Islam and Free Speech

Peter Hoekstra, Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2008

{snip} Mr. Wilders has called for banning the Quran—which he has compared to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”—from the Netherlands.

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Reasonable men in free societies regard Geert Wilders’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, and films like “Fitna,” as disrespectful of the religious sensitivities of members of the Islamic faith. But free societies also hold freedom of speech to be a fundamental human right. We don’t silence, jail or kill people with whom we disagree just because their ideas are offensive or disturbing. We believe that when such ideas are openly debated, they sink of their own weight and attract few followers.

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Criticism of Islam, however, has led to violence and murder world-wide. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Muslims to kill Salman Rushdie over his 1988 book, “The Satanic Verses.” Although Mr. Rushdie has survived, two people associated with the book were stabbed, one fatally. The 2005 Danish editorial cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad led to numerous deaths. Dutch director Theodoor van Gogh was killed in 2004, several months after he made the film “Submission,” which described violence against women in Islamic societies. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch member of parliament who wrote the script for “Submission,” received death threats over the film and fled the country for the United States.

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Radical jihadists are prepared to use violence against individuals to stop them from exercising their free speech rights. In some countries, converting a Muslim to another faith is a crime punishable by death. While Muslim clerics are free to preach and proselytize in the West, some Muslim nations severely restrict or forbid other faiths to do so. In addition, moderate Muslims around the world have been deemed apostates and enemies by radical jihadists.

Radical jihadists believe representative government is un-Islamic, and urge Muslims who live in democracies not to exercise their right to vote. The reason is not hard to understand: When given a choice, most Muslims reject the extreme approach to Islam. This was recently demonstrated in Iraq’s Anbar Province, which went from an al-Qaeda stronghold to an area supporting the U.S.-led coalition. This happened because the populace came to intensely dislike the fanatical ways of the radicals, which included cutting off fingers of anyone caught smoking a cigarette, 4 p.m. curfews, beatings and beheadings. There also were forced marriages between foreign-born al Qaeda fighters and local Sunni women.

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Not all of these radicals are using violence to supplant democratic society with an extreme form of Shariah. Some in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are attempting to create parallel Islamic societies with separate courts for Muslims. According to recent press reports, British officials are investigating the cases of 30 British Muslim school-age girls who “disappeared” for probable forced marriages.

While efforts to create parallel Islamic societies have been mostly peaceful, they may actually be a jihadist “waiting game,” based on the assumption that the Islamic populations of many European states will become the majority over the next 25-50 years due to higher Muslim birth rates and immigration.

What is particularly disturbing about these assaults against modern society is how the West has reacted with appeasement, willful ignorance, and a lack of journalistic criticism. Last year PBS tried to suppress “Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center,” a hard-hitting documentary that contained criticism of radical jihadists. Fortunately, Fox News agreed to air the film.

Even if the new Wilders film proves newsworthy, it is likely that few members of the Western media will air it, perhaps because they have been intimidated by radical jihadist threats. The only major U.S. newspaper to reprint any of the controversial 2005 Danish cartoons was Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. You can be sure that if these cartoons had mocked Christianity or Judaism, major American newspapers would not have hesitated to print them.

European officials have been similarly cautious. A German court ruled last year that a German Muslim man had the right to beat his wife, as this was permitted under Shariah. Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated last month that the implementation of some measure of Shariah in Britain was “unavoidable” and British Muslims should have the choice to use Shariah in marital and financial matters.

I do not defend the right of Geert Wilders to air his film because I agree with it. I expect I will not. (I have not yet seen the film). I defend the right of Mr. Wilders and the media to air this film because free speech is a fundamental right that is the foundation of modern society. Western governments and media outlets cannot allow themselves to be bullied into giving up this precious right due to threats of violence. We must not fool ourselves into believing that we can appease the radical jihadist movement by allowing them to set up parallel societies and separate legal systems, or by granting them special protection from criticism.

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