When free speech offends Muslims
Cases in Canada show the value of standing firm.
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The resulting publicity proved too much for Imam Soharwardy. He dropped his complaint after two years and much public money spent, stating his newfound appreciation for the values of his adopted country: "I understand that most Canadians see this as an issue of freedom of speech, that that principle is sacred and holy in our society." Levant still faces a similar complaint from the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities.Skip to next paragraph
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This, in turn, has brought unprecedented scrutiny to complaints against Maclean's, a mainstream magazine that's a mix of Time and US Weekly. Though some call it right-of-center, its main agenda appears to be getting attention. (Last fall, Maclean's ran a cover story critical of the war in Iraq featuring President Bush made to appear as Saddam Hussein.)
In October 2006, Maclean's ran an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It." (Mr. Steyn is a Maclean's columnist.) Bothered by the Steyn reprints, four law students (since joined by a fifth) asserted that Maclean's presented an inflammatory view of Islam. The students met with Maclean's editor Kenneth Whyte, and asked him to publish a lengthy response, as though a magazine editor were required to cater content to indignant readers.
Mr. Whyte, quite rightly, refused – 27 letters to the editor regarding Steyn's story had already been published. So the students, with the backing of the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), filed complaints against the magazine.
If the HRC found Levant's YouTube clips formidable, it won't know what hit it when media mogul Ted Rogers, the owner of Maclean's, fights back – if the case gets that far.
Since January, op-eds supportive of Maclean's and Levant's positions from even left-leaning newspapers have abounded. A motion has been put forth in Canada's parliament to remove the section of the Human Rights Act that prescribes speech. Organizations such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and PEN Canada (some of whose members can't abide Levant's and Steyn's politics) have called for similar amendments and for the complaints against Maclean's and Levant to be dropped.
The reverberations don't end there. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently did something it was too craven to do two years ago. During a news segment regarding the HRC, Canada's public broadcaster aired – briefly, fleetingly – the Danish cartoons. This is heartening. Much of the Canadian – and Western – left has seemed far too eager in recent years to buckle in the face of, and even sympathize with, Islamist extremism. Let's hope these cases bring about an understanding of what's at stake.
• Rondi Adamson is a Canadian writer.