Finally, finally, it’s over. Mostly. Soon it should be safe enough for me to walk out of the house without dying of mortification, although as it is my niqaab hides my burning red cheeks pretty well, alHamdulillaah.For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to the latest painfully embarrassing episode in the Canadian Muslim community’s history: the two-year-long, agonizingly drawn-out case of the Canadian Islamic Congress vs. Maclean’s Magazine.
The story, in short: In October 2006, Maclean’s Magazine published an article by Mark Steyn titled “The Future Belongs to Islam.” This article – sprinkled with images that practically scream “be afraid! Be very afraid! It’s the Muslims! Ruuuunnnn!” – is actually an excerpt from the author’s book â€œAmerica Alone,â€ and was the feature story of that month’s issue.
In summary, the author used arguments we’ve often heard before: that the Muslim population around the world is increasing rapidly while the majority of non-Muslims continue to pop those birth control pills and keep their reproduction rate way down. This is the basic crux of the article, followed up by another claim we’ve heard – that in this way, by sheer strength of numbers, Muslims will dominate the world… slyly, implicitly, dropping suggestive words here and there, Steyn hints at the scary idea of bored Muslim youth joining the jihaad to establish the khilaafah on earth. Cleverly, he issues his disclaimers while at the same time pressing his point:
On the Continent and elsewhere in the West, native populations are aging and fading and being supplanted remorselessly by a young Muslim demographic. Time for 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(the wish to live under Islamic law in Europe and North America)to function wittingly or otherwise as the “good cop” end of an Islamic good cop/bad cop routine. But, at the very minimum, this fast-moving demographic transformation provides a huge comfort zone for the jihad to move around in.
And so, continuing in this vein, going on about demographics and geopolitics, Steyn pushes readers into a corner, forcing them to admit to themselves that there is indeed a ‘Muslim concern.’ While never saying it in as many words, Steyn is warning the West that Muslims are already growing too great, too powerful; that our population numbers are giving us advantages, the ability to make demands of our own; that soon, the world will witness the beginning of a new era in which Muslims will be the majority and as such, will change the world to suit our purposes.
These are not new ideas, new claims, new warnings… I’m sure we all recognize them as being part of every Islamophobe’s arsenal of hate speech. Which brings us to the next part of our drama: does Mark Steyn’s article qualify as hate speech?
The Canadian Islamic Congress certainly thinks so: which is why they organized a campaign to respond to the article, to combat the Islamophobia it perpetuated and encouraged.
Unfortunately, the campaign had every sign of failing from the very beginning. According to Maclean\’s editor, CIC demanded that the magazine publish a response to Steyn’s article, with the condition that the CIC be allowed to choose the cover image and the content of the rebuttal article itself. When Maclean\’s refused, CIC issued the following press release stating that due to the magazine\’s rejection of fair representation of the issue, the organization was taking action: launching complaints against Maclean\’s Magazine to the British Columbian and Federal Human Rights Commissions. The grounds of the complaints were that Maclean\’s published and promoted material that subjected Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.
The case instantly became a source of a debate both fierce and furious regarding freedom of speech, freedom of press, and what constitutes hate speech in Canada. The case also caused the CIC, and Muslims in general, to become the laughingstock of the country. Not surprisingly to me (although right-wingers were surprised, and pleasantly so for them), both the federal and provincial commissions rejected the complaints; the former because it ruled that they didn\’t have the jurisdiction to hear the case, and the latter because it did not consider Steyn\’s article as being hateful or promoting hatred.
What have Muslims learned from this? Or rather, what should we learn from this?
1.Â To be mature and responsible when confronting material which we perceive as anti-Islam or anti-Muslim. Burning buildings doesn\’t get us anywhere; neither does cobbling together a barely-adequate team of student lawyers to face off against experienced lawyers in a trial that is, quite frankly, a waste of taxpayer\’s dollars. Both of them induce feelings of anger and annoyance towards those responsibleâ€¦ from your own community as well as those whom you\’re opposing.
2.Â Be reasonable and recognize our limits. Anyone familiar with Canadian conservatives, especially of Maclean\’s caliber, would immediately know that a demand such as that initially made by the CIC will be rejected, scorned, and fought against tooth and nail. Canadian conservatives, if not as downright dirty as American neo-cons, are still incredibly stubborn and stick to their guns.
3.Â Be smart. Do your research and weigh the odds. Take the time to evaluate the opposition, gauge what their reaction will be, and respond in a manner that they will be forced to respect: with dignity, intelligence, and competence.
To me, one thing that the entire situation revealed was our need to have better PR and to develop a more competent response team in dealing with issues of concern to the Muslim community.
Far too often, I see that in trying to deal with such incidents, we end up hurting our own cause rather than helping it. Our approaches tend to be either wishy-washy or whiny, rather than strong and principled. As a result, the media (and subsequently the public) has an image of the Muslim community that is split between seeing us as â€œradical fanaticsâ€ and overly sensitive whiners.
Even now, as I Google the latest reports and columns on the aftermath of the tribunal\’s conclusion, I see withering condescension being directed towards the CIC and the Muslim population for the way we handled and presented the case â€“ an attitude which will extend far beyond the scope of this particular incident, and which will affect how the media will report on future cases regarding Muslims and our issues (especially with regards to hate speech and hate crimes).
Really, it\’s a lot like the boy who cried wolf; people get tired of hearing the same complaints being pursued in the same ineffectual manner (by taking people to court). I\’m not saying that we should just ignore it when material like Steyn\’s is published and circulated in such large circles; but rather, that we need to be a lot more careful and competent in handling the situation. We need to take care of our image â€“ such as it is right now â€“ and work harder towards promoting ourselves as a strong and principled community which, while we tolerate the values this society propagates, will not accept being treated in a manner which only perpetuates the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination already aimed at us.
Even more important than whether others respect us or not, is that we need to be able to respect ourselves. Right now, when we\’re being constantly represented in the public by a group that may have the best of intentions but the worst of strategies, it\’s getting a bit hard to do that.
Let us hope that the Muslim community of Canada is able to not only take note of the lessons to be learned from this incident, but that we are able to implement those lessons in the future. If we wish to be a community which can have its concerns listened to and seriously considered by the government and the media, if we wish to be a community which can have a positive and significant affect on the society we live in, then we need to take the measures needed to be that kind of community: a community that is respected for its principles, its wisdom, and its strength â€“ the strength which only comes from Allah when we obey Him and worship Him as He has commanded us. Insha\’Allah, in this way we will be able to not only achieve the secondary goals of having our own interests looked after in the best manner, but also the primary goal of spreading the message of Islam through both words and actions.