Back when George W. "Miss Me Yet?" Bush was President, liberals exercised their right of free speech ad naseum to complain about how Bush was taking away their right of free speech. So you might expect that a liberal or two would express at least a little concern when freedom of expression in the western world is threatened in reality, instead of in theory. After all it's happened just across the border in Canada and it's happening right now, just across the pond in the Netherlands.
Try searching MSNBC or the Daily Kos for information about the Geert Wilders trial. Find anything? Me neither. Democratic Undergound, to their credit, did run a version of the story, although the fact that it was Al Jazeera's version is disappointing, if predictable. A commenter or two even dared to suggest that perhaps Wilders should be free to criticize any religion he wants, including Islam. That kind of heresy was, of course, quickly slapped down with replies like this one:
It's informative that your ideological hostility, towards major religions, leads you to sympathize with this rightwing European xenophobe: the fact, however, that you can patch his anti-Islamic rants into your own simplistic worldview, does not really qualify as evidence that Wilders is "on trial for telling the truth." He is on trial because a court decided his remarks might violate the criminal law against incitement to hatred.
Wilders, charged with insulting Muslims, discrimination against Muslims and incitement to hatred went on trial on January 20. In his opening remarks, he asked the question that nobody on the left wants to answer when it comes to criticizing Islamofacsicm: "If something is true, how can it be illegal?" Here's Wilders' opening statement in full:
There's much more on trial here than JUST Wilders' personal rights. The Dutch politician's Freedom Party is very popular in the Netherlands, so this trial is not merely about an individual's freedom of expression, it's about censoring an entire political movement. Can the Freedom Party's stance to halt Muslim immigration to the Netherland's survive if no one is allowed to explain why the issue matters?
Wilder's brutally frank commentary on Islam, the short film Fitna, was hailed by Islamic critics and denounced by Islam's apologists. The criticism has largely centered on claims that Wilders took verses from the Quran out of context or misinterpreted them. But Islam employs regiments of religious scholars who do nothing but divine the "true meaning" of the Quran. The truth of Fitna, and of Wilders' courageous campaign, is that thousands of Muslims across the globe believe that the Quran enjoins them to lie, steal, cheat and murder because it is God's will. Whether Wilders picked the right verses, or interpreted them correctly, is immaterial. The essential truth of his message, that an ascendant Islam is a dire threat to western culture, traditions and institutions is indisputable.
So why are liberals so blind to assaults on free speech whenever Islam is involved? A part of the answer, to be sure, involves the continuing liberal obsession with preserving the all important diversity/tolerance narrative. But, I submit, fear is the biggest factor. Muslims have demonstrated time and time again that they are willing to murder anyone who appears to insult their religion. That fact makes a lot of people rethink their commitment to free speech.
This is true even in America. When Yale University Press published the book The Cartoons That Shook The World, recounting the story of the Danish cartoons that were published in a 2005 and which set off a firestorm of Islamic indignation, leaving over 200 dead in the wake of violent protests, the cartoons were not themselves depicted in the book. The reason? Fear of Islamic reprisals. Consider the words of the Director of Yale University Press, John Donatich.
…when it came between that (publishing the cartoons) and blood on my hands, there was no question.
In the Netherlands one is free to say the most outrageous things about Jesus, Moses, Buddha or any other major religious figure – save one. One can criticize the tenets of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other "ism" you care to mock – save one. Islam will be, if gutless prosecutors get their way, officially immune from criticism in a Protestant nation that spent eighty years fighting a brutal religious war of independence from Catholic Spain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This is a symptom of a larger disease, one that has engulfed much of western Europe and threatens America as well. Some journalists have the courage to speak out in support of Wilders, whether or not they personally agree with his views. It's a sad commentary about the state of journalism today that their numbers are so few.