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Have you heard about the Mark Steyn case? Two years ago, the Canadian journalist published a book entitled America Alone, in which he (a) pointed out that the cultural views of many foreign Muslims are sharply incompatible with those of most Americans and Canadians and (b) drew the conclusion that, if nations in the West want to protect their values and their civil liberties, they need to curb immigration from Muslim countries. The Canadian magazine Maclean’s reprinted a chapter from the book, entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”

For this “crime,” incredibly, both Steyn and Maclean’s are being prosecuted in Canada. After a long trial that ended in early June, the defendants are waiting for a verdict from the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal as to whether they are guilty of insulting Muslims by publishing the piece. They face draconian financial penalties.

In Canada, it seems, there’s now a law that a person must not publish anything that exposes a group of people to “hatred or contempt.” Relying on this vaguely worded statute, a Muslim organization in Canada has accused Maclean’s of committing a “hate crime” by publishing the article and some follow-up letters to the editor from readers who agree with Steyn.

You wouldn’t expect any tribunal in the United States or Canada to give such a complaint the time of day. Any high school civics student could see that that Steyn and Maclean’s were merely exercising free speech (which is protected under Canada’s Charter just as it is under our Bill of Rights.)

But the complaint wasn’t thrown out. Instead, it’s being prosecuted at government expense, while Steyn and Maclean’s have had to pay for their own lawyers. The case isn’t tried in a regular court, and the defendants don’t have the benefit of the rights customarily afforded to those charged with crimes. Ironically, considering that these are supposedly “human rights” proceedings, there are no rules of evidence – for example, no rules against hearsay.

Lay aside the glaring issues of freedom of speech and due process, if you can, and consider whether anyone could possibly deem Steyn’s piece “hate speech.” (Many commentators don’t seem to have actually read it, but you can judge for yourself. It’s still posted on the internet here.)

In fact, in the article, Steyn doesn’t rant or rave against Muslims. He doesn’t call them names, and he neither denigrates the Islam religion nor takes issue with any of its tenets. He says nothing about the oppression of women in many Muslim societies, nothing about the outrageous anti-Semitism that children are taught in many Islamic countries, nothing about polygamy, nothing about death penalties against Muslims who convert to other religions, nothing about Muslim women who are shunned after they are raped, nothing about clerics who urge believers to assassinate prominent novelists, nothing about barbaric criminal penalties for petty crimes.

Instead, the article focuses on demographics – the contrast between the dangerously low birthrates in many Western countries and the high birthrates in Muslim societies. Steyn points out the obvious: when large population segments identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as Dutch, French, American, or Canadian, there will be pressure on our societies to change and to compromise our values.

And Steyn makes his strongest points not by villifying Muslims, but by quoting them. Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi: “There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe – without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” A Norwegian imam: “We’re the ones who will change you. Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children. . . . .Our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours.”

The defendants are not racist crackpots. Maclean’s is a weekly Canadian current-events magazine like Newsweek, not particularly conservative. Steyn is one of Canada’s best-known journalists; Emsworth has had the pleasure of reading him regularly in such respectable American publications as The Atlantic and National Review.

To their credit, many Canadians are up in arms about the case and the out-of-control Human Rights Commission. But the censors have plenty of defenders. The Toronto newspapers, for example, have dutifully editorialized on the case in favor of free speech – but they clearly feel that Steyn was out of line and should have left the subject alone.

That’s certainly what the members of the Ontario Human Rights Commission thought. Despite admitting in late June 2008 that it didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, this government agency issued an official statement condemning Steyn’s article as “xenophobic”, “destructive”, “Islamophobic” and “promoting prejudice”. Earlier, one of the Commission’s principal investigators, asked about the value he puts on freedom of speech in his work, answered, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

Well, it is an American value; he was right about that. Today’s the Fourth of July, a good day to remind ourselves that in America, at least, free speech still means freedom to say things others would rather leave unsaid. (July 4, 2008)