In 2006, as publisher of Western Standard magazine, Ezra Levant published cartoons from Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, which depicted and lampooned Islam and the prophet Muhammad. The magazine was one of the few publications outside Denmark to do so—Charlie Hebdo was another—and Levant garnered praise, scorn and death threats for doing so. The Western Standard has since gone under, yet Levant remains a fierce critic of radical Islam, and says its effect on modern society is all the more caustic nine years later.
Q: One of my favourite cartoons that you published was the Arne Sorensen one of a cartoonist sitting at his drafting table, nervously drawing Muhammad while looking over his shoulder. The idea that pencil marks can be a death sentence was borne out in Paris yesterday. What does that tell you?
A: First of all, it tells me that the threat of radical Islam is real. When these people hold up signs reading, “Behead those who insult Islam,” or when they issue fatwas saying kill Salman Rushdie or the cartoonists, it’s not just for show. They actually mean it and, in this case, they’ll do it almost nine years after Charlie Hebdo published the Danish cartoons. The second thing is, why did they do it? What is the strategic impact of killing 12 cartoonists? You didn’t take out any tanks, planes or drones. You’ve actually done something much more powerful. 9/11 killed 3,000 people. It was an atrocity and a tragedy, but it didn’t reduce liberty in the West, other than at airports and some surveillance. Compare that to the effect of these 12 murders. Which do you think will cause thousands of Western journalists, editors and producers to consciously or subconsciously say, “I’m not going to do that radical Islam this week, I’ll talk about hockey or weather.” Which do you think has done more damage to our culture of liberty and has terrified the media, the pundits, the human rights commissions, the judges, the cops, the lawyers?
Q: Yet there’s an irony in that, because, since the attack on Charlie Hebdo, I’ve never seen so many caricatures of Muhammad in my life.
A: That’s because you’re seeking these things out. I spoke at a journalists’ conference, and most people hadn’t seen the Danish cartoons. They were journalists, but were so incurious, they wouldn’t even Google them. What about mere readers who rely on journalists to get that information?
Q: So you’re saying that this will make journalists who are chickens–t even more chickens–t?
A: Absolutely, and for good reason. The word Islamophobia has two meanings. There’s the politically correct wing of not liking Muslims. But there’s the literal meaning of Islamophobia, which is you are afraid of Islam. You are afraid of an ideology that has embedded in it doctrines of war and murder. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the Koran. It is a terrifying document.
Q: So is the Old Testament.
A: Yeah. Now the good thing is, the Old Testament has not been an operational manual for about 2,000 years.
Q: This touches on another thing. History is filled with religious types killing whomever in the name of whatever deity they pray to, for whatever reason. Why is it today that it seems it’s only strains of Islam that do this sort of thing—the victims of which are overwhelmingly Muslim?
A: The reason is they have not had a reformation or a modernization of their faith in centuries. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made a remarkable speech on New Year’s Day. He asked: Why is Islam at war with the whole world? Why is the whole world afraid of us? It’s because we don’t have a debate or discussion about things. He said this in front of his ministry in charge of all the mosques. He said that we, meaning Muslims, need a revolution in our faith. El-Sisi is trying, and I hope he isn’t assassinated like Anwar Sadat. But other than that, tell me who a Muslim reformer is. Tell me who their Martin Luther is. Tell me who wants to change some of the medieval thinking. Two thousand years ago, I’m sure there were cases of Jews stoning gays to death. Five hundred years ago, I’m sure there were conquistadors killing Mayans in the name of Christ. But we’re in the 21st century and, as you point out, the only religion that is unsafe to mock is Islam.
Q: Killing someone because they mock your religion seems to me to be a show of profound insecurity.
A: Of course it is. But it appeals to some people. I’ve argued that the rape culture of Islamic State is not some incidental aspect; it’s central to Islamic State’s appeal to young Muslim men who are sexually repressed and frustrated. They get paid in rape slaves, and it’s all approved by imams.
Q: To be fair, most wars involve rape, whether Islam or not.
A: Right. And it’s an atrocity, like the rape of Nanking or Russia’s rape of Germany. But I’ve never seen in history a formal legal fatwa that Islamic State issued last month religiously endorsing raping women. It’s a recruiting tool. There is a great sickness, and you’re right to point out that the greatest victims of radical Islam are the Muslims who want to live a life reconciled with modernity.
Q: In your view, what should the French government do in the wake of these killings?
A: The fact that they called it terrorism is one basic step forward. What they ought to do, what Canada ought to do, is weed out violent mosques and weed out violent imams as if they were Hells Angels motorcycle gangs. If someone is preaching the murder of infidels and of those who insult Muhammad . . . If someone is preaching that, how is that not incitement to murder, when we see murder happening? Weed them out, deport the foreigners, and prosecute.
Q: In 2006, you had the courage to publish what no one else would publish. I don’t want to belittle that, but you’re still alive and kicking. I’m wondering if the context is different here than it is elsewhere.
A: The Charlie Hebdo guys were alive until yesterday. I’m not saying I feel in jeopardy. We don’t have 10 million Muslims in Canada, many of whom are radicalized, and over 1,000 fighting with Islamic State. We don’t have banlieues that are essentially police no-go zones. We don’t have the same culture of jihad here. And I think that’s in part because, over the last eight years, this government has tried to separate the radicals from the moderates and CSIS and the RCMP have done a good job, thank God, of breaking up terrorist plots. I hope that luck keeps up. It kept up in Sydney, Australia, until two weeks ago.
Q: You criticized journalists and media organizations six years ago for not printing the cartoons. Has the culture changed at all, in your opinion?
A: Oh my God, it’s absolutely worse! Do you think the Globe and Mail is going to show a Danish cartoon of Muhammad tomorrow? Do you think the CBC will? The Daily Telegraph is already pixelating pictures from Charlie Hebdo. Do you really think we are less cowardly today than nine years ago? All these people putting “Je Suis Charlie” on their Twitter avatar; you cowards! That’s not defying anybody. Put the picture of the cartoon in your avatar. That’s courage. Not a lot of courage, but baby steps. “Je Suis Charlie”? No you’re not, actually, because Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons, and Charlie Hebdo got killed.