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February 13, 2006
Western Standard Risks Hate-Speech Prosecution

The Canadian magazine Western Standard decided to reprint the Prophet cartoons to give its readers the oppotunity to see what has caused all the fuss, an opportunity few Western media outlets have given their own readers. In response, Muslim groups in Canada plan to push authorities into prosecuting the Standard's editors for hate speech:

The Western Standard, a political magazine based in Calgary, will today reprint eight of the 12 Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed that have caused riots and controversy around the world, and one Canadian Muslim leader warns that hate-crime charges may follow.

Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant, a former Reform and Canadian Alliance activist, calls the cartoons "innocuous" and accused Canada's "mainstream media," including The Globe and Mail, of failing to stand up for free speech for refusing to print the images.

"I was prepared to see the most outrageous, depraved, blasphemous cartoons," Mr. Levant said in an interview yesterday. "I was surprised by how tame they were."

But the leader of the Canadian Islamic Congress, Mohamed Elmasry, warned yesterday that his organization will seek to have charges laid against the magazine under Canada's laws against distributing hate literature.

"It's unfortunate," said Mr. Elmasry, who had urged Mr. Levant not to republish the images. "I think he really goes against the will and the values of Canadians by this provocative action."

If Elmasry really thought that the publication of the images went against the "will and values" of the Standard's audience, or Canada in general, then he would trust the marketplace to deliver that verdict. Elmasry, in fact, fears the exact opposite: that Canadians, having been robbed of the context on which to judge this controversy, will flock to the Standard's publication of the cartoons in order to make up their own minds about them.

This shows the folly of hate-speech legislation, especially in countries that supposedly support free speech. Truly hateful speech should be met with more speech, not government prosecution, nor the threat of bombings and beheadings. When the latter presents themselves, defenders of free speech need to give up the nuance that leads them to the "pox upon both houses" approach and instead come down foursquare for the right to speak and criticize on principle. It's that nuanced approach that leads to the passage of hate-speech and campus speech codes and creates protected classes of people whom legislators feel should never be criticized.

That, in fact, is exactly the point for which Muslims around the world have demonstrated. They want to create a special class for themselves and their religion that will bar anyone from questioning its tenets and its insistence on temporal supremacy. These rioters do not protest against all religious satirization, but only for that which involves Islam or Mohammed. Their own newspapers produce cartoons about Jews of the type pioneered by Julius Streicher, and yet they seem unfazed by that satirization of religion.

Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons in part as a test exercise into the support of free speech in the Muslim world. Instead, it has become a test of that support in the Western world, a test that most media outlets have failed miserably. The Western Standard, in its insistence on informing its readers of the context in perhaps the year's biggest controversy, has passed that test. Will the Canadian government fail it and prosecute the magazine's publishers for hate speech over a series of tame editorial cartoons that criticizes the very intolerance that Elmasry and other Muslims have demonstrated?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 13, 2006 5:51 AM

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