In May of this year, lawyer Collin May was appointed by cabinet order as chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission after serving on the commission for three years. Then he was “outed.” Some sleuth discovered that in 2009 May had written a book review that supported the thesis that Islam is an “imperial political religion.” He was accused of Islamophobia and cries arose for his dismissal. Over two dozen of Alberta’s Muslim organizations and mosques wrote a public letter to Justice Minister Tyler Shandro asking for his resignation. On September 15 Shandro fired him.
Islamophobia is a burdened word, called upon to provide two meanings that are entirely different. The first means phobic, i.e. have an extreme or irrational fear or aversion, toward Islam. The second means discrimination against Muslims because of their faith. As I have said elsewhere, the first is one’s own business, the other is offensive both morally and legally.
I have read both May’s book review and the Muslims’ letter. The book review does indeed claim that Islam is an “imperial political religion” with “a militaristic approach to non-Muslims.” Strong stuff. But as for the second meaning of Islamophobia, there isn’t a hint of prejudice against individual Muslims.
Is Islam particularly militaristic or imperialist? I can’t say but in any case, that’s irrelevant. Right or wrong, May has the Charter right to hold that opinion and freely express it.
As to the Muslims’ letter, they conflate the two meanings of Islamophobia. After attacking passages in May’s review, they offer as justification for their concern assaults on “Black Muslim women wearing hijab.” Other critics, including NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir, went entirely overboard and added the charge of racism. The use of the second meaning of Islamophobia as an instrument to suppress criticism of Islam is egregious.
Interestingly, one of Mr. May’s strongest critics, Osgoode Hall Law Professor Faisal Bhabha, has been accused of anti-Semitism and B’nai Brith circulated a petition to prevent him from teaching human rights. From my reading of the affair, Mr. Bhabha was no more guilty of anti-Semitism than Mr. May was of Islamophobia, and his York University colleagues quite rightly came stoutly to his defence, emphasizing academic freedom. Bhabba was accused of anti-Semitism as a result of criticizing Israel, a case not dissimilar to May’s—two men who promote human rights being unjustly accused of bigotry.
There is no small irony in May being fired from the Human Rights Commission for exercising his human rights. And over a dozen years after he committed his “sin.”
May has not accepted his dismissal passively. He is not going quietly into that good night. He has filed a lawsuit against the justice minister, seeking $1.12-million in damages for breach of contract, a public apology for wrongful termination, the costs of the suit, and a further $1-million for moral and punitive damages. Considering the tarnish this is to his reputation, the latter is not surprising.
Justice Minister Shandro should have defended May, discreetly reminding his Muslim supplicants about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But he chose instead to do the politically correct thing, so May will see him in court.
I have a personal interest in this case because I, too, have expressed negative views about Islam, as I have about Christianity, more often of the latter than the former. I am no lover of religion.
According to the logic of May’s critics and the justice minister I, too, would be unfit to sit on a human rights commission. And what else? Would I be eligible for jury duty? What if a Muslim or a Christian were accused of a crime, would I be allowed to sit on the jury that tried him? One must assume not. And does this censuring extend into the area of politics as well? Could I, a social democrat who has frequently expressed negative views of conservatism, be trusted to sit on a human rights commission when conservatives might appear before it?
I cannot help but wonder what other citizens’ rights and responsibilities May’s detractors would deny those who have the audacity to criticize a major religion. How much should their citizenship be diminished?
So I wish Mr. May well with his lawsuit. Justice Minister Shandro is currently facing a disciplinary hearing this month before the Law Society of Alberta for unprofessional conduct in other matters. The lawsuit adds to his troubles, troubles he well deserves.