Liveblogging the Maclean's Trial III: Die Another Day

Day three dawns, and the crowds have thinned. Maybe a dozen spectators today, none of the protestors (pro-Steyn!) of the first day. Media is down to me and Brian Hutchinson of the National Post, whose fine piece on yesterday’s proceedings is definitely worth a read. Ian Mulgrew also offers a trenchant article in the Vancouver Sun. (UPDATE: My mistake. The Province is here, as was Terry Milewski of the CBC, at least to start. Also some smaller publications.)

Further assigned reading, on the whole damn mess: Convenant Zone.

First witness today is Faiza Hirji, an expert in “analyzing stereotypes in the media with regard to minorities,” with a speciality in Muslim minorities. She’s a prof in communications at Carleton School of Journalism. Also heavily into gender and “discourses.” Masters thesis on “representations” of Afghan women during the 2001 war. Doctoral work on media “constructions” of religion and nationalism in Bollywood films. Currently writing an encyclopedia entry on media and the Muslim world. She talks very quickly.

10:00 AM Maclean’s counsel Roger McConchie is working through her c.v., perhaps in an attempt to poke holes in her credibility. Personally, I think she’d make a fine human rights commissioner.

Her dissertation, he’s pointing out, was in Indian cinema and identity construction, and not, say, stereotyping of Muslims in Canadian national weekly current events magazines. Now going through her publications in refereed journals (sample title: When Local Meets Lucre: Commerce, Culture and Imperialism in Bollywood Cinema.) Other articles deconstruct Queen Latifah, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and … still more Bollywood.

10:20 AM He’s still working her over. Her master’s thesis, on Afghan women, looked at whether western media concerns with women’s oppression under the Taliban was merely a pretext to justify the war.

McConchie sums up for the tribunal: getting a PhD from a “reputable Canadian institution” — I believe he’s talking about Carleton — is a worthy achievement, but she hardly has the expertise claimed, particularly as she’s barely started her career.

Faisal Joseph for the complainants begs to differ. She was recommended by a world-renowned expert, Karim H. Karim, to make a presentation to a conference on diversity in Melbourne, which was supposed to deal in part with stereotyping issues. (Although in the end she only had seven minutes so it didn’t.)

The panel retires to consider.

10:55 AM They’re back, and they’ve decided they’re going to hear her evidence. Buffy scholars everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.

She’s read many studies of racism in the media, although “Islamophobia” is a term she prefers not to use. Talking about stereotypes of Muslims as being associated with terrorism and the like. She does not believe the media are deliberately racist, but that journalists lack training in cultural sensitivity. On pressure of deadline, they rely on “shorthand,” stereotypes that are easily recognized by the readers. Not widespread, she says, but it happens often enough.

Now we’re talking about the Steyn article, and the passages that give her “concern.” McConchie rises to object, but is slapped down by the chairwoman. She (Hirji) reads a passage, says she sees a stereotype in it. Reads another, sees another. The cover is another stereotype, because it shows women wearing burkhas. The child’s face is in line with “the use of women and children as a marker of how oppressive Islam is.”

10:12 PM Still in the line-by-line dissection of Steyn: Muslims are presented as a threat, attributes of a few are ascribed to the religion as a whole, etc. She finds prhases like “threats like Islamism” also stereotypical, since earlier he had talked about Islam.

McConchie rises to say that he will be maintaining utter silence throughout this.

Now we’re reading the “of course” passage, which has been a peculiar object of fascination througout the hearing. This is the one where Steyn specifically disavows generalizing his concerns to all Muslims. But here it’s interpreted to mean that he is. I’ll reprint it here, so the reader can judge:

Time for the obligatory “of courses”: of course, not all Muslims are terrorists — though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle. Of course, not all Muslims support terrorists — though enough of them share their basic objectives(the wish to live under Islamic law in Europe and North America) to function wittingly or otherwise as the “good cop” end of an Islamic good cop/bad cop routine.

My own interpretation of those weary “of courses” are that Steyn feels he shouldn’t have to even say them — that a criticism of some Muslims should not open him to the charge that he is talking of all Muslims, but that since it probably will, he will spell it out explicitly. Fat lot of good it did him.

11:28 AM McConchie to cross-examine. He’s going through the expanded version of her Melbourne presentation. In it, she mentions the Ontario (McGuinty) government’s decision to do away with “faith-based arbitration panels” in family disputes rather than allow sharia courts to be set up. McConchie recounts the controversy that surrounded this question, specifically over what the implementation of sharia law would mean for women’s equality. Eventually (Dec. 2005) the Ontario government decided against proceeding, passing a law (Bill C-27) to that effect. The decision was supported, inter alia, by the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, the YWCA, and the Muslim Canadian Congress. Not sure where he’s going with this, except I guess to show that these are legitimate questions of public debate.

Now he’s asking for the “terms of reference” sent to her by the complainants asking her to appear as an expert witness. These set out the task they want her to perform, and are normally provided to opposite counsel as part of her file. They weren’t.

11:55 AM We’re back. Her file has been produced. It’s, um, thin. There’s a bunch of other stuff that’s not in, she says, like emails between her and one of the Islamic law students. In one of these, she says, the student described the complaint they were bringing against Maclean’s. McConchie’s ears prick up. “She told you the nature of the complaint?” There’s an implied suggestion of something improper, though I don’t get what it is. But certainly it seems less than full disclosure.

We’re breaking for lunch.

* * *

1:30 PM Back from lunch, and the first witness is Dr. Mahmoud Mustafa Ayoub, an expert on the Koran, and Islam. Again, the Maclean’s side is raising questions about what terms of reference he was given in his retainer letter. I think they’re trying to suggest, or at least hint, that these expert witnesses were coached or pointed down a certain path, which is a no-no in most courts, and perhaps even here.

The letter, which Julian Porter is reading aloud, is quite bald in setting out the complainants’ objectives. “This case is very important to Muslim minorities who are consistently misrepresented in the media.” They cite approvingly the BC human rights legislation. “We anticipate that success in this case will provide the impetus for prohibiting discriminatory publications in the other provinces.” So there you have it.

Ayoub assures him this would have no influence on the evidence he offers in court, that he will provide his unbiased opinions based on his expertise. “I am an intellectual,” he offers, and will comment only on the accuracy or otherwise of the depictions of Islam in Steyn’s article.

1:43 PM Professor at the Pacific School of Religion at Berkeley. Scholar in residence at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticutt. First blind student to enter American University of Beirut. BA Phil there, then MA religious thought U Penn. PhD Harvard 1975 in comparative religion, with special emphasis on Islamic studies. Active in “interfaith dialogue” with Jews and Christians. First Muslim scholar to teach a course in Islamic thought at the Vatican. Conclusion: pretty major-league guy.

Now commenting on Steyn piece. It’s mostly a demographic argument, he says. There has been rapid growth in Islamic numbers, yes, but this is not part of some conspiracy to take over the world. Finds it distressing to see an article by an intelligent man making the same arguments that Jews have faced. The vision of Islam in the Koran is pluralist. Sometimes he has to tell fellow Muslims that they are not living up to this spirit of pluralism.

What is jihad? Article equates it with Al Qaeda: fighting, suicide bombing etc. But word actually means, originally, “to strive, to do one’s best.” Koranic sense is that religious struggle we must all engage in within our souls against evil tendencies. There is also “social jihad,” the obligation to change things that are wrong. This does not mean violence. The Koran is not a book of violence.

The notion of armed struggle, or violent jihad, is mentioned in the Koran. “Permission has been given to those who have been wronged only because they say God is our lord that they fight in self-defence.” (Sura 22.) So jihad is not limited to fighting — it’s just one type of jihad, and should only be done in self-defence. The extremist, violent types are an anomaly. “They are more a problem for us than for the west.”

In early history of Islam, there was a group claiming exclusive knowledge of the faith, and terrorizing others, as there are now. But Islam is a religion of “the middle way.” Not too keen on turning the other cheek, but war is also out, unless as a last resort. People are mistaking the actions of a violent fringe group for the majority. By analogy, why do we call them Basque terrorists, rather than Catholic terrorists?

Obliged by the Koran to respect the People of the Book, ie Christianity and Judaism.

2:03 PM Returning to critique of Steyn’s article. “Portrays Muslims as an underground movement trying to take over the world — that’s not true.” They’re missionaries, they want to spread their faith, just like Christianity does. But neither religion wants to take over the world. He’s a Canadian citizen, and believes in Trudeau’s vision of a multi-faith, multicultural society.

Arabic is the sacred language of Islam, but not all Muslims are Arabs. Only about a quarter of all Muslims are Arab. The largest Muslim country is not an Arab country, it’s Indonesia – “one of the most gentle and open societies in the world. And they are good Muslims.”

Another inaccuracy (he says): Steyn says Muslims don’t recognize nations, because their core identity as Muslims “leaps over continents.” That’s only partly true, he says. There is a Muslim umma across the world, but there is diversity of languages, countries, races, etc within, “and Islam accepts that.” Article is based on broad statements that are meant to create negative feelings about Muslims, overlooks complexities.

2:12 PM Now on to the Amiel article. Talks about the burning of the library of Alexandria in the 4th century, allegedly ordered by the Muslim caliph at the time. Says that last bit’s a “fiction,” though he says even some Muslims believe it.

Julian Porter to cross-ex. Some Muslims, Ayoub acknowledges, especially in the 20th century, have emphasized the “jihad of the sword.” Islam, he notes in passing, does not have a concept of “holy war”: the phrase was invented by Pope Urban II when he was whipping up enthusiasm for the first Crusade.

Porter suggests that the Koran, like the Bible, has both peaceful and violent verses, and that “we have to choose.” Ayoub says the peaceful ones are more prevalent. Says Mohammed had to govern in times of both war and peace. Wonders if Christ had been in the same position, “probably Christians would have been less bloody than they have been.” Not sure I follow.

2:24 PM Porter is reading him passages from a collection of Bin Laden’s statements. “I swear by God almighty … that neither America nor anyone who lives there will enjoy safety until safety becomes a reality for those in Palestine and until all of the infidel have left the land of Mohammed.” It’s true, he says, that Islam is a vast religion with many groups, but “there is an element within it running amok.” Ayoub agrees, but repeats that Al Qaeda is more a problem for us than you.

Porter says you are giving an opinion, and you’re entitled to give it. Hint, hint. “It’s not an opinion, sir,” he replies. Oh.

More Bin Laden. “We’ve been inciting for years. We’ve released decrees and documents… Incitement is a duty… We have incited and urged the killing of Americans and Jews, that’s true.” Porter: that’s worrisome, isn’t it? Journalists have to write about this without your knowledge and background. “It may not be that every journalist has your nuance, but isn’t that something that they should be worried about, and writing about?” He’s making the case that Steyn may be wrong, but he’s not hateful: he’s starting from a legitimate concern.

Ayoub says he believes in free speech, “but my freedom ends where it begins to do harm to any community… I don’t think freedom of speech should include inciting the general public to hate a group, whatever the group may be.”

2:39 PM I’ve just noticed Steyn is here. Not sure how long he’s been sitting there. I suspect things are about to get interesting.

2:41 PM Porter is now quoting Ayoub from a story in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, in which he’s quoted as speculating that the planes on Sept. 11 might have been flown by evangelical Christians. He denies saying it. What he said, he said, is that there are evangelicals who want to hasten the day of Armaggedon and the Rapture.

“I am (also) an American, and I love America, and I would never do anything to harm either of these two countries. I don’t live in Quebec because their taxes are too high.”

3:26 PM We’re back from a break, and Faisal Joseph is announcing … they aren’t going to call any more witnesses! They’re not going to call their third and last expert witness, as it would merely repeat previous evidence, he says, and they’re not going to call Naiyer Habib, one of the complainants!

Julian Porter is furious. Then I’m calling Habib! This is contemptuous of the process, he says, and disgraceful. He should be here to answer having laid the complaint. I was told I’d get a chance to cross-examine him. “I cannot believe” – he’s practically growling – “that they would have the audacity not to expose either one (meaning Elmasry, the other complainant) to cross-examination!”

Joseph: Talk about audacity. Steyn’s here, and he’s not testifying. I’m upset that I don’t get a crack at him.

Steyn snorts in laughter. (Possible reason: He was supposed to be in a radio debate with Joseph some time ago, but Joseph never showed.) Joseph expresses displeasure at this.

Porter (to the tribunal, quietly): “Do you have any idea how bad this looks?” He asks for five minutes to prepare, and then, I presume, he’s going to call Habib as … a hostile witness. Stay tuned!

4:04 PM We’re going to adjourn for the day! We don’t even know whether we’re calling any more witnesses. If so, we’re back at 10 tomorrow. Otherwise, we hear final arguments on Friday.

Talk about a cliffhanger! Will Porter get to call Habib? Will Joseph cross-examine? Tune in tomorrow… same kangaroo-time, same kangaroo-channel…

Wait! Porter in on his feet: “If Habib and Elmasry are afraid to testify, I don’t want them as my witnesses. They’re a pair of scaredy-pants, and…” I swear to God that’s what he said. The proceedings dissolve in even more confusion than usual…

CODA: Okay here’s the deal. Maclean’s is definitely — as of this writing — not going to call Habib. The only question is whether the other side, ie Habib’s lawyers, do: apparently they may change their mind.

If they don’t, then we will have gone through an entire hearing about Muslims exposed to hatred in British Columbia without hearing from one single, solitary outraged British Columbian Muslim (though Habib, unlike Elmasry, at least had the decency to show up). We heard from an outraged Muslim — Joseph’s articling student, Kurrum Awan — but he’s from Ontario. And we’ve heard from a British Columbian, the Islamic scholar Andrew Rippin, but he’s neither particularly outraged nor, it seems, Muslim. Even the lawyers were from Ontario, except McConchie.

And if they do call him? Then Porter gets his wish. See you tomorrow.

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