In Mark Twain’s 1884 American classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an incident caused Aunt Sally to exclaim, "Good gracious! Anybody hurt?"
"No’m. Killed a nigger," came the answer.
"Well, it’s lucky," Aunt Sally responded, "because sometimes people do get hurt."
African Americans have come a long way since conversations like the above reflected social reality, whether in fiction or fact. In fact, one of "them" could soon become the Democratic candidate in the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Unfortunately, Muslims in both Canada and the U.S. have now replaced Blacks as the number-one minority group being demonized in the public square, in books, in the print and broadcast media, on movie screens, and increasingly in the Internet and World Wide Web with the explosive proliferation of single-focus sites and blogs where hate-speech is still vastly unregulated.
And it gets worse. Laws are being changed almost daily in Western industrialized countries to make sure that Muslims are not given their full and equal rights and to curtail their access to redress and compensation when open cases of discrimination and bias are made public.
Politicians who dare to suggest equal treatment policies for Muslims pay a heavy political price. And recently our treasured Canadian value – indeed, our official federal policy — of multiculturalism has come under heavy right-wing challenges, just because it includes Muslims along with everyone else.
Even the role of Human Rights Commissions, which were mandated both provincially and federally to protect minorities against group defamation, has been called loudly into question — only because Muslims have tried to call upon them in a time of need.
When Muslim groups asked the Ontario government to extend the right to use faith-based mediation and arbitration to resolve family matters — as was granted previously to Jews and Christians — the government withdraw that right from everyone, rather than extend it to Muslims.
All of the suspects being held for years without trial in Canadian jails, detention centres, or under house arrest, are Muslims.
Ontario Conservative leader John Tory lost his riding and his party lost the last provincial election because he dared to promise an extension of funding to all faith-based schools, a right still enjoyed only by Roman Catholics.
In Quebec, the traditional policy of "reasonable accommodation" for minorities has been negatively questioned in recent years, just because Muslims have become a visible minority among Montreal francophones.
The 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 group defamation and the principle of freedom of expression — is not a new challenge, nor is it an easy one.
The vast majority of Western countries now have laws prohibiting group defamation. Many legal experts agree that defamatory speech should not be classified as constitutionally protected speech; it does not merit the respect of the First Amendment; and it should not be protected in international law or under the constitutional law of most countries.
Professor Milton Katz of Harvard Law School calls defamatory speech "a rotten fruit in the marketplace of ideas" which must be culled out before it spoils the health of everything around it, and ends up in the hands (or mind) of a naive consumer who hasn’t learned the difference.
Group defamation is a form of abuse directed particularly at a minority community, or an individual belonging to that minority; it includes defamatory utterances based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, sex, and religion.
The inclusion of group defamation as a defined illegal act in Canada dates back to 1934. Manitoba enacted a group libel statute and a cause of action was filed against the Canadian Nationalist, which in its October 30, 1934 edition published two articles: "The Murdering Jew, Jewish Murder" and the "The Night of Murder. Secret Purim Festival." An injunction was issued against publishing further statements against Jews.
Canadian human rights and criminal codes have since gone through many changes to ensure that group defamation cases, such as the Manitoba one of 1934 against Jews are fully addressed by the laws of the land.
Now, fast forward to 2007. 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 acted as a facilitator.
The basic premise of Mr. 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 Mr. Steyn’s article from a mutually acceptable source. The response was that Maclean’s "would rather go bankrupt." No offer to consider a reasonable proposal was made; hence their complaints to the Human Rights commission to address their case of group defamation.
The Muslim law students are hoping that Islamophobes will not succeed in abolishing the mandate of our Human Rights Commissions before they can hear their case.