Thursday, July 03, 2008

Don't worry, it is OK to trash Muslims

Throughout the history of this country, and throughout the history of civilization, it has been socially acceptable to openly denigrate and generally hate specific groups.

For much of the 19th Century it was completely acceptable to trash and bash the Irish. It is interesting that English Canadians during that century disliked and distrusted the Irish more than they distrusted French Canadians. They had more time for people who descended from a country that was the enemy of England for more than 800 years that they did for people who spoke their language and had a shared history.

In the 20th Century is was the Blacks, the Jews, the Chinese and of course throughout Canadian history it was OK to trash First Nation Canadians.

Of course all of that began to change in the '60s. During that period it was no longer considered socially acceptable to hate people of different skin colour. It took a little while longer for that attitude to permeate to people of different religions but it eventually did.

So, by the '80s the only people that bigots could opening hate were homosexuals. Unfortunately, even they became off limits in the '80s when AIDS caused an outpouring of sympathy for the gay community, which gave the gay rights movement a big boost of support and which eventually culminated in gays being considered equal to straights including receiving the right to marry.

So, who were the bigots going to hate? After all, like all people with addictions they need their fix in order to function. Fortunately for them, Muslim terrorists began hijacking airplanes and the Ayatollahs in Iran came along. Suddenly it was OK to trash Muslim fundamentalists. Then 9/11 happened and it was mana from heaven for the bigotry crowd. It suddenly became socially acceptable to hate all Muslims.

We have seen that recently with the publishing of the cartoons of Mohammed in a Dutch magazine and a particularly vile story in Macleans magazine that is now a subject of a couple of Human Rights cases.

Of course defenders of both cite "freedom of speech" when defending both magazines and they have the temerity of stating Human Rights Commissions are trampling on those rights.

My question to them is, if Macleans would have replaced "Muslims" with "Jews" in their story would you be so forgiving? I think not. It they would have done so they would have been condemned from virtually every quarter of Canadian society. Politicians of every stripe would have stood up and condemned the story (and some would have really meant it) and the story would not be allowed to stand.

Of course, about 30 years ago such a story could have been published and it would have received the same reaction as the one Macleans published about Muslims. The community in question would have been offended and the organizations the represented them would have made alot of noise but it would have caused nary a ripple in the broader Canadian society.

We have come a long way in recognizing that hating people because they are different is wrong but we still have a long way to go.

15 Comments:

Blogger Cherniak_WTF said...

My question to them is, if Macleans would have replaced "Muslims" with "Jews" in their story would you be so forgiving?
Do you even have to ask?

Somehow it's cool to hate the "wrong" people in North America...

July 03, 2008 9:19 PM  
Blogger KC said...

While I dont disagree with much of what you say and agree that a lot of wingnuts out there need someone to hate and Muslims (along with aboriginals, gays, etc.) are a favourite contemporary target; I dont think the examples you cite--Steyn and Levant--are representative of that hate. The attitudes of Kathy Shaidle and Kate McMillan towards Muslims is a much better example of the type of deep loathing and hatred that the SCC described when it laid down the boundaries of Canadian hate speech laws.

The Danish cartoons that Levant republished were no more "racist" than your average episode of Family Guy. The whole kerfuffle over them was mainly driven by people of a theocratic mind frame who want to impose religious values on society (much like fundamentalist christians who favour laws against homosexuality) and remove religion from the list of acceptable topics of public debate. Having laws against depictions of someones prophet because it offends them or is coloured as "hateful" seems a lot like having a laws against taking the Lords name in vein. Neither are defensible in a secular society with free expression and freedom of religion. As an atheist, I should not be required to adhere to the teachings of someone elses religion, unless they are concurrently justified on secular principles in true Rawlsian fashion.

The Steyn article contained a perfectly legitimate--if not always logically defensible--thesis. I accept that Canadians may have reacted differently if it had targetted Jews rather than Muslims but that is probably more of a reflection about our inability to even discuss the teachings of Judaism, and social trends within the religion than any true racism towards Muslims. In fact the theological basis of the arrogant settler movement in Israel is a topic that could stand for significantly more criticism in public discourse. Also I think its worth mentioning in passing that the thesis that Jews are poised for a cultural take over is not as credible a thesis as the suggestion that there might be a Muslim or Christian takeover. There are only ~15 million Jews in the world compared to 2 billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims.

Had Steyn's thesis been about Christians it would have been viewed as perfectly acceptable by our society. In fact substitute Christianity for Islam and the impugned chapter of America Alone would read more like a history book about the treatment of First Nations people by European Christians over the last half a millenia than a polemic about modern Islam. Had an aboriginal person written a similar article about "white", "european" "Christians" a few hundred years ago they would have been right. White european Christians DID take over their society, destroy their culture, and strip them of their basic human rights much as Steyn is claiming Muslims will do to the West.

Im not saying Steyn is right--I think hes wrong--but the thesis that one culture has taken over or will take over and subsume another--often with little respect for human rights--is a legitimate one, not born of hate, with parallels in history.

The issue with the Human Rights Commission has separate dimension of its own. Many of us who support the Criminal Code provisions against hate--and support their use against genuine purveyors of anti-Muslim hate--are not comfortable with the low standard of proof, and lack of procedural safeguards that they employ to censor something as central to our democracy as expression.

Racism and hate are issues that we have to take seriously, but it shouldnt be used as a guise for imposing theocratic ideals or suppress legitimate sociological debate.

July 03, 2008 9:41 PM  
Blogger Ben Hicks said...

My question to them is, if Macleans would have replaced "Muslims" with "Jews" in their story would you be so forgiving?

Well, the short answer is no. If you took the the article in question (This one right? http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20061023_134898_134898) and simply changed switched words like that, it would no longer be factually accurate. And even the Canandian Ismlamic Congress (which brought their complaint to various human rights commissions) havn't contested a single fact or quote in the article as being inaccurate. They merely object to the "tone" of the article and believe the govenrment should regulate all content in news publications to make them "fair and balanced."

But I take your point. If Macleans published an opinion collumn fiercly critical of the extreme elements of Jewish culture (or for that matter, Chritian culture, of which I am a part) would I be codemning the magazine as spreading hate speech?

Answer: no. Cartoonists, collumnists, politicians, ordinary citizens, etc. should all be allowed to criticize any and all relgious groups. And those who disagree with the tone or thesis of an article or cartoon should be permitted to voice their displeasure by writting letters to the editor (as many, many people have in the case of Macleans), write their own rebuttals in their own publications (as many, many publications have), cancel their subscription, etc.

As it happens, I consider Mark Steyn's article to be an excellent piece of opinion journalism because it A) draws a clear distinction between ordinary mulsims and radical islamists and B) has sparked a thoughtful and spirited debate covering one of the more pressing issues of out time (ie: the potential decline of western civilization and rise of radical Islamism.)

When it comes to freedom of speech, I'm with Tarek Fatah (a Pakinstani born Canadian Muslim whom I admire greatly) it's a essential freedom for any true democracy: http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2008/06/10/tarek-fateh-islamists-who-have-a-problem-with-free-speech-should-leave.aspx

July 03, 2008 10:05 PM  
Blogger MurderGasm said...

Get over it - you cannot stop hatred. If you hate people who hate people then you are just another hater.

July 03, 2008 10:12 PM  
Blogger Red Tory said...

I'd have to agree with KC's remarks above about the targets of your ire perhaps not being the best. Although the opinions of Steyn and Levant may be tinged with overtones of racism and xenophobia (more the latter, I think), the likes of Shaidle and many of her rabid camp followers are more deserving objects of scorn and the utmost contempt.

July 04, 2008 6:19 AM  
Blogger ottlib said...

kc and Red,

You guys are being too literal with my suggestion of replacing "Muslim" with "Jew" in the Macleans article.

My point is, how would people react if Macleans would have published an article with even a hint of racism and xenophobia directed towards Jews?

Of course, the facts would change to fit their arguments and they would not be the same article.

Of course, it is a moot point because I cannot conceive of Macleans publishing an article of that nature where the subject was Jews. Yet they had no problem publishing one where the subjects were Muslims.

Which sort of demonstrates my point.

As well, kc, up until about 30 years ago it was considered acceptable to put forward the theory that Jews ran the world as part of a great "Jewish conspiracy". Such a theory has been totally discredited and those who still put if forward are rightfully condemned as ignorant bigots.

It is interesting that now an article with similar, but not identical, themes is published in Canada's biggest weekly magazine and it is met with a collective shrug of the shoulders by the broader Canadian society.

Again I ask, if Macleans would have published an article claiming that the Jews ran the world, how would it have been received?

Or to asked another question. Would anybody buy the argument that they were just exercising their right to free expression in publishing such an article?

So why is anybody buying it when they publish one targeting Muslims?

And Red, I do agree about those folks you mentioned but they do not lay claim to being a "mainstream" Canadian publication.

July 04, 2008 9:24 AM  
Blogger Ben Hicks said...

Yoo whoo! Hey there. I’m the guy who posted the comment in between “kc and red”. I can see how it would be easy to miss, as it was only a couple dozen lines long.

As well, kc, up until about 30 years ago it was considered acceptable to put forward the theory that Jews ran the world as part of a great "Jewish conspiracy". Such a theory has been totally discredited and those who still put if forward are rightfully condemned as ignorant bigots.

You sure about that? The head of the Canadian Islamic Congress is a guy by the name of Mohamed Elmasry. He personally brought forth the Human Rights complaint against Macleans. Here he is on the Michael Coren show explaining that all Jewish adults deserve to die.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=DQm8oEw2F5E

So how does our country react to such an obvious bigot and hatemonger? Not by discrediting and condemning him. We get our illiberal “Human Rights” tribunals to serve as his personal thought police, prosecuting any article that offends his tender sensibilities.

My point is, how would people react if Macleans would have published an article with even a hint of racism and xenophobia directed towards Jews?

I submit to you that Steyn’s article is in no way racist. If only because Islam is not a “race” but an ideology, which happens to have members from every ethnicity. Just saying.

Again I ask, if Macleans would have published an article claiming that the Jews ran the world, how would it have been received?

The reason why it would be wrong to write such an article is not because the idea itself is bad. It would be wrong because it isn’t true. If Jews did run the world, writing an article about it would be perfectly acceptable. As it happens, such an argument would require outright lies to support and would therefore be justly condemned.

As it happens, Steyn is perfectly justified in making an argument that radical Islam is poised to become the dominant player in Europe as long as the facts he uses to back up his claim are true. And they are.

People often say that free speech does not give one the right to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre. But, in fact, it does… as long as you have reason to believe that the theatre is, in fact, on fire.

It is interesting that now an article with similar, but not identical, themes is published in Canada's biggest weekly magazine and it is met with a collective shrug of the shoulders by the broader Canadian society.

This is utter foolishness. You shouldn’t throw around idle accusations without proof. I provided a link to Mark Steyn’s article in my previous post. If the article really is “hate speech” you should have no problem providing an excerpt or two to back up your claim. Frankly, I don’t think you can, because merely being critical of a religious ideology is in no way hate speech.

July 04, 2008 10:40 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Ottlib - I answered your question. No I dont think they could get away with writing a similar article about Jews but that has more to do with our sensitivity towards Jews in light of the attrocities committed during the holocaust than prejudice towards Muslims. Im not concerned because one could easily have gotten away with saying worse about Christians.

Suppressing sociological opinion because--as you say--something has "even a hint" of racism is a horrible idea.

July 04, 2008 11:30 AM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Ben:

Islam is not an ideology, it is a religion.

"If Jews did run the world, writing an article about it would be perfectly acceptable. As it happens, such an argument would require outright lies to support and would therefore be justly condemned."

Funny, because, as I said earlier, 30 years ago people where saying Jews ran the world even though there was absolutely no evidence of its truth, although they did present some strawman argument to provide "proof". And as I said that argument was largely accepted.

Now we have Mr. Steyn presenting similar strawman arguments to back up his claims and people like you accept it as gospel.

The double standard is self-evident.

July 04, 2008 9:05 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

kc:

Oops. That is what happens when you try to respond to somebody when you only have 5 or 10 minutes to do so.

I usually do not comment on blogs while I am at work but you, Red and Ben put forward interesting points and I wanted to respond to them.

You did indeed answer my question and I was not trying to be snarky or difficult in my comment to you and Red.

It was an honest mistake. Sorry.

"Suppressing sociological opinion because--as you say--something has "even a hint" of racism is a horrible idea."

There are limits to free speech as there should be. Speech advocating hate is banned but what about speech that is more subtle.

In my example of the "Jewish Conspiracy" theory the reason why it was propagated was to engender fear of Jews. Of course most folks who propagated this nonsense usually did not come right out and say the Jews "ran the world" or were trying to "run the world". Instead they used much more subtle arguments and tactics.

The Macleans piece uses similar tactics. Ben asked me to present a racist quote from the article but one does not exist. Instead the article is a subtle piece that seems to indicate Muslims are a threat to our way of life without providing concrete proof to back up that assertion. Instead it plays on established stereotypes about Muslims.

So is this an example of hate or just bad journalism?

Who can say. Everybody has an opinion so it is appropriate that it be brought before an independent adjudicator for that determination.

July 04, 2008 9:26 PM  
Blogger Ben Hicks said...

Relgions are one kind of ideology.

ideologY: the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.

I don't mean the term disparigingly at all. But I don't think any ideology (religious or otherwise) should be free from criticism in a free and democratic society. And as I showed in my first quote, Muslims like Tarek Fatah agree with me.

"Funny, because, as I said earlier, 30 years ago people where saying Jews ran the world even though there was absolutely no evidence of its truth, although they did present some strawman argument to provide "proof"."

Well shame on them. But I'd like to know what makes you think Steyn's article is a mere "strawman argument" and not a legitimate argument. I think he's raised some excellent points.

"Instead the article is a subtle piece that seems to indicate Muslims are a threat to our way of life without providing concrete proof to back up that assertion. Instead it plays on established stereotypes about Muslims.

So is this an example of hate or just bad journalism?"

Well, it seems to me that writing an article about how radical Islamists are a threat to our way of life would be perfectly fine... if one has reason for beleiving so. I think Steyn does provide proof. He explains how Muslims are the fastest growing segment of the European population and a sizable segment of which is sympathetic to radical Islamism. You can't dismiss arguments because you don't like them. Tell us how Steyn is wrong.

July 05, 2008 9:40 AM  
Blogger KC said...

Ottlib - I agree with you that there is hate speech that needs to be censored (albeit sparingly, and not by flawed Human Rights Commissions). Im not an absolutist. Kathy Shaide, for instance, who writes at the Five Feet of Fury blog is a bona fide hatemonger. I could find the quotes. I dont necessarily advocating prosecuting her because that would probably martyrize her and backfire on the targets of her hate (much as the CIC complaint against Mark Steyn has), but many of the remarks she has made meet the threshold and if someone chose to complain I wouldnt hold it against them. So now that you and I can agree that there is at least some speech--including hate speech--that is worthy of censure we can remove that issue from the table.

You cite the example of people who talked of a 'Jewish conspiracy to control the world'. Once again we have a distinction without a difference. I would not support suppressing those theories, even if there is some suggestion that the motive is hate. Why? Because cultures, religions, etc. can in effect take over other societies, and control them. That fact is clearly evident in history. Do Jews control the world? Probably not. As a "community" (to the extent that we are "communities" rather than individuals) they exercise significant political power in certain countries (Israel, the United States) and as a whole are more wealthy than most other religious groups. But there simply are not enough of them to "control the world". Its a ridiculous thesis on the particular facts.

But that doesnt mean that cultures, religions, etc. dont have a profound impact on the societies in which they are the majority or a powerful minotiry. I've already cited the example of the west taking over the First Nations in north America. History is rife with examples of one conquering another and changing it through through force and demographic shift.

So now that I think I've demostrated that the kind of thing that Mark Steyn predicts will happen can happen and has happened in history we need to look at whether or not Mark Steyn's thesis is so preposterous that the only conclusion is that he is a racist rather than just a person with a different view of the facts and evidence.

Its really not. His demographic analysis has been questioned. A lot of folks have doubted that demographic change will occur as fast as he predicts. But you find me a book that has been written that no one, no where, has not attempted to call into question at least some central premise of its conclusions.

Nevertheless the assertions that immigration from Islamic countries is on the rise while Western countries have seen declining birthrates is simply indisputable. Mark Steyn's book is about Europe but even in Canada we have seen a growth rate in the number of Muslims in excess of 100%over the last decade or so (I saw the number on Stats Can but can only give you approximations without looking it up). Some have predicted that number will double again over the next ten years.

Will their presence change aspects of our culture? Undoubtedly. Every culture that immigrates to Canada brings and changes something for both the better and worse. I think where Steyn's fear comes from is when he looks at the mess in terms of human rights that is pretty well every majority Muslim country in the world. He, like myself, has no interest in living under such a system and wonders whether significant growth in people from that part of the world will result in that happening.

Is he right? Once again Im not so sure. It disturbs me deeply to hear about prayer rooms in public elementary schools in Ontario, and I find the rantings of some of Canadas Muslim leaders (Elmasry, Syed Soharwardy, etc.) disturbing, and I was uncomfortable by the demands of some in the community with respect to criminalizing depictions of the Prophet. On the other hand we have seen the power of integration in Canada and I know that many many many Muslims probably come here to escape the exact type of system that Steyn is afraid of being imported. I believe that all most people want is a little peace and a little prosperity.

Having said that I can't begrudge Mark Steyn for looking at the numbers, looking at the state of most Islamic countries, looking at public opinion polls in the community, and reaching different conclusions. Therefore I can't, given what we have seen in history, justify suppressing a thesis that has been borne out time and time again just because it could possibly be construed as racism.

In the case of buffoons like Shaidle calling Muslims parasites, (or whatever nasty word she uses to describe them) the harm to Muslims of the hate that promotes outweighs whatever neglible value they might have in democratic discourse. Humans by definition cannot be parasites, and the demonization that word implies is the same kind of hate that gave rise to ethnic cleansing (calling the Tutsis "cockroaches" would be a parallel).

The balance of rights in Steyn's case is reversed. Cultures and religions have taken over societies at the expense of their human rights. His discourse has value even if he might be wrong. Whats more it does not take the demonization to such an extent that Muslims are beyond redemption. Sure he has some concerns about some attitudes prevalent within the community and the state of majority Muslim countries but he also levels a lot of (IMHO misguided) accusations at the west for being infeebled by a nanny state culture.

The Steyn article simply does not come even close to the standard that can justifiably be employed in a democratic country to suppress speech.

July 05, 2008 3:06 PM  
Blogger Ben Hicks said...

Well said kc.

July 05, 2008 4:57 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

Well kc that is your opinion and I disagree with it.

That is why it is appropriate that this case be looked at by an independent adjudicator.

What ever decision it makes I will live with.

However, the central argument of my post stands and that is demonstrated by the fact this case is even going to an independent adjudicator.

If the focus of the Macleans article were any other group, ethnic, religious or otherwise, it would never have seen the light of day.

July 06, 2008 9:07 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...

"Well, it seems to me that writing an article about how radical Islamists are a threat to our way of life would be perfectly fine... if one has reason for beleiving so."

Sorry Ben, that argument assumes that the democratic traditions and institutions of the West are so fragile and so lacking in resilience that they will crumble at the slightest pressure. Which is an interesting assumption since these institutions survived half-a-century of going nose-to-nose with Communism.

It assumes that the people that have lived in these countries for generations will sit back and allow the more radical elements of these new communities to destroy those institutions and traditions.

As well, you admit that the problems is the radical elements of these communities and not the communities as a whole. So again, this argument assumes that this majority, who emigrated from their home countries in part to escape to freedom, will allow these radical elements in their community to take away that freedom.

"I think Steyn does provide proof. He explains how Muslims are the fastest growing segment of the European population and a sizable segment of which is sympathetic to radical Islamism."

They may be the fastest growing community but they are still very much minorities in their adopted countries. They still lack the political power to really influence, let alone shape, policies in those countries.

Considering the rate of immigration and the low birth rates of white communities, if current trends persist it will eventually come to pass that the immigrant communities will overtake the non-immigrant communities.

However, it is going to take generations and each of those generations are going to grow up and raise families in freedom and democracy. If anybody seriously believes that they will allow a bunch of trouble makers in their midst to threaten that they are smoking some really good stuff.

Further, this whole argument assumes that Muslims are going to be the only immigrant communities to move to the West so that they will inevitably take over. I am certain other communities will have something to say about that.

Thirty years ago the argument was that Jews controled Hollywood so they controled American culture, which of course was predominent in the world. As well, Jews controled the American financial system, so therefore they had huge influence on world finance. With control of these two elements of American society, as the argument went, they could control much of the world.

The interesting part is in a superficial sense the argument made logical sense but crumbled if examined closely. However, the folks who propagated this argument knew that most people would not examine it closely.

The same can be said of the Macleans article. It does make some logical sense if you do not look too deeply at it. However, it does not stand up to even a little bit of scrutiny.

July 06, 2008 9:33 PM  

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