Mark Steyn on Human Rights and hierarchy of victims
Mark Steyn looks back at 2009
Mark Steyn discusses some of the big issues of the year.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation | CounterPoint | December 14, 2009
Michael Duffy: Mark, I understand you've had some problems of your own in the last year or two, in fact you've written a book about them called Lights Out, to do with free speech issues in Canada. Can you tell us briefly what happened there?
Mark Steyn: Yes, I found that an excerpt from my previous book America Alone was published in Maclean's which is Canada's biggest selling news magazine. It's a very mainstream magazine, it's not extreme or right-wing or anything else in any way at all, and it became the subject of three complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress. Essentially I was subjected to triple jeopardy because they filed complaints with the British Columbia Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
And those words, by the way, 'human rights commission', are quite relevant to Australians because there's been a lot of talk in your country recently about having a Canadian style system of human rights commissions. I regard them as an abomination. All the key protections of common law, the presumption of innocence, truth as a defence, the right to due process, the right to confront your accuser in open court, all these things go by the board under a human rights commission system, which is essentially a hierarchy of fashionable victim groups.
So, for example, if a gay group sues Christians, gays trump Christians in the victim group hierarchy. If a Jew sues an anti-Semite, Jews trump anti-Semitism in the victim hierarchy. It gets a bit more complicated if, for example, it was a Muslim suing a gay, then the hierarchy of fashionable victim's rights gets more complicated.
Michael Duffy: What about if a Muslim sues a Jew? Who's on top there? Or hasn't that been resolved yet?
Mark Steyn: That is a very interesting point because when Jewish groups under the Canadian system, for example...when Jewish groups have tried to bring prosecutions against inflammatory imams who say that all Jews should be killed...if you were a knuckle-dragging white skinhead who belonged to, for example, the Manitoba Ku Klux Klan or whatever, the human rights commission would come down on you like a tonne of bricks. But an imam, an inflammatory imam in Montreal, for example, published a whole book saying the Jews should be killed, homosexuals should be killed, the whole thing, and the human rights commission didn't want to go after them.
So they'll go after nobodies, they'll go after some so-called white supremacist living in his mom's basement in the middle Saskatchewan, but they won't go after some of the principal sources of anti-Semitism in the world today. And that's why I think if we're going to have these things be part of the legal system at all...and I really would rather not, I'd rather...if an imam says something stupid or offensive, I'd rather expose him to mockery and social censor rather than actually attempt to criminalise his speech. I don't think that does any good and I think one of the most disturbing signs in Canada, in Britain, in Europe, has been the ease with which free societies suddenly decide that they want to criminalise opinions that they don't agree with. It's one of the most disgusting trends in the developed world today.
Michael Duffy: Yes, some of the human rights commissions came after you anyway. Just briefly, what was the outcome of that?
Mark Steyn: Well, we had a one-week trial in British Columbia which was in many ways hilarious. It's quite something to sit in a court room and watch an expert witness who has been flown in at great expense discuss the tone of your jokes for a full day. This is something I wouldn't have expected to see outside the very obscure corners of minor literary magazines, but it happened. And the reality is that it's only because I was there in court mocking it and coming out of the court room and giving interviews to radio stations mocking not just my accusers but mocking the so-called judges, that essentially we were acquitted on political grounds because the human rights system felt that it couldn't take the heat.
In fact after we were acquitted, clearly we were guilty under British Columbia human rights law because essentially if someone feels offended by you, you are guilty. It's an emotional system. If a gay feels offended by a Christian quoting Leviticus, the Christian quoting Leviticus is by definition guilty because we have elevated the human right not to be offended into a bedrock human right. I think particularly in multicultural societies that governments are very comfortable with this because they regard themselves as the sole legitimate arbiter of acceptable public discourse between different social groups. So they think it entirely normal that if you have some gay guys over here and you have Muslims over there and you have some Jews over here and you have some uptight fundamentalist Christians over here, that it's the proper job of government to mediate relations between those groups. I think that's a recipe for a kind of politically correct tyranny that I want no part of.
Michael Duffy: Do you think you've come through this unscathed or do you think it may have deterred some people around the world from publishing your journalism or even your books?
Mark Steyn: I think actually that's one of the odd things about that has been to discover that actually the system has very few friends, that it wasn't only my accusers who came off badly from that but the system itself. So since then the House of Commons in Canada has held hearings on in fact abolishing this particular section of the human rights act. And on a personal level I've had odd things that never happened to me before; I was sitting in Montreal having lunch with a friend and a couple of guys at an adjoining table sent over a magnum of champagne, because being wanted as a hate monger in English Canada managed to endear me to these Francophone Quebecers. So in an odd sense I think actually being willing to stand up and take on this system rather did some good for my reputation.
Michael Duffy: I think it came out very well. Mark Steyn, thanks for joining us on Counterpoint.
Mark Steyn: Always a pleasure Michael.
See full interview, including audio at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2009/2771005.htm#transcript