During Canada’s recent free speech controversy, which ended with the elimination of a controversial hate speech provision of the Human Rights Act, Section 13, I learned that freedom of speech makes for strange bedfellows.

People who diverged 180 degrees on given subjects agreed that we should be free to discuss controversial issues where no one was advocating a crime or treason.

The notion that “hate speech is not free speech,” while perhaps intended to prevent emotional harm, can prevent us from discussing serious divisions in society intelligibly.

Some people experience disagreement with their premises as “hate.” And it is true, some of those people will experience emotional harm as a result of their strong personal investment in the issues.

Ought no one to discuss the issues then? Or only according to rules drawn up by the people who experienced the emotional harm (which may prevent even raising salient issues)?

In Canada, eliminating the legislation the government had put in place to “help” us avoid harmful speech united some very disparate people.

We know that we are a nation in part because we can disagree peacefully on controversial issues.

All this said: One interesting development in the conflict between Islamism and traditional support for human rights has been an international version of the same sort of alliance that brought down Section 13 in Canada.

For example, I have not much use for American neuroscientist Sam Harris or the New Atheists in general. But I can only commend him for giving Ayaan Hirsi Ali space to say what many more established sources do not:

Hirsi Ali: Where is the controversy? Can anyone argue that women are treated well in traditional Muslim societies? Under Islam, every woman is a second-class citizen. She can inherit only half as much as her brother. Her testimony in court—say, in the case of her own rape—is worth half that of her rapist. A Muslim woman has to ask a male guardian for permission to get married or have a child—in some places to even leave the house. And all these various oppressions are justified using the core texts of Islam: the Koran and the hadith. I’m amazed by the accusation that something I’ve said on this topic is controversial. It’s simply horrible to treat women like this. Is that a controversial thing to say? Is it controversial to say that men and women should be equal? I would have thought this was the most boring statement a person could make.

Harris: It certainly should be. That’s what is so crazy about this Islamophobia charge. The people who commit the worse offenses—the honor killers, the suicide bombers, the Taliban gunman who attempted to murder Malala Yousafzai—are absolutely clear about their motives and articulate them at every opportunity. They are motivated by Islam. Yes, other religions have problematic doctrines. We can even concede that the Old Testament is the most barbaric scripture of them all. But Christians and Jews don’t tend to take the worst of its passages seriously, for reasons that can be explained both by the centuries during which these Western faiths have been weathered by science and secularism and by crucial elements of their own theology. Most important, in my view, is the fact that Christianity and Judaism do not have clear doctrines of jihad, nor do they promise, ad nauseam, that martyrs go straight to Paradise. Islam is truly unique in this respect, which helps explain the fanaticism and violence we see throughout the Muslim world. Of course, your focus has been on the plight of women and girls under Islam, many millions of whom live in conditions that are antithetical to the most basic human happiness, as you know all too well. And the rationale for their oppression is drawn directly from scripture.

It would be good if more Christian sources could feel as comfortable hosting such a dialogue as atheists like Harris and Hirsi Ali are. But, to what extent are Harris and Hirsi Ali protected by the fact that they are atheists?

I’ve also slammed American comedian Bill Maher for foolish attacks on traditional Christianity, but anyone who has the guts to stand up to militant Islam gets my vote just now, as he does. On a recent show:

Mr. Maher went on to argue that liberals who chalk the incidences up to small groups of radical “bad apples” are not standing up for liberal principles, a major part of which is equality for women.

At one point in the segment, Huffington Post President Arianna Huffington argued that it is “dangerous” for people to stereotype all Muslims as terrorists.

“Where it becomes dangerous is that liberals like yourself do not stand up for liberalism.

Liberalism means, one, mostly, equality of women,” Mr. Maher responded.

Good, but Maher should focus more. His fellow liberals blame “religion” in general, while never citing the explicit doctrines of a specific religion—for example, the supposed divine right of Muslim men to beat their wives. Avoiding that is a cheap shot. Does any other religion explicitly teach such a thing? Cool progressives thus stay AWOL from the growing problem of Islamism.

Perhaps they think they have atoned by offering us politically correct stances on whole foods and the hundred-mile diet. I’m so sure I care. Do you?

In the end, a late Prime Minister of Canada speaks for me in these matters. Many decades later, I find nothing to add:

“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I think wrong, and free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”

I was born in Diefenbaker’s province of Canada, Saskatchewan, a province that, from its founding in 1905, gave women the right to vote.  There was never a time in Saskatchewan when women did not have equal rights.  I was a small child when I first heard these statements read aloud by a teacher (then in the province of Ontario) and framed in the classroom for all to see. And no one suggested that we meant it to apply only to Canadians. Only that living and advancing the idea was all we Canadians can do.

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...