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Mark Steyn


Islam, Free Speech and the Twilight of the West

Live free or die

General John Stark
July 31st 1809


I would like to thank Kenneth Whyte, my publisher at Maclean’s, Canada’s biggest selling news weekly, and his colleagues at Rogers Publishing, for standing firm against the attempted appropriation of their property by the Canadian Islamic Congress and various “human rights” commissions.

I would also like to salute Ezra Levant, Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals, Kathy Shaidle of Five Feet Of Fury, and Mark and Connie Fournier of Free Dominion. “These bloggers, long before the mainstream media, recognized the complaints as a politically-motivated threat to free expression,” said Ken Whyte in 2009. “They did a great service to Canadian journalism.” For their courage in standing up for freedoms too many citizens are willing to trade away, they’ve been subject to multiple nuisance lawsuits from the self-proclaimed heroes of Canada’s “human rights” racket. They deserve your support.

I thank the editors of the publications in which these columns originally appeared: Ken Whyte and Dianne de Gayardon de Fenoyl at Maclean’s; Ezra Levant and Kevin Libin at The Western Standard; Charles Moore and Martin Newland at Britain’s Daily Telegraph; Peter Murtagh at The Irish Times; and Rich Lowry, Kathryn Lopez and Jay Nordlinger at America’s National Review. As always, I am indebted to my assistants Tiffany Cole and Chantal Benoît. As on previous occasions, we have retained the spellings of the originating publication, whether American, Canadian, Irish, or Waziristani. So, if you don’t like the case for the defence, the case for the defense should be along a couple of pages later. We do, however, have a preference for Britannic punctuation.

New Hampshire
March 2009


Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.

speaking at Columbia University, December 11th 1991


Steyn in the dock

DO YOU REMEMBER a cover story run by Maclean’s, Canada’s bestselling news magazine, on October 23rd 2006?

No? Me neither, and I wrote it. Such is life in the weekly mag biz. The hacks bark and the caravan moves on. But it was an excerpt on various geopolitical and demographic trends from my then brand new tome, America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It. Flash forward just over a year: It’s the end of 2007, and my Number One bestseller is suddenly back in the news. America Alone: coming soon to a Canadian “courtroom” near you! You’ve read the book, now read the legal briefs!

The Canadian Islamic Congress and a handful of Osgoode Hall law students had got, somewhat belatedly, worked up about the Maclean’s excerpt and decided it was “flagrantly Islamophobic”. So they filed complaints with three of Canada’s many “human rights” commissions, two of which agreed to hear the “case”. It would be nice to report that the third sent the plaintiffs away with a flea in their ears saying that in a free society it’s no business of the state to regulate the content of privately owned magazines. Alas, it was only bureaucratic torpor that (temporarily) delayed the Province of Ontario’s enthusiastic leap upon the bandwagon. Neither the Canadian Islamic Congress nor the aggrieved students were cited in the offending article. Canadian Muslims were not the subject of the piece. Indeed, Canada was barely mentioned at all, except en passant. Yet Canada’s “human rights” commissions accepted the premise of the plaintiffs – that the article potentially breached these students’ “human rights”.

When the CIC launched its complaint, I was asked by a zillion correspondents what my defense is. My defense is I shouldn’t have to have a defense. The plaintiffs have never asserted that the article is false, or libelous, or seditious, for all of which there would be appropriate legal remedy. Their complaint is essentially emotionaclass="underline" it “offended” them. And as offensiveness is in the eye of the offended, there’s not a lot I can do about that.

But, given that the most fundamental “human right” in the western world is apparently the right not to be offended, perhaps I could be permitted to say what offends me. I’m offended by the federal and British Columbia “human rights” regimes’ presumption that the editing decisions of privately owned magazines fall within their jurisdiction. Or to put it another way, I don’t accept that free-born Canadian citizens require the permission of the Canadian state to read my columns. The eminent Queen’s Counsel who heads the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission may well be a shrewd and insightful person but I don’t believe her view of Maclean’s cover stories should carry any more weight than that of Mrs Mabel Scroggins of 47 Strathcona Gardens. And it is slightly unnerving that large numbers of Canadians apparently think there’s nothing wrong in subjecting the contents of political magazines to the approval of agents of the state.

Let’s take it as read that I am, as claimed, “offensive”. That’s the point. It’s offensive speech that requires legal protection. As a general rule, Barney the Dinosaur singing “Sharing Is Caring” can rub along just fine. So, if you don’t believe in free speech for people you loathe, you don’t believe in free speech at all.

By the way, granted that I’m loathsome and repellent, so evidently are significant numbers of other Canadians. America Alone was a Number One book in Canada; excerpts appeared not only in the country’s oldest and most respectable news magazine, a mainstay of dentists’ waiting rooms for the best part of a century, but also in the country’s national newspaper, The National Post. The justification the inattentive citizen makes when the censors get to work is that they’re obviously only targeting extremists at the very fringes of society. Yet in this case Canada’s kangaroo courts were proposing to criminalize a Number One book and the Number One news weekly. And the statutory remedy for the “crime” would have been in effect to render a Number One bestselling author unpublishable in Canada.

As for “Islamophobia”, that word appears nowhere in the Canadian criminal code, and indeed barely anywhere in the English language until the 1990s. It was introduced formally into the grievance culture in 1998 in a report by Britain’s Runnymede Trust, which, with genuine racial prejudice on the decline in the UK, was in need of some new horrors to justify its sinecure. Islamophobia means an “irrational fear of Islam” – ie, a mental illness, like agoraphobia or arachnophobia. As a friend of mine likes to say, Islamophobia is one of those illnesses of which the only symptom is to be accused of having it. There is nothing “irrational” about wanting to examine the fastest growing religion and population demographic in the world and its relationship with western ideas of liberty and pluralism.

During the early skirmishes, a colleague who’s also been called up before one of these “human rights” star chambers mused in an e-mail about the difference between his lawyer’s advice – that he should be “reasonable” in order to “get off the hook” – and his own feeling that the hook itself needs to be done away with. The Economist reprinted my response to him: