Quebec Feminist Faces Trial Over Criticism Of Islamic School

Djemila_Benhabib01I have previously written (here and here) about how free speech is dying in the West, including the sanctioning of speech among our closest allies in France and England and Canada. The most recent case is out of Canada where a feminist author is facing a slander trial for merely expressing her contempt for an Islamic school. Djemila Benhabib, an award-winning author and past candidate for office in Quebec, is facing a demand for $95,000 from her for “greatly tarnishing” the image of the Muslim Schools of Montreal, a private institution that teaches elementary and high school. Her remarks occurred during a radio interview.


Benhabib was born in Ukraine in 1972 with a Muslim-Algerian father and Greek Cypriot mother. She is a leading critic of Islam and what she views as demeaning treatment of women. She was raised in a Muslim educational system. Along those lines, she opposed a private, Muslim school in Montreal which she compared to militant Islamic training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Benhabib objected to Islamic verses appearing on the school website, which were later removed. She also objected to a school pamphlet distributed in the community showing young girls wearing the hijab. Citing calls to learn to be faithful to Islam, Benhabib insisted that the school “resembles the kind of indoctrination similar to what goes on in a military camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan.” She also insisted that the school “models itself on a society different than ours. It’s a model where women have to lower their heads and walk behind men. Where kids are forced to learn Qur’anic verses and where, probably, men will commit honour crimes against their sisters.”

That all seems quite clearly opinion and would be protected speech in the United States. However, many have called for Benhabib’s liability for slander. Canada has shown the same type of intolerance for free speech that we have seen in Europe. Canada outlaws “any writing, sign or visible representation” that “incites hatred against any identifiable group.” These laws ban speech based not only on its content but on the reaction of others. Speakers are often called to answer for their divisive or insulting speech before bodies like the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

A Canadian court previously ruled that Marc Lemire, the webmaster of a far-right political site, could be punished for allowing third parties to leave insulting comments about homosexuals and blacks on the site. Echoing the logic behind blasphemy laws, Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley ruled that “the minimal harm caused . . . to freedom of expression is far outweighed by the benefit it provides to vulnerable groups and to the promotion of equality.”

The trial of Benhabib raises the same danger of chilling political and religious speech.  The school and its supporters are fully capable of responding to criticism with what they view as the truth.  The solution to any bad speech is more speech — not attempts to silence critics though torts or criminal law.

The Benhabib case begins Sept. 26.

46 thoughts on “Quebec Feminist Faces Trial Over Criticism Of Islamic School

  1. @Steve

    wow – that’s an incredible song. You are right – it would fit Jill’s campaign wonderfully.

    Re: Jesus Camp

    I came to this country mid-80s as a “stranger in a strange land”. So I set to work trying to figure out why things are the way they are – I discovered Neil Postman, John Taylor Gatto, Rabbi Lerner, Joe Bageant, Thomas Merton, Curtis White, Christopher Lasch, TR Reid, John Perkins, William A. Henry III, Barbara Ehrenreich, George Ritzer, Parker Palmer, Stuart Ewan, Gerry Spence, Thomas Frank, James Howard Kunstler, Cornel West, Studs Terkel, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, Thoreau, James Cone, Naomi Wolf, Jeremiah Wright, Sam Keen, James Hollis, Mary Pipher, Bill Moyers, Peter Gomes, Richard Rohr, Rabbi Kushner, Daniel J. Boorstin, Douglas Rushkoff, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Vance Packard, Chris Hedges, Allan Bloom, Toqueville, Robertson Davies, others too numerous to list — all gave me insight on the US from their unique perspectives.

    Then along came documentaries/mockumentaries – Morgan Spurlock, Michael Moore, Josh Fox, etc.

    I watched “Jesus Camp” because I was trying to understand why Christian fundamentalists think the way they do. And it was also a personal quest as my Ma is a “fundie” – despite attaining two MAs and living in Europe for 38 years she has never wavered. I am one of three kids – indeed the only one to have been baptized and join a church – I wrote about my experience with the Episcopal church a few months ago on this blog which you may or may not recall =). When I told Ma I was going to be confirmed her response was “well, that’s not really a church” and when she visits the Congregational church here she insists “God is not in this church” My take from watching Jesus Camp is when kids are indoctrinated early on very few of them escape the dogma.

    Lengthy post I know. But hell, it’s free speech right? =)

    • I came to this country mid-80s as a “stranger in a strange land”. So I set to work trying to figure out why things are the way they are – I discovered Neil Postman, John Taylor Gatto, Rabbi Lerner, Joe Bageant, Thomas Merton, Curtis White, Christopher Lasch, TR Reid, John Perkins, William A. Henry III, Barbara Ehrenreich, George Ritzer, Parker Palmer, Stuart Ewan, Gerry Spence, Thomas Frank, James Howard Kunstler, Cornel West, Studs Terkel, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, Thoreau, James Cone, Naomi Wolf, Jeremiah Wright, Sam Keen, James Hollis, Mary Pipher, Bill Moyers, Peter Gomes, Richard Rohr, Rabbi Kushner, Daniel J. Boorstin, Douglas Rushkoff, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Vance Packard, Chris Hedges, Allan Bloom, Toqueville, Robertson Davies, others too numerous to list — all gave me insight on the US from their unique perspectives.

      You learned not one blessed thing of value from the pen of Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Peter Gomes, Bill Moyers, Jeremiah Right, Naomi Wolf, James Hal Cone, or Cornell West. Your list, taken together, looks like the remainder bin of middlebrow shlock.

  2. The Canadians are fond of rules for everything. They have rules that pertain to school standards. Why doesn’t Ms. Benhabib point out how the Islamic school falls short of the standard that every other secular Canadian school has to meet. And, then ask why is it slander to point that out?

    • Because that’s not her beef. Her complaint is that a Muslim school incorporates Islam into its instructional program and disciplinary rules. Well, duh. If you don’t want that in Canada, you either have to screen out immigrants from the Muslim world, or, to play fair, give them chapter and verse when they apply for their visa about what the deal is in Her Majesty’s Most Passive-Agressive Dominion. But of course, you didn’t do that. You can suck it up or you can be a douche. She opts for douche.

  3. @ art deco

    “Middle brow schlock” riiiiiight. I get the reference to Curtis White’s most excellent screed on middle brow sensibilities. I particularly remember his take on the liberal darling Terri Gross – so apt that I cannot stand to listen to her any more.

    I learned a lot from all the authors I mentioned. But then we all respond differently. Vive la difference

  4. Art Deco: You remind me of one of those GS-upper teens who think they’re the cat’s meow of the mainstream. I have to salute your self-clarity!

    Autumn: Sheesh. You are such a liberal! Thanks for sharing.

    I’m a big fan of the late Joe Bageant; the late Howard Zinn; Chomsky (save for the vote-for-Hillary-in-swing-states theory which Jill correctly called cowardice); Bill Moyers; the late Art Buchwald; et al.

    My favorite Bageant quote:

    “AS AN ANGLO EUROPEAN white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. . . . Yes, we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo’s hedges with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It’s the world’s cheap labor guys like you — the black, brown and yellow folks who take it up the shorts — who make capitalism look like it actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We’ve got predator drones. . . .” – Joe Bageant

    My favorite Noam Chomsky quote:

    “’The war is simply a depraved act by weak and miserable men.’ Including all of us. Including myself. . . . The point that I’m trying to make and I think that ought to be made is . . . what seems to me a very – in a sense – terrifying aspect of our society is the equanimity and the detachment with which sane, reasonable, sensible people can observe such events. . . . I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler or [General Curtis] LeMay or other who crops up. These people would not be able to operate were it not for . . . this apathy and equanimity. And, therefore, I think that it’s in some sense the sane, reasonable, and tolerant people who share a very serious burden of guilt that they very easily throw on the shoulders of others who seem more extreme and more violent.” – Noam Chomsky, during interview by William F. Buckley, Jr., on Firing Line (1969).

    My favorite Art Buchwald quote:

    On a random bumper sticker he didn’t quite understand, “I heart my doghead.” – Art Buchwald

    • “AS AN ANGLO EUROPEAN white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot.

      OK, he has emphatically stated opinions about economic history, a subject about which he is ignorant.

      I think that’s more terrifying than the occasional Hitler or [General Curtis] LeMay or other who crops up. T

      You have to be a tenured professor at MIT to craft a bit of sophistry superficially appealing enough to explain why Curtis LeMay, an Air Force General and important cog in the Pacific theater during the 2d World War, and Adolf Hitler are to be spoken of in the same breath. You’d only do that if you were an adherent of a shallow and jejune utopian who complains pointlessly that people get killed in wars (a war Japan very much wanted) or you were a malicious prick. See Robin Lakoff on Chomsky as a human being: malicious prick without a doubt.

  5. @Steve

    Nope, NOT a liberal – that has been co opted by the decadent Demoncrats. IF I must have a label Progressive por favor! Man, I miss Joe SO much – he would so much have loved this (s)election dontcha know? Thanx for the quotes! He may be dead, but lives on in our hearts and minds.

  6. @Steve

    Bernie is KICKING it right now on his live stream!! OUR revolution is moving along gaining more momentum.

    JillnotHill 2016

  7. Anyone remember Mordecai Richler’s book “Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country”? Today the courts would be skewering him.

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