The lamps are going out
By Mark Steyn
It’s an honor to be here, with so many people I greatly admire, including Rachel Ehrenfeld, and my comrade-in-arms from our struggle up north, Ezra Levant. I feel like giving a version of the Churchill speech in Fulton, Missouri, about how a Maple Curtain has descended across the forty-ninth parallel. It’s not quite that bad—yet—but if you do see a couple of guys bust into the Princeton Club in red coats on a dog sled, it’s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police snatch team, so just let Ezra and me know and we can get a two-minute head start down Fifth Avenue.
I’d like to start with a bit of good news/bad news for me personally. As some of you are aware, the Canadian Islamic Congress complained about an excerpt from my book America Alone published in Maclean’s magazine. They took the complaint to three of these cockamamie “human rights” commissions they have in Canada. So I was facing three trials: before the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In civilized justice systems, double jeopardy is a no-no, but triple jeopardy is apparently fine and dandy. Yesterday, the Ontario Human Rights Commission announced belatedly that they’d decided not to hear the case. Since it emerged that they were considering hauling into court not just me but Canada’s best-selling news weekly over an excerpt from a book that was a number-one bestseller in Canada, they’ve had the worst four months’ publicity in their existence. So they decided, in effect, they’d had enough and to quit while they were behind. That’s the good news. The bad news is they decided to issue a verdict anyway. They declared my article and my magazine to be “racist” and “Islamophobic,” and “strongly condemned” it. Over the years, I’ve written in newspapers and magazines in dozens of countries and have attracted my share of legal problems. But yesterday was a first for me. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, having concluded they couldn’t withstand the heat of a trial, decided to cut to the chase and give us a drive-thru conviction anyway. If I’m charged with holding up a liquor store, I enjoy the right to the presumption of innocence and to defend myself in court. But when it comes to so-called Islamophobia—a word which was only invented a few years ago and which enjoys no legal definition—all the centuries-old safeguards of English Common Law go out the window.
On the radio yesterday, I was asked why I was bothering to defend myself. I live in the United States; nobody’s going to extradite me; why not just write off Canada? Here’s my self-interested answer: I make my living as an author. If I go to my American publisher to pitch a book, she’ll listen to my précis and then figure, “Well, we won’t be able to sell it in Canada, so there goes ten percent of the North American market. And we won’t be able to license a British edition, because some bigshot Saudi prince will sue in a London court. And we won’t be able to sell French and German translation rights because it runs afoul of European Union xenophobia legislation.” And pretty soon your little book is looking a lot less commercially viable. So it’s easy to say write off Canada, Britain, Europe, Australia, but at the end of the day there’ll be a lot of American authors affected by this and a lot of American books that will go unpublished here in America.
As I said, that’s my self-interested answer as to why I’m fighting this thing, but here’s my high-falutin’ one. When my children are my age, I want Western civilization still to be in business. I think the idea that America can survive as a lonely beacon of light in a dark planet is absurd. To accept these thuggish assaults on free speech in the rest of the West is to make inevitable a world in which one day they will be under assault here. We’re part of a global economy, signatories to global agreements, global distribution networks, members of transnational bodies. The notion that freedom can be undermined in every other part of the West without having an impact here in the United States is preposterous. My book is about to be published in France, and, if some French Muslim lobby group wants to do the same as the Canadian Islamic Congress, I’ll defend it in a French court in my lousy Québécois-accented French (which I believe is a capital offense in the Fifth Republic). And I’ll do that in every Western jurisdiction where bullies who can’t withstand free, honest, open debate decide instead to use the legal system to shut the debate down. The President often says about Iraq that we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here. Same with me and the legal jihadists: I’m going to fight them over there because otherwise we’re going to be fighting them over here, and sooner than you think.