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The Jihad of the Word

The Star Chamber is back in action, crushing free speech about Islam.

by
David Solway

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April 6, 2009 - 12:40 am
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According to Syrian revolutionary thinker Said Hawwa in his influential book Min Ajl Khutwa (English: For the Sake of a Step), jihad may come in three flavors: by heart, by word, and by hand, a tripartite distinction derived from the hadith literature. The jihad of the heart is an ambiguous formulation: it can mean self-discipline or the passion and steadfastness applied to waging war. The jihad of the hand (also known as the jihad of the sword) is the most conspicuous in virtue of its immediate destructiveness. But the jihad of the word — of indoctrination, propaganda, and institutional infiltration — is perhaps even more menacing since it operates virally, as it were, infecting the organs of the open society with a view to its gradual demise.

In trying to resolve the predicament in which we find ourselves, to protect a way of life which is under attack and which we have far too long taken for granted, we would need to arrive at a means not only of averting terrorist assaults — the jihad of the hand — but of resisting the jihad of the word. This means, among other things, countering the mispractice of “lawfare,” the deployment of frivolous and vindictive legal suits with the twofold intention of (a) blocking all criticism of Islam and (b) preventing the exposure of those who, whether explicitly or implicitly, abet the terrorists’ aims.

In an article for the American Spectator Brooke Goldstein shows how lawfare is a form of “legal jihad,” a technique for manipulating the courts to silence critics of Islam. This relies heavily on the practice of “forum shopping” or “libel tourism” whereby plaintiffs “bring actions in jurisdictions most likely to rule in their favor.” Goldstein mentions one Rabiah Ahmed, a staffer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who acknowledged such lawsuits as an “instrument” in CAIR’s bag of tricks.

Here in Canada, we have the travesty of our Human Rights Commissions, tribunals which can be accessed and mobilized free of charge — that is, at taxpayers’ expense — by anyone with a complaint against ostensibly libelous or hate-provoking action, speech, or script. The defendant is presumed guilty from the start and must pay his own legal costs. Originally established to protect tenants against unscrupulous landlords and prevent discrimination on the worksite, these commissions, with the complicity of politically correct bureaucrats and profiteering human rights lawyers, have now been largely monopolized by offended Muslims who are intent on suppressing criticism of their faith, preachings, or actions, in other words, on muzzling free speech. For close scrutiny, as they rightly fear, will often lead to bad press.

They rely on Section 13.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which defines hate speech as “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” The formulation is so nebulous that it can be successfully applied against almost anything in print, which indicates that the tribunals are akin to kangaroo courts and show trials. There are always people, after all, ready to feel misprized by something they may happen to see, hear, or read. As a result, human rights are materially abrogated by Human Rights, rendered hollow by the very bodies created to uphold them. When one of the commission’s investigators, a certain Dean Steacy, was asked what value he ascribed to freedom of speech, he replied: “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

We should keep in mind that these commissions are unelected tribunals with no accountability under law, are not bound by the presumption of innocence or the rules of evidence, are ready to accept unqualified witnesses for the prosecution, permit uninvolved third parties to file complaints, admit hearsay, are staffed by untrained and incompetent judges, do not require that the willful promotion of hatred be proven or that plaintiffs be present, are consistently unfavorable to the objections of the defense, accept anonymous posts on YouTube as evidence, and, in sum, do not operate under the normal procedures of the criminal justice system.

But although these tribunals are not real courts, they wield real power: the right to impose fines, to prohibit the defendant from speaking out, to demand formal apologies, and to prescribe jail sentences if these conditions are violated. The Human Rights Commission is essentially a contemporary revival of the notorious Camera Stellata, or Star Chamber, which sat at Westminster until 1641, enacting its arbitrary rulings on politically motivated charges.

We need not go back to 1641 for paradigms. The Star Chamber has become a modern phenomenon. There is, for example, an uncanny and troubling resemblance between our HRC procedures and the implementation of the Pakistani blasphemy laws, introduced in the 1980s by the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq and enshrined in Section 295-C of the Pakistan legal code, which dispenses with valid evidence, accepts unfounded allegations brought by one individual against another, requires no proof of intent, and does not adequately define “blasphemy.”

In one particular case, reported by Benedict Rogers of the Terrorism Awareness Project, the impressive length of the accuser’s beard was sufficient to persuade the judge of the man’s moral rectitude and the truth of his accusation. The judicial practice of our commissions is, at bottom, no less risible.

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