All we want is a chance to respond
On Dec. 4, the four of us announced that we had launched human rights complaints against Maclean’s with respect to its October, 2006 article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” written by Mark Steyn. In light of the attention our complaints are receiving — most recently, through an article by Ezra Levant published on these pages (“Censorship in the name of human rights,” Dec. 18)–clarifications are in order.
First, it is important to examine the actual content and thesis of Mr. Steyn’s article. Its basic premise 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.”
Perhaps the Maclean’s article is best summed up by the following extract, in which Mr. Steyn inserts what he terms the “obligatory” of courses: “Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists — though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle. Of course, not all Muslims support terrorists — though enough of them share their basic objectives.”
What should we do when a Canadian magazine publishes an article alleging that many Muslims are “hot for jihad,” and that they share the same basic goals of terrorists? True to Canada’s tradition of free speech, we decided to engage Mr. Steyn in a debate about his views.
We decided to follow the example of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), a small but strident group of self-described “liberal secular Muslims,” which has come to the defence of Maclean’s. In its most recent media release, the MCC advised: “Mark Steyn’s article was definitely alarmist, but the answer to his challenge is to write a counter piece and demand that Maclean’s publish it.”
Unfortunately, the MCC’s advice came about nine months too late. On March 30, 2007, we met with Maclean’s senior editors and proposed that they publish a response from a mutually acceptable source. The response was negative, which resulted in our human rights complaints.
In his National Post article, Mr. Levant devotes much attention to the importance of freedom of expression in Canadian society. We agree, which is why we asked Maclean’s for an opportunity to debate Mr. Steyn. It is also why Mr. Steyn is not a party to any of our human rights complaints. We haven’t asked him for an apology or a retraction. Neither have we filed hate-speech complaints against him. He is free to do and say as he pleases.
What we did ask for, however, was an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the “free marketplace” of ideas. It is our belief that in its truest form, freedom of expression results in a lively debate among all interested parties — not just among those who play by their own exclusionary rules. If Maclean’s wants to publish articles alleging that many Muslims are “hot for jihad,” it has to provide an opportunity to respond.
This issue isn’t about attacking journalists or stifling free expression. It’s about ensuring that our media outlets provide a forum for open debate and argument. While we do not agree with Mr. Levant’s characterizations — and he may not agree with our position — the very fact that we can respond to one another in the same publication shows that some media outlets still value the showcasing of differing opinions. It is our hope that, as a result of these human-rights complaints, Maclean’s can join their ranks.
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