Written attacks on Muslims cannot be
Since 9/11, Canadian Muslims
are the number 1 minority group being demonized in the public square, in books,
in print and broadcast media.
The recent smearing of a
Canadian institution like our human rights commissions by Islamophobes, who
claim to be protecting "free speech," is a classic case of chopped
They seem to have forgotten
that reconciling two potentially conflicting legal rights that are also human
rights -- the right to be free from hate propaganda, and the principle of
freedom of expression -- is not a new challenge, nor is it an easy one.
Recently, the Canadian magazine
Catholic Insight, has been facing a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights
Commission alleging it made derogatory comments about homosexuals.
In 1998, someone representing
Canadian Jews filed a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights
Commission against North Shore News columnist Doug Collins. The commission
ordered Collins to pay $2,000 in damages to the complainant for "injury to
his dignity, feelings and self-respect." The commission also ordered the
North Shore News to cease publishing statements that expose Jews "to
hatred and contempt."
A lawyer with the Canadian
Jewish Congress was quoted by the Jewish Independent on Dec. 21, 2001, saying
the decision reflects Canadian legal precedents which recognize that certain
types of speech are not legally permissible, especially if they are seen to
cause public harm.
In these two cases there were
no critics of the human rights commissions. But the situation changed
dramatically in another recent case, when four Canadian Muslim law students
launched human rights complaints against Maclean's magazine with respect to its
October 2006 article, The Future Belongs to Islam, written by Mark Steyn. The
Canadian Islamic Congress, of which I am president, acted as a facilitator.
The basic premise of Steyn's
article is that, just as the "white man settled the Indian
territory," Muslims in the West are poised to take over entire societies
and the "only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will
be." Once the ominously predicted transfer occurs, Steyn's article
implies, citizens will be subjected to oppressive Islamic law.
The impending Muslim takeover
is in turn attributed to immigration and multiculturalism, which have resulted
in Muslims flooding into Western societies and enjoying far too much freedom of
movement in them. The flood, the freedom of movement, and the fact that
"enough" Muslims share the goals of terrorists -- the imposition of
Islamic law -- mean that the Muslim takeover is inevitable.
On March 30, 2007, the law
students met with Maclean's senior editors and proposed that the magazine
publish a balanced response to Steyn's article from a mutually acceptable
The response was that Maclean's
"would rather go bankrupt."
The Ontario Human Rights
Commission, however, declined to hear the case because its code does not cover
But in a rare public statement,
the commission rightly noted that "this type of media coverage has been
identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance
towards Muslim, Arab, and South Asian Canadians," and further noted the
"serious harm that such writings cause, both to the targeted communities
and society as a whole."
The B.C. Human Rights
Commission finished hearing the case earlier this month. The decision on
whether the federal Canadian Human Rights Commission will hear the case is
After the B.C. hearings, Brian
Strader said this about Steyn's article in a letter published by the Vancouver
Province: "It's the closest thing to Nazi and anti-Jewish posters I have
seen. Nazi propaganda was meant to show that Jews were a threat. The current
analogy with an 'Islamic threat' is truly chilling."
"I think Muslims have a right to be nervous. Freedom of speech is not an
absolute. It never was. The lessons of history are too conveniently forgotten
for the sake of profit."
media attacks against the complainants, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the
human rights commissions have continued, non-stop since the case against
Maclean's was made public earlier this year.
Elmasry is national president of the Kitchener-based Canadian Islamic Congress.
He can be reached at email@example.com
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