Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Terrorizing Dissent

The industrial democracies have a fragile and always threatened tradition of free speech and free expression that is vital to democracy. It is now being effectively stifled by threats of Muslim violence. "You can only show films that do not offend us. You can only express opinions that do not offend us." It began with the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, continued with the Danish cartoons of Muhamad, and has now reached the point of self-censorship.


The same people who insist that it must be possible to publish Mein Kampf or show the mendacious film, "Jenin, Jenin," because of the need for "free speech," are quashing opinions that may be offensive to Islam. They managed to keep the film "Obsession" out of major movie houses, and now they are working on suppressing another film entirely. We may not like these opinions. If we think they are wrong, we should expose them and discuss them, not shut them up.


This trend cannot be allowed to continue.

Ami Isseroff

Islam and Its Critics
March 5, 2008


The latest clash between the West and the Muslim world is taking place in the Netherlands, where a yet-to-be-released film critical of Islam has already stirred protests in Afghanistan and caused a world-wide outage of YouTube when Pakistan tried to block a brief clip. No one wants a repeat of the Danish cartoon controversy, but suppressing the film, as some in Holland and the Muslim world are urging, amounts to political blackmail.

The film is by Geert Wilders, an anti-immigration Member of the Dutch Parliament who has warned about a "tsunami of Islamization" in the Netherlands, home to nearly one million Muslims. Mr. Wilders has also called the Quran a "fascist" book and Islam a "retarded culture," and his 15-minute movie is likely to contain more such distasteful commentary. He says he will post it on the Web this month if he can't find anyone willing to broadcast it.

[Geert Wilders]

Much as Salman Rushdie received death threats over a book few of his would-be assassins had read, Mr. Wilders has received death threats over a film no one has seen. He has been living under police protection since filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered four years ago by a Muslim radical for making a movie critical of Islam's treatment of women. The Dutch antiterror coordinator has told him that he may have to go into hiding abroad once his film is released.

The Dutch government has been holding crisis meetings since November about a possible Islamic backlash to Mr. Wilders's film. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende warned last week that the Netherlands risks economic sanctions and attacks on its citizens and businesses at home and abroad if the film is released. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is Dutch, said Sunday that he is worried about Dutch troops in Afghanistan.

Several Dutch business organizations have called on Mr. Wilders not to release the film, and some at The Hague also favor self-censorship. Dutch newspapers report that several Muslim countries are pressuring the Prime Minister to suppress the movie -- though how the leader of a democracy could accomplish that even if he wanted to is left unsaid.

In any case, Mr. Balkenende is already blaming Mr. Wilders for any possible violence. "When you see how the reactions have been at home and abroad, what the risks could be of this film, then there's one person who must answer for it and that is Mr. Wilders himself," he said last week. So much for the Dutch tradition of political tolerance.

The Netherlands is not the only European country facing an Islamic threat to civil liberties, and it would be nice to think the European Union would show some solidarity here. But, as during the Danish cartoon crisis, there's mostly silence from Brussels. An exception is a proposal last week by the EU's top justice official to provide security for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian threatened over her criticism of radical Islam, and other similarly threatened officials, presumably including Mr. Wilders.

Mr. Wilders says he has every right to broadcast his film, and he is correct. Freedom of speech is not without limits, but there is no indication that the movie crosses the line to illegal incitement. It's hard not to wonder whether those who want to silence Mr. Wilders would consider shouting "jihad" in a crowded mosque an incitement to violence.

In any case, banning a film no one has seen is hardly a way to defend liberty or explain Western values to those who are new to them. Muslim organizations have already filed complaints against Mr. Wilders for some of his previous statements. Fair enough. They are free to do so again over his film -- just as anyone, Muslim or not, is free to ignore it.

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