November/December, 1998 Volume XIII Number 3

Political correctness creates a smog around Islam: A case of selective tolerance

by Michael Coren

Mark Harding is a criminal. He must be, because the courts have made him so. An unusual criminal, in that this plump, 43-year-old father of two has been described by one friend as "a man incapable of anything but love and kindness." But he is, nevertheless, a criminal. A date has been set for his sentencing, which could include a period in prison.
Harding is an Ontario-based Christian activist who for five years has tried to convert Muslims to Christianity. He was convicted earlier this year of inciting public hatred for distributing leaflets condemning Islam and making disparaging comments about the Muslim faith and its followers.
After Harding's initial arrest he spent two days in jail because he refused to tell the police where he lived. He claimed he was frightened of reprisals and, indeed, he received several death threats once his address was announced.
"I've been spat on a lot, and had the hand across the throat gesture made to me, indicating I would be killed. Now they were more explicit. I have one recording of a man promising to castrate me with his teeth," he says, extraordinarily calm.
Then again perhaps he is not particularly surprised. His own leaflets were, while not violent, certainly rhetorical and fervent. True, many people would find his religious zeal disquieting, but that is hardly the point. Was he spreading hate and is the man hateful?
Those who speak in his defence say no, and that Harding would be the first to react to racist remarks and personal attacks. Many of his defenders are themselves from Islamic countries and the idea that race is an issue in all this is, frankly, as stupid as it is suburban. George Batarseh, for example, pastor of the Arabic Pentecostal Church in Waterloo, Ontario, stated, "the arrest of Mark Harding marked the day that freedom died in Canada."
But Harding does believe in the exclusive truth of Christianity and, thus, that the claims of Islam are false. Serious religion is not the stuff of banal compromise and fluffy moderation. An orthodox Muslim would testify to this just as would an orthodox Christian. We have only to witness the severe lack of religious liberty in Islamic nations to understand this reality.
But political correctness has created a smog around Islam, one that is genuinely difficult to clear. This is something Harding and his supporters claim they faced in the judicial system.
Nor was the court itself always particularly safe. On one occasion Harding and two others required police protection as a large crowd of Muslims gathered, some of them chanting "infidels, you will burn in hell."
During his trial Harding took a Bible in his hand and swore he had no hatred in his heart for Muslims and indeed that he loved them. Some might mock such a gesture but it is worth remembering that if Harding did not believe to the bottom of his soul in the contents of the Scriptures he would not have found himself in court in the first place. A lie at such a time with such a book is, to say the least, somewhat unlikely.
The man has had two heart attacks since his arrest, the first one at home, the second in the hospital. Doctors believe the heart condition was brought on by stress. Sad of course, Harding's opponents might argue, but irrelevant. The man broke the law. Yet so did every Canadian Muslim who called for the murder of Salman Rushdie when the British author visited Canada. No arrests were made then.
A free society depends on civility and some of Harding's remarks may have lacked that quality. But it also rests on the uninhibited expression of adult ideas concerning mature and sensitive subjects, even if some people are offended by such discourse. The notion that a great world religion such as Islam will be dented by one man's remarks or that Canadian Muslims will suddenly become victims of a pogrom because of a few leaflets is the stuff of liberal fantasy. As is, apparently, the idea of absolute tolerance.
Or, to put it another, way, we will tolerate you as long as we agree with you. Absolutely.

Michael Coren is a Toronto author and broadcaster.

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Political correctness creates a smog around Islam