a free society. This is a point of principle. Here I stand. I can do no other. So on we go.