Mark Steyn vs. the 'Sock Puppets'
Mark Steyn is in the business of making predictions. The possible consequences of some of those predictions recently led him to make another one: "My career in Canada will be formally ended next month."
How has it come to this?
On June 2, Steyn and Maclean's magazine -- the nation's oldest newsweekly -- are obliged to defend themselves against charges of "flagrant Islamophobia" at a British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.
The saga began two years ago, when Maclean's published an excerpt of Steyn's bestselling book, America Alone, which asks how the West's changing demographic profile -- specifically, the difference between Muslim and non-Muslim birthrates -- will affect its future.
In December 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) filed Human Rights Commission complaints against Steyn and the magazine in three different jurisdictions, charging them with "exposing Muslims to hatred and contempt" for, among other things, accurately quoting a Norwegian imam who boasted that Muslims were breeding "like mosquitoes."
The CIC demanded that Maclean's print five pages of unedited Islamist propaganda in the interest of "fairness" and "balance." Maclean's refused. In fact, publisher Ken Whyte's response to the group -- that he would rather see the magazine go bankrupt than bow to their blackmail -- outraged the CIC as much as Steyn's original article.
The story soon became an international cause célèbre. Unlike many other Canadians who've been caught in the HRC's clutches over the last ten years (and subsequently ruined), Steyn and his co-defendants are well-connected and eloquent, with relatively deep pockets and high profiles. Their case has helped expose a bizarre quasi-judicial set-up that's part extortion scheme, part secret police.
Now the petitions have been signed and the op-eds written, and members of Parliament faxed and emailed. There seemed to be little more to do than wait anxiously for that first tribunal to start.
Then the paperback edition of America Alone was released north of the 49th parallel this month, complete with a cheeky yet ominous yellow badge on the cover that read "Soon To Be Banned In Canada."
The undisputed highlight of the subsequent media blitz came when Steyn confronted his "accusers" for the very first time. On live TV.
("Accusers" because the real complainant is Mohammed Elmasry, the CIC president and terrorism advocate; three young, photogenic, and properly "outraged" Muslim articling students are fronting for "ElMo" in public, and have therefore been nicknamed "the Sock Puppets" by Steyn's supporters. One of these supporters, Tarek Fatah of the rival, moderate Muslim Canadian Congress, derisively calls the trio "the boy band.")
These students had insisted for months that they "just wanted to debate the issues in public." Yet when that opportunity presented itself, they refused to share the set with Steyn.
So in the middle of his interview, Steyn called to the students, who were hovering off stage, challenging them to make their charges to his face. After some shouting, chairs were rearranged and the "debate" finally took place.
The foreign-born students seemed embarrassingly unfamiliar with English common law, not to mention elementary literary devices like sarcasm and hyperbole. They read aloud samples of Steyn's Maclean's columns with as much venom as their wavering voices could muster. As usual, accurate quotations from Muslim leaders were singled out for particular scorn:
Signora Fallaci then moves on to the livelier examples of contemporary Islam -- for example, Ayatollah Khomeini's "Blue Book" and its helpful advice on romantic matters: "If a man marries a minor who has reached the age of nine and if during the defloration he immediately breaks the hymen, he cannot enjoy her any longer." I'll say. I know it always ruins my evening.
That "signora" is, of course, the late Oriana Fallaci, whose animus towards Islam preoccupied the last years of her life. After reading that passage of Steyn's, Muslim student Khurrum Awan compared Fallaci to notorious Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, whose name remains a byword in Canada years after his conviction and deportation for "spreading false news."
Host Steve Paikin was shocked, and asked Awan if he'd really intended to make that comparison. He had.
As time ran out on the shouting match, Steyn made a gesture toward reconciliation.
"Wanna go to dinner?" he asked.
"No!" Awan yelled back.
After this embarrassing performance -- and those of the CIC's lawyer Faisal Joseph (when he bothers to "perform" at all) -- Steyn might be forgiven for looking forward to June 2 with confidence. He isn't.
Canadian Human Rights Tribunals have a 100% conviction rate on "hate speech" charges. According to the BC Human Rights Code, decisions brought down by that province's Human Rights Tribunals have "the same force and effect" as "a judgment of the Supreme Court."
So, "when the British Columbia ‘Human Rights' Tribunal finds us guilty," writes Steyn, "they are statutorily obligated to issue a cease-and-desist order that will have the effect of preventing Maclean's running any writing on Islam by me or anybody of a similar bent -- even though the plaintiffs have not challenged the accuracy of a single fact or statistic or quotation."
So four weeks from now I'll be banished from the Canadian media. ... But a year or two down the line, many other subscribers to Maclean's and the Chronicle-Herald and eventually the Globe and the Toronto Star will be wondering why there are whole areas of debate that no longer seem to get much of an airing in the public prints. In 1989, Muslims who objected to Salman Rushdie burned his novel in the streets of England. Two decades on, they've figured out that it's more efficient to use the "human rights" commissions to burn the offending texts metaphorically, discreetly, offstage ... and (ultimately) preemptively.
In many respects, the June 2 Tribunal's guilty verdict will represent the ultimate triumph of those "progressive" "Trudeaupian" ideals that have been infecting the nation's institutions for generations.
"At one point," remarked Steyn after that televised "debate," "I looked across at the Sock Puppet Three and thought: It's not about who wins the argument. They're the future of this country, and that's that."