"The Blood Runs Cold" is the headline of Melanie Phillips' piece in the current issue of the British Spectator. "The lights are going out on liberal society," her column begins, "and it is the most liberal societies with their fingers on the switch."
Canada's, for one.
What makes Ms. Phillips' blood run cold is Human Rights Commissions in this country summoning Maclean's magazine and columnist Mark Steyn into their inquisitorial chambers to answer for their misdeeds.
Misdeeds? Would that be crimes or torts? No, for those one sues or calls the police. The misdeeds for which Human Rights Commissions were set up 30 years ago weren't criminally or civilly wrongful acts or words -- such as, say, defamation -- but heresies.
Heresies to what? Why, to liberalism, Canada's state religion.
But wait a minute. If a country's state religion is liberalism, how can it investigate and prosecute lawful acts and words? Ah, here's a paradox to chill the blood, and not just Ms. Phillips' but many people's, including mine.
Human rights laws and agencies were set up in 1977 to protect Canadians against "discrimination" -- say, basing an appropriate act (hiring) on an inappropriate motive (gender) unless properly appropriated by affirmative action. They were to safeguard an ostensibly free society against politically incorrect conduct. Or thought crimes. In short, they were to be liberal society's defence against liberty.
To me this seemed entirely predictable. What I found amazing was that many genuine liberals, including such professional civil libertarians as Canadian Civil Liberties Association General Counsel Alan Borovoy, didn't see it.
They certainly do these days. When the Alberta Human Rights Commission was contemplating an action against The Western Standard (now defunct) for reprinting some cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Mr. Borovoy wrote that "During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create [human rights] commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech."
Many liberal-minded social activists thought they could regulate conduct without affecting speech -- except maybe such dreadful expressions of intent to discriminate as "help wanted male." How could prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing, they asked, turn into censorship in the media? Yet it required no imagination, for the evidence for it was there at the outset.
In the summer of 1977, shortly after it came into being, Manitoba's Human Rights Commission took it upon itself to caution Maclean's for Barbara Amiel having used the word "Hun" with reference to Germans in an article about the war-years. The Commission felt it had a mandate to express a government-sanctioned disapproval over a journalist's choice of words. The post-liberal state's action against Maclean's and Steyn comes on the 30th anniversary of the post-liberal state's warning against Maclean's and Amiel. This doesn't show a liberal agenda hijacked or kidnapped; it shows an illiberal agenda that was there right from the beginning.
Considering that Canada had civil courts to use against slanderous or deceptive speech, and criminal courts to use against speech deemed to be fraudulent, seditious, treacherous, or pornographic, it ought to have been a mystery to Borovoy and his colleagues what Human Rights Commissions could possibly be used against if not free speech, or speech previously regarded as free.
Which is precisely what happened. It happened several times during the last 30 years, sometimes to nasty little scribblers and publications, but occasionally to nicer and bigger ones. The newsweekly Maclean's and the brilliant Steyn are the best and biggest to find themselves in the jaws of the Human Rights Dragon, not the first.
Maclean's and Steyn may be big enough for the Dragon to choke on, which would be a blessing. The liberticidal monster should have been strangled at birth -- but better late than never. By now Human Rights Commissions are populated with officials who speak disparagingly of "fundamentalist liberals" and describe free speech as an "American idea" with no weight in this country. They're dragging magazine and writer into their rank dragon's den for allegedly suggesting that Islamic culture is incompatible with Canada's liberalized, Western civilization. By doing so, they prove Melanie Phillip's point about the hand on the light switch.
"If any culture is incompatible with liberalised western civilisation, it is clearly Canada's," offers the author of Londonistan. I'm afraid she's right -- assuming, that is, that there's still such a thing as a liberalized western civilization. Perhaps what we should say is that a liberalized western civilization is becoming incompatible with itself.