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[By Naseem Mithoowani and Muneeza Sheikh -- National Post -- June 12, 2008]



In stating that Islamists who have a problem with free speech should leave, Tarek Fatah enlightened National Post readers with the kind of name-calling he directs at anyone with whom he disagrees. That represents a large number of people and Muslims across Canada have grown accustomed to his diatribes.

This time around, the target was Khurrum Awan, our colleague and fellow "sock-puppet" (as we have come to be known!) in our human rights complainants against Maclean's magazine.


According to Fatah, by filing a human rights complaint and calling upon Muslims to demand a representative voice in Canadian media, this law student qualifies as an "Islamist" allied with the likes of Osama bin Laden.


Fatah's muddled rant reminds us of a December 3 press release about our complaints that was issued by Fatah's Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) - a marginal organization consisting of five individuals and a coffee table.

The release stated: "Mark Steyn's piece was definitely alarmist, but the answer to his challenge is to write a counter-piece and demand that Maclean's publish it." Of course, we had already asked Maclean's for a counter-piece -- nine months earlier, in fact -- and had been refused. But verifying facts is not a quality Fatah's crew is known for.


But Fatah wasn't done yet. Following the Ontario Human Rights Commission statement condemning Maclean's for its Islamophobic content, Fatah told the Post that the statement was the work of "hardline Islamic supporters of Islamic extremism" employed by the Commission. That same day, Fatah's MCC issued yet another press release informing Canadians that the Commission's statement was "cause for celebration in Osama bin Laden's cave and among the soldiers of the world Jihadi movement."


Apart from the evident ridiculousness of these assertions, it is interesting that Fatah has such insight into the activities underway in "Osama's cave." How very interesting... Perhaps a lengthy interview with CSIS is in order.


On a more serious note, Fatah's name-calling detracts from the real issue, which is the exclusion of Muslim voices from our national media in a context where Islam and Muslims have become a regular subject of discussion. One would think that if Muslims were a topic of interest, our national media would want to provide some coverage of their perspectives.


In fact, the only Muslim columnists providing some informed perspective on Muslim-related issues are Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star and Sheema Khan of the Globe and Mail. Ms. Khan's column is published only monthly, and both columnists are frequently subjected to abuse from the likes of Fatah. On the other side of the equation, newspapers across Canada employ multiple commentators providing regular, right-wing analysis of Muslims and Islam.


And that is our point: anti-Muslim prejudice is growing in Canada because of pieces like the one that Maclean's published, which led to our human rights complaints in a context where there is an absence of Muslim (or

other) voices to challenge the material in question. The limitless free speech model - that the solution to harmful and hateful speech is more and better speech - does not work for minority communities, and our complaints illustrate exactly that. Maclean's still refuses to publish a response to just one of more than twenty articles that even the Ontario Human Rights Commission condemned as Islamophobic.


And that is why free speech should not be limitless in our democracy.

Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that all rights in our democracy are subject to reasonable limits. The Supreme Court of Canada (not a "bunch of Islamists" by any stretch of imagination!) properly recognized that free speech is not limitless when it comes to upholding our criminal and human rights laws regulating hate speech. In imposing these limits, the Supreme Court noted that hate speech undermines the equality rights and multicultural heritage guaranteed in our Charter.


If, however, our media would like speech to be limitless, it has an obligation to cover the views of the community it is talking about.


(This article was slightly edited for the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday





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