Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Proud to Be a Footnote, UPDATED

(a correction to this post is at the bottom)

Canada has universal health care but not the First Amendment protection afforded US citizens. Me, I’m self-insured and paid enough for shoulder surgery last year to buy a Prius, but I’ll take the First Amendment any day. I suspect so would Mark Steyn, an incisive thinker and fearless essayist who lives in the US, but publishes a regular column in the Canadian magazine, Maclean’s. That’s where the trouble started.

On Wed, Dec 5, 2007, four Muslim students at Toronto's Osgoode Hall Law School, and the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, accusing Steyn and Maclean’s of violating their "sense of dignity and self-worth”. My sense of dignity and self-worth is harmed every time I see the six-pack abs on the guy in the Bowflex ads on TV. Who do I sue? While the particular flash point for the CIC was Steyn’s article “The Future Belongs to Islam," an excerpt from his best selling book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, the full complaint made clear that it was Steyn’s body of work that was on trial.

I first became aware of the situation when a Canadian reader emailed me with the news that not only was Steyn being charged by the Human Rights Commission, but in the documentation against him was his very positive review of my previous novel, Prayers for the Assassin. Steyn's praise for Prayers, a book written by a “recognized Islamophobe” according to the CIC, was further evidence of his prejudice against Muslims. For the record, I am neither Islamophobic nor recognized.

When I heard about the complaint, I confess I dismissed it as something akin to getting a warning from a pimply hall monitor telling me that my shoes squeaked. I was wrong.

In fact the complaint seems to be part of a campaign to use the Canadian Human Rights Commission, not for redress of racial or sexual discrimination in jobs and housing as originally intended, but as a method of harassment against free speech and intellectual inquiry, particularly where it pertains to Muslims. While the Human Rights Commission’s punishment is limited to fines and orders to desist, the procedures of the commission involve steep costs for the defendants, and no cost whatsoever for the one filing the complaint. Steyn will be forced to travel to British Columbia and appear before the commission on June 3 to defend himself and his writing. He will probably chose to bear the cost of an attorney, but he will not be allowed to have the attorney present when he testifies before the commission.

Regardless of the merits of his case, if history is any prognosticator, Steyn will probably lose. In the January 17, 2008 edition of Maclean’s, Steyn points out that in the thirty-year history of the Human Rights Commission, not a single “defendant” has been “acquitted.” Not one. Even Johnnie Cochran lost once in a while.

So what exactly did Steyn say in “The Future Belongs to Islam?” that was so incendiary and damaging to the self-worth of Muslims? Steyn’s main point in the article was that the radically different birthrate between native-born Europeans and the current fifty million Muslim immigrants would lead to an Islamic continent within decades, jeopardizing its socially tolerant culture. A demographic jihad, if you will, bloodless except for the occasional infidel who mocks Muhammad or the Muslim daughter who chooses to date a Catholic.

“Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children,” Steyn wrote. “Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children.” Regardless of the sensitivities of the four future lawyers who brought the original complaint, Steyn is simply stating facts. As an example, according to a 2007 study by the Times (London), Muhammad is the #2 most popular name for baby boys born the previous year in Britain, after Jack, and “is likely to rise to No 1 by next year.”

Nor is Steyn among the first to warn that the liberal culture of Europe is threatened by Muslim birth rates. Oriana Fallaci reminds us in “Islam and the West” that it was Algerian leader Houari Boum├ędienne, speaking at the United Nations in 1974, who announced: “One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.” Boum├ędienne died in 1978, but that shouldn’t stop the Human Rights Commission from digging him up. Justice must be served.

“We are witnessing the end of the late 20th- century progressive welfare democracy,” Steyn dared to write in the Maclean’s essay, “Its fiscal bankruptcy is merely a symptom of a more fundamental bankruptcy: its insufficiency as an animating principle for society. The children and grandchildren of those fascists and republicans who waged a bitter civil war for the future of Spain now shrug when a bunch of foreigners blow up their capital. Too sedated even to sue for terms, they capitulate instantly.”

Steyn is referring to the terror-bombings of Madrid commuter trains in March 2004, shortly before the Spanish national elections. One hundred ninety of their fellow citizens were killed by Islamists demanding an end to Spanish support of the Iraq war. The Spanish electorate promptly threw out Prime Minister Jose Aznar and his government, replacing him with the Socialist party candidate, Jose Zapatero. The new prime minister promptly withdrew Spain’s troops from Iraq. Peace in our time. Ariba! Except within the last few weeks, Spanish authorities said they had averted another major terrorist attack. Capitulation just ain’t what it used to be.

While I agree with Mark Steyn’s premises and conclusions, there is certainly an opposing argument to be made. What should not be in doubt is that his forced appearance before the Canadian Human Rights Commission is an affront to free people everywhere. Let these matters be argued in neutral forums: blogs, talk radio, newspaper op-eds, and university campuses. (Yes, many universities – Brandeis, I’m talking to you - have their own kangaroo courts to protect students from having their assumptions bruised, but one can hope) This is what free people do. We argue. We debate. We research. We muster points and counterpoints. We insult each other when we can’t come up with anything better. We do not forbid. We do not burn books. We do not clutch our chests because an idea has made us uncomfortable. We do not scurry off to cranky bureaucrats with too much power and tell them to make the bad man say he’s sorry.

This is the West. This is what the Enlightenment was all about. Free inquiry and no reservations is responsible for putting a man on the moon, curing polio and busting a gut to Dave Chapelle. Okay, it’s also how we got The View, bathtub crank and Saw II, but the marketplace of ideas is a noisy, messy affair, with something to offend everyone. That’s the price we have to pay for freedom, and it’s worth every penny of it.

Thanks to a most gracious correction by Steyn, it seems the Canadian Islamic Congress wasn't tarring us both with the same brush, they had actually confused the author with the reviewer.

As evidence of my "flagrant Islamophobia", (Steyn wrote in response to this post) the authors claim I "asserted" the following: 1. American will be an Islamic Republic by the year 2040 – there will be a Muslim / Islamist takeover 2. As a result of the Muslim takeover, there will be a break for prayers during the Super Bowl, the stadium will have a stereotypical Muslim name, and the fans will be forced to watch the game in a Muslim prayer posture 4. As a result of the Muslim takeover there will an oppressive religious police enforcing Islamic/Muslim norms on the population, important US icons [such as the USS Ronald Reagan] will be renamed after Osama bin Laden, no females will be allowed to be cheerleaders, and popular American radio and television talk show hosts will have been replaced by Muslim imams...

Except Steyn didn't write that. I did. It's in the opening chapter of Prayers. The authorship of which the complaintants ascribed to Mark Steyn. It's as if that hall monitor saw the two of us walking to class and decided that it was Steyn with the squeaky shoes. Sorry pal, c'est moi.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First newspaper review

Adam Woog, writing for the Seattle Times, gives Sins of the Assassin a great review. Here's an excerpt:

Ferrigno has always had a gift for writing vivid characters, especially bad guys; his villains tend to be both really, really bad and highly charismatic. This new book has some humdingers, including the Colonel's genuinely nasty right-hand man and a shadowy, fanatical Muslim billionaire who pulls global strings from aboard his luxury yacht.Ferrigno also has an eye for the kinds of detail that bring a setting to life. Here, he has a lot of fun inventing these touches, such as the site of the Branch Davidian disaster in Waco. It's now a tourist attraction with re-enactments of the siege and plenty of souvenirs for the kids.

I salute you, sir!

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Hour When the Ship Comes In

Just found out that a short story I wrote for LA NOIR, The Hour When the Ship Comes In, was selected to appear in Best MysteryStories of 2008, published by Houghton Miflin. LA NOIR editor Denise Hamilton contacted about twenty five writers who lived or used to live in LA and asked us to write a story centered in one of the many geographic pockets of the city. I chose Belmont Shore, a small beach community next to Long Beach where I lived for eight years. A mix of seedy and yuppie, where the letter carriers, male and female, where short shorts, and the Queen Mary is moored offshore as a tourist attraction. They used to have Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose parked next to it inside an enormous metal dome, but a gigantic wooden airplane wasn't the commercial draw that a beached ocean liner with lousy fish n chips is. So they cut up the plane and carted it off to Oregon and reassembled it there. Still no tourists. They should take it to the Burning Man festival and create the ultimate bonfire. But I digress... One of my most pleasant memories of the Shore was lying in bed late at night and hearing the sound of skateboards rolling down the alley. No sound of voices, just the wheels. The Hour When the Ship Comes In is the story of a very bad man who does a very good thing and pays for it. My basic philosophy of life. It's the first short story I ever wrote.

I may post it on this site in a few weeks. If it doesn't get me sued.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What fresh Hell is this?

Yesterday afternoon my chiropractor asked me what I was so stressed out about. He said my spine was stiffer than titanium, which is very good for a fighter jet but lousy for human vertebrae. I told him it was two weeks until publication... pub day. He had no idea what I was talking about, and when I explained it, he still didn't get it. "The book is already finished he said. What's there to be worried about?"

I'll explain it to you. Maybe I'll do a better job this time.

Sins of the Assassin will be available February 5. Conditions are promising. Everyone at the publisher loves it. They've spent a lot of money designing the right cover, sending out advance copies, beating the publicity drum like a monkey on crack with a Red Bull chaser. Bookstore reps have been very positive, ordering lots of copies. Pre-sales are strong. I've got national radio interviews lined up. My nine year old son just fixed the garage opener after I had given up and was ready to call in a professional. So why do I keep waking up at 3 am, feeling like there's a fat man sitting on my chest? Because Sins is my tenth novel, and I know anything can happen.

The filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock described the difference between surprise and suspense by imagining a happy fellow sitting in a train compartment, looking at the scenery rushing past. The compartment suddenly explodes into a ball of fire from a bomb placed under his seat. That’s surprise. Now let’s imagine that same fellow on the train, only this time he knows that there’s a bomb under his seat. He just doesn’t know when it’s going to go off. He can’t remove it. And, oh yeah, he can’t get out of the compartment. So he has to sit there very quietly, soaked in sweat, hoping that someone opens to door before the bomb goes off. That’s suspense.

The first time novelist is the happy fellow in the first example, enjoying the ride, blissful in his ignorance.Me, I'm the poor sap squirming in his seat, wondering if he’s going to hear the explosion before he’s blown to hamburger.

While writing a novel, the author is a god. Me, I'm often a vengeful god. Let's be honest, what’s the fun of being a god if you can’t call up death and destruction when the mood hits. Characters live and die by my whim. Love blooms and fades by my command. I decide whether the ending is happy or sad. That cough may be a summer cold or something worse. And watch out for the girl with green eyes. Ah, power. It’s nice being a god, but two weeks before pub date you get tossed out of heaven, and it's a long way down.

Now I'm worried about my author photo on the jacket. It's ten years out of date. I submitted a current photo. The house publicist sent it back with a sweet note saying everyone in the department thought the younger version “reproduced better.” I didn’t know my vasectomy showed. I'm afraid people will come to my readings and think something terrible has happened to me in the last few months that's aged me terribly.

I worry that I'll miss one of my connecting flights on tour, or get stuck on the tarmac for eight hours with people who don't read or shower.

I worry that I'll get a last minute booking on a 6 a.m. drivetime radio Morning Zoo with hosts who ring sirens and cue fart noises when they introduce me. (This happened four books ago and my ears are still ringing)

So if you liked the first chapter of Sins, buy a copy. Buy two. I need a massage.