The Canadian Human Rights Commission has just handed down its decision in the complaint brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) against Canadian news magazine Macleans and theatre critic Mark Steyn. The subject of the complaint was an article Steyn wrote entitled The future belongs to Islam. The offending article was an excerpt from Steyn’s book America Alone.
The article was published in October 2006. It probably would have been forgotten by November 2006, if not earlier. Steyn was a virtual nobody in Canada. Now, with all the fuss over these legal proceedings, Steyn has become a huge somebody.
The CIC should have thought this one through and obtained proper advice before going ahead. They might have consulted with other Muslim groups in similar circumstances (such as the Islamic Council of Victoria).
On the other hand, CIC took steps within the law, using remedies that the law made available to them. Whilst their actions could be presented as an assault on freedom of speech, they certainly weren’t offending the Rule of Law. Certainly arguing rationally before tribunals and commissions is preferable to burning embassies or issuing death threats.
The problem now is that the CIC have made themselves (and Canadian Muslims) look like they are against freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In the minds of many of their countrymen and women, Canadian Muslims will be seen as a group that considers themselves above criticism or offence.
Perhaps Dr Hesham Hassaballa should have written these wise words much earlier ...
While I understand the feeling that may have led to the lawsuit against Maclean's, the action was truly misplaced. It sends the message that Muslims are not proponents of free speech and the free exchange of ideas. While I agree that speech which incites violence and bloodshed against Muslims or any other group of people should never be tolerated, the Maclean's article by Mark Steyn- as writer Ali Eteraz said best - "could never, ever, never ever, rise to 'incitement'" under U.S. case law.The CIC has much work to do in improving its relations with the popular media. I understand that engaging with some editors and columnists is just pointless. But Canada is a big place, and there are plenty of news magazines and publications that will give minority communities a fair go.
Of course, there's no substitute for having more and more young people engaging with media. This means studying mass communications or journalism and making media a genuine career path.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf
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