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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Has the man who sued the Western Standard changed his mind about anti-freedom of expression laws?

Who is Syed Soharwardy?

Has the man who sued the Western Standard changed his mind about anti-freedom of expression laws?

Syed Soharwardy has dropped his human rights complaint against the Western Standard, has just completed a six-month, multi-faith Walk Against Violence and today announced his newly founded Freedom of Speech Centre has invited Ezra Levant to be its first speaker.

Is he a dangerous censor in retreat, or a genuine man of peace?

In an April 24, 2006 column titled “An unwelcome fight,” then-Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant first introduced readers to Calgary iman Syed Soharwardy:

The Western Standard has reported on the illiberal nature of human rights commissions before. In a May 2004 cover story, we described how the Canadian Human Rights Commission tried to censor a sitting member of Parliament, Jim Pankiw, for expressing politically incorrect views in his mail-outs to his constituents. The fact that unelected, unaccountable, tax-paid busybodies presumed to tell an elected parliamentarian what he could or could not say was outrageous, and should have offended all Canadians, no matter what they thought of Pankiw's views.

[Western Standard columnist Terry O’Neill is still following the Jim Pankiw human rights case, which is only now before a human rights tribunal, four years after the fact. Read O’Neill’s column here.]

Well, now it's our turn to come under attack by a human rights commission. Syed Soharwardy, a radical Muslim imam from Calgary, has lodged a complaint against us with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. Soharwardy, who before coming to Canada taught at an anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, argues that our publication of the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed, in the Feb. 27, 2006, issue, violated his human rights--and he argues that our freedom of the press and our freedom of conscience should be abridged. It's more than that: Soharwardy doesn't just complain that we published the cartoons; he complains that we dared to try to justify our publication after the fact.

A “radical Muslim iman” with ties to an “anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia” using an “illiberal” legal process to restrict free speech –- Levant doesn’t mince words in his depiction of Soharwardy and his human rights complaint. (Soharwardy addresses these allegations directly in a Western Standard interview to be published this week.)

Soharwardy has since dropped his complaint against the Western Standard and today announced that the “Islamic Supreme Council of Canada has taken one more step towards educating new immigrants and Canadian Muslims about the importance of free speech. ISCC has established Freedom of Speech Centre in Calgary. We are hoping that the freedom of speech centre will provide a platform to Calgarians and Canadians to express their opinions without preconditions or fear of backlash.”

Soharwardy also said “We are inviting Mr. Ezra Levant to speak to us on 'freedom of speech and the human rights commissions in Canada.' The date will be finalized depending upon the availability of the speaker.” According to Soharwardy, Levant has not responded to the invitation.

When Soharwardy dropped his human rights complaints against the Western Standard in February, he offered these statements:

"Over the two years that we have gone through the process, I understand that most Canadians see this as an issue of freedom of speech, that that principle is sacred and holy in our society."

"I believe Canadian society is mature enough not to absorb the messages that the cartoons sent. Only a very small fraction of Canadian media decided to publish those cartoons."

At the time, Levant doubted Soharwardy’s change of heart and mind:

"I don't believe him. He thought this would be easy to do, just sic the human rights commission on me and it would be done. But I decided to fight back."

"He's hurting right now... What he's now saying he is going to do is not a true reflection of his feelings."

Not everyone's a sceptic, however. In a recent story titled “Calgary imam walks for peace between faiths,” Lloyd Mackey with CanadianChristianity.com portrays Soharwardy as a champion of inter-faith peace and understanding:

Syed Soharwardy, a Muslim imam from Calgary, has completed a six-month walk across Canada, in which he enlisted a fair number of Muslims and Christians to wage a "jihad" against violence.


He noted that since first floating the idea of the anti-violence walk over two years ago, he has formed friendships with many Christian and Jewish people and leaders across Canada. Among them are the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary, Fred Henry, and Michael Ward, the senior minister of Central United Church, an evangelically-leaning congregation, also in his home city.


At times, he has received a fair amount of flack from other Muslim leaders, but the twin factors of fanaticism and secularism help to fan such opposition, he said. If people in his faith would return to the root of The Prophet's teachings, rather than trying to interpret in either a violent direction on one hand, or a secular bent on the other, Islam would be better understood.

Some of his critics, he said, accuse him of "getting too cozy to Christians." While he appreciated the support he has received from many Christian leaders, Soharwardy allowed that there is more building work to do. At one point during the walk, he said, he met some Mennonites who held, within their faith, to many of the same ideas with respect to peace and non-violence that he sees to be a part of his own outlook.


"Now we want to concentrate on getting churches and faith groups in every town and city going, to stay engaged, and try for annual days of walk against violence in those places," he said. "They will be multi-faith, walking together, trying to change people's hearts. "Through this walk, what I tried to achieve was by the grace of God. There is no place on earth where one can walk 6,500 kilometres, through different areas, among conservatives and liberals, and no one said, 'I don't like you because of who you are.'"

The Western Standard will provide readers with a full report on this story this week with an interview with Soharwardy.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on November 19, 2008 in Freedom of expression | Permalink


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I see him neither as someone pretending to have had a change of heart nor as someone who has come to a new and deeper understanding of the importance of free speech. I see him as a flake whose abhorance for free speech was as flakey as his new, sudden, radical change in position. I think he is sincere, but intellectually unstable enough that who the hell knows what he will believe tomorrow.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-11-19 12:03:38 PM

FC, you may be correct. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at present reserving the right to judge him based on his behaviour and actions. Time will tell.

Posted by: Alain | 2008-11-19 12:15:37 PM

This fanatical thug is merely doing everything he can to avoid being counter-sued for costs.

Remember the women who were attacked in their own home by thugs?

Sue this lying son of a pig's barbarian ass off.


Posted by: epsilon | 2008-11-19 1:34:01 PM

Every Country on the Planet has at least one Character who is running, breathing, farce. Syed Soharwardy is just one of them in the Canada's.

Posted by: Revnant Dream | 2008-11-20 7:54:13 PM

Two takes:

ONE: Taqqiya

TWO: Did anyone check the punch? Was Grace Slick anywhere in the neighbourhood?

Posted by: Pesky Pundit | 2008-11-21 4:44:03 AM

"Bizarre" doesn't even begin to describe this spook.

Posted by: WL Mackenzie Redux | 2008-11-21 8:07:09 AM

Seriously, does this clown have any credibility? Earlier Western Standard reproduced Syed's original handwritten complaint to the Human Rights Gestapo. The text reminded me of the rantings of the street corner nutbars who scream about government conspiracies. Still, this 'iman' should be sued for the costs incurred by his nuisance actions. Not doing so only encourages others.

Posted by: Freedom Ryder | 2008-11-23 8:18:36 AM

Great. Another moron with a messiah complex who doesn't care how much damage he does, as long as he gets his time in the limelight. Shades of Marc Emery. Deport the lot.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2008-11-23 10:27:30 AM

I passed his motorhome on Hwy 1 a couple months ago. His "boys" were walking just in front, well shielded from traffic. I was out of beer bottle range before I realized what was happening.

Living near Hwy 1 can be an interesting experience. I remember when Gypsies used to come through on bicycles. The cops always gave them a nice escort. I wasn't here when Terry Fox came through, unfortunately. Scotty Olson rode a bike through here and got very little attention. Don't remember Scott? He fought in the Seoul Olympics. I passed Steve Fonyo's convoy, but didn't see him running. I heard he spent most of the trip in the motorhome.

Shane has the best idea. Deport Syed. He's trouble.

Posted by: dp | 2008-11-23 10:52:59 AM

Wow you folks are bitter. I think Ezra should debate the man? Why not??

Posted by: Merle | 2008-12-17 6:48:37 PM

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