Discussions about free speech and "how and where it should be curtailed" are under scrutiny in the wake of global demonstrations following the October 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel. In 2009, Sabaditsch-Wolff was accused of hate speech and was forced to defend her free speech rights in the Austrian courts. Although MEF assisted Sabaditsch-Wolff in her protracted legal fight to defend her freedom, she ultimately lost her case. The consequences of her loss are playing out in Europe today.
The daughter of an Austrian diplomat, Sabaditsch-Wolff lived in a variety of Muslim countries where her father was posted and familiarized herself with Islamic culture and practice. As a young adult in the 1990s, she embarked on a diplomatic career at the Austrian embassy in Kuwait.
By 2001, she had returned to Austria, and by 2006 had earned a master's degree in diplomatic and strategic studies. Noting how Austria's "social fabric" was drastically changed by the large influx of Bosnian Muslim refugees, Sabaditsch-Wolff increased her study of Islamic theology and history. Although not a member of any political party, in 2007 Austria's Freedom Party approached her to develop a seminar on Islam. Sabaditsch-Wolff taught the approved course for two years.
Part of her course examined the life of Islam's prophet Muhammad. Sabaditsch-Wolff related the historical fact that in his fifties, he took a child bride, Aisha. By twenty-first century standards, Muhammad's consummation of the union with Aisha at only nine years old is considered pedophilia. Sabaditsch-Wolff asked a "rhetorical question," whether that contemporary term for an "abhorrent act" in the West was appropriate to assign to the circumstances. Unbeknownst to her, in 2009 a journalist infiltrated the seminar, recorded it, and cited that specific comment as an offense in a transcript submitted to the public prosecutor. Sabaditsch-Wolff was immediately charged with hate speech.
In the subsequent 2010 court case, she was additionally charged with "denigration of religious teachings of a legally recognized religion in Austria" — legislation that confers a "special status" to particular religions in Austria. Ironically, the added charge was based on a law meant to safeguard tolerance for Jews and Lutherans in the eighteenth century under the rule of Emperor Josef II.
The judge, purposely misconstruing the context in which the reference was said, sentenced Sabaditsch-Wolff "for an excess of opinion" for even suggesting any comparison to the contemporary context of pedophilia when discussing Muhammad. In 2012, an appeal to Austria's Supreme Court turned the case over to a "supranational court to determine its legitimacy according to Articles Nine and Ten of the European Human Rights Convention" as it relates to "freedom of expression versus freedom of religion." The Convention is comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights, albeit as granted by the European Union, "not granted by the Creator."
In 2018, the European Court of Human Rights delivered its verdict that "freedom of
expression is not absolute," and that Sabaditsch-Wolff's "right to freedom of speech weighs less than a Muslim's right not to be offended." The court stated that "the domestic courts in Austria carefully balance the right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their feelings protected and to have religious peace preserved in Austrian society."
The verdict against Sabaditsch-Wolff has been used as case law in Algeria, where a Muslim was found guilty of blasphemy against Islam, and in Finland, where a pastor was accused of hurting the feelings of homosexuals for stating the fact that the Bible does not condone homosexuality. The irony of the case against Sabaditsch-Wolff is that her willingness to state the truth about Mohammed and Aisha in her seminar was intended to protect the rights of young girls.
Instead, a result of the verdict is that child marriage persists and is justified by its adherents who cite the Quranic verse 33:21 which calls for Muslims to emulate Muhammad, considered "the perfect example for all mankind." In Germany, older Muslim men who immigrate with brides under the legal age of eighteen are legally accepted because it is considered a "religious matter." Since Sabaditsch-Wolff's case was adjudicated, "no one has spoken up against pedophilia." In the current cultural climate, she sees that "normality is demonized as oppression, and perversion is normalized as liberation."
To deny "emerging totalitarian stratagems" which exhibit "the worst of human conduct," Sabaditsch-Wolff believes that the lessons of history can only be learned by examining the emergence of similarities in the present. However, "mainstream media shames free thinkers."
The "denigration of religious teachings" legislation used against Sabaditsch-Wolff compounds the "Islamophobia" narrative used to "shut opinion down" and silence criticism of Islam. Islamophobia charges are typical of the enforcement of Islamic scripture-based sharia blasphemy laws that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) champions. Blasphemy laws are for a "different time and place, not in liberal democracies." To that end, Sabaditsch-Wolff works with "freedom fighters" at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to push back against the cudgel that is the charge of "Islamophobia."
Apart from laws prohibiting blasphemy, laws that were instituted after the fall of Nazism "are very strict in Austria." They were meant to protect Jews from genocidal antisemitic chants, such as the phrase "Gas the Jews," yelled by a mob of pro-Hamas demonstrators in Australia. However, those laws are not being enforced by the police, which is blatant evidence of a double standard.
Sabaditsch-Wolff describes herself as a "free speech fundamentalist" defending free speech and objects to bans, even the "abhorrent" speech heard at university demonstrations. "Except for a narrow corridor" defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, the answer to objectionable speech is to debate with better speech. "That is what free speech is about."
The way to restore "common sense" in the public square is to vote for candidates who express sensible values. The best place to start is at the "grassroots" level — get involved in school boards, because they are the gatekeepers for your child's education and where "the rot" actually starts.
Although Sabaditsch-Wolff spoke truthfully about Mohammed, "truth is no defense." In the West's relativistic cultural milieu, "self-evident truths are now subjective, individual versions of truth," with freedom of expression deteriorating to the point that "truth is dismissed as disinformation."
Having studied the U.S. Constitution during her time in America, she has a deep and abiding appreciation for the Declaration of Independence and "the freedoms enshrined therein." This appreciation has led her to conclude that the U.S. is "ground zero for free expression." Since the October 7 massacre in Israel, it is apparent that "if we overlook evil, promote evil, and celebrate evil, [we will] persecute those who call out evil."
The case against Sabaditsch-Wolff exposed how imperative it is to speak truth without fear. The verdict against her free speech rights is also to the detriment of Europe's freedoms. Because she was silenced in Europe, Sabaditsch-Wolff is passionate about her mission to educate Americans that freedom is under attack and "you still have the freedom to fight for freedom." Persevere because "if Israel falls in the Middle East, there is no place to go. The same goes for America. If America falls, there's no place to go."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.