The United States, Britain, and much of the West is slowly surrendering its right to freedom of speech in the face of threats of violence from Islam and in the face of a systematic campaign to demonize and even criminalize any criticism of Islam, Islamofascism, Islam Jihadism and all the rest.
This process is well along the way, and that's why it has been so well described in Robert Spencer's book Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs. Here's one good example. You remember the violence set off by the publication of those Danish cartoons that some Muslims found objectionable. What happened when newspapers were called upon to reprint them, so the public could understand what was going on and why people were being killed by the Muslims rioting in protest? Here is a perfect test of speech, but nearly all papers refused to republish them, and that includes newspapers in the U.S. and Britain. Freedom of speech means nothing if people are afraid to exercise their rights.
Mr. Spencer says this proves violence works. But it also is just one of many examples of how we have started surrendering our right to free speech to the Muslim extremists. When we surrender our most basic and important right, you can be sure we are well on the path of total surrender. We better understand what's going on, and do something to reverse our course toward Dhimmihood, what the Muslims call the status of infidels in their midst forced to live as second-class citizens.
This column will take a more systematic look at the campaign to destroy free speech waged by various Muslim groups. It is based on Mr. Spencer's important volume Stealth Jihad. He starts with a description of the attempts made before international bodies to criminalize critical discussions of Islam.This criminalization of criticism of Islam was part of an international agenda agreed upon at a March 2008 meeting in Senegal convened by the world's most powerful Islamic organization, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). At that conference, the plan to defend Islam had nothing to do with putting down the terrorists, who as we are told, have tried to "hijack" the religion. Instead, the OIC agreed to craft a legal instrument to fight against the threat to Islam claimed to be coming from "political cartoonists and bigots." In other words, the OIC wants freedom of speech to have one exception: It should not apply to criticism of Islam.
The OIC adopted a strategy to criminalize criticism of Islam. They used euphemisms to perfume their intent to restrict freedom of speech. The chairman of the OIC put it this way, "I don't think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy. There can be no freedom without limits."
The OIC campaign to destroy free speech started when a short film by Dutch MP Gert Wilders, titled "Fitna," appeared on the Internet. It connected incidents of Muslim violence to violent passages in the Quran.
The OIC immediately condemned the film in the strongest possible terms claiming it was "a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims" and was intended to "provoke unrest and intolerance." Iran, Pakistan, and other Muslim states condemned the film, and the OIC filed a formal complaint with the European Union (EU) and with the Dutch Ambassador to Islamabad.
Even non-Muslim leaders condemned the film, many from the United Nations, the corrupt international body that favors nations violating human rights, rather than those nations standing for human rights. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the film "offensively anti-Islamic" and regurgitated OIC arguments: "There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free expression is not at stake here."
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, came down squarely in favor of restricting free speech. She urged the U.N. to "offer strong protective measures to all forms of freedom of expression, while at the same time enacting appropriate restrictions, as necessary, to protect the rights of others." Translated, the "rights of others" mean the rights of Muslims not to be offended.
If that's not enough, the U.N. soon began enforcing speech restrictions in some of its deliberations. The first victory for the destroyers of free speech came before the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Council President Doru-Romulus Costas found that religious issues can be "very complex, very sensitive and very intense …. This council is not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth, consequently we should not do it."
This decision is more shocking when put into context. Mr. Spencer writes, "The ban came after a heated session in which David G. Littman, speaking for several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), denounced the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), execution by stoning, and child marriage as sanctioned by Islamic law."
Mr. Littman was immediately interrupted over a dozen times by representatives of Egypt, Pakistan and Iran, finally forcing the session to be suspended. When the session was resumed, after much discussion the ruling held. Criticism of Islam was banned, and that's criticism of every kind — valid or invalid.
That, of course, wasn't good enough. The next step came when the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, called on all governments to outlaw "defamation of religion," which is a euphemism for outlawing blasphemy of Islam. Mr. Spencer says this campaign is picking up speed, which means religion will be off limits for discussion as will be any investigation of Islamic violence and the jihadist agenda.
Mr. Spencer sees this trend as ending with the destruction of both the right to free speech and the right of religious freedom. He writes,
"One would have never thought that Westerners would give up free speech of their own accord, but we are now in the process of carving out a major exception for Islam. Yet the freedom to criticize religion, of course, is the very cornerstone of the right to free expression. Once we surrender that right, can the surrender of freedom of religion be far behind."
To further their campaign to kill free speech, none of these Muslim countries threaten violence. That's in part because they don't have to. They know if anything is published that offends Muslims you can expect international riots, violence, protests, and even murder. The publication of the Danish cartoons started this campaign to outlaw criticism of Islam.
You can see some of the diseased thinking of the Muslim free-speech killers by the way the protest over the Danish cartoons unfolded. Mr. Spencer illustrates with a recent suicide attack against the Danish Embassy in Pakistan that killed six people. After the attack, Pakistan's ambassador to Denmark spoke to the Danish people:
"It isn't just the people of Pakistan that feel they have been harassed by what your newspaper has begun. I'd like to know if your newspaper is satisfied with what it has done and what it has unleashed. Danes know that they have insulted people around the world by printing and reprinting the Mohammed cartoons, which were done in poor taste."
Consider the nature of the diseased thinking. Jihadist terrorists and thugs from Pakistan murder six people at the Danish embassy. But the Pakistan ambassador doesn't blame the murderers. No he blames the Danish people because they allow their citizens free speech, in good taste or bad taste.
Some more of that diseased thinking was on display when a representative of the Pakistani Embassy, Asma Fatima, came to Washington to push for anti-blasphemy laws. She said, "The ideal of freedom of speech is precious to you, but it's not value-neutral. You don't have to hurt people's sentiments and bring them to the point where they have to react in strange ways."
Notice Ms. Fatima says, "they have to react in strange ways." In other words, the murderers, terrorists and thugs have no choice in the matter, "they have to react in strange ways," and go into the mode of riots and murder.
One terrorism expert explained that as long as Denmark fails to condemn the cartoons and the people responsible for them, Denmark would be under the threat of the violence of militant Muslims. Mr. Spencer reasons that's the way Muslim leaders want it as it coalesces neatly with the Islamic supremacist agenda. Mr. Spencer writes,
"The underlying assumption is that Muslims may do whatever they wish; it is up to Western non-Muslims to adjust and adapt however they must, in order to placate them. And that includes everything up to and including abandoning freedom of speech in favor of the chastened silence prescribed for dhimmis [second-class citizens] in Islamic law."
Mr. Spencer develops another marvelous example. A Dutch politician Geert Wilders made a film called "Fitna" linking passages from the Quran with incidents of Muslim violence. The Muslims objected to the films linking Islam with violence. Proving the validity of the film, it sparked protests in Muslim nations during which demonstrators demanded that Mr. Wilders be killed. Mr. Spencer shows how Wilders made an ironclad case linking passages of the Quran with specific incidents of Muslim violence. But that is immaterial to offended Muslims. True or false, valid or invalid, reasonable or unreasonable, criticism of Islam must be forbidden in their eyes.
Mr. Wilders has avoided being executed for his valid criticism of Islam. But others weren't as lucky. Another Dutchman, Theo von Gogh, made a film criticizing Islam's mistreatment of women. For that he was murdered on the street in Amsterdam. Many others have received serious death threats including the artists that drew the Danish cartoons and Salman Rushdie.
What is even more shocking is that the diseased thinking is not limited to some of the Muslim spokesman seeking to ban freedom of speech. It has infected American journalists, such as those at CNN. When a Swedish artist, Lars Vilks, drew Muhammad as a dog, as a gesture in defense of artistic freedom, al- Qaida put a $100,000 bounty on his head. CNN's Paula Newton blamed Mr. Vilks, saying he should know better after what happened after the Danish cartoon incident. CNN and its reporter, Paula Newton, did not condemn the author of the death threats, but the author of the drawing, who was doing nothing more than exercising his rights of free speech and free expression. When a news outlet such as CNN doesn't have enough sense to condemn those who outlaw free speech, you have a good example of how far journalism has fallen into the journalistic cesspool.
Even without U.N. legislation and national legislation, the Muslims are silencing criticism. The fear of violence and death threats alone is taking its toll on free speech. Listen to the views of MSNBC's senior political analyst, Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr. He once launched an emotional attack on Joseph Smith, a leader of Mormon Church, and Mormonism. He was asked if he would say the same thing about Muhammad. He replied, "Oh, well, I'm afraid of what the … that's where I'm really afraid. I would like to criticize Islam much more than I do publicly, but I'm afraid for my life if I do."
As you might expect, the same diseased thinking found in the mainstream media is found in our universities. John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, in Mr. Spencer's words, "seemed quite ready to condemn those who insulted Muslims — while raising no complaints against Muslims who engaged in violent threats and intimidation." So like our media (e.g., CNN) our academics lack the sense to defend free speech.
Mr. Spencer finds, after reviewing such cases, that critics of Islam have already largely been silenced, as they fear criticism of Islam will lead to charges of bigotry against them or even death threats and execution.
Not content with silencing critics with intimidation, violence and murder, the Muslims are campaigning for hate crime legislation to outlaw criticism of Islam. The great journalist Oriani Fallaci who long ago wrote a book on how Europe was being colonized by Muslims, was prosecuted in Switzerland, France and Italy for her views and finally had to flee to the U.S. where she died in 2006.
The prosecution of critics of Islam has spread to North America. For example, the great writer, Mark Steyn, author of America Alone, was prosecuted in Canada for his criticism of Islam. As I've said his book, America Alone, is one of the most valuable and important of recent years and is right on target. He was targeted by three different commissions, and is still fighting that battle.
Our own U.S. government is already bowing down and scraping to Islam. U.S. officials have been instructed not to refer to Islamic terrorists as jihadists. The British government has gone to even more outrageous extremes. In Britain, several government agencies have been instructed to refer to Islamic terrorism as anti-Islamic activity, on the theory that Islam is a religion of peace and any such terrorism is therefore anti-Islamic. This is certainly Orwellian and 1984 in the extreme.
The Islamists have adopted one more approach. They sue their critics and put them through the expense of legal defense and the possibility of bankrupting judgments. The most celebrated case involves Rachel Ehrenfeld who wrote a book called Funding Evil on those who finance terrorism. She was sued for libel by billionaire Saudi financier Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, who she accused of financing terrorism. He sued her in Britain where the laws do not provide the same constitutional protection for free speech as they do in the U.S. He won. The judgment hasn't been collected, but now Ms. Ehrenfeld can't travel to Britain and her work is banned there.
Mr. Spencer has the perfect concluding idea on this subject: "Islam is a religion of peace, we are told. And anyone who argues otherwise better watch out." And I'd add, when Islamists are cutting the heart out of our Constitution, the first amendment and freedom of speech and expression, it is long past time for America to wake up.
Herb Denenberg is a former Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commissioner, and professor at the Wharton School. He is a longtime Philadelphia journalist and consumer advocate. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of the Sciences. His column appears daily in The Bulletin. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.