Monday, June 02, 2008

The Passion of The Steyn

Once upon a time, when I was much younger, I attended a week-long labour convention, probably one of my first two or three. When I emerged at last from the fevered debates, the backroom politicking, the front-room schmoozing, the odd alliances, the late-night drink-'n'-plot left gatherings, the sheer exhilarating exhaustion of it all (and I wasn't running for anything at the time, either), I was amazed to see people going about their business as usual, none of the hot topics on the conversational radar, little or no newspaper coverage. Even my union brothers and sisters at home weren't particularly excited about where I'd been, let alone what went on there over the previous few days.

It wasn't that I thought everyone should be a union zealot like me. (They should, of course, but that's another story.) It was that we had been at the centre of things, dammit, the white-hot core of the issues that matter, and surely, even as spectators, everybody else must have been on the edge of their seats.

Well, no.

I'm reminded of this when we vanish into the blogosphere for hours and days at a time and think we've arrived at World Information Central. Even with our critical faculties on full alert, we can be lulled into thinking that this place--this cyberspace alive with chatter--is at the very heart of the universe. Surely everybody on the planet must be talking about the Mark Steyn Trial of the Century. And Human Rights Commissions, the Spanish Inquisition redux, coming soon to your own door. (Worse!) This hed just about says it all, doesn't it?

Well, as they say, welcome to the real world, kiddies. No, the Steyn auto-da-fe is not being widely reported, except by the usual suspects. The irons are not being heated, the gallows rope is not being tested, the whips are not soaking in brine, the cold, dank cells are not being outfitted with new batches of mouldy straw.

Get a grip, people.

Mark Steyn is not Nathan Hale, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King rolled into one. (The last two would be too dark for his taste in any case.) He's a prolix second-rate semi-journalist who is at the butt-end of a silly human rights complaint that will, I confidently predict, be dismissed out of hand.

(I realize that I shall have to eat gargantuan portions of crow if I am wrong about this. But I don't believe for a moment that I am.
Need I remind people that there has not been a single complaint--not one--upheld against The Steyn, nor against any magazine or newspaper in Canada for publishing him?)

Nope, free speech isn't on trial, folks. We aren't threatened with the loss of our rights. The tumbrils and cattle-cars remain empty. Canada is not, and never will be, a gulag. The BC Human Rights Tribunal is no kangaroo court. (If you want to see one of those, in full glorious Technicolor, check out the Khadr "trial." The indignant Right seems to have missed that one.) The state is not about to take over editorial-writing for the National Post or Maclean's. Ordinary Canadians are not being aroused to the point of madness by a Spanish Inquisition part deux. No one is being hanged, burned, tortured to death, jailed, or even ordered to shut the hell up.

Heh. There's always hope. And believe me, the Right is hoping, with eyes squeezed shut and all fingers crossed, that the BC Human Rights Tribunal upholds the complaint against Steyn and Maclean's. Don't take my word for it.

Imagine the let-down if things go the other way, the hot air hissing slowly out of the balloon. What show trial ends with an acquittal? (Or, in this case, because the hearing in BC is not a trial, with the dismissal of a complaint?) Denied martyrdom, The Steyn will have to write another column or two, I guess, claiming that sheer popular will cowed the Tribunal into submission. His followers will claim victory, but will do so gritting their teeth until their fillings sing, robbed of their High Noon moment.

No wonder the Right, fantasizing imminent martyrdom and sword-bearing bravery on the field of a non-existent battle, has had to content itself with fussing about Barbara Hall's off-the-cuff comments about civility as she dismissed an identical human rights complaint in Ontario. That's all they've got. It's all they're gonna get. Hah! More, more acquittals! Poke them with soft pillows! Cardinal Fang, fetch the Comfy Chair!

Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians are going about their daily routines unconcerned and un-rounded-up. Nothing major is at stake here. Step away from that blogosphere, just for a moment. Lift your noses out of the National Post. There are no threats against the lives and liberties of Canadians. People can still say just about any vulgar, brainless, uncivilized thing they want--and some do. Unless they are stirring up actual hatred or contempt for identifiable groups of their fellow-citizens, or being defamatory, e.g., publicly calling Human Rights Commission employees criminals (well, hold on--they've been doing the latter with impunity too), they can publish all the nasty articles, columns and blogposts that they can spew.

They can rail against beige people having too many babies. They can publish offensive cartoons. They can defame an MP on the basis of his national origin.They can yowl about bus drivers and soccer players wearing hijab. They can sniffle and pout about the one thin line of defence that ordinary people without deep pockets can access if they are discriminated against--Human Rights tribunals.

Fill your boots, bigots. You're safe from the likes of me, except verbally, and so you darned well should be. This is Canada. I love the place. It's still a civil part of the globe, more or less. Civility, in fact, is a value that many might argue is quintessentially Canadian. This generality, alas, doesn't apply to Mark Steyn, nor to his ragged band of raucous ideologues and venomous camp-followers. But they are in a tiny, tiny minority. And so is the audience for this non-event Trial of the Century. (Keep waving those blank signs, people! Way to make a really compelling political statement to the masses.)

"Free Mark Steyn," they bleat. Good grief, what a malodorous mixture of hallucination, impudence and sheer self-indulgence. And these clowns expect to be taken seriously.

No fear. Most folks aren't even aware of them. This is one show that isn't exactly high in the Nielson ratings. Maybe add a laugh track, fellas?

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