Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me

When I was a kid and other kids called me names, my mother always recited this old saw, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Whatever happened to our mothers and their wisdom?

Some posts back I got a comment from freespeecher who advised me that if I wanted to live a long and healthy life I should stop reading the Toronto Star. If I took that advice I would miss all the fun of reading my old friend Haroon Siddiqui’s columns.

He had another beaut in the Sunday edition of the Star, and, as you might expect, if you are familiar with his output, it was full of “Muslims, lefties/progressives and four legs good: anti-Islamic, righties/conservatives and two legs bad” sentiments.

Here’s a sampling:

But freedom of speech is not absolute. "Except for the U.S., virtually every Western democracy has laws against hate," notes Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "Our anti-hate laws are probably the most underused."

The Supreme Court has upheld those laws. Jewish, gay and other groups have long advocated their use. Few Canadians complained. But now that Muslims are, many are.
"That's really what it's about," Farber told me. "When non-Muslims were using it, nobody really cared.

"People need scapegoats. It used to be Jews. Now it's Muslims, to a great extent. Tomorrow, it may be Bahais or somebody else ...

"People should focus on the law, not on those using it. If the complaint is frivolous, the system will deal with it."

And here is what I think about this.

As long as the Human Rights Commission’s confined their anti-hate speech prosecutions to basement and garage neo-Nazis, and other fringe, white power weirdoes, nobody did care. The Jews, who are a small minority in this country, seemed to be taking out the garbage and they were quite welcome to do it, as far as the rest of us were concerned.

It was when gays started to attack Christians through the mechanism of HRCs that suddenly it was no longer the exceptional case, it became mainstream.

Neo-nazis and white supremacists form probably no more than one-tenth of one percent of the population of this country, if that. Christians, however, comprise 72%.

When Christians who expressed anti-gay sentiments were put through the meat grinder of the HRC process, other people, like me, an atheist, began to notice that gay rights were trumping religious rights. And, as pro-gay and anti-religious as I am, I do not like the idea that people who have firm beliefs based on a bedrock of millennia-old scriptures should not be entitled to express their views, even if I think they are wrong-headed.

After we started to squirm over this development, along came the Canadian Islamic Congress complaint against Maclean’s magazine, and vicariously against one of the most popular journalists in the world’s conservative press, Mark Steyn.

There are some things that are touchstones of Canada: hockey, Canadian Tire, Tim Horton’s, CBC and possibly Maclean’s magazine.

The CIC is not a Canadian touchstone. Futhermore, its chief spokesperson has a not very enviable reputation for uttering hateful comments. One wondered why he wasn't in the dock instead of Maclean's.

As well, those who are familiar with the Koran and the Hadith know that Islamic teachings do not promote equality and harmony with non-Muslims. They don’t even promote it within the Islamic world.

There is no doubt that the turmoil in the world caused by Muslim terrorists over the past decade has caused westerners to look very closely at this formerly foreign world of Islam and find some things about it that are unsettling.

But, to claim, as Farber does, that Muslims are just being scapegoated instead of Jews is foolish. In fact, by this statement, Farber does his own community a disservice since most recorded hate crimes (real crimes, mind you, not just words) still continue to be directed towards Jews in numbers far higher than the second most reported group.

It is when people wake up to the fact that the tail is starting to wag the dog that the trouble starts. We respect the rights of minorities, but when they want to start shoving the majority around, and use taxpayer-funded government agencies do their work for them, they shouldn’t be surprised if they receive a lot of pushback.

These fools at the HRCs have managed to accomplish what I would have thought impossible a year ago. They have made folk heroes out of neo-Nazis, tarnished the reputation of the Canadian Jewish Congress, united both the left and right media, and, with any luck, may end up putting themselves out of the hate speech business altogether (a growing source of funding for them).

Siddiqui ends his column with this trite observation:

People will always differ on what constitutes hate or where to draw the line on free speech. But most people would agree that free speech is not a licence to target vulnerable groups, let alone risk rupturing the common good in Canada.

In a country founded on the rule of law, due process, and equality before the law, in what respect could one say the HRCs in this country are upholding the common good in their handling of issues concerning free speech? The common good in this country would be better served if everybody just grew a thicker skin.

Finally if you don’t have due process, Mr. Siddiqui, everybody is a potential target and is vulnerable.

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