Mark Steyn, my friend, colleague and arguably the most talented political writer working today, is on trial for thought crimes.
Steyn -- a one-man media empire based in New Hampshire -- was published a few years ago in Maclean's. Now the magazine and its editors are in the dock before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on the charge that they violated a provincial hate-speech law by running the work of a hate-monger, namely Mark Steyn. A similar prosecution is pending before the national version of this kangaroo court, the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Not that the facts are relevant to the charges, but here's what happened. Maclean's ran an excerpt from Steyn's bestseller, "America Alone."
The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense. It charged in its complaint that the magazine was "flagrantly Islamophobic" and "subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt." It was particularly scandalized by Steyn's argument that rising birthrates among Muslims in Europe will force non-Muslims there to come to "an accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots."
Note: Steyn's article was published in 2006, before Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, supported that point earlier this year when he said that it is "unavoidable" that Britain will ultimately have to incorporate some elements of sharia into its law in the spirit of "constructive accommodation."
You might think that if Steyn had been able to quote Williams or someone else who'd expressed that view, he and Maclean's wouldn't be in trouble. You'd be wrong. One of the council's chief gripes with the article is that Steyn quoted an imam living in Norway who said that "the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes." An accurate quotation is no defense when giving offense.
Indeed, it seems there is no escaping the charge of promoting "hate" in Canada at all. In 31 years, the national Human Rights Commission has never dismissed a case as unfounded.
The council first demanded that Maclean's give it equal and unedited space in the magazine to respond to Steyn's "Islamophobic" tract. The editors refused. So the council took the magazine to "court," but not a real court. These tribunals have all the rigor of a student government star chamber. There are no rules of evidence and, again, truth is not a defense.
Why bother with evidence at all? Hate speech is essentially defined as anything certain "victimized" people find offensive. So, if a group is sufficiently offended to complain to a human rights commission, the burden of proof has already been met.
And what about free speech? Dean Steacy, an investigator for Canada's national commission, explained it nicely: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." He gets points for honesty.
If Maclean's (and Steyn) lose, it could face unspecified fines. Even more troubling, according to Canadian law and tribunal precedents, Maclean's could be ordered to publish something it doesn't want to publish, and be barred in perpetuity from publishing anything the human rights commission deems "Islamophobic."
It might be easy for some to dismiss all of this. After all, we're talking about Canada.
But this is just the latest in a long parade of assaults on free speech, including the aftermath of the Danish Muhammad cartoons and the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Sometimes it seems like a lot of people see free speech as "an American concept," thus in need of rethinking.
As the Atlantic's Ross Douthat observed, the New York Times' only story on the case suggested "that the 1st Amendment is a peculiar and quite possibly outdated feature of the American political system, along the lines of, say, the electoral college or the District of Columbia's lack of congressional representation." By implication, it also lumped Steyn in with rabid Nazis and Holocaust deniers.
Without outlining what Steyn wrote, the Times launched into a discussion of how "hate speech" is treated in the U.S. and elsewhere. Quoth the Times: "Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France."
Left out of this fascinating tour of speech-control laws around the globe: Mark Steyn is no Nazi, and whatever one makes of his arguments, it is disgusting to insinuate otherwise. If Steyn were in the crosshairs for defending abortion rights, I suspect the New York Times would be more careful about leaping to Nazi comparisons.
But it seems that throughout the West, "leaders" are willing to accommodate those who would stifle, intimidate or, ultimately, ban free speech, all in the name of "tolerance." You could read all about it in Steyn's book. It's not banned -- yet.