Many years ago, I proposed a feature to an editor about a new trend — as I recall, it was celebrities wearing cravats. I wanted us to be first with the big "The Cravat Is Back!" weekend pictorial. Anyway, she demanded to know the evidence for this trend. And I cited Ted Danson wearing one to the Emmys and Roger Moore wearing one to go snorkelling in Belize. Or possibly vice versa.
"And . . . ?" she said coldly.
"Er, what do you mean — 'and'?"
"Mark, Mark, Mark," she sighed. "How many years have you been in journalism? It takes three to make a trend." And she sent me away with a flea in my ear and an undertaking not to return until Prince Edward had been spotted wearing a cravat at a gala performance of Phantom of the Opera. Or vice versa. I'm making a general point here, so let's not get hung up on details.
Here's the thing: two years ago, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada took The Western Standard to the Alberta "human rights" commission for republishing the Danish Muhammad cartoons. A few months back, the Canadian Islamic Congress took Maclean's to the Canadian, Ontario and British Columbia "human rights" commissions for publishing an excerpt from my bestselling hate crime, America Alone. Last week, the Centre for Islamic Development took the Halifax Chronicle-Herald to the Nova Scotia "Human Rights" Commission for publishing an editorial cartoon of a, ah, person of an Islamic persuasion.
Have we got a trend yet?
This is the way it's going to be in Canada, this year, next year and beyond. A few days back I found myself on a TVOntario show with the three Osgoode Hall law students whom the media have promoted as the "complainants" in the suits against Maclean's. (They're not: Mohamed Elmasry, the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, is.) It was not the most agreeable of encounters, at least on camera. I believe the very last words of the show were me saying to my accusers "Wanna go to dinner?" and one of their number, Khurrum Awan, yelling back, "No!" But off-air the chit-chat went rather more pleasantly, and, in the course of it, Mr. Awan observed that Jews had availed themselves of the "human rights" commissions for years but it was only when the Muzzies decided they wanted a piece of the thought-police action that all these bigwigs started agitating for reining in the commissions and scrapping the relevant provisions of Canada's "human rights" code.
He has a kind of point. Which is why some of us consistently opposed the use of these commissions even when it was liberal Jews using them to hunt down the last three neo-Nazis in Saskatchewan. Yet, accepting that the principle is identical, there is a difference. For the most part, the Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith and the other beneficiaries of the "human rights" regime went after freaks and misfits on the fringes of society, folks too poor (in the majority of federal cases) even to afford legal representation. These prosecutions were unfair and reflected badly on Canada's justice system, but liberal proponents of an illiberal law justified it on the assumption that it would be confined to these peripheral figures nobody cared about. You can't blame Muslim groups for figuring that what's sauce for the infidel is sauce for the believer — and that, having bigger fish to fry, they're gonna need a lot more sauce.
The first three organizations taken by Jewish groups to the federal "human rights" commission were the Western Guard, the Church of Jesus Christ Christian/Aryan Nations and the Manitoba Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Despite their fearsome names, none of these clear and present dangers to the peaceable kingdom had an in-house legal department, or a spare thousand bucks to retain outside counsel, or indeed a buck-and-a-quarter for the bus ride to the hearing. By contrast, the Muslim lobby groups' first three fish are Canada's newest political magazine (The Western Standard, whose print edition has since ceased publication); Canada's oldest and biggest-selling newsweekly (Maclean's); and the biggest daily newspaper in the Maritimes (the Halifax Chronicle-Herald). This is an entirely different scale of project. Muslim lobby groups have very shrewdly calculated that the "human rights" commissions are the quickest, cheapest and most coercive means of applying pressure to mainstream publications in order to put Islam beyond discussion — or at least beyond all but the most pink-marshmallow celebrate-diversity discussion.
When it was yours truly and Ezra Levant, the publisher of The Western Standard, taking the heat, it was easy to write us off as a couple of right-wing blowhards. Mainly because we are. But the Islamophobe du jour is the Chronicle-Herald's Bruce MacKinnon, a cartoonist who's won an Atlantic Journalism Award and is the very soul of moderation. Alas for him, the head of the Nova Scotia "Human Rights" Commission is a fellow called Michael Noonan, last heard from comparing his job to that of the South African blacks who stood up to "the jackboots of the state" in the Sharpeville massacre. In other words, he seems just the sort of vainglorious stooge who'll be happy to do the Centre for Islamic Development's bidding and place the Halifax Chronicle-Herald's editorial content under government regulation — or, as he would say if he were less hilariously un-self-aware, under "the jackboot of the state."
Discussing the Maclean's case recently, the blog Dead Reckoning observed of our complainants:
"They think they are entitled to force Maclean's to simply allow them to publish whatever they want, and if they can't get it by bullying Maclean's they will get a government agency to do it for them. "This is so Muslim. If you want to accuse somebody in an Islamic country of offending Islam, you go to an Imam and get him to issue a fatwa against the offender. In effect, the human rights commissions substitute for the Imams and issue the fatwas." "Mr. Lemire complains that the prohibition against disseminating hatred via the Internet is not accompanied by the defences of truth and fair comment that are available to traditional news media in torts ranging from defamation to seditious libel. This argument is misleading. The defences of truth and fair comment remain available to torts such as defamation and seditious libel, regardless of the medium in which they occur. However, none of the traditional media can avail themselves of these defences in cases of alleged hate propaganda, whether the communication appears in print, on television or on a website. "As the Federal Court has explained, defences that may be available in tort actions are not available in cases of hate propaganda because the prohibition is concerned with adverse effects, not with intent."
"They think they are entitled to force Maclean's to simply allow them to publish whatever they want, and if they can't get it by bullying Maclean's they will get a government agency to do it for them.
"This is so Muslim. If you want to accuse somebody in an Islamic country of offending Islam, you go to an Imam and get him to issue a fatwa against the offender. In effect, the human rights commissions substitute for the Imams and issue the fatwas."There's something in that. The Ontario Human Rights Commission's drive-by conviction of Maclean's was, indeed, a kind of fatwa — a pronouncement from doctrinal authority. In this case, the doctrine is political correctness, but, if only for the moment, its interests presently align with the Muslim lobby's. Many of us regard the "human rights" commissions as a parallel justice system at odds with 800 years of Canada's legal inheritance and dispensing with all the distinguishing features — due process, the presumption of innocence, etc. We should have realized earlier that its chief characteristics are also the closest our system comes to the capricious and authoritarian aspects of Islamic law. This week, in a brief objecting to a constitutional challenge to Section 13 of Canada's "human rights" code, the Justice Department declared:
"Mr. Lemire complains that the prohibition against disseminating hatred via the Internet is not accompanied by the defences of truth and fair comment that are available to traditional news media in torts ranging from defamation to seditious libel. This argument is misleading. The defences of truth and fair comment remain available to torts such as defamation and seditious libel, regardless of the medium in which they occur. However, none of the traditional media can avail themselves of these defences in cases of alleged hate propaganda, whether the communication appears in print, on television or on a website.
"As the Federal Court has explained, defences that may be available in tort actions are not available in cases of hate propaganda because the prohibition is concerned with adverse effects, not with intent."
My italics. Also my sprayed coffee. And my steaming pants and scalded crotch.
The government rarely expresses it that brazenly. Especially the justice minister of a supposedly Conservative government. By the way, by "adverse effects," they mean not anything that's actually happened but something that might potentially theoretically hypothetically happen maybe a decade or four down the road. If you create a justice regime predicated as a point of principle on disdain for objective reality, it's no big surprise to find perpetually aggrieved Muslim lobby groups eager to avail themselves of it — big time.
If you're an editor or a publisher, Canada's "human rights" regime is building a world in which the only choice on key issues of public debate is between state censorship or self-censorship. In Toronto last week, I had lunch in a fashionable eatery on King Street with a former editor who couldn't see what all the fuss was about. "You need to lighten up," she said. "Write about a movie." From next month, I'll have no choice. Although the Osgoode Hall law students protest that all they want is a "right of reply," when the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal finds us guilty, they are statutorily obligated to issue a cease-and-desist order that will have the effect of preventing Maclean's running any writing on Islam by me or anybody of a similar bent — even though the plaintiffs have not challenged the accuracy of a single fact or statistic or quotation.
So four weeks from now I'll be banished from the Canadian media, which will undoubtedly be distressing to my loyal reader (I use the singular advisedly). But a year or two down the line, many other subscribers to Maclean's and the Chronicle-Herald and eventually the Globe and the Toronto Star will be wondering why there are whole areas of debate that no longer seem to get much of an airing in the public prints. In 1989, Muslims who objected to Salman Rushdie burned his novel in the streets of England. Two decades on, they've figured out that it's more efficient to use the "human rights" commissions to burn the offending texts metaphorically, discreetly, offstage . . . and (ultimately) pre-emptively.
Pace my old comrade, I don't need to see a movie because I'm in one. We're at that point in the plot where the maverick investigator takes the call saying a third example of the strange spore has been found in a field in Idaho, and he pushes another pin in the map and goes "Hmm" thoughtfully.
But he still can't get his colleagues to see that something's going on.
Maclean's, May 2008
Comment on this item (members only)
Viewing and submission of reader comments is restricted to Mark Steyn Club members only. If you are not yet a member, please click here to join. If you are already a member, please log in here: