Whether by church, monarch, or dictator, Europeans are not unaccustomed to being told what to do and what to think. Perhaps that is why they have elected the German Hans-Gert Pottering president of the European Parliament. President Pottering is a totalitarian official of the Old School, only this time the reactionary enemy is not the Jew or the petite bourgeoisie, but anyone not properly sensitive to the religion of Islam. For this reason the Dutch MP turned filmmaker Geert Wilders is currently in his crosshairs.
Wilders is infamous for making the short anti-Koran film Fitna, undertaken around the time of the jihadist murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Wilders is no friend of freedom either; he has advocated the banning of the Koran and other Islamic books and on more than one occasion suggested that the Dutch constitution and European Convention on Human Rights should be suspended to protect citizens from Islamic extremism. Unhappily this pair of Germanic politicos is in no way exceptional in its belief that Europe’s masses have too much freedom.
Pottering recently decreed that while Europeans do not necessarily have to love those of other faiths, they must at least respect them, regardless of whether that respect has been earned. “We might disagree with others but we have to respect them,” declared Pottering.
Many Muslims meanwhile have made it plain that they are unwilling to respect free speech, or to accept the offenses, inconveniences, and injuries incidental to it. Since Muslims are easily offended, and offended Muslims tend toward violence thus becoming a danger to public safety, it is argued, such respect can only be attained through means of a prohibition or ban on jokes, satires, parodies, or anything thought to denigrate the faith and thus cause a breach of the peace.
Last week Pottering told a Gulf newspaper that “Europe” was against any cartoons that could instigate violence, presumably including Tom & Jerry cartoons. “We in Europe are committed to the freedom of the press, on the one hand, but on the other the media should develop a sort of self responsibility. They should always know the consequences of what they publish about other cultures.” (Emphasis mine.)
Immediately after the cartoon jihad there were calls by Muslim officials to prosecute the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on charges of blasphemy. Many of us thought that blasphemy laws had gone out with the stocks and witch-burning, when in fact the last British citizen to be sent to prison for blasphemy was John William Gott. In 1922 Gott was sentenced to nine months’ hard labor for comparing Jesus to a clown. Some in the British government have realized that with its growing and easily offended Muslim population, blasphemy charges could wreak havoc on the court system, though the government has stopped short of repealing the laws, perhaps out of a sense of sick nostalgia.
Laws against inciting hatred (and not necessarily violence) because of their religious beliefs serve much the same purpose. Substitute “speech” or “words” for “cartoons” and you have Pottering’s and his radical fundamentalist allies’ real bugbear: speech they do not like.
The tragedy is that Europeans — who continue to re-elect the EP official — are willing to give politicians like Pottering the right — if not the power — to ban speech he does not like.
MUSLIMS ARE NOT THE only members of a faith community easily offended by perceived blasphemies, insults or parodies. Indeed, most followers of developing world religions (whether practiced by Sikhs, Hindus, Nigerian Christians or African animists) seem willing to riot at the least offense. It is no surprise that they convey these enthusiasms with them when resettling in the West.
So in order to assuage and ameliorate these primitive passions European governments have chosen to crack down on the natural rights of those — mainly non-religious persons — who are not rioting and threatening death. That’s the penalty for not adequately respecting a medieval desert superstition.
On second thought, the EP’s president is too much the milquetoast to be compared to past totalitarian leaders who sought to repress freedom and curb liberty. Pottering, in fact, cannot even bring him self to admit that there is such a thing as Jihadism.
“If there are people who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Islam…” Pottering begins. If? What more proof does the leader of Europe’s Parliament need, a videotaped beheading of his wife and children?
European leaders believe that their continent will be a much more congenial place, a regular peaceable kingdom if they will only clamp down on civil liberties. But by appeasing Muslims, and other hotheaded believers from the Third World, they risk alienating those who believe free speech and a free press are the most important freedoms the West has invented, and are thus worth fighting for.
Will Europeans again allow themselves to be coerced into silence by political scoundrels? If history has taught us anything it is that blackguards, villains and tyrants flourish when freedoms are suppressed, while honest men and the honest truth are the first casualties.