Four Muslim, law students from Osgoode Hall Law School at Toronto’s York University filed a Human Rights Complaint against Canada’s Maclean’s magazine on December 4th, 2007. In a Maclean’s article titled “The future belongs to Islam” published in October 2006, Mark Steyn had argued that Muslims will eventually take over the Western world. The Osgoode law students, on March 30, 2007, had asked Maclean’s to “publish a response to Steyn’s article from a mutually acceptable source.” Maclean’s refused, allegedly claiming that they “would rather go bankrupt,” which resulted in the law students filing the Human Rights Complaint.
Here is an interview with one of the law students, Khurrum Awan:
When the interviewer asks Khurrum how to strike a balance between human rights and free speech rights, the Osgoode law student responds:
I don’t think that this issue is about freedom of speech versus minority rights. This is really about the right of communities to participate in our national discourse on issues that relate directly to us. [...] We just simply want to extend free speech to make it more inclusive of the communities in question. And if we do that, we don’t have to, you know, get into this false trade-off that we always assume that somehow free speech and minority rights — or free speech and multiculturalism — are somehow diametrically opposed.
What is ironic is that while many of the critics of the Osgoode law students criticize them for suppressing freedom of speech, the Osgoode law students claim that they are filing the Human Rights Complaint on behalf of freedom of speech (i.e., the right to publish a counter article in Maclean’s). While many critics accuse the Osgoode law students of censorship, the Osgoode law students feel that they themselves are being censored.
For example, CBC’s Rex Murphy argues against the law students:
[Maclean's] should not have to defend themselves for doing what a good magazine does: start debate, express opinion, and stir thought. And most certainly they should not have to abide the threatened censorship of any of Canada’s increasingly interfering, state appointed and paradoxically labeled human rights commissions.
Rex Murphy’s video begins with the news image box showing pictures of Adolf Hilter and Joseph Stalin, while Murphy discusses what he associates with human rights violations. The images change to show six women wearing black niqabs, while Murphy brings up the Saudi ruling that ordered 200 lashes for a female gang-rape victim for riding in a car with a male not her relative, as another example of a human rights violation.
After Murphy reports that the Osgoode law students claimed that the Maclean’s article was “flagrantly islamophobic”, he then continues:
Maclean’s magazine? Well, we all know what a hotbed of radical bigotry and vile prejudice Maclean’s magazine has been. Go away … for what seems like a century Maclean’s was no more “offensive” (that is the cant term of choice these days) than a down comforter on a cold day and if Mark Steyn’s article offended them: so what? Not every article in every magazine of newspaper is meant to be a valentine card addressed to every reader’s self-esteem.
In essence, Murphy argues that because in past cases Maclean’s did not show bigotry, it is impossible for any current article in Maclean’s to be bigoted. The logician in me cringes. Inductive reasoning is logically invalid. It is as if Murphy did not bother to read the article in question and resorted to invalid armchair arguments. Apparently, because Murphy cannot fathom how a future case can be different from past cases, and finds the idea absurd, he wants the Osgoode law students to “go away”. Where? It would be uncharitable to assume that he wants these Muslim law students out of Canada, so he probably just means that they should stop talking now. (But wouldn’t that be restricting freedom of speech?)
Murphy also asserts that the issue is about hurting self-esteem instead of say, dehumanization and lumping Muslims together with terrorists and Muslim radicals.
Rex Murphy does not think it is a human rights violation, and contrasts the Maclean’s article with public whipping, gulags, and race frenzies. After asserting that the complainants are touchy or agenda-driven and comparing the case to an Alberta Human Rights Commission complaint against the publishing of the Danish cartoons, he then argues:
Meantime real human rights violations – threats of death against Salman Rushdie, riots after the cartoons, death threats against the artists, the persecution of Hirsi Ali, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, neither inspire nor receive human rights investigations.
The news image box shows pictures of Salman Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, and Benazir Bhutto. After this sentence, he changes the subject. I certainly hope he is not trying to argue that two wrongs make a right, or that something that is bad is acceptable because there are worse things, but that’s what it looks like. Furthermore, he seems to be suggesting that because the complainants are Muslim, they must condone the persecutions, assassination, death threats, and violence, and are hence hypocritical for even talking about human rights. The piece finishes off with the first Murphy quote I posted.
Rex Murphy seems to think that the human rights complaint is to censor Maclean’s, so it appears as if he was misinformed about the issue. Basically, he is arguing against a straw man. Why did he make this assumption, instead of actually listening to the other side’s arguments? When a relatively famous mainstream Canadian news commentator is biased to the point where he begins with the assumption that Muslims want to censor free speech, and doesn’t bother to do his research but still reports with an air of confidence, it certainly seems like minorities are shut out from national debates in which they are the subject of discussion.
- The future belongs to Islam (Mark Steyn for Maclean’s magazine)
- Debate denied over Maclean’s Muslim article (Naseem Mithoowani, Khurrum Awan, Muneeza Sheikh, and Daniel Simard for The Calgary Herald)
- Upholding human rights is not censorship (Naseem Mithoowani, Khurrum Awan, and Muneeza Sheikh for the Toronto Star)
- Attacking human rights commissions attacks us all (Muneez Sheikh , Khurrum Awan and Daniel Simard, and Naseem Mithoowani for Globe & Mail Web-exclusive comment)