On Dec. 04, 2007, the four of us announced that we had launched human rights complaints against Maclean's Magazine with respect to its October 2006 article, The Future Belongs to Islam, written by Mark Steyn.
In light of the attention our complaints are receiving -- most recently, through articles by Nigel Hannaford and Rebecca Walberg published on these pages -- some clarifications are in order.
First, it is important to examine the actual content and thesis of Mr. Steyn's article. Its basic premise is that, like the "white man settled the Indian territory," Muslims in the West are poised to take over entire societies and the "only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be."
Perhaps the Maclean's article is best summed up by the following extract, in which Steyn inserts what he terms as the "obligatory" of courses: "Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists -- though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle. Of course, not all Muslims support terrorists -- though enough of them share their basic objectives."
Mr. Steyn's comments -- pages worth -- raise an interesting question. What should we do when Canada's largest and ostensibly most influential magazine publishes an article alleging that "enough" Muslims are "hot for jihad" and share the basic goals of terrorists? True to Canada's tradition of free speech, we decided to engage Steyn in a debate about his views.
We essentially decided to follow the wisdom of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), an organization founded by a Maclean's columnist and to which Maclean's has consistently turned for support. In its most recent media release, the MCC advised: "Mark Steyn's article was definitely alarmist, but the answer to his challenge is to write a counter piece and demand that Maclean's publish it."
Unfortunately, the MCC's advice came about nine months too late. On March 30, 2007, we met with Maclean's senior editors and proposed that they publish a response to Steyn's article from a mutually acceptable source. The response was that Maclean's "would rather go bankrupt." And that response resulted in our human rights complaints.
In his Calgary Herald article, Nigel Hannaford devoted much attention to the importance of freedom of expression to Canadian society. We agree, which is why we asked Maclean's for an opportunity to debate Steyn. That is also why Steyn is not a party to any one of our human rights complaints -- he is free to do and say as he pleases.
In her Calgary Herald article, Rebecca Walberg asserted that Steyn and Maclean's have not slandered the Muslim community. In fact, Steyn's article and our complaints were the focal point of a Western Standard blog for which owner Matthew Johnston recently apologized to Calgary's Muslim community. One of the many user comments featured an extract from Steyn's article: "The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes."
The posting went on to ask the rhetorical question: "and what do we do with disease-laden mosquitoes?" Notwithstanding these comments and several others, not once have we asked for Maclean's or Steyn to be prosecuted under Canada's hate speech laws.
What we have asked for, however, is an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the "free marketplace" of ideas. It is our belief that in its truest form, freedom of expression results in a lively debate among all interested parties -- not just among those who play by their own exclusionary rules. If Maclean's wants to publish articles alleging that "enough" Muslims are "hot for jihad" and share the basic goals of terrorists, then it has to provide them the opportunity to respond.
Therefore, this issue isn't about attacking journalists or stifling free expression. It's about ensuring that our media outlets provide a forum for open debate and argument. While we do not agree with Hannaford's or Walberg's characterizations -- and they may not agree with our position -- the very fact that we can respond to one another in the same publication shows that some media outlets still value the balance and engagement of differing opinions and viewpoints.
It is our hope that, as a result of our human rights complaints, Maclean's can join their ranks.
(The authors are students and recent graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who have filed human rights complaints against Maclean's Magazine. They have also worked with the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) in filing complaints before the British Columbia and Federal Human Rights Commissions. -- This article was slightly edited for the CIC Friday Magazine.)