Thursday, July 06, 2006

Open a dialogue

Sheikh Riyadh ul Haq, a controversial Muslim scholar from the U.K., decided not to try to enter Canada again, but instead delivered a lecture on being a better Muslim to the Youth Tarbiyah Conference in Scarborough, Ontario by video link.

A coalition of Canadian Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and gay rights groups operating under the banner of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies contacted Canadian Immigration Minister Monte Solberg to protest his visit here because, they said, he glorifies martyrdom and preaches hatred toward Jews, Hindus, moderate Muslims and homosexuals.

For example, his published speeches quote him as saying that the Jews and Hindus harbour the greatest hatred for Muslims, and apologized for “polluting” a mosque by saying the word “homosexual.”

Sheikh ul-Haq, for his part, said he did no such thing and that his statements had been taken out of context.

The question is: should we, a free, democratic society, ban the expression of ideas that make us uncomfortable? I would not agree with most of the speeches attributed to the Sheikh, but I can see where he might be coming from. In other words, I think he could make a case for some of his more objectionable statements. We may not agree with them, but shouldn’t we fight for his right to say them?

I don’t think we should defend the expression of outright hatred, but the quotes brought up by the Coalition for Democracies don’t seem to cross that line (although they do get awfully close).

The efforts of the Coalition did not stop the Sheikh from communicating his ideas. In fact, it gave them more prominence.

But shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? Isn’t the best way to combat hatred and destructive ideologies to confront them?

If we bar this man’s message from open discourse, we merely push it underground, where it festers. In the open, we can show everyone who’s interest how false the argument for hatred is; but if we don’t see it, then we can’t do that and we inadvertently grant the hate mongers more power.

Ban ul-Haq or confront him? Tell me what you think.

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