Liveblogging the BC HRT, Day Two: A Day That Will Live in Entropy - Macleans.ca

Liveblogging the BC HRT, Day Two: A Day That Will Live in Entropy

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Lots of good coverage of yesterday’s proceedings, beginning with the mighty Ezra Levant, who had so much fun he’s staying on another day. Also Brian Hutchinson, my old stable mate at the Post, pays appropriate homage to the majesty of it all. Plus the great man himself, of course, and uber-blogger Michelle Malkin and Jay Currie and … well, I better get in while there’s a chance of a seat…

9:32 AM Habemus dongle! The good folks at Rogers — wonderful people, never said a bad word about them — have kitted me out with some sort of external modem thingie, so I will not be forced to type with my thumbs today. KDO, I don’t know how you do it!

9:34 AM The tribunal enters. There’s a little ritual that plays out each time: the two contending sides, and some of the spectators, rise, as you would for a real judge in a real court. The rest of us stay seated, in silent protest.

9:36 AM Faisal Joseph up for the complainants. He’s promising to treat us to a tour of some of the seamier parts of the blogosphere. No guilt like guilt by association. He dumped a bunch of material on the Maclean’s side only last night — and apparently some more stuff this morning — which would ordinarily be out of order but not, as by now you will have guessed, here.

9:40 AM Kurrum Awan back on the stand. Joseph entering a Sept 2006 Ottawa Citizen poll in evidence, showing that two in five Canadians back racial profiling. Aha, clearly the evil hand of Steyn at work: he’s already influencing public opinion even before the Maclean’s piece appeared!

Whoops – not a poll, just a clipping of a Doug Fisher column. (Doug Fisher!? I thought he’d retired by then?) The panel is solemnly studying it… And studying it…. And studying… Now they’re going to “retire” to consider it. In this case that means actually leaving the room — as often as not they just kind of swivel round in their chairs and put their heads together, like kids sketching out a football play, though I’m willing to guess the other two go along with whatever the chair, alpha-commissioner Heather MacNaughton, says.

9:53 AM I remain impressed with Steyn’s ability to influence opinion even in advance of publication. I admit this seems implausible. However, we must always remember, good people of Salem, that when when it comes to witches, all things are possible, natural and supernatural

9:55 AM Here come da pseudo-judges. The Fisher clipping is ruled out of order…

9:57 AM Now entering three reports on racism and Islamophobia in other countries: the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, a UN commission, and a third whose provenance I didn’t catch.

McConchie rising for the defense: “I think my friend’s memory may be a little imperfect.” The documents presented bear only a slight resemblance to the list of docs in the disclosure letter. Points out that the European report was on “potential” Islamophobic responses in the wake of Sept. 11 in the 15 European Union countries. The report, what is more, concludes that not every country is the same – different issues, different concerns.

The report whose name I didn’t catch before is a report on British Muslims, published in 2004. (A witch! A witch!)

The UN Economic and Social Council report, which he received last night, makes passing reference to Canada’s anti-terrorism law, Bill C-36. But nothing relates specifically to the situation in British Columbia, or the impact of the media on Islamophobia.

10:16 AM McConchie still on his feet. He’s wearing them down by attrition! I can’t follow — McConchie speaks at a level below human hearing — but Ezra tells me he’s suggesting to the tribunal that you can’t just accept any old pile of paper as an “expert” study, without reference to the credentials of the supposed experts. At least, that’s how they do things in a real court…

Uh-oh. The chair seems pissed. If you weren’t happy with their disclosure, did you bring an application for further and better disclosure? Well no. {Paraphrasing here.] If they’d given us a list, we’d have looked at whether they were clear enough. But they just said to us, we’re going to enter some documents that you have. As for UN reports, “I’m convinced they’ve churned out five or six in the last half hour. Probably more to come later today.”

Joseph cleverly rebuts: those may be the rules of evidence in a real court, but we’re not in a real court! He’s got a point there… (Well, he didn’t say “real court.” I beleve he said “at the appellate level.”

10:28 AM As for the irrelevance of reports on Islamophobia “across the pond,” well, “Islamophobia does not stop at the waters.” It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Reports were meant to illustrate the impact of Islamophobia, regardless of its precise location. “My friend wants you to judge the evidence before you receive it.” We’re breaking for probably half an hour or so while the panel considers the question.

11:13 AM And we’re back… Chair ruling on McConchie’s relevance and disclosure objections… Admitting the UN report — in its entirety, not the selected passages submitted — but not the other two. The late disclosure is “unfortunate.” Disclosure did not meet rules, and was inadequate. But respondents could have sought further and better disclosure. Respondents’ interests will not be “prejudiced” by it.

11:18 AM Now entering two Maclean’s articles published after Oct 23 2006 Steyn piece. One is a piece by Steyn about the CBC show Little Mosque on the Prairie. The second is a Barbara Amiel column.

Asking Awan (him again) about his reaction to the Steyn piece. Steyn claims (he says) the show is part of a plan to “normalize” Muslims, as gays were normalized a generation before by sympathetic portrayals in movies and television shows. Steyn points out that none of the actors on the show are actually Muslim, and that the moderate Muslims depicted in the show are at odds with more radical Muslim comics such as Omar Brooks, or with the “global security threat” of Islamic terrorism. Awan making the point that Brooks represents the “fringe element” among Muslims, and besides, he’s not in Canada. (Pause for appreciation of life’s many ironies.)

But he’s making an interesting point. Generally, when people have interesting points to make about columnists they disagree with, they post them to their blogs, or write a letter to the editor.

11:38 AM Now we’re off the sitcom review, and on to Amiel’s column, a critique of the teaching of multiculturalism in the schools. She alleges (he says) that this is facilitating a Muslim takeover of western society, cites Steyn’s book, America Alone (the book from which the article that set off this ruckus was excerpted). Put like that, it sounds a little barmy, but the more he reads extracts from the column, a detailed description of how the premises of multiculturalism were incorporated into school textooks, it dwindles into mere contentiousness…

11:45 AM The hearing now turns to readings from various blogs I’ve never heard of: The Brussels Journal, some Catholic blog and… oh, the late Western Standard! Not obscure, just obsolete! (The mag, I mean — the website is still in business.) The Western Standard reference: a blog post by Ezra Levant, the defunct magazine’s former publisher, dated Dec. 2 2007. This is slightly surreal: he’s sitting in front of me as I write this, laptop in hand, writing about being spoken about with reference to something he’d written about … this case. This is getting so meta I’m losing track…

McConchie on his feet. Leafing through some of the other bloggers in the complainant’s file; ConradUSA, Holographic, Templar… I think they left out the Raelians and the guy outside the liquor store who swears he invented Silly Putty, by I’m not sure.

The Catholic blog is run off a server based somewhere in California. McConchie suggesting, not unreasonably, “who knows whether anybody in Canada read any of this?” What relevance is there to present proceedings in what somebody in America says — “under American laws with regard to freedom of speech,” he adds pointedly — even if it’s about a Maclean’s article — which would of course be the internet version, which the tribunal had ruled it had no jurisdiction over.

Now to the Brussels Journal, based in, why yes, Brussels. Not Brussels, New Brunswick, but Brussels, Belgium. Does the tribunal’s jurisdiction extend to Belgium, he asks? In my humble submission, it does not.

12:08 PM Joseph returns fire. The Belgium post is available “on a thing called the internet.”

Commenters on the Western Standard blog, he points out, talk about killing Muslims, doing terrible things to Muslims. It is graphic, he says, and shocking. Direct link to Steyn’s article, he says. He’s on a roll here, voice rising.

The panel will adjourn for lunch to consider the admissibility of the blogs. I will adjourn to write a column.

* * *

1:42 PM … And we’re back. The tribunal has decided to admit the blogs. The whole wide internet is their domain! They can’t hear complaints about blog posts, but they can take them into consideration in assessing questions of “impact.” Ezra is ecstatic.

Mind you, having admitted them, the tribunal is surprised to discover it hasn’t got ’em. The printouts, Faisal Joseph informs the panel, are “five minutes away.” Not to self: perform Google Maps search on “Kinko’s.”

To add to the sense of general chaos: the tribunal cannot as yet provide counsel with recordings of the proceedings, as apparently the microphone used has been picking up conversations between counsel. Just another day in Mayberry.

1:50 PM Julian Porter begins cross-examining young Awan. He notes off the top that Elmasry’s complaint to the human rights commission was filed April 30, 2007. The meeting with Maclean’s was March 30.

The claim the students have made publicly on a number of occasions, including in their filings to the various human rights commissions to which they took their complaint, is that they had proposed the “reply” to Steyn’s piece be written by a “mutually acceptable” author, the better to show how “unreasonable” Maclean’s had been. Porter rounds on him: “I suggest to you that you never said ‘mutually acceptable’ at that meeting.” He’s caught off guard. He stammers out a concession: they did not.

Kerrannggg!!! As Porter says, “this goes to his credibility.” It’s a peculiarly pointed exchange: Porter was himself at the meeting, as Maclean’s lawyer. So when he says “I suggest you never said” something, the witness is under unusual pressure.

2:00 PM Now we’re looking at a letter Awan wrote in April of 2007 to Brian Segal, president of Rogers Publishing. No mention here of any “mutually acceptable” author, as there had not been in previous communications with Mohamed Elmasry. Likewise at the students’ press conference on December 4, 2007: no “mutually acceptable” mention here. (His defence: we didn’t realize until some days later, when Ken Whyte replied, that Maclean’s disputed his version of what happened at the meeting.) It was only in a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail some time later that the phrase first appears – the phrase he now admits he never used.

Kerranngg! Actually, more like rinngg: it’s Porter’s cellphone. He’s forgotten to turn it off. (Same thing happened yesterday to Joseph. Twice in one hearing must set some sort of record.)

Now Porter returns to the attack. “When did you first publicly admit that you asked for money for a donation” at the Maclean’s meeting? (The money, to be clear, was not to go to the students, but to a race relations foundation for the promotion of religious tolerance.) When was it? Porter supplies the answer: At a press conference on April 30 of this year, when Joe Brean of the National Post asked him about it. At that time, the group’s lawyer, Joseph, said it was only “a nominal” amount.

Awan now says they were considering asking for $10,000, but never got around to naming a figure. He doesn’t think this could be characterized as a “substantial” sum, given the magazine’s resources. He doesn’t know Maclean’s.

2:37 PM We’re going through an interview Awan gave on Mike Duffy Live. He tells Duffy that this isn’t a case of free speech versus minority rights. Rather, he says, Maclean’s can go on publishing what it likes, Steyn can write whatever he likes, just so long as “the Muslim community” gets a right of reply. (I’m paraphrasing. The video of the interview is here.) So really, what they’re proposing (he explains in the interview) is an extension of free speech.

I think I see his point. Every time Maclean’s wants to publish an article some group doesn’t like, they just have to give them an equal amount of space in the magazine. Double the space, at twice the cost to Maclean’s – but zero cost to the complainants. That’s “free” speech, of a kind.

2:43 PM Porter turns to the Amiel column. The two have a detailed discussion of it. My eyes are beginning to glaze over.

2:54 PM The tribunal’s majestic eye now turns to the important question of Little Mosque on the Prairie. Porter is incredulous. “Are you taking a review of a CBC sitcom comedy, to be judged as to whether it’s politically correct?”

No further questions.

3:24 PM We’re back from a break. The printouts of the blogs have arrived!

Now Joseph is calling Dr. Andrew Rippin, dean of the faculty of humanities at University of Victoria. He looks something like Jesus would, if he were a middle-aged academic. He’s a PhD in Islamic studies, professor of Islamic history. His main field of scholarly work is on the Koran and the history of its interpretation.

Awkward moment: he’s asked if he’s a Muslim. Balks at answering, saying he’s not sure it’s relevant. In fact, he’s not, but Maclean’s counsel doesn’t press the point. Wisely.

They go over his academic credentials. Rippins is asked when he first heard of Steyn’s article. He says it was not until he was called as a witness to this hearing. Yessir, it seems Steyn’s “anti-Islam” piece caused quite a stir here, especially among those with a special interest in Islam.

He and Joseph are now going through the article, with Rippin highlighting what he says are its inaccuracies. To begin: Steyn’s view that Islam forms the “primal core identity” of Muslims is found in the Koran, he says, which talks about religious belief as fitra, as inate human nature. But it’s a religious dogma, not a political statement — it’s Steyn, he says, that connects it to Islam’s alleged “global ambition.” It’s quite clear, he says, that there is no “single primal drive” that animates Muslims’ life, if you look at their history. So Steyn misunderstands this point, he says. And that same misunderstanding is what contributes greatly to fear of Muslims among others.

3:54 PM He says he thinks Steyn’s motive is not so much anti-Islam, but to critique the softness of western society, made flabby by cultural relativism etc. He believes Steyn merely seized upon Muslims as one way to make this larger point.

The other “inaccuracies,” he says, are not really errors, but the use of facts in tendentious ways. He cites an example where Steyn refers to “Muslims” in Linz, Austria demanding that all female teachers, Muslim or otherwise, wear scarves, when in fact, on examination, it turned out to be just three Linzian Muslims making that demand.

Now we’re into interpretations of Mohammed, and whether it is correct to use the term Mohammedan. It’s insulting, because it views Islam through a Christian lens — unless it’s done by Muslims themselves, as in Indonesia, where they (some? all?) call themselves Mohammedia, meaning “followers of Mohammed.”

Good lord deliver us. This is supposed to be a hate trial, and we’re having a graduate seminar on whether Mohammed is “central” or merely “important” to Islam.

4:24 PM “And what can you tell us about the treatment of the People of the Book in the time of Mohammed?”

Next on Court TV!

4:28 PM Porter to cross-examine. Quoting from Rippin’s work to show that not all Muslims share his moderate, flexible view of the religion — particularly, the Wahabbi. Answer: yes, there are many different strands of Islam, from very liberal to very conservative. So we’re all agreed on that – all, except Elmasry and co., who purport to speak for “the Muslim community.”

Reading together from Wahab’s stern proscriptions on various types of behaviour (“10 things that make you not a Muslim”), written in the 17th century. Other Muslims disagreed, saying these were matters best left to God to decide. It’s a perennial debate among Muslims, Rippin says. But given new life by Saudi cleric Ibn Baaz in 20th century. They’re reading one of Rippin’s essays on different types of Islam. Porter suggests Wahabbism is today a “powerful trend” among the Muslim community. Rippin agrees.

This trend rejects the separation of church and state, Porter suggests. Rippin says that’s too simplistic. But, Porter replies, “you’d have to agree it suggests a deep involvement of state powers in controlling the lives of its members… (pause) cause that’s what you said on the next page.” He agrees.

There’s some excitement when they get into the business of the cutting off of hands for various offences.
“Can’t a journalist offer an opinion that this would hurt,” Porter asks. Joseph objects that if this is where he wants to go, he’d like to ask Rippin a lot of similar questions. Porter confesses he’s “just trying to wander through a cross-examination,” and withdraws. It’s getting late.

Quotes from Rippin. “Bin Laden has opened up a rupture among Muslims,” between “the Saudi-exported” strain of Islam and others. What does he mean by “Saudi-exported”? He describes how a great number of mosques have been opened by the Saudis around the world, complete with radical Wahhabi imams. Sorry — this is a witness for the complainants?

However, he says most Saudi-trained imams arrive here and find they have to change their views, because the congregations won’t stand for talk of cutting off hands and such.

Reading from Ibn Baaz on the dire fate that awaits “unbelievers,” most especially those who leave the faith. Porter reads from Rippin’s analysis, to the effect that “the ghost of Salma Rushdie” lies behind these statements.

Porter: “I want to tell you sir you’ve been a very good witness because you’re so intellectually honest.”

4:55 PM There was more in this vein, but the computer ate them, and I’m too tired to retype. Anyway, Joseph closed with a few more questions — how many Muslims in the world? And how many of these are Wahhabi? — to make the point that Steyn/Porter were placing way too much emphasis on a relative fringe group. And, mercifully, we’re done for the day.