Calgary lawyer Collin May began a new job last week. He was promoted to chair the Alberta Human Rights Commission after serving on it since 2019.

Mr. May’s appointment was met with a storm of protest. Why? It seems that back in 2009 he did a book review that was less than flattering of Islam. The book was Israeli-British historian Efraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism: A History. In his review, May concurred with the author that the religion is inherently militaristic in nature, writing that Islam “is one of the most militaristic religions known to man, and it is precisely this militaristic heritage that informs the actions of radicals throughout the Muslim world.”

His critics have strongly opposed his leadership of the commission and some have demanded an apology. He has even been accused of racism which is odd, if not predictable, considering that Islam is a religion, not a race. Out of curiosity I read his review and there is nothing about race in it. I have not read Karsh’s book, so I can’t comment on the quality of May’s analysis.

In any case, May has said he has changed his mind about Islam’s militaristic nature. He has not, however, apologized. Nor should he. His critics are conflating two quite different things.

In this country, we are allowed to hold negative views of institutions and ideologies, including and most importantly powerful institutions such as major religions. It’s called freedom of belief. And we have the right to express those views publicly. It’s called freedom of expression. Both are in the Charter.

But holding negative views of an ideology and holding negative views of the individual believers of that ideology are two fundamentally different things. I am a social democrat who holds negative views of conservatism. If a conservative should commit a crime, should I therefore recuse myself from serving on the jury that hears his case? I am also an atheist who holds negative views about most religions (including Islam). Must I therefore be denied serving on the jury of a Christian, or a Jew, or a Hindu, who is charged with a crime?

I think not. Such thinking is the enemy of pluralism in a free society. Yet that is the path the critics of Mr. May are on. It’s a dangerous path.

I may have little use for any particular political philosophy or religion, but I’m obligated to respect the rights of my fellow citizens as individuals, regardless of their politics or religion.

As to Mr. May’s alleged sin, Islamophobia, there are two versions. There is Islamophobia, a negative view of the religion; and there is Islamophobia, prejudice against individual Muslims. The former is one’s own business; the other is an offence against both morality and law. A reading of May’s book review shows that it clearly reflects the former.

Perhaps those who have implied Mr. May is a bigot, unfit for a human rights panel, simply because he criticized Islam, owe him an apology. Right after they’ve reread the Charter.

One thought on “Must we not criticize Islam?”
  1. You think that’s good. Try pointing out that you don’t believe that humans can change sex. You’ll lose your job for that, and if our federal government has its way, possibly charged with hate speech. I agree with you totally. Criticizing an ideology or religion is perfectly reasonable, in fact, absolutely necessary. What ideology SHOULD be immune to criticism?

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