Being acquitted by a pretend court must be something like being found healthy by a pretend doctor.
Both exercises might make you wonder what the point was in the first place and why the authority to render such verdicts was granted at all. Little solace, then, is to be found in what on the surface seems to be a reassuring declaration.
Such concerns abound in the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict handed down Friday by the BC Human Rights Tribunal in the case against Maclean’s magazine.
Little consolation to Maclean’s, mind you, which has no means by which to recoup its legal costs.
The case, brought forth by the Canadian Islamic Congress, has become a flash point for the debate over freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It’s not just that Mark Steyn should be free to say or write what he so chooses, it’s that Maclean’s should be free to publish what it chooses.
But it’s about much more than that — it’s about whether we truly are a secular society and what we take that to mean.
This was a case about religion; specifically, a critique and criticism of religion. Yes, religion is one of the defined groups to which protection from discrimination is granted, but somewhere along the line an important distinction became blurred, or erased outright.
There is a world of difference between “Catholics need not apply” and “Catholicism is nutty.” As a recent report from the pro-secular Center for Inquiry succinctly put it: “Believers deserve protection. Beliefs do not.”
If we can no longer make that distinction, then any critique of any religion is off limits — it becomes a de facto blasphemy law.
I’m not sure which is more alarming — that the Tribunal was empowered to hear this case in the first place, or that it failed to note this distinction.
In its ruling, the three-member tribunal agreed with the CIC’s own experts — Dr. Andrew Rippin and Dr. Mahmoud Mustafa Ayoub — that the article contained “historical, religious and factual inaccuracies about Islam.”
Such experts might instead devote their efforts to convincing the fundamentalists and fanatics it is they who are “wrong” about Islam.
Case in point: one of the controversial passages in Steyn’s article reads: “Islam, however, has serious global ambitions, and it forms the primal, core identity of most of its adherents.”
Now, compare Steyn’s words to this quote which certainly speaks of global ambitions and a core identity: “Muslims have to get their own act together and unite their efforts under a single leadership — that of the leading edge of the Islamic movement, Islamic Iran — to work toward the common goals of the Ummah.”
Those are the words of Zafar Bangash, director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought and president of the Islamic Society of York Region.
Is Bangash “wrong” about his religion?
It’s also worth noting Bangash has worked closely with the Canadian Islamic Congress. Just a few months ago, he was a featured speaker at a CIC fundraiser.
Jury’s out on system’s dedication to secular values
Rob Breakenridge, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, October 14, 2008
It’s curious that the writings of Steyn are so repellent to the CIC while a figure like Bangash is viewed by the CIC as a pillar of the community.
To extend the point even further, on cross-examination at the tribunal hearing Rippin conceded a fundamentalist version of Islam “was given new life” in the 20th century by Saudi cleric Ibn Baaz. So is Baaz “wrong” about Islam?
The point here is the “truth” about any religion is not going to be discerned from two experts — let alone three members of a human rights tribunal. But in “acquitting” Maclean’s, the tribunal seems to be enshrining certain “truths” about Islam.
Shall other religions now be permitted to bring forth their own favourably inclined witnesses so as to enshrine their own “truths?” Shall religious views and religious figures now be spoken about in only the most reverent terms?
Mandating respect for religious views is a step on a path toward imposing religious views. Respect is to be earned through a process of free expression and free inquiry.
The system may have cleared Maclean’s but the jury is still out on whether the system is prepared to uphold secular values.
Rob Breakenridge hosts The World Tonight, weeknights from 6:30 – 9 pm on AM770 CHQR (.am770chqr.com)