Elmasry, Islamophobia and freedom of expression

Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress,
has issued an odious news release regarding Maclean’s that, in my
opinion, reeks of ignorance, clobbers different points of view, and is
offensive in the extreme.

In expressing dismay at what he sees
as slurs against a religion that he says is “demonized in the public
square, in books, in the print and broadcast media, on movie screens,
and increasingly in the Internet and World Wide Web,” Elmasry accuses
all of Canada of extreme racism; he dismisses the many who have a
different point of view from him, and imo have legitimate concerns
about the role of the Human Rights Commissions and freedom of
expression, “Islamophobes.”

Elmasry (I’m not using the honorific here because he’s not a medical
doctor, and even if he were it would hardly be relevant to this
discussion) rightly, in my opinion, challenges Mark Steyn’s alarmist
arguments about Muslims
. Good for him: challenges, counter-challenges
and reasonable free expression of opinion and thought are how things
work in an open society; that’s how we grope toward “truths” and toward
finding our better selves. But Elmasry  — along with the lawyers
taking Maclean’s to court over Steyn’s writings — are seemingly not
interested in free speech or openness, judging by the following press
release, attached below.

Freedom of expression has been hard-won over thousands of years —
Socrates died for it. And religious censorship — such as that which
Elmasry advocates — has
been a blight on society for centuries.  The third Ecumenical Council
decreed of the Nicene Creed of 381: “it is unlawful for any man to
bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different … faith as a
rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy
Ghost in Nicæa.”4  In 1529  the Roman Catholic church introduced its
Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1529; it was a powerful tool used by the
Inquisition as it tried to prevent Galilleo, among others, from
spreading his
findings about how the solar system works (the Catholic church kept the
index around, astonishingly, until 1966 in various forms). Defenders of
freedom of expression include John Milton declared in 1644: “And though
all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth
be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting
misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew
Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” Conversely, The
1787 First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States upholds
freedom of expression as well as press rights and remains the gold
standard in many countries. The French National Assembly declared in
1789: “The free communication of thought and opinion is one of the most
precious rights of man; every citizen may therefore speak, write and
print freely, provided he is responsible for the abuse of this liberty
in cases determined by the law.” And of course, there’s  Article 19 of
the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed
in 1948: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and
to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and
regardless of frontiers.”  

In Canada, as in most countries that try to be civilized, there are checks and balances and
judicial standards for hate speech; a court in British Columbia ruled on
just that topic early this week.  Yes, certainly, we can do better.
But Elmasry has crossed the line in reiterating an overtly racist
example from America’s dark past and using it to describe Canada today.
We’ve come a long way since only male property owners could vote and
all manner of abuse was tolerated. The fact that Elmasry can fire off
his blunderbuss  at every Canadian is proof of that.

Elmasry deserves to be challenged.

Here is my previous Townhall post on the issue. Here is a previous J-Source commentary, a reprint of an essay by Kelly Toughill that ran in the Toronto Star.

Here is Elmasry’s Feb. 7 08 press release:


[By Dr. Mohamed Elmasry]


In Mark Twain’s 1884 American classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, an incident caused Aunt Sally to exclaim, “Good gracious! Anybody

“No’m. Killed a nigger,” came the answer.

“Well, it’s lucky,” Aunt Sally responded, “because sometimes people do get hurt.”

African Americans have come a long way since conversations like the
above reflected social reality, whether in fiction or fact. In fact,
one of “them” could soon become the Democratic candidate in the
upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Unfortunately, Muslims in both Canada and the U.S. have now replaced
Blacks as the number-one minority group being demonized in the public
square, in books, in the print and broadcast media, on movie screens,
and increasingly in the Internet and World Wide Web with the explosive
proliferation of single-focus sites and blogs where hate-speech is
still vastly unregulated.

And it gets worse. Laws are being changed almost daily in Western
industrialized countries to make sure that Muslims are not given their
full and equal rights and to curtail their access to redress and
compensation when open cases of discrimination and bias are made public.

Politicians who dare to suggest equal treatment policies for Muslims
pay a heavy political price. And recently our treasured Canadian value
– indeed, our official federal policy — of multiculturalism has come
under heavy right-wing challenges, just because it includes Muslims
along with everyone else.

Even the role of Human Rights Commissions, which were mandated both
provincially and federally to protect minorities against group
defamation, has been called loudly into question — only because
Muslims have tried to call upon them in a time of need.

When Muslim groups asked the Ontario government to extend the right to
use faith-based mediation and arbitration to resolve family matters —
as was granted previously to Jews and Christians — the government
withdraw that right from everyone, rather than extend it to Muslims.

All of the suspects being held for years without trial in Canadian jails, detention centres, or under house arrest, are Muslims.

Ontario Conservative leader John Tory lost his riding and his party
lost the last provincial election because he dared to promise an
extension of funding to all faith-based schools, a right still enjoyed
only by Roman Catholics.

In Quebec, the traditional policy of “reasonable accommodation” for
minorities has been negatively questioned in recent years, just because
Muslims have become a visible minority among Montreal francophones.

The smearing of a Canadian institution like our Human Rights
Commissions by Islamophobes who claim to be protecting “free speech,”
is a classic case of chopped logic. They seem to have forgotten that
reconciling two potentially conflicting legal rights that are also
human rights — the right to be free from group defamation and the
principle of freedom of expression — is not a new challenge, nor is it
an easy one.

 The vast majority of Western countries now have laws prohibiting group
defamation. Many legal experts agree that defamatory speech should not
be classified as constitutionally protected speech; it does not merit
the respect of the First Amendment; and it should not be protected in
international law or under the constitutional law of most countries.

Professor Milton Katz of Harvard Law School calls defamatory speech “a
rotten fruit in the marketplace of ideas” which must be culled out
before it spoils the health of everything around it, and ends up in the
hands (or mind) of a naive consumer who hasn’t learned the difference.

Group defamation is a form of abuse directed particularly at a minority
community, or an individual belonging to that minority; it includes
defamatory utterances based on race, nationality, ethnic origin, sex,
and religion.

The inclusion of group defamation as a defined illegal act in Canada
dates back to 1934. Manitoba enacted a group libel statute and a cause
of action was filed against the Canadian Nationalist, which in its
October 30, 1934 edition published two articles: “The Murdering Jew,
Jewish Murder” and the “The Night of Murder. Secret Purim Festival.” An
injunction was issued against publishing further statements against

Canadian human rights and criminal codes have since gone through many
changes to ensure that group defamation cases, such as the Manitoba one
of 1934 against Jews are fully addressed by the laws of the land.

Now, fast forward to 2007. Four Canadian Muslim law students launched
human rights complaints against Maclean’s Magazine with respect to its
October 2006 article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” written by Mark
Steyn. The Canadian Islamic Congress acted as a facilitator.

The basic premise of Mr. Steyn’s article is that, just as the “white
man settled the Indian territory,” Muslims in the West are poised to
take over entire societies and the “only question is how bloody the
transfer of real estate will be.” Once the ominously predicted transfer
occurs, Steyn’s article implies, citizens will be subjected to
oppressive Islamic law.

The impending Muslim takeover is in turn attributed to immigration and
multiculturalism, which have resulted in Muslims flooding into Western
societies and enjoying far too much freedom of movement in them. The
flood, the freedom of movement, and the fact that “enough” Muslims
share the goals of terrorists – the imposition of Islamic Law – mean
that the Muslim takeover is inevitable.

On March 30, 2007, the law students met with Maclean’s senior editors
and proposed that the magazine publish a balanced response to Mr.
Steyn’s article from a mutually acceptable source. The response was
that Maclean’s “would rather go bankrupt.” No offer to consider a
reasonable proposal was made; hence their complaints to the Human
Rights commission to address their case of group defamation.

The Muslim law students are hoping that Islamophobes will not succeed
in abolishing the mandate of our Human Rights Commissions before they
can hear their case.

(Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic
Congress. He can be reached at np@canadianislamiccongress.com)