Posted by: transcendingchaos | May 26, 2008

It’s human rights week!

Well, not officially. But it is in my world.

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Mark Steyn, a well-known author and columnist for Maclean’s magazine who happens to be speaking at a Fraser Institute event tonight.

I haven’t had a chance to transcribe our talk yet, but when I do, I’ll post some excerpts here.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Steyn . . .
In October 2006, Maclean’s magazine published an excerpt from his book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (the article can be found here).
In December 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress filed a human rights complaint against him and Maclean’s for publishing this piece (and others), accusing the magazine of being “flagrantly Islamophobic.”
The case went to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which in April 2008 decided not to hear the complaint. However, after saying it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, the Commission issued a statement (here) in which it accuses Maclean’s of promoting prejudice.
(This Wikipedia article does a good job of documenting the back-and-forth between the magazine and the Commission.)

This month, Steyn will appear before the BC Human Rights Tribunal for the same charge (his Maclean’s article).

I encourage everyone who cares about freedom of speech/multiculturalism issues to actually read his article and decide for themselves whether they think it could qualify as hate speech. I personally don’t think so, but I’d like to hear what others have to say about this.

As a side note, I also met Ezra Levant today, who has also had a number of human rights complaints filed against him, most notably, for republishing the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed in the Western Standard. He is speaking at the Institute tomorrow, and I’m going to hear him.


Mark Steyn’s blog
Free Mark
“I’m starring in one of those movies”
Ezra Levant’s blog



  1. I don’t think that Steyn’s article can fairly be classified as hate speech, although I would be interested to hear what others think of it as well.

    Now to try and explain why can be difficult and tricky…maybe a good question to ask would be if I were a Muslim would I feel the same way? Do I not see this as hate speech simply because I’m not part of the group that Steyn is afraid of (as a good ol’ Bible believing evangelical Christian)? However, from my position as a “good ol’ Bible believing evangelical” (and here, I know I’m using a tired and oft-repeated argument) there have been, for example, massive runaway bestsellers decrying my particular religious group (along with Muslims and others) as child abusers due to a shared belief in hell. I have not been clamoring for human rights councils to take a Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris to task and issue a statement that evangelicals and other religious believers are not in fact dim-witted, ignorant, intrinsically violent by nature of our belief systems and eager to psychologically torment young children and that such stereotyping is not beneficial for social discourse and the creation of “… a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person…” (from the Ontario Human Rights Code).

    Rather than decrees from a commission on what constitutes unfair stereotyping and the dissemination of hateful ignorance there have been a boatload of articles and books (from believers and non-believers alike) exposing the flaws in such stereotypes and the arguments made. It seems to be a more credible way to critique and deal with such stereotyping and ignorance – through argument rather than by decree.

    Now, this sort of comparison might not be entirely fair as evangelical/Christian westerner might have a bit more clout in dealing with “the new atheism” than the Muslim westerner has in dealing with her critics. However, was this a case of a hateful critic beating up on a group completely unable to defend itself? Would the Canadian Islamic Congress be unable to critique Mark Steyn and Macleans without a vicious backlash from the Canadian population at large? Was taking the issue to a human rights tribunal the only option? I don’t know. Perhaps Canadians would have risen up in deep seated anger and discrimination against the Canadian Islamic Congress for daring to criticize Steyn’s stereotypes and argument if they had done so without the strength and authority of the Human Rights Commission as their support. However, at least speaking for myself, such a scenario seems extremely questionable.

    What I find a slightly disturbing about this whole situation is the role that the Commission has played in the conflict between Macleans and the Canadian Islamic Congress. In the letter the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission wrote to Macleans as a rebuttal for their critique of the Council’s statement she stated, “That [taking controversial positions] is inevitable because we have a mandate to promote change – away from unfair stereotypes and discriminatory behavior and towards a culture of human rights.” Why this seems troubling to me is that I’m not sure the Ontario Human Rights Commission does have “a mandate to promote change.” You only need the most basic understanding of hermeneutics (or history) to question whether we want an authoritative bureaucracy so eagerly embracing a self-defined agenda and excitedly trying right the word’s wrongs. They do have a mandate to protect minorities against discrimination, but is it their responsibility to advance the debate? I’m not trying to trash minority rights at all, but I don’t know if we want government commissions taking it upon themselves to not only protect minorities from mutual attack, but to advance the battle on behalf of one group or another. In addition to its potential for abuse, I question whether such an approach is really effective in producing societal and cultural change and acceptance.

    To return to the earlier example of the new atheists and some of their Christian and atheist critics – the question is would we want the Ontario Human Rights Commission to take the role of Alistair McGrath or Richard Dawkins in a debate, or does it seem more fitting that it play the role of moderator – setting time limits, cutting off the mike when one debater embarks on a profanity laced tirade or makes off-color remarks about the other’s mother and choice of tie? The Human Rights Commission’s willingness (or eagerness judging by the Commissioner’s comments) to step into the podium and pontificate (to continue with the debate analogy) is probably more disturbing for me than Mark Steyn’s article.

    All that said, I don’t think Steyn has it right in his vision of some dystopian future and he does make some unfair stereotypes, some racist/xenophobic insulations, and too easily jumps on a readily available scapegoat for the decline of some western ideal. I don’t find his position particularly convincing or helpful (although, granted, I haven’t read his entire book, only the article, so I hope I’m not putting my foot too far up inside my mouth). But this comment is already ridiculously outside the bounds of acceptable length, so I will offer a brief critique of Steyn’s article on my own blog…

    Glancing back over my comment I’m not sure I’ve made a particularly convincing argument that Steyn’s article is not hate speech…but here’s to hoping that some more people jump in with some comments…

    Also, I like the new blog (WordPress = hooray!).

  2. […] HERE they’re talking about Mark Steyn and human rights commissions and all that fun exciting stuff […]

  3. I’m just gonna rattle off a few thoughts. Sorry if it lacks flow. All uses of “Muslim” and “liberal” or “Western” are not to be taken as including any race element whatsoever. A world of white Muslims and Arabic liberals is not an absurdity.

    I don’t know how Steins article could be seen as anything remotely resembling hate speech. He doesn’t stereotype without demographic justification and never claims that a Islamocentric world would necessarily be a bad thing (though it’s obvious he’d prefer otherwise). Furthermore, he gives an ample disclaimer in his article. He is well aware that non-violent, non-imperial Muslims exist. He is merely recognizing that regardless of this, the radical Muslims are gaining political ground in ways that are not in keeping with long-standing European traditions (Anglican symbols and Holocaust commemoration, for example). The “dystopian” future he spoke of was merely an illustration of the nature of the decline of native European populations and their coresponding traditions, coupled with commentary on possible causes such the colossal lack of political foresight that has marked the reign of baby-boomers, not a claim that Muslim hedgemony would be dystopic. Simply claiming that current trends indicate the future will be dominated by certain groups is not hate speech.

    If there is a fatal flaw in modern liberal democracy, it can be found at the source of notions like “affirmative action” and “minority rights”. Key to the origins of liberal democracy was the recognition that people are people first, and anything else second. It is imperative that fundamental rights be based on one’s humanity alone. The West’s current project of accomadating and preserving cultures is immediately and automatically at odds with any cultural ideology that makes claims to legislative or political authority. Islam simply has the highest profile of these today. In the past it has been mostly legalistic Christians and authoritarian regimes of various fascist/communist flavours. Any political or legislative move that recognizes a group of people as anything other than a group of people is an illiberal one. In Stein’s Anglican example, St. George may be dumped in favour of a more Muslim-friendly patron. This is unacceptable. Anglicans must be at least as offended by the possible change as the Muslims are by the current situation. This must not go through. liberal accomadation should always favour acceptance rather than alteration. If a mosque’s call to prayer from a minaret is bothering its neighbors, I would hope any ruling would be in favour of the suburbans sucking it up and living with it. But I would expect similar accomadation from Muslims with respect to St. George’s cross.

    What happens when Muslim political parties start winning majorities in European parliaments? I’m not willing to deny them the right to gain power democratically, but if we’re totally honest with ourselves, how certain can we be that the Europe 2150 will just be a liberal democracy run by Muslim parliaments? I don’t think cautious fear is unjustified for those who value basic human freedom.

    Finally, free speech must be completely and absolutely free. There should be no special considerations for hate speech of any kind. All communication must be allowed. As soon as someone is denied employment, education, or the use of their limbs because of hateful action, there should be immediate legal consequences. But the mere encouragement of harm is far to vague to be safely criminalized. No one is too weak to resist wrong action.

    And blah blah blah…

    In summary, if Stein is nailed with a human rights abuse, I’m moving to Iceland and having lots of liberal babies.

  4. Gah! No edit button. Sorry for the bad grammars.

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