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 logic.
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 source.
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 printed magazines.
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 still pending.
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."
He added, "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."
Nevertheless, 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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