Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Canada's Unfree Speech

I suppose Islam really does mean submission. Mark Steyn's on trial in Canadian court for his Maclean's cover story (October 23, 2006). He quoted a Norwegian mullah's claim that Muslims are multiplying "like mosquitoes." Steyn now finds himself accused of a hate crime. His predicament reveals not only Canadian tolerance at its most ludicrous, but the New York Times' complicity. I agree--which is not often-- with this perspective advanced by Beltway neo-con journalist Vivienne Goldberg's son Jonah in his op-ed column in today's Los Angeles Times. Goldberg, a token right-winger in an overwhelmingly liberal newspaper, shows up the NYT's own posturing in its craven coverage of Steyn's trial. I might add that it was the first I heard of this trial, when I read Adam Liptak's June 12, 2008, NYT piece. I remember how it surprised me. Liptak's bias tilted away from First Amendment sympathies. He appeared to favor in his selection of viewpoints those who called for censorship of opinions. America, it seemed, was in the minority here and perhaps foolishly so. Liptak included many advocates of restrictions on free speech that offended large groups or caused unease.

In Canada, as Goldberg explains, all that's needed for a claim to go forward is a claim that someone's offended. The process, in Goldberg's judgment, sets up a kangaroo court. Taking offense at Steyn, a New Hampshire-based reporter, the Canadian Islamic Congress filed charges. Maclean's had denied them a forum for rebuttal. Even though the sources number Muslims who are quoted as demanding accommodation with the West, the CIC fumed. Rather ironically, the CIC turned its own complaint into an Exhibit A of free speech in the West under attack by those who wish to place the assertions of belief above those of reason. Even if the assertions leap from the lips of fellow Muslims, they are still seen as damaging to the gentle Muslim sensibilities in Canada. The accused finds himself trapped in an Orwellian star-chamber.

Steyn cannot even summon claims by ecumenical supporters of Islam in his defense. For instance, he cannot borrow the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's infamous estimation that shariah would have to be incorporated in some form into future British law. Such opinions support Steyn's investigation into the spread of restrictive Muslim culture and archaic attitudes across the Western democracies. For, Williams' remarks appeared after Steyn's excerpt from his book, "America Alone," and so are inadmissible. The additional twist that Steyn quotes a Nordic-based imam's triumphalist prediction of the demographic victory of Islam also finds itself distorted by the British Columbian tribunal of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. I suppose unless you can find an anodyne utterance from a believer, best to mention nothing at all. The Human Rights Commission has never in thirty-one years dismissed a case as unfounded.

Steyn is charged with fomenting hate even when-- or because-- he chooses an Islamic cleric's own boast. Free speech, a government prosecutor explains, is an American concept to which this Canadian spokesman (or spokesperson who chooses an identity of the male gender?) gives no value. A judicial haven for anyone infatuated with the politics of victimization, we find Steyn crossing a border into where the burden of proof rests on the one summoned to court. This legal burden makes judges in America (I mean the U.S.) look enlightened still, for once. For the sensitive Canucks, filing the protest itself serves as proof of "guilt" against the one denounced. Talk about blaming the victim. Truly a topsy-turvy rabbit-hole. Perhaps British law has not receded so far from the land where the Queen's profile looms along with the loon.

Two days ago (here and on Amazon), I reviewed the Onion's atlas, "Our Dumb World." Turning to p. 023 ("For the United States, See Pages 9-22," the headline advises), I admit in its defense that our frostier neighbor earns its distinctions. "Nearly as prosperous as the U.S., Canada wastes its resources lowering greenhouse gas emissions and offering paid maternity leave to new mothers, all the while allowing its lagging entertainment industry, struggling fast-food businesses, and weak military to go tragically underfunded."

I suppose I should not be so unsettled at the Steyn case. The Canadians might charge me with ethnocentrism as egregious as that mocked on every page of the atlas. After all, speaking of prejudices from the dominion "where the past comes alive and bores you to death," it's a clash of one typical image against another. On the atlas' next page, I found on the map a citizen "who says 'eh,' 'shoot,' and 'stereotypes are social constructs that not only divide groups of people, but create an oppressive mind-set that hinders progress for all.'"

An oppressive mind-set: look at that Maclean's headline again. "Why the Future Belongs to Islam." Women shrouded, a girl's glowering eyes half-downcast. Hindering progress for all. Satire or prediction?

Adam Liptak: New York Times. June 12, 2008. "Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech".

Jonah Goldberg: Los Angeles Times. June 17, 2008. "Canada's Thought Police"

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