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.

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