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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Islamic groups trying to use human rights law to stifle free speech

After a year-long hearing, costing half a million dollars, a Canadian Human Rights body has concluded that a man who reprinted the Danish “Mohammed cartoons” in his magazine did not incite hatred against Muslims.

The Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission’s hearing became a cause celebre as the defendant, Ezra Levant, posted videos of the hearings on Youtube. The Commission was considering a complaint from the Edmonton Council of Muslim Canadians against Levant after he republished the cartoons in his now-defunct magazine Western Standard.

Ezra Levant said: “I was let go because I’m in the media every day. I’ve been down to (the U.S.) Congress to testify, I’ve been on CNN, even. That’s why I was let go, because if I caused them this much pain just in an investigation, imagine what the trial would be like,” he said. He does not consider this a victory, though. For more information see this report from the Calgary Herald.

In the light of this decision, and the controversy surrounding it, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, has written to Trevor Philips of the UK’s own fledgling Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is currently considering its own future strategy.

Mr Porteous Wood has counselled strongly against the UK following the Canadian model and pointed out that this latest case should be seen as forming part of a wider and growing assault on freedom of expression by Muslim or Islamist bodies – depending on the definition employed. These bodies certainly include the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has been so successful curtailing freedom of expression in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) itself, as Keith can testify from personal experience.

Keith highly recommends this article as background, from Maclean’s magazine, which has itself been subjected to an assault by Islamists seeking to censor it.

Reference is made in the Maclean's article to the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s lonely and noble fight at the UNHRC, and the NGO speaker referred to is NSS life member Roy Brown, whose bravery and determination is a shining example to us all.

Keith Porteous Wood commented: “Ezra Levant should also be lauded for his single-minded determination to win, and congratulated for doing so. But Ezra Levant only did so by paying a huge personal price: financially (and without any compensation); emotionally; and the disintegration of his personal and professional life. I hope that our Canadian readers — and we know there are some very influential ones — will point to these examples and seek to change the law in Canada to prevent any repetitions.

“These victories should not however blind us to the massive and continuing threats to freedom of expression. The publicity fall out over the years from Ezra’s case, the murders in the Netherlands, the death threats over Rushdie, the Danish cartoons to name but a few examples, all conspire to create a growing climate of self-censorship that is so poisonous to those seeking to maintain (yes, we are on the defensive) an open democratic and fair society.

“And one of the greatest dangers to such a society is the OIC, pressing ever harder for defamation of religions legislation to be instituted worldwide, as mentioned in Newsline before. Such legislation would be much more far reaching than blasphemy law and could be expected to render religious bodies, doctrines and spokespeople, activities and misdeeds all-but immune from adverse comment.”

Also see
How I beat the fatwa, and lost my freedom


8 August 2008


Published Fri, 08 Aug 2008