I don't have it too bad.
I've been called a coward, a moron, a bad journalist, and worst of all a bad writer for having the audacity to express my opinions in this column, but at least I have never been arrested or put on trial for telling the truth.
That distinct honor has been reserved for Mark Steyn, the Canadian author who lives in self-imposed exile in New Hampshire.
Many of you have probably never heard of Steyn, which is a pity because he is one of the funniest, most insightful and well-rounded social critics since H.L. Mencken. He is also one of the most persecuted authors since Emile Zola published "J'Accuse" in 1898.
Zola wrote to save one man, the falsely prosecuted and convicted French captain, Alfred Dreyfus, from a conspiracy of small-minded Army officers; Steyn, on the other hand, writes on a practically daily basis to save small-minded Western civilization from itself. In his column, he typically muses about the great issues of our day - self-serving chaos in Washington, open borders in the Southwest, the incredible shrinking virtues of Hollywood, and the imminent demise of the West under the plodding, determined, insistent, grinding crush of Islamic domination.
It can truly be said of Steyn, as it was first said of Zola by the London Times, that his "true crime has been in daring to rise to defend the truth and civil liberty … [and] for that courageous defense of the primordial rights of the citizen, he will be honored wherever men have souls that are free…"
Except, of course, in Canada.
There he is put on trial by various "human rights" panels for his blatant exercise of free speech, most recently by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. Steyn and the Canadian newsmagazine Maclean's were recently put through a week-long Orwellian nightmare as Big Brother poked and prodded them to admit the error of their ways for publishing an excerpt of Steyn's best-selling book "America Alone."
The article, entitled "The Future Belongs to Islam," featured this introduction: "The Muslim world has youth, number and global ambitions. The West is growing old and enfeebled, and more and more lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it. It's the end of the world as we've known it."
The fact that no less a personage than the Archbishop of Canterbury recently suggested that imposing Islamic sharia law in Great Britain might be inevitable should prove in itself the truth of Steyn's claims. But truth is not considered a defense in "hate crimes."
And the ultimate irony is that the archbishop was criticized by Britain's equality czar for inflaming passions against the very Muslims whom he thought he was helping:
"The Archbishop's thinking here is muddled and unhelpful," said Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "Raising this idea in this way will give fuel to anti-Muslim extremism and dismay everyone working towards a more integrated society."
Oh my, it's no wonder that Steyn decided he needed to speak out in defense of common sense and common values. But when he told the truth about what is happening in Europe, Canada and elsewhere, he was sued by the Canadian Islamic Congress for stirring up "hatred" against Muslims and for causing injury to their "dignity, feelings and self-respect."
Of course, Steyn is not entirely alone. There are plenty of people who share his work of speaking out to defend our civilization, which has done more than any other in history to enshrine the idea of human rights, and which now is teetering on the brink of disaster.
But there are also plenty of people, maybe even more, who follow a naive agenda of "hand-holding and polite talk" as the antidote to terrorism, nuclear blackmail, armed aggression and suppression of human rights. It's these folks who get all squishy whenever someone says something that's not politically correct, but just might be factually correct.
Of course, since they often don't have the facts on their side, they sometimes have to resort to ad hominem attacks, threats or just pleas that you shut up. This is particularly true if you write about the neutering of America by folks who think the best way to solve our problems is to pretend they don't exist.
Last week, I wrote a column questioning whether Barack Obama's empty promises suggest that he is just a more mellifluous, hipper, knuckle-bumping version of every other demagogue who has yearned for power and said whatever was needed to obtain it.
That spurred one reader to write about me: "Doesn't he know his words have power? Doesn't he know he has a responsibility to his readers. It's called objective opinion… Do you really think people need or want your foolish, negative, useless comments on anything? Who the hell do you think you are? … The Media has a responsibility. Didn't they teach you anything about core values and ethics? Your comments are very sad."
She concluded by saying she didn't know why she kept reading my column, week after week, or even how I could keep my job.
Rather than brush aside these heartfelt comments, I tried to answer them reasonably, trying to explain that column writing is never objective and is not intended to be. Indeed, this is the very kind of speech that is meant to be protected by our First Amendment - the right to have opinions. I mean, if Mark Steyn can't say that he thinks Islamic fundamentalism is on the march against the traditional values of Canada and the rest of the West, what exactly can he say? Won't the Canadian government ultimately be poised to say that any criticism of its own leaders is also hate speech?
Here's the relevant piece of law from British Columbia (Section 7-1-b of the Human Rights Code): "A person must not publish, issue or display … any statement, publication … or other notice that is likely to expose a person to hatred or contempt."
Such a foolish law would have allowed Adolf Hitler to sue the Canadian government during World War II for its statements that Hitler was a menace to mankind. That's not an exaggeration either. It's the fundamental problem with hate-speech laws - they ban true speech as well as false. Fortunately for us in the United States, the First Amendment protects false speech as well as true, so we don't have the long arm of Big Brother sticking down our throat - yet. But it only takes one poorly decided Supreme Court case to lose the guarantees of a hundred years, or a thousand.
Now it seems like many of my readers, such as the one who wrote to me last week, don't think journalists should have opinions, and of course they are right about that in reference to news reporting, but opinion writing is just as old as news reporting, and it is by definition not objective but subjective. Opinions are the end result of having a human brain. To ban them is to perform a kind of institutional lobotomy, which would have a rather limiting effect on the meaning and practice of free speech.
It would be a funny kind of world really if everyone were to operate on the principles my reluctant reader proposed. "Shut up and 'be objective'" about sums it up.
Of course, how can you ever learn the objective truth unless you listen to different opinions? Are we really all supposed to be born with objective truth stuck somewhere in the back of our cranial backpack. Just add water and watch the truth spew forth like some kind of campers' gruel? I'm afraid that kind of ready-made truth is a little too close to brainwashing for me.
Instead of relying on someone else's idea of who I am supposed to be, I have had to learn to think for myself by reading a variety of philosophers, historians and novelists, among other activities, none of which agreed with each other, but all of which proved that the pursuit of truth should be tireless, zestful and without caution.
I hope I don't ever live in an America where people are expected to "toe the line" of TRUTH, or else keep their mouths shut. Which, I guess, also means I am glad I don't live in Canada.
Good luck, Mark Steyn, and keep up the good fight.
. Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake and writes a weekly column. E-mail responses may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org