Quebec Feminist Faces Trial Over Criticism Of Islamic School

I 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. “You think no form of speech should be off limits to save embarrassment and/or hurt feelings because of inalienable rights?”

    Are you suggesting one has an unalienable right not to have their feelings hurt? In your example, can you demonstrate how the employer’s exercise of free speech, in his own home, attended voluntarily by his employees, infringed on the natural rights of the woman? Prove that and I’m all in.

    1. Olly: The answer is that it depends under current First Amendment law. Back in the hippie days of the late ’60s through the big hair days of the mid-’80s, the Supreme Court wrote a series of groundbreaking opinions which give different levels of constitutional protection to speech depending on whether the plaintiff (the person who was humiliated) was a public individual or entity (meaning someone considered a household name), a limited public figure (meaning someone intentionally thrusting himself or herself into the forefront of a particular public controversy to influence its resolution), a private individual (meaning someone who cannot command the attention of the media when he or she so desires or one who is only involuntarily injected into a public controversy), whether the defendant was from the media, and lastly whether the libelous statement was a matter of public or private concern.

      In the hypothetical I offered, if it was a private individual whose employer intentionally misrepresented her as a prostitute in front of fellow employees perhaps simply to get back at her for not taking his money, in some if not many states such a statement would be actionable as slander per se. The common law would apply, and the defendant employer would have absolutely zero protection from the First Amendment. The constitutional privilege only pertains to matters of public concern.

      As for my personal belief, I think there are some statements or writings that can be so unreasonable and baseless that they should be actionable as defamation because of the harm they do. I haven’t enough experience in First Amendment law to be critical of the current matrix because it currently provides broader speech rights than in any other capitalist regime. Leave it to those darned liberal judges from that era to give us broader speech rights.

  2. @squeek

    Happily going off topic AGAIN (!!) – wanted to share LTMB’s latest video on the MSM’s attempt to portray Jill Stein as a spoiler. Love Jill, like Tulsi Gabbard, Nina Turner, Rosario Dawson, Shailyn Woodley. Women I can believe it!

    1. Autumn: No, I haven’t seen it, but I don’t know that I’d want to waste my time on it. Total crap, unless you describe some redeeming quality I might find in it.

      I’m threw with those messed up people, wanting me to descend in the trauma that got them there, and the excuses they make denying their own lives. Life’s too short.

      Meanwhile, Jill needs to make this music and lyrics her campaign anthem:

      I wonder if Garry, Matt, and Alicia would approve its temporary use?

  3. @Steve

    Did you see the film? We watched some years ago and my blood boiled for days! Not one I’d like to re visit =)

  4. @Wildlife

    Yup, this is a free speech blog so I am free to post whatever I want – on or off topic.

    You second wave feminists have done more to hurt women than downright chauvinists. Belittling women who choose to stay at home rather than pursue a “career” for instance. Truly despicable.

    Gloria Steinem shaming women who were voting for Bernie Sanders rather than HRC – a warmonger who is intent on destroying the world with the TPP. Is she pushing for Jill now given that they have the same genitilia? Doubtful – depravity never stopped Steinem from sticking with identity politics.

    You guys are old school and irrelevant to younger women. No one cares about your ideals. Except Milo of course – he delights in calling y’all out.

  5. This woman’s agitation is contra the franchise of parents to select the educational program their children will follow and contra people’s freedom of association (to do such things as form schools which have a programme she dislikes). I’d be more viscerally sympathetic if she seemed to think someone other than those who think like her have some rights too.

  6. The analogy that even a broke clock is right twice a day comes to mind when I read these posts/threads. The correct time being when the topic or comment aligns with the security of unalienable rights. Continuing the analogy, when asked what “time” it is, many will skip right passed the fact the watch is broken and go into a lengthy description of how to build the watch.

    Teach all religions, teach all forms of government, teach………! How ’bout we just teach people to use reason and logic. You know, critical-thinking skills. And teach them about natural, unalienable rights. In Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” he say’s:

    “For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is freedom. And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all–freedom to make public use of one’s reason in all matters. But I hear on all sides the cry: Don’t argue! The officer says: Don’t argue, get on parade! The tax-official: Don’t argue, pay! The clergyman: Don’t argue, believe! (Only one ruler in the world says: Argue as much as you like and about whatever you like, but obey!). . All this means restrictions on freedom everywhere. But which sort of restriction prevents enlightenment, and which, instead of hindering it, can actually promote it ? I reply: The public use of man’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men; the private use of reason may quite often be very narrowly restricted, however, without undue hindrance to the progress of enlightenment. But by the public use of one’s own reason I mean that use which anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public.”

    1. Olly: I don’t know that I understand what you’re arguing.

      So, if a man or a woman were invited to his or her employer’s home with his or her wife and, over cocktails, the employer – who doesn’t like the employee – and before a room full of other employees says something absolutely untrue akin to the wife being one of the girls the employer used to pay for sex at the local bar, my understanding of your argument is that such a statement should not be libelous because of free speech rights.

      You think no form of speech should be off limits to save embarrassment and/or hurt feelings because of inalienable rights? The sticks-and-stones-will-break-my-bones argument?

      Shouldn’t we be hitting liars who embarass or hurt us in the pocketbook instead of in the face?

      If I’ve misconstrued your argument, my advance apology.

    2. How ’bout we just teach people to use reason and logic. You know, critical-thinking skills. And teach them about natural, unalienable rights. In Kant’s “What is Enlightenment?” he say’s:

      How ’bout you and your chums form a school which does that? The county government will hand you a voucher, you give it to the school trustees, and they turn it in to a county fund and they get cash for the next fiscal year. All that has to happen is that the youngsters at your school have to get adequate performance scores on some spare regents’ examinations and you’re all in compliance with the truancy laws and the attorney-general won’t sue to have the school closed and its assets distributed to successor foundations.

    1. @Autumn. It’s creepy. I don’t think it’s healthy. I’ll give you that. That’s all I’ll give you

      You’re way off topic. Free speech, dear. Hello? Is anyone home upstairs?

      Not only is this intellectually dishonest, an attempt at distraction and childish, it also has nothing to do with free speech. Indeed you’re making a case for free speech. They are telling people how they feel, but their not forcing their beliefs on other people on threat of death.

      As a second wave feminist I find your comparison repugnant.

      Indeed, there seems to be a strong case for equality in this video regardless of the nature. I don’t see them trying to undo a 100 years of the suffrage movement.

      The bottom line is that there is no defense of ideology that subjugates women. So you have to throw this distraction into the mix.

      It’s a freakish group, but I don’t care. Mind your own business and maybe you’ll find that it makes you a better person.

      Shame on you for attempting to justify those to see me and my sisters as no better than cattle.

      1. The bottom line is that there is no defense of ideology that subjugates women. So you have to throw this distraction into the mix.

        Ha ha ha. ‘Subjugates women’ has an elastic definition.

  7. @Steve

    RE: “The defendant is trying to make the case that all Muslims attending the school will turn out like the nutcase radical CHRISTIAN who received from god his 14-year-old virgin, Elizabeth Smart, and raped her at least once a day for nine months. NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE RADICALS.”

    Spot on! We must stop making assumptions about those with differing religious beliefs. And call out those who do!

  8. The analysis here in the US might look something like the following:

    At common law, the defendant (the alleged slanderer) would be defending an action for slander per se based on 1) improper conduct in the school’s business, trade, or profession and . General damages would be presumed (no need to explain how someone’s reputation would be injured by such a statement nor to prove special damages. The defense of fair comment where the matter is of certainly of a public concern would arguably be a loser because the comments may have been fair but not accurate unless honor crimes have occurred there or the indoctrination is akin to a military camp in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

    Then the action runs into the First Amendment privilege. On matters of public concern, the First Amendment gives wide latitude to uninhibited debate, i.e., to make false defamatory statements that otherwise would be actionable at common law. To get over the First Amendment hurdle, the school would have to prove 1) falsity; 2) mental fault; 3) actual malice for damages to be presumed.

    Actual malice is a legal term of art which requires the plaintiff to prove by “convincing clarity” (which is the highest standard of proof in civil court, but not quite as high as beyond a reasonable doubt) that the defendant had knowledge of the falsity of her statements or made them with reckless disregard of their falsity (meaning a high degree of awareness of probable falsity).

    First, it seems to me that referring to a “Muslim school” or a “Muslim education” or the “Muslim religion” reflects a lack of knowledge. These are Islamic schools and Islamic education and the Islamic religion. The children who attend are Muslims.

    Secondly, I think that unless there’s something the defendant, Djemila Benhabib, knows that we don’t, the plaintiff school could show by convincing clarity that the defendant recklessly disregarded the probable falsity of her statement that students at the age of majoirty would be led to commit honor crimes against women.

    The defendant is trying to make the case that all Muslims attending the school will turn out like the nutcase radical CHRISTIAN who received from god his 14-year-old virgin, Elizabeth Smart, and raped her at least once a day for nine months. NOT ALL MUSLIMS ARE RADICALS.

    In my opinion, reasonable people don’t say shi’ite like that unless they have the facts to back it up, and that’s with the constitutional privilege. I’d have sued her butt, too.

  9. There must be a ‘watchdog’ on any education system in a Western secular country. Most countries have laws that require children to be educated through a certain age. The countries determine the education and how to ascertain the level of the students’ achievements. All the fairy tales should be taught at home and in the churches, synagogues, and mosques and never in the places of education. Canada is a multicultural but secular nation. It is the responsibility of the government to monitor the activities of all schools, public and private, that teach any children from elementary through high school. If this sort of perversion was indeed happening in the ‘Muslim Schools’ then Ms Benhabib should be able to sue the government for not doing its job, for fostering terrorism, for any one and all of a slew of offenses.

    The rest is the fine line between free speech and slander, free speech and inciting crimes, etc. On the one hand it appears, on the surface, to be an attack on free speech. The potential spin off should be that if Ms Benhabib’s allegations are found without credibility then she should be prosecuted for slander. If her allegations are found to have credibility then the brainwashing should be stopped, the brainwashers should be charged, and the government should revisit this seemingly never ending problem.

    A child of a country is first a child of that country and is protected along with its religion by that country. If parents are to be free to infuse their children with all sorts of mumbo jumbo then that child must have access to the education determined by the state. Religion by its very foundation is built on division. For their to be ‘only one’ there has to be a division between the believers in this ‘only one’ and any other ‘above alls’, ‘the light and the way’, etc. The future of democracy does not rest on division but on universal perspective. The education system of a nation must be there for every child to present a universal perspective that includes all divisive perspectives. It is a question of direction. Religion directs one away from universality and towards divisiveness. Religion must be kept subservient to the universality of Western secular nations. It is one thing for an individual who has had the benefit of weighing and balancing philosophies and beliefs, it is somewhat another for an individual to have been brainwashed its entire life by mumbo jumbo about hippie agitator water walkers, flying pedophile horsemen, or people who talk to burning bushes.

  10. On a related note, Dan Dennett makes a good case for teaching religion in schools; that is, as history.

    Advocacy of any faith (from faculty or administrators), however, should not be allowed in any taxpayer-funded school.

    1. The same should be done with forms of government. Most US students don’t have much of a grasp of the US government system. They should be taught comparative government systems to weigh the potential merits and flaws of each system. Teaching only that the US system is the best is the same as teaching that one religion is the best.

    2. On a related note, Dan Dennett makes a good case for teaching religion in schools; that is, as history.

      Daniel Dennett can teach his own children or send them to a school of his choice. What other people do is not his business.

  11. No group or religion should be insulated from criticism. Blasphemy laws or laws that criminalize criticism of religion are dangerous to humans.

  12. If only she had gone after a Christian school. She would have been lauded as a progressive hero!

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