Drawing the line on hate speech

A hearing into a human rights complaint alleging a Maclean’s magazine article spread hatred against Muslims started yesterday in Vancouver.

From the CBC website:

Mohamed Elmasry and Naiyer Habib of the Canadian Islamic Congress complained to the Canadian, Ontario and B.C. human rights authorities after the Toronto-based magazine published the article, titled The future belongs to Islam, in October of 2006.

The article, an excerpt of a book authored by Mark Steyn, talks about Islam being a threat to North American institutions and values. It used statistics to show higher birth rates plus immigration mean Muslims will outnumber followers of other religions in Western Europe.

I heard Jason Jason Gratl, a lawyer for the Canadian Association of Journalists and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association speak on CBC radio this morning. I appreciated how he acknowledged that Islamophobia in Canada has increased dramatically since 9/11. He then went on to state that “the human rights tribunal doesn’t have any business deciding what appropriate expression in Canada might be”. He said that it was clear if writings called for violence against a particular group, then those writings were clearly over the line.

This statement reminded me of Kiss and Tell collective’s book titled Drawing the Line: Lesbian Sexual Politics on the Wall. This is a book of images from an interactive photo exhibit that toured in the 90s showing a “continuum of lesbian sexual practice ranging from kissing to whipping, bondage, and voyeurism” (from Wikipedia). Viewers were encouraged to write their comments on the gallery wall and to draw a line on the wall where they felt the images went too far. I like the idea of doing a similar exercise with images and text that are racist.

Where does one draw the line? Where does society draw the line? Where do libraries draw the line? Where does the media draw the line?

Personally, I disagree with Steyn. However, I strongly believe that Macleans magazine should be allowed to publish the things he says.

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