Some Thoughts On Ezra Levant’s Dilemma

Ezra Levant is a former Calgary Sun columnist.  He’s in a whole heap of trouble these days for a decision he made two years ago as then-publisher of the now-defunct Western Standard magazine (it’s just a blog now).  What did he do in February 2006 that inflamed the passions of so many people?  He published eight editorial cartoons from a Danish newspaper that depicted Muslims and their spiritual leader, Mohammed, in decidedly unflattering lights.  (He’s posted them on his website here.  Judge for yourself on their merits or lack thereof.) 
Shortly thereafter, Levant was slapped with a couple of human rights complaints.  This month, he’s been testifying in front of the Alberta Human Rights Commission defending his decision and openly scorning this whole process.  Curiously, mainstream media coverage has been minimal.  This is very much an Internet-driven story.
First, let’s talk about the cartoons themselves.  With the exception of one, they are remarkably unfair, unfunny and just plain lame.  That being said, it is completely understandable why Muslims were so offended by them.  What’s not understandable is why 100 people died because of them.  Some took their anger too far which led to needless rioting, death threats and the shutting down of numerous publications who also published the cartoons.  According to this, six journalists were thrown in jail, as well.
The only real reason to publish them here was because of their inherent news value.  In order to understand what the fuss was all about, readers needed to see the cartoons with their own eyes and draw their own conclusions.  But the vast majority of North American news media took a pass, according to Wikipedia.  Michael Coren of The Toronto Sun argues that they did so out of fear.  (The Sun, itself, refused to publish them.)
Personally, I don’t envy any editor who had to face probably one of the toughest decisions of their careers regarding all of this.  It must’ve been agonizing from political, business and even personal standpoints.  But, at the same time, it was disappointing that so many media outlets here were unwilling to print even one cartoon.  How can you understand collective anger without seeing what the offended have seen?  Were it not for the Internet and those publications willing to face the heat, we’d still be in the dark about this matter.
Back to Levant.  He’s essentially turned himself into a martyr decrying violations of his rights to free speech.  But unlike those journalists from the Middle East, he hasn’t been thrown in jail for publishing those cartoons.  He hasn’t been fined, either.  (Not yet, anyway.)  Nor has he been silenced.  He’s been able to speak on the record over and over again.  On both his blog and The Western Standard site, you can see firsthand his appearances in front of a representative of The AHRC.  Setting aside one’s personal views about whether or not facing a government tribunal about controversial news business decisions is really necessary or helpful, Levant’s democratic rights haven’t been violated.  At least, not yet.  He has had an extraordinary amount of freedom defending himself in this whole matter.  He hasn’t been tortured, abused or violated in any way.  To label this whole process as an “interrogation” is such a gross exaggeration.  Levant’s situation is not even close to being the same as Maher Arar’s.  No one’s going to be beating an apology or some kind of confession out of him any time soon.
However, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald makes some compelling points about the potential dangers of Canadian human rights commissions like this one and how unusually common it is for those who espouse controversial political opinions to find themselves placed on the defensive because one person or a group didn’t approve of what they said or wrote.  Levant noted two years ago on The Western Standard Shotgun Blog that regardless of what happens, he won’t be compensated for legal bills, which is, without a doubt, deeply unfair, especially if he wins.  The plaintiffs don’t have to pay a dime.  The Commission is funded by taxpayers.
All of that being said, he’s not entirely innocent here.  He’s part of a collective group of “Christian” conservatives who have a serious problem with both Muslims and their religion.  As an example, Blogger Matthew Vadum, a Western Standard contributor, has called Muslims “the world’s poorest, most backward, most deluded communities…”.  As another, Michael Coren declared in print recently that he wouldn’t vote for an “orthodox Muslim”.  He writes, “Observant, strict Muslims possess a world view, theology and belief system that is completely contrary to mine and I do not believe that anyone with a faith worth the name could separate that religion from his or her politics. Nor should we ask anyone to do so.”  (He would rather vote for a “strict Catholic”, I’m guessing.  As The French would say, “Il est une grande douchebag.”.)  And as Warren Kinsella notes here, he’s not exactly consistent on free speech, either.
Levant is deeply hypocritical, too, for another reason.  Anti-Muslim cartoons (and rhetoric, for that matter) are perfectly ok to him but say or do anything remotely anti-Christian and he, and his like-minded colleagues, become very upset and want some kind of justice.  If you ask me, he wants the right to hate without any consequences.  You can’t call yourself a Christian if that’s the case.  Listen, I’m an atheist.  I have strong negative views about religion in general.  But I’m also a libertarian and I don’t have any problems with people who attend churches, synagogues or mosques, or who practice some kind of spiritual philosophy in private, as long as they don’t physically harm anybody else.
It all boils down to this.  Levant shouldn’t be punished for what he did in 2006 as Publisher of The Weekly Standard.  That’s what good old-fashioned criticism is for.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, January 19, 2008
7:12 p.m.
Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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