Halifax conference on the media's "right to offend"
I had a ball at the Sheldon Chumir Foundation's conference on the media's right to offend, which took place at University of King's College in Halifax on Saturday.
Binks from Free Canuckistan shlepped into town for the day, as did a number of other Halifax bloggers like Girl in Blue and Nova Scotia Scott, and plenty of friends of this blog and supporters of my fight against the HRCs. It was also great to see allies from the MSM, including Michael deAdder, the editorial cartoonist, and Paul Schneidereit, who has been Atlantic Canada's leading proponent of freedom of speech, both from his post at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald and in his position with the Canadian Association of Journalists.
As I said when I received this invitation, I wanted to find out what made John Miller tick -- he's the Ryerson journalism professor who tried to intervene on behalf of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and against Maclean's magazine and Mark Steyn, in the five-day show trial in Vancouver this spring.
What would possibly possess a journalism professor to be pro-censorship?
The answer is pretty simple and boring, actually: he's a guilty white liberal who is willing to sacrifice our ancient liberal values of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the separation of mosque and state, in an act of journalistic affirmative action. That's it. You can see a near-transcript of his remarks here, where he essentially opened with an apology for being a white man.
It was nothing more thoughtful than that: he's white, Maclean's magazine is white-ish, so any brown-skinned Arab who complains against it has moral authority, even if they have no legal or moral case.
Miller didn't seem very familiar with the depth of the anti-Semitic bigotry at the Canadian Islamic Congress; over dinner, he expressed surprise when I told him that, at a Canadian Association of Journalists forum in 2006, Elmasry repeatedly condemned the "zhoos" who owned the media in Canada, and abused their zhooish powers to keep down good Muslims.
There was a weird moment during the panel when Miller said that Mark Steyn simply wasn't a good journalist -- compared to him, one presumes -- because Miller couldn't find corroboration for one of Steyn's quotes about Ayatollah Khomeini's weird fatwas about sex.
Those quotes were from Khomeini's famous Tahrir-ol-vasyleh, his Iranian version of Mein Kampf -- his master plan for the world, right down to how to have sex with chickens -- the part Miller thought Steyn was making up.
I went to Google as Miller was talking, and found a ton of references for it. There's even a reference to it in the bestselling novel, Reading Lolita in Tehran. Harper's magazine referred to it; there's a whole Iranian feminist foundation dedicated to repealing Khomeini's rules, including his sex rules.
It was pretty sad: an ageing journalism professor, looking down his nose at Steyn and accusing Steyn of sloppiness (and disparaging mere bloggers, too), while half the kids in the room could have found what Miller couldn't in about five minutes on the Net. Some "expert" witness.
Perhaps the weirdest person at the conference, though, was Krista Daley, the boss of Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission. You can read Scott's near-transcript of her opening remarks, here. They're scary enough. But in the question and answer session that followed, Daley went further. She said that freedom of speech was all well and good, but only once she and her fellow human rights commissions had done their work, making Canada "completely non-discriminatory", a "fully equal society" and my favourite: "almost a utopia."
The obvious question being: why only almost a utopia? Why not go for the whole thing? Why so modest?!
I mean there's nutty, and then there's David Koresh nutty. She's going to bring Canada to the doorstep of utopia, through her human rights commission? And, until then, our freedoms will have to be curtailed?
That's almost Unabomber nutty. It will not surprise you, dear reader, to learn that before gracing Nova Scotia with her presence, High Priestess Daley worked at the United Nations on human rights matters, picking up all sorts of tips from those leading lights, China and Iran. Now she's back in Halifax, with the little people, trying to elevate them. And how ungrateful they are!
There were other speakers, too -- most of them being pretty full-throated defenders of freedom of speech. And I was impressed with the Chumir Foundation's own staff, who are quite true to Sheldon Chumir's own personal style: liberals, but civil liberties liberals, liberals who understand that value of our culture and its heritage of freedom. I started talking with Chumir Foundation boss Janet Keeping about the Magna Carta, and she told me that, whenever she goes to London, she makes sure she visits the museum where she can look at that great old document with her own eyes -- an impressive anecdote.
I enjoyed the conference, and Peggy Wente's lunchtime talk was great. I was pretty scrappy, and I couldn't refrain from calling Daley "David Koresh" in my speech and the question and answer session. But that's me -- always getting between some bureaucrat and their Valhalla.
My favourite part, though, was meeting so many supporters who had been following this issue for the past year. For 125 people to show up on a gorgeous Saturday morning for such a conference was a very encouraging sign that freedom of speech is deeply cherished in the great city of Halifax.