Graeme Wood

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The Muftis of Cascadia

In the UK, during the early days of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, a similarly buffoonish quasi-governmental body moved to stop the film International Gorillay from being released in Britain. A hit in Pakistan, the movie portrayed Rushdie as a whiskey-soaked Jewish lothario who intended to subvert Islam by running a network of discos and casinos. Rushdie himself intervened to lift the ban, saying the offense was real, but not worth the practical or moral harm done by banning what amounted to just an exceptionally dumb movie — even if it was a movie that encouraged his own murder. British audiences watched the film, and thanks to YouTube, you can too.

The whining of the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) contrasts unfavorably not only with Rushdie’s integrity and Steyn’s characteristically bracing retorts, but also with the work turned in by the CIC’s co-religionists twenty years ago. Even now, the Pakistani film mesmerizes with a sort of Ed Wood-style anti-brilliance. Consider the final scene, in which an avenging Allah ex machina zaps Rushdie with thunderbolts issued from flying Korans, or another scene (a favorite of the real-life Rushdie) in which the author kidnaps his antagonist’s wife and, between dance numbers, literally tortures her by reading from The Satanic Verses.

What gives me hope for Canada is that the Canadian Islamic Congress appears to be aggrieved only in the most boring and uninspiring way. These people show no brilliance, nor even anti-brilliance. If they made a movie, it would probably resemble a cross between an after-school special and a particularly soporific hour of C-SPAN. In Pakistan, Rushdie’s supposed heresies aroused howling fury, and a mature, purposeful, and formidable challenge to Western ideals of free expression. By contrast, one of the complainants in Steyn’s case, Mohamed Elmasry, was apparently so unthrilled by his indignation that he did not bother to show up for the trial. The other, Naiyer Habib, was reduced to arguing that Steyn’s articles had, in essence, hurt his feelings by expressing contemptuous and hateful sentiments toward the Muslims of British Columbia. That’s it.

Sadly, though, that might also be all it takes for the CIC to win the case. The plain language of the British Columbia Human Rights Code prohibits exactly the kind of ridicule and contempt to which Mark Steyn exposes everyone left of John Howard, often with dazzling effect. He’s guilty as charged — and not only of violating the BC Code. The U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects against “attacks upon honor and reputation.” These are Steyn’s tools of trade. But the U.N. version, I note, also guarantees “the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” which by contrast with protection from taunters seems like an actual human right, and a right in direct conflict with the right not to have one’s honor attacked. The B.C. Human Rights Code is at least consistent: it makes no mention of the right to free expression at all. Whatever else the Steyn show-trial demonstrates, it’s proven that “human rights” remains a hopelessly muddled concept, and that British Columbia is a place where the best face conviction, even when the worst aren’t filled with passionate intensity.

Originally appeared at TheAtlantic.com

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