Monday, January 21, 2008

Coming to a State Near You: the Abolition of Freedom of Speech

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said that he would rather be quickly shot than to be trampled to death by geese. That is exactly the way human rights are lost – not in one fell swoop, but by a slow insidious process of attrition, hardly noticeable at all.

The right of freedom of speech in Canada and elsewhere has now come under attack by an aggrieved group that – marvelous irony – is using the state, normally the guardian of the constitutional right of unfettered speech, to suppress free speech.

Ira Levant has already felt the tread of geese on his back, and now it is Mark Steyn’s turn.

Steyn, the author of “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know it,” is also a prolific, international conservative political commentator who has written for such publications as National Review, The New York Sun and The New Criterion.

Last month, according to a story in the Jan 14 edition of the Washington Times, Steyn became the subject of “a CHRC (Canadian Human Rights Commission) investigation when the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) complained about an excerpt Mr. Steyn had reprinted” from his book.”

Steyn’s book paints a rather dark view of the future of the West. Birth rate demographics, according to Steyn, place the West on a downward slope: "The Muslim world has youth, numbers and global ambitions," stated Mr. Steyn in an opening summary of his excerpted book in a Canadian publication. "The West is growing old and enfeebled, and lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it. It's the end of the world as we've known it."

The book was excerpted in the Oct. 23, 2006, edition of Maclean's, Canada's most-widely circulated newsweekly, under the title "The Future Belongs to Islam," where it fell under the eye of CIC's legal counsel, Faisal Joseph, who took offense on behalf of his client and issued a compliant to Canada’s Human Rights Commission, which can impose fines and issue orders of restraint.

"This article,” Joseph said, “completely misrepresents Canadian Muslims' values, their community and their religion. "We feel that it is imperative to challenge Maclean's biased portrayal of Muslims in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance.”

Now, there are any number of ways to “challenge” a presumed biased portrayal, short of intimidating authors and using state functionaries to deprive them of their basic human rights.

Joseph, a former crown attorney, the Canadian equivalent of a US District Attorney, might have sued Steyn under relevant laws and brought him to a court for remediation; but apparently the statements made by Steyn that appeared in Maclean’s did not violate Canadian law. Or, stepping away from suits, the CIC, some of whose members are Islamic scholars, might have written a rebuttal of the claims made by Steyn in Maclean’s. Publications here in the West – but, ironically, not in that portion of the world criticized by Steyn -- usually are anxious to provide opportunities for differing points of view, and Canada has been a part of the Western world during its entire life span as a nation.

The CIC, however, does not seem to be interested in setting the record straight, and most, if not all, of the propositions offered in the magazine by Steyn are unexceptional. It happens to be true that Islamic parts of the world are out producing their Christian counterparts in both children and sharia laws that are incompatible with the Western tradition. If such statements were not true, it would be an easy matter to show, for instance, that the demographics provided by Steyn were faulty.

No, the CIC is not interested in refuting or correcting Steyn. It wants to intimidate and silence him. It wants to goose step over his rights as a free man at liberty in an – as yet -- free country. Its accomplice in this effort is the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the same quasi-legal entity that has taken a hatchet to Ira Levant.

Ironically enough, the attempt to suppress free speech in Canada furnishes further evidence, if any were needed, concerning Steyn’s claim that the enfeebled West is growing old and “lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it.”

Unlike Canada, the United States may rely on a constitutional First Amendment. But no one should suppose such attacks on liberty by those who use quasi legal governmental agencies to suppress long established rights may easily be rebuffed. Steyn's publisher is located in The United States, and books are citizens of the world. The history of fallen Republics will in the future be replete with instances of those "process constitutionalists" who have failed, in Ben Franklin’s immortal challenge, to “keep” their Republics.
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