Monday, January 21, 2008

Orwell in Canada

Ezra Levant is a lawyer and the former publisher of the Western Standard, a right-leaning newspaper in Alberta, Canada. Two years ago, during the height of the controversy about the Danish newspaper cartoons that caused such frenzied outrage among Muslims worldwide (and what doesn't prompt frenzied outrage from Muslims worldwide? Answer: Violence committed in Islam's name by Muslims.), Levant published the cartoons in the Western Standard, an act of solidarity with the besieged Danish cartoonist. For his support of free speech, Levant was summoned before Canada's new kangaroo court - the Human Rights Commission - and made to explain his reasons for publishing the cartoons. Levant describes his experience in an article in Canada's Globe and Mail:

A few days ago, I was interrogated for 90 minutes by Shirlene McGovern, an officer of the government of Alberta. I have been accused of hurting people's feelings because, two years ago, I published the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in the Western Standard magazine.

Ms. McGovern's business card said she was a "Human Rights Officer." What a perfectly Orwellian title.

Early in her interrogation, she said "I always ask people … what was your intent and purpose of your article?"

It wasn't even a question about what we had published in the magazine. It was a question about my private thoughts. I asked her why my private feelings were of interest to the government. She said, very calmly, that they would be a factor taken into account by the government in determining whether or not I was guilty.

Officer McGovern said it as calmly as if I had asked her what time it was.

When she's doing government interrogations, she always asks people about their thoughts.

It was so banal, so routine. When she walked in, she seemed happy. With a smile, she reached out her hand to shake mine. I refused — to me, nothing could have been more incongruous. Would I warmly greet a police officer who arrested me as a suspect in a crime? Then why should I do so for a thought crime? This was not normal; I would not normalize it with the pleasantries of polite society.

This was not a high-school debating tournament where Human Rights Officer McGovern and I were equals, enjoying a shared interest in politics and publishing. I was there because I was compelled to be there by the government, and if I answered Officer McGovern's political questions unsatisfactorily, the government could fine me thousands of dollars and order me to publicly apologize for holding the wrong views.

I told her that the complaint process itself was a punishment. Even if I was eventually acquitted, I would still lose — hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills. That's not an accident, that's one of the tools of these commissions. Every journalist in the country has been taught a lesson: Censor yourself now, or be put through a costly wringer. I said all this and then Officer McGovern replied, "You're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."

And why was Levant dragged before this commission? Because the Supreme Islamic Council of Canada was offended.

One of the complainants against me is someone I would describe as a radical Muslim imam, Syed Soharwardy. He grew up in the madrassas of Pakistan and he lectures on the Saudi circuit. He advocates sharia law for all countries, including Canada. His website is rife with Islamic supremacism — offensive to many Canadian Jews, gentiles, women and gays. But his sensitivities — his Saudi-Pakistani values — have been offended by me.

And so now the secular government of Alberta is enforcing his fatwa against the cartoons.

It's the same for Mohamed Elmasry, the complainant against Maclean's magazine for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone. Egyptian-born Elmasry has publicly said that any adult Jew in Israel is a legitimate target for a terrorist attack, a grossly offensive statement.

Both the Canadian and B.C. Human Rights Commissions are now hearing his complaints against Maclean's.

Well, naturally. Hate crime laws like those in Canada, or those in Britain, are not meant to be equally applied. They were meant only to be used against the native white non-Muslim populations of those countries as a means of silencing criticism of protected minorities and of the government's agenda of demographic transformation. The politically correct powers-that-be would love to do this in the US as well, but the First Amendment prevents it.

Mr Levant traces the origins of the Human Rights Commissions back to the efforts by Canadian Jews to combat anti-semitism a generation ago:

A generation ago, illiberal elements in the "official" Jewish community pressed Canadian governments to introduce laws limiting free speech. The targets of those laws were invariably poor, unorganized, harmless neo-Nazi cranks and conspiracy theorists such as Ernst Zundel and Jim Keegstra — nobodies who were turned into international celebrities when they were prosecuted for their thought crimes.

But now come Mr. Elmasry and Mr. Soharwardy and their ilk, using the very precedents set by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Before Mr. Soharwardy went to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, he went to the Calgary Police Service and demanded that they arrest me. He's done that three times now, and they've rejected him every time. But he only had to ask the willing enforcers of the human rights commission once.

What a strange place Canada is in 2008, where the police care more about human rights than the human rights commissions do, where fundamentalist Muslims use hate-speech laws drafted by secular Jews, and where a government bureaucrat can interrogate a publisher for 90 minutes, and be shocked when he won't shake her hand in greeting.

The point should not be lost on those who are sympathetic to hate crime laws in the US. Legislation has a tendency, over time, to creep beyond its original intention and laws meant to penalize people undeserving of sympathy (like neo-nazis) by curtailing their basic freedoms can ultimately be used against people they were never intended to silence. In Canada, Muslims have learned how to exploit anti-Western ideologies like multiculturalism and political correctness to destroy those who would criticize Islam. Intimidation has always been the first resort of the left, and it is still working, in Canada, Europe and even in America.

Naturally, Mr. Levant's plight has received almost no media attention in the US.