Well it’s that time of day again, for me to talk about all the people who have been talking about Jennifer Lynch and her wondrous multi-colour commission, with gratuitous mention of the various other commissions and commissioners currently mucking about in the Dominion.
First off, a trip down memory lane, thanks in part to Yale University. From Ezra Levant: Yale University is a cowardly place:
Yale University Press has announced that it will censor the Danish cartoons of Mohammed from their forthcoming book about the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. In other words, they will destroy the core intellectual integrity of the book, in a pre-emptive submission to sharia law.
But that’s not really relevant to this blog, is it? This is, however, from later on in that particular post:
Enough for now. Let me close with my own essay of explanation for the decision of the Western Standard magazine to publish the cartoons in 2006, a decision that has led to many wonderful things, including to the current debate about freedom of speech in Canada. At the end of the essay are some of the 7,000 letters to the editor we received in the two weeks that followed. Here it is:
Editor Kevin Libin and I agreed: it was just one of those times when a fortnightly magazine wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough. By the time the Western Standard would roll off the presses, every other daily newspaper and weekly magazine in the country would have already printed the Danish cartoons that were the subject of riots around the Muslim world. If we were going to publish them after Maclean’s, the National Post and the Sun chain did, we’d have to take a different, more reflective approach–not to put the cartoons on the cover as a bold statement of freedom, as the others surely would. We would analyze how the media responded to the implied threats of violence from radical Muslims, we would look at how agents provocateurs used the cartoons to whip up riots in Iran, Pakistan and Syria to serve their own political ends, and we would reveal how the Muslim world itself has depicted Mohammed throughout the ages.
That was the plan, anyways. Of course, Maclean’s, the Post and the Sun didn’t publish the cartoons. As we came closer to our production deadline, it dawned on us that no large-circulation publication and no TV station in the country had done so, and none would. We’d be the first.
We didn’t know what would happen; there had been a minor scuffle at a university in Halifax when a professor posted the cartoons on his office door–several belligerent students invaded his office and berated him. A larger protest followed, as did one in Toronto, apropos of nothing, in front of the Danish consulate. We decided to call the Calgary Police Service’s Middle East community relations unit, just to give them the heads-up about what was coming. We hired some extra security for our office, too, out of an abundance of caution.
The magazine was still at the printer when word somehow leaked out that we were publishing the cartoons. The Friday before we rolled off the press, the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun both called to confirm it, and it was front-page news in Calgary on Saturday. By noon that day, radio and TV stations had picked up the story and were running with it nationally, following me on a visit to Saskatoon just to get the details. By the time Monday morning rolled around–before a single newsstand or subscriber had received the magazine–it was front-page news across the country, and was being given Michael Jackson-style coverage on TV and radio. That day, CTV alone interviewed me three separate times. Before the week was out, the news of our publication was the subject of more than 100 news stories, including on Al Jazeera and China’s Xinhua.
Why was it such a big story? I don’t mean the cartoons themselves–we know why they’re news. But why was the fact that we published them considered news? The cartoons were the central artifact in the largest news story of the month. How could any self-respecting “news” outlet–other than radio stations that are forced to paint pictures with words–not display them? It wasn’t for us to answer why we published them, it was for the rest of the media to answer why they did not.
In fact, a large number of journalists privately complimented us for doing what their own publishers had not allowed them to do, and some wrote supportive columns. I received kudos from many interviewers during commercial breaks, and unsolicited e-mail notes and phone calls. There was a pent-up frustration amongst the press corps that they had not been permitted to fully plumb the issues behind the cartoons and the riots, and our decision to publish gave them an opportunity to do so, using us as a surrogate.
A smaller but more vociferous group of reporters took the opposite approach, either in criticizing our bona fide news decision to publish them (such as gratuitously mentioning the fact that Libin and I are Jewish), or in magnifying the reaction to our publication, such as when two of our newsstand distributors, Chapters/Indigo and McNally Robinson, decided not to stock that one issue (they’re both selling this latest edition). The eagerness among some of the press to report negative business ramifications bordered on the obsessive; it was as if they were hunting for some after-the-fact justification that their own decisions to censor themselves were valid. It was bad enough that we broke their censorship cartel and provided our lucky readers with the news they wanted. It embarrassed the self-righteous wing of the press corps that a plucky little magazine in Calgary showed more dedication to the craft of journalism than the grandees at CBC headquarters. But for us to do so without any severe suffering–as I write this, not a single protester has visited our offices, not a single bomb threat has been made–is an additional rebuke to their own timidity.
Publishing the cartoons did not create a frenzy among our subscribers or our advertisers. We actually sold several hundred new subscriptions, and hundreds more single-issue sales out of our office. It did not “inflame” the Muslim community. Our office was business as usual. The only people who went into a frenzy over it were the rest of the media, publicly examining their own neurosis about having failed in their duty to put reporting above political correctness.
It is by now trite to rebut the principal excuses made by the “mainstream media,” but let us do so again. I can think of five.
First, some editors said that the cartoons do not meet their editorial standards. They are “juvenile” said The New York Times (insert your own joke here about that never having been a problem for the press before). But we did not publish the cartoons as an editorial message from us; we neither agree nor disagree with the cartoons. We published them as a fact, as a piece of evidence, to illustrate what was being “blamed” for riots overseas. If juvenile cartoons could really cause embassies to be burnt to the ground, that is news that’s fit to print.
The second objection, made to me by Harry Forestall of the CBC, was that anyone who wanted to see the cartoons could find them on the Internet (though, not on the CBC’s website, of course). That’s partly true (they were online, but a challenge for some people to find), but that’s hardly the proper motto for something claiming to be a news organization. If the best argument the CBC can muster, with its billion-dollar-a-year tax subsidy, is that some little blogger is already meeting Canada’s demand for news, then what’s the point of having the CBC? Forestall’s point answers itself. The mainstream media is now about cultivating an official groupthink; those wishing contrary points of view or who want to judge spicy subjects for themselves must look elsewhere.
The third objection, made to me in a debate with Scott Anderson, VP editorial for all the CanWest newspapers, is that the media self-censored to avoid giving offence to religion. But that’s not credible. Not a day goes by without something offensive to Christians being published. The most shocking example, of course, was the photograph entitled Piss Christ,” wherein “artist” Andres Serrano photographed a crucifix immersed in a vial of his own urine, an image published in every magazine and newspaper in North America, and the source of much huffing and puffing from editors about freedom of speech. That’s just the biggest example; from Hollywood’s Last Temptation of Christ, to South Park’s treatment of Jesus, Christianity–and every other religion–has had to learn to deal with a free press through peaceful protest, such as writing letters to the editor.
I debated Anderson, and he admitted that “under different circumstances we may have published some of these cartoons to illustrate the story . . . but the reaction is so vitriolic and so angry . . . there is some deep offence here that I don’t see in the cartoons, but others obviously do.” So, Anderson acknowledged that the cartoons are fairly mild and that if he was truly following his own news judgment, he would have run them. But the response was just “so angry” that he caved in. I appreciated the honesty.
The Globe and Mail ‘s Edward Greenspon came up with a twist on Anderson’s explanation, saying that the cartoons were “unnecessarily provocative,” so he chose to censor them. Like CanWest, he chose to outsource his own editorial judgment to those who could show–or feign–the angriest offence. It is horrendous that major newspapers allow any angry heckler to veto them; it is embarrassing that editors would parrot the language of the censors by implying that the publication of the cartoons was done to provoke, as opposed to report the news. Greenspon’s argument, too, concedes that it wasn’t an editorial judgment, but a political or public relations judgment–the fear of “provoking”–that denied his readers their news.
The final and most delicious excuse offered by the media was that they did not publish cartoons out of “respect” for Islam. But the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal, especially on the key Muslim issue of sexuality. Strictly interpreted, Islam is against homosexuality, abortion and women’s rights–the touchstones for the liberal media, as they prove each federal election. Since when did the gay-friendly Globe “respect” sharia law, which condemns gays to death? Since when did the pro-choice, pro-feminist Toronto Star “respect” sharia, which strictly limits women’s rights? No, that is not respect. That is fear.
Perhaps it was that same incoherent fear that expressed itself through the mouths of the new Conservative defence and foreign affairs ministers. Gordon O’Connor announced that our publication would endanger our troops in Afghanistan; Peter MacKay said that freedom of speech must be limited to what is “responsible” and “appropriate,” and that his department would now “promote a better understanding of Islam internationally.” Our troops–including our many subscribers in the Canadian Forces–know that cartoons don’t kill people. Terrorists kill people. And the reason we have armed forces is to protect our freedoms. In response to his ministers’ gaffes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued his own statement, correcting the record and giving his unlimited endorsement to freedom of speech. These excuses seemed pretty flimsy to us, and to the majority of the thousands of people who e-mailed and phoned us from around the world. And, according to a February poll conducted by COMPAS, a public opinion research company, fully 70 per cent of Canada’s working journalists disagreed with their own editors’ decision to censor the cartoons–they supported our position.
The story has more or less played itself out. There are some loose ends, such as a complaint filed against us by some Calgary Muslim leaders, both to the police and to the human rights commission. Of course, this is a more civilized approach than the barbaric rioting overseas, and let us give credit to Canada’s Muslims where it is due. But that authoritarian instinct–to run to the police and the courts to enforce a Muslim religious edict, or even to settle a score or an argument–is deeply troubling.
As a lawyer, I see those complaints as nuisance suits, designed to waste our time and money, and as a further warning to other media that to defy the imams is not cost free. But the larger problem is that the official leaders of Canada’s Muslim community have not yet been inculcated in the concept of a truly diverse society, where differences of opinions are resolved without resort to the state, and where the rest of us do not have to submit to Muslim edicts. The biggest and most pleasant surprise in my week was the number of Muslim and Arab subscribers who signed up in solidarity with us. They told us they came to Canada to get away from sharia law, and they don’t want that law following them here. Perhaps our new minister of citizenship and immigration, Monte Solberg, will beef up the civics classes for new immigrants. Under the Liberal government, new immigrants were handed a little Canadian flag and told to vote Liberal. Perhaps it’s time we taught the supremacy of Canada’s Constitution, and that in this country we all submit to Queen Elizabeth’s laws.
The ruckus is over and we all survived. Hopefully, that in itself will encourage other media to live up to the industry’s supposed ideals in the future. For decades, journalists have claimed to follow a higher standard than other commercial industries, and have often looked contemptuously on other businesses. We see now that it was all a sham; when a real threat came to freedom of expression–not a benign church lady protesting Piss Christ, or a harmless customs officer trying to block some pornography, but the risk of true violence–Canada’s official keepers of freedom of speech hid under their desks. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association was silent; PEN Canada and Amnesty International actually told journalists to restrict what they say. So much for them. We should never grant them the moral high ground again. And Canadians who trusted those cowardly guardians with their liberal values–feminism, gay rights, abortion, secularism, true diversity, things that are at risk under sharia law–should do some contemplation. It’s an odd thing when a western magazine, widely perceived as conservative, is the chief bulwark against a theocratic muzzle on Canada’s Toronto-based liberal media.
I’ve never been prouder of our magazine, and everyone associated with it. Not a single member of our staff and not one of our owners disagreed with our decision to publish. And all this right on our second anniversary of publication. I can promise you many more years of independent, honest reporting that tells it like it is.
We received more than 7,000 letters in response to our decision to run the Danish cartoons–some supporting us, some condemning us. Thanks to all who took the time to write. Though we can’t run all the letters, here’s what some of you had to say:
Why publish the cartoons when you see the chaos that these publications are creating around the world? Must we bring the violence to Canada? Are you out of your minds? What in heaven’s name is wrong with you people? Do you want to be “right” or do you want to be happy?
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This is a short message of support, from a Canadian living in London, England, for your editorial decision to publish the controversial cartoons. The decision of many Canadian and British periodicals not to publish the cartoons undoubtedly has been based on genuine fear for the lives and safety of those associated with the publications. I suppose that such fear may be a good defence for their decision; after all, there is no rule that they must be brave. However, for these publications to deny that they are fearful, for them to offer up a spurious or misleading justification for the decision not to publish, and for them to vilify those who do publish, does not help to preserve a free and democratic society.
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I’m going to purchase a subscription. Why? Your magazine’s take on politics and my views are not on the same page–not by a long shot. But I do believe in free speech, and freedom of the press. Nobody tells me what to read; I’m a free man and this is a free society. This magazine is showing courage in the face of great loss, and I respect that.
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It is regrettable that you have decided to publish the infamous cartoons. You basically want to insult over one billion Muslims. Do you print nude men and women on the front page of your publication just to show the freedom of press?
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I felt tremendous relief when I read that you have published the cartoons. As a liberal feminist, I am crushed that the CBC has not published those cartoons, and I am glad that someone is standing up for basic principles of free speech. Usually I am against nearly everything the Western Standard stands for, but in this case I am grateful to you for defending me and my country against bullies and thugs.
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I don’t think anyone who has glimpsed the Western Standard would be surprised at what your “rag” publishes. We are aware that most of the writers are Jewish, no doubt the magazine is owned by Jews, therefore we know the motivation. The Jewish-owned media in Canada hides behind laws that protect Jews while stirring up hatred against others. It will be interesting to see what happens when the tables turn, like it did once before, in pre-war Germany.
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Thank you all for your bravery. My dad, who fought five years in the Second World War, would be proud. He hated pussies, as you can imagine.
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You’ve done the right thing. Your purpose is to inform, and accomplishing that mission takes courage. I applaud yours.
Keith A. Verble, MSgt, USAF
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These mild little pictures that you published could not have caused the uproar we see. Please put your money where your mouth is and show us the real thing. If these were really it, then we are dealing with Grade A paranoia.
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I have recently read of the persecution that your paper has suffered as a result of your decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons. Given the worldwide intimidation that has been perpetrated against any press daring to exercise their freedoms thus, your decision to do so was not only courageous, but a fine example to the craven press, who have allowed their agendas to be set by intimidation, violence and the threat thereof. I believe that your action was justified, in these circumstances or any others. Freedom does not exist where it cannot be exercised.
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So now the lives of our troops are in jeopardy because you, the editor, are an a–hole? Kudos to the retailers who declined to sell your rag. But have you learned nothing? You’re still offering to sell it? Your parents did a very, very bad job in raising you. You are a disgrace to this country!
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Though the Muslims riot worldwide and the media spins it to make it look like the rioters are foaming at the mouth, if these cartoons had been depicting Hitler with the Star of David in his eyes having tea with Benjamin Netanyahu, I fear the consequences would have been much more severe. We would likely see legal action, loud Jewish outcry and a few deportations to European countries that have stricter penalties for picking on Jews. So, now that the same laws your people enacted as a shield from scrutiny are being used against your Western Standard by Muslims, free speech has all of a sudden become something worth fighting for?
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I spent over two years in Saudi Arabia and left just before 9/11. I often watched the religious police beat and herd people into the mosques with sticks at prayer time. I saw the devout Muslims treat Indian, Pakistani and Indonesian Muslims as slaves, beat and mistreat them. I know that the only reason newspapers are not printing the cartoons is fear. We should print a cartoon every day on the front page until they understand that they cannot, and we will not, allow them to take away our freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of or from religion.
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What is it with you people? First you kill Jesus and now you’re attacking the Prophet Mohammed? No wonder Hitler felt so threatened seeing himself as a new-world saviour.
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I am the very proud mother of a son who chose to serve in the Canadian military. A young man, who wants to make a positive change in the world. To assist in restoring peace to the Middle East, so those people can live a life of less deprivation and hostility. You are simply sabotaging all the good the Canadian army is doing in Afghanistan, and you should be made an example of, as what not to be. You should be sadly ashamed of yourself, as should your mother.
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The world’s TV screens and newspapers have been filled with images of rioting Muslims and embassies ablaze, as well as stories of at least 12 people who have been killed in this carnage. What is missing is any sense of context. Seeing these cartoons, which are largely innocuous, makes this Islamic orgy of destruction even harder to believe.
The Western Standard has every human right to publish those cartoons, or anything else it deems worthy of information and conversation. Readers, consumers, advertisers, policy-makers and citizens in Canada, the U.S. and every freedom-loving nation in the world should stand with them, rather than with the self-appointed censors who are trying to shut them down, and with their weak-kneed, summertime friends who are sprinting into the tall grass now that things have gotten hot.
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We as Christians have nativity scenes vandalized at Christmas, but an Islamic cartoon is forbidden? Discouraged by Prime Minister Harper of all people? We really need a reality check in this country. Freedom of speech is a Canadian right, administered and controlled by Canadians, not Islamic fundamentalists or wimpy prime ministers.
Harry L. Jack
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Why do you feel a need to do this at this time? Why not when they were first published? Of course, it wouldn’t have been profitable back then. It would have simply been an insulting gesture to the Muslim community. But now you stand to profit from this, as we can already see it all over the news. Your name is everywhere. Now, that’ll pay. I guess you’re just doing “your job,” and you’ll probably hit the delete button after reading this letter, but I wish to remind you, at this time, that whichever religion you might be related to, God will remember your decision to have thrown fuel on the fire.
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At last, a magazine that tells it like it is! Thank you for the courage to stand up for freedom of speech. Why would anyone try to stifle the very freedoms that they came to Canada to enjoy?
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I support the decision of the Western Standard to publish the cartoons about Mohammed. Making fun of religion is something Canadians have done for a long time and we should not change. We recognize the dangers of organized religion, while valuing our own private spiritual pursuits. Maybe there should have been cartoons of all the major religions, showing the faults and hypocrisy of them all.
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Until recently, as a Canadian living and working in Indonesia, I had nothing to really worry about. The fanatics are nowhere near as plentiful as the western media would have people believe, and those that do exist tend to restrict their threats to people from countries who have caused them harm or offended them in some way. Canada’s near-spotless international reputation has protected us here for a long time. Until now. On behalf of all Canadians living in Muslim countries, I’d like to thank you for pretending to stand up for a free press with no regard for our safety.
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You’re doing the right thing but will be subjected to the usual opprobrium from multiculturalists and secularists–but you have a lot of support out here in the great Canadian hinterland. Tell Peter MacKay he will never be prime minister if he caves in to extremists. Why do these guys always turn into wimps once they are in power? I am not impressed. Who the hell do Stephen Harper and his cronies think we voted for? Not self-flagellating wimps.
I’m 54 years old and I may be alive when the barbarians rush in to take over my country, but at least I can remember better days when we thought our society and values were worth defending. Keep the lights burning out there in Alberta! You’re the only light we have left.
I admire your courage to report the news as it should be reported no matter what religion, culture or high-powered spouses are offended. The news should be reported as it happens without an editor’s spin just to gain attention, and if people are offended, that’s too bad.
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Although depicting God or a prophet is in itself blasphemous, according to Islam, this isn’t the main concern here. It was how the prophet was depicted as a terrorist. It’s very ironic how North Americans are investigating Islam after unfortunate events like these and are making this religion the fastest growing on the continent.
Anwar Syed Ahmed
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Finally, a voice speaks out against threats and intimidation. Christians and Jews have been satirized for ages in print and in cartoons, yet they do not threaten, terrorize and kill those who offend. Instead, they politely, yet at times heatedly, complain. It is about high time that Muslims the world over show the world that theirs is a religion of peace, rather than a religion based on threats, intimidation and terrorism.
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Huzzah for having the balls to publish those tepid little drawings, alone among Canadian publications. They may be cartoons, but they have nothing on the cartoons that pass for mainstream Canadian media.
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I have today purchased a subscription to your magazine. It’s good to see that someone in the media in this country recognizes the danger in knuckling under to the mob. It is discouraging to see how quickly the rest of the print media is prepared to compromise the concept of free speech. Everyone I have spoken to about this issue agrees with your position. You have more support than you may think.
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I support you and your magazine. I have recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan where my platoon suffered eight casualties, five of whom remain suffering to varying degrees. All Muslims I know here and abroad are very good people. Some are the best I know. The ignorance and intolerance of a few Islamic leaders are provoking the reaction to the cartoons. Simple drawings have provided extremists a fire to fan. I have first-hand experience of their so-called “Holy War” and it is about the same old things–power and money.
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You are an embarrassment to Albertans, Canadians and indeed, all socially conscious people the world over! I sincerely hope you are sued for causing hate and possibly violent acts by offended citizens. If you worked in any government office in this province or country and produced such offensive pictures you would be investigated to their fullest and dismissed, which is what should happen!
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Sanity and courage at last from someone in the Canadian media. Publishing those cartoons is about free speech and protecting our culture and values. Yes, it may offend; yes, it might be against Muslims’ religion, but it’s not against mine. They made an issue of it; they chose to try to force their values on us. Had they just shrugged the shoulders, the whole issue would have disappeared.
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As a committed social democrat, I probably disagree with many of your editorial positions, but I strongly commend your decision to publish the cartoons. Your rationale is dead on: without access to the images, no one can form a reasoned judgment about the entire controversy; a democratic society depends absolutely on access to all significant information about the world we live in. Self-censorship in a case like this is a capitulation to the irrational demands of a medieval culture. Good luck to us if we take even one step down that road.
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Thank you to the Western Standard from someone who escaped from an Islamic hellhole to live in a free country. The rest of the Canadian media has been so cowardly it is shameful.
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You should can your Jew publisher. In my opinion, he is a complete a–hole and he should be arrested, charged with the hate crime he has committed and deported to Israel.
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Most papers don’t print the “Muslim cartoons” because of fear, being scared of the most unreasonable “bullies.” Something else came to mind. Practically all the Jews that were sent to Nazi concentration camps in occupied Holland were picked up not by Nazis but by a police force which was almost 100 per cent anti-Nazi. Again: fear! I was there when it happened. And this is how the bullies get their way.
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McNally Robinson Booksellers is refusing to stock the latest edition of the Western Standard out of fear of offending Muslims. However, the company’s online site sells both Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I guess the double standard only applies if you are offending groups of individuals that will not respond with unjustifiable violence.
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Until you published these cartoons, I was proud to be living in one of the few countries that truly understood the concept of free speech. Free speech is a right we must all protect, but it also bears with it a heavy responsibility. As my husband often says, “Just because something isn’t wrong, doesn’t make it right.”
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This is a complicated issue that the mainstream media want to avoid and I think your gumption may result in serious discussions about free speech. It may cause some in the media to openly criticize those that use fear as a weapon against free speech. As a result of these discussions, the left-wing media may, in future, even show some respect for the tenets of all religions.
Undoubtedly, you’ll be vilified as a hatemonger or some such nonsense. Hang in there. There’s a silent majority that wish you well. I certainly do.
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The cartoons are news and need to be reported. It is definitely not an attack on anyone’s religion. This would never have come to the attention of the world but for the hysterical reaction of some Muslim fanatics. If any religion cannot accept any criticism, then it must indeed be fragile and terribly insecure.
R. I. MacKenzie
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I served in the Canadian Forces for many years and participated in “peacekeeping” missions. Ostensibly, my work and the work of my fellow soldiers, sailors and airmen/women was to promote human rights and, most importantly, freedom and political issues aside, we did the best we could. I applaud you for exercising your right to be free from coercion, duress and manipulation of the press. You can be sure my local retailer will be taken to task for his decision not to carry your magazine. Good for you and for us for having you. I may not always agree with your opinions and editorial policies but I am proud of your courage and integrity.
Read it all here. Meanwhile, Ezra Levant’s letter to the editor of the Yorkton News Review in response to Janet Keepings article on an ‘ethical‘ debate is in. Also, Ezra provides inspiration to Jackie Danicki; from her blog: Ezra Levant: OMG:
Because they could express themselves through words, they didn’t have to express themselves through violence…Part of the reason that hell holes like that are so violent is because they don’t have peaceful ways to vent ideas…I put it to you that unbridled political speech is not just allowed but it is the antedote, the prophylactic, against violence…A convicted murderer cannot be ordered to apologize but a convicted publisher can be ordered by the [Canadian] State to apologize. I’ll rot in hell before I use my mouth to say that fascist’s words with you as his instrument to compel me to do so.
Second, the very mean T-shirt continues its merger with an epic debate about, erm…certain body parts. From Blazing Cat Fur: Boobs and T-shirts, what summer is all about….:
Remember folks Alexander of Hollywood is donating 5 dollars from the purchase of any t-shirt to the Legal Defense Fund of the Freedom 5, so shop and be mean to Jennifer Lynch – just tell Alexander I sent ya.
This offer includes the the Keep Calm And Carry On series