Salim Mansur has recently published a book on multiculturalism, The Delectable Lie, published by Mantua Books. He was in Regina, Saskatchewan, last week, speaking about and debating the topic with Khurram Awan. Salim Mansur is a professor of political science at The University of Western Ontario and, as regular readers of Eclectecon know, a good friend. Khurram Awan is an attorney who worked for a group of Muslims in their human rights cases against Rogers Communications, Maclean's magazine, and writer Mark Steyn.
The deck was clearly stacked against Mansur, who has been described as a modern, moderate Muslim. There was virtually no advertising of the event at the university, despite my pleas that the event be advertised widely. And it appeared that about 80% or so of the audience was made up of friends of Awan.
Mansur's presentation focused on the contrast between 19th-century liberalism and many different cultures. He relied heavily on political philosophy, John Stuart Mill, and catch-phrases from the U.S. Declaration of Independence (probably a strategic error in presenting to a left-leaning, anti-US audience). He also cited incidents of honour killings in Canada and Pierre Trudeau's reported regrets about having supported multi-culturalism.
Awan focused on legal aspects, essentially saying that all cultures must abide by the laws of the land.
I found the entire event extremely disturbing.
- Questioners were clearly hostile to Mansur and were allowed to make inappropriately long speeches themselves attacking him. One, in particular misquoted Mansur, misrepresented Mill, and attacked his reference to the US Declaration of Independence, all to audience nods and wild applause.
- In response to all these questions, Mansur continued to emphasize that they would not be able to have these discussions in a country that doesn't value freedom as much as we do in Canada, and that is his concern. This point seemed to fall on deaf ears.
- When I asked Awan how to reconciled the freedoms of expression and religion when they come into conflict, he launched into a discussion of "hate speech", which was appropriate, and then mentioned "competition in the marketplace for ideas", a view to which most classical liberals subscribe. His only criticism of this view was that he thought Rogers had an obligation to provide a venue for opposing views so that this competition could take place. Afterwards, I took him to task for that position (not being allowed follow-up questions and not being allowed to make a speech myself). He admitted that he, himself, would feel no obligation to provide equal time for Mansur's views in his own speeches, but argued that Rogers had/has an obligation to provide equal space for people who oppose views like those of Mark Steyn.
Of course this is incorrect. When I called him on it, he alleged that Rogers has a monopoly in the media. Nonsense. The CBC and many other media outlets certainly provide support for views counter to those of Mansur or Steyn (or Ezra Levant, for that matter). Also, if the issue is one of monopolization of the media, that should be a Competition Policy issue, not a human rights issue.
- A Muslim woman complained that Corner Gas doesn't hire female comedy writers but that she is a writer for CBC's "Little Mosque on the Prairie." She somehow attributed her freedom to be a comedy writer in Canada to her Muslim faith, but the logic of that escaped me. Nevertheless, the audience applauded wildly. Once again Mansur's response essentially said that she is lucky to be in Canada, for surely Muslim women in other countries, where Muslim and Arab cultures dominate, would not have the freedom to pursue such interests. Again, the pithiness of this type of response seemed to slip right past the audience.
In Mansur's book, I am especially enamoured of his work on the clashes of freedoms. For example, on p119, he approvingly cites Dworkin's piece, "The Right to Ridicule."
The theme throughout his book is well-stated on p134:
Multiculturalism was promoted as a policy that would make for a tolerant, accommodating and peaceful society tending towards increased diversity as a result of open-door immigration policy. But tolerance of the intolerant, the accommodation of those who push extremism of one sort or another as the Islamists or the Khalistani Sikhs have done, under the cover of multiculturalism [EE: and, I would add, under the cover of "freedom of religion and charter guarantees] has amounted to the undermining of liberal democracy from the inside. This is the paradox of liberal democracy, its vulnerability resulting from its concerns to improve the conditions of living for its citizens and its commitment to remain true to its principles of freedom and individual rights even as some might want to subvert them.
As I blogged many years ago, when the freedoms conflict, freedom of expression must take dominance over freedom of religion. Otherwise intolerant religions will dominate.
Update: Here is yet another example of the clashes that can result as we try to work our way through the conflicts between various freedoms [h/t Jack].