Legal Conference on Freedom of Speech and Religion. Baron Bodissey
Legal Conference on Freedom of Speech and Religion
This is the first of a series of reports on the International Legal Conference on Freedom of Speech and Religion, which was held on October 27 and 28 in Washington D.C. It was originally posted at Gates of Vienna.
Creeping Sharia Within the Western Democracies
A prominent thread was woven throughout last week’s legal conference: the increasing pressure exerted on Western nations by Islamic law, or sharia. Wherever free speech is under threat, much of the impetus for censorship and repression comes from Muslims who wish to restrict the words and actions of others based on the tenets of Islamic law.
It’s true that even if there had been no mass immigration of Muslims into Europe, Canada, and the United States, our governments would still exhibit a tendency to silence dissent. Any truly open discussion about the European Union threatens its very existence, so a push to restrict speech in Europe is inevitable. Similarly, the growing preference among the American intelligentsia for “international law” and other Progressive fads can find little traction as long as public discussion remains frank and open. Pressure will always be brought to bear to mute such discussion, if possible.
However, radical Islam supplies most of the financial backing, street protests, violent intimidation, political initiatives, and legal action aimed at limiting free speech. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has mounted a major effort against free speech, either directly or through its compliant surrogates in the UN and the EU. Whether the issue is defamation of Islam, blasphemy towards the Koran, insulting the prophet Mohammed, or other offenses against Muslim customs and doctrine, the attempted piecemeal implementation of sharia lies at the root of the problem.
One reason I decided to report on the conference by topic rather than panel by panel is that various themes reappeared repeatedly on different panels and in different speeches. The most prominent theme of all was sharia.
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“Creeping” is the appropriate term for the encroachment of sharia. Citizens in the Western democracies, even in their current apathetic and demoralized condition, would balk at devouring the entire Islamic leviathan. But when the beast is cut up into small chunks and served over an extended period of time, it goes down quite easily.
So let’s take a look at some of the bite-sized pieces of sharia that we are being forced to gag down daily:
1. The “freedom of religion” dodge
The freedom-of-religion tactic is widely used by the OIC in its efforts to ban “defamation” (i.e. criticism) of Islam. According to this reasoning, criticism of a religion interferes with the practice of it, and thus violates the freedom of religion as guaranteed by the UDHR and various national constitutions.
In the United States, this means in effect that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment trumps the Free Speech Clause, the Freedom of Assembly Clause, and other parts of the Constitution. Robert Muise reminded us of an incident in Dearborn, Michigan, in which Christians were prohibited from proselytizing at an Arab street festival, and confined in an area which would keep them from making contact with any Muslims. They were assembling peacefully on a public street, yet their First Amendment rights were denied.
In Europe, where constitutional protections for free speech are less stringent, the suppression of free speech is more explicit. Criticizing Islam is described as “provoking religious hatred”, which interferes with freedom of religion or negatively impacts “community cohesion”, and is therefore banned under EU law and various national statutes.
The entire process is an example of a more generic doctrine of politically correct Multiculturalism: if one’s behavior offends or upsets a member of a protected minority, then the feelings of the offended party are prima facie evidence that the protected person has been discriminated against and had his rights violated.
In this Multiculturalism converges with sharia, effectively forbidding any criticism of Islam or Mohammed, exactly as mandated by the Koran, the hadith, and the Sunna.
2. The “defamation” tactic
Common sense would tell us that only individuals can be defamed, and not groups, and especially not entire religions. But the ideology of PC/MC recognizes the defamation of groups — e.g. “racism” — and the OIC coined the term “Islamophobia” so that criticism of Islam could slip right into the established defamation groove.
On several panels David Yerushalmi explained the ins and outs of defamation as defined under American law. Defaming a group is not actionable in the U.S., but the rules are being bent to try to demonstrate that individuals are defamed when Islam is criticized. The fact that such frivolous lawsuits are unlikely to be successful does not mitigate the “chilling effect” on free speech created by the expensive necessity to mount a defense.
In Canada, defamation rules presume the defendant guilty, and the onus is upon the accused defamer to prove that he is no such thing.
Europe is much further down the illiberal garden path when it comes to defamation. Both Sweden and Finland have criminal laws against hets mot folkgrupp, the defamation of or incitement against an ethnic group. Several people in both countries have been tried and convicted for defaming Islam, which has been redefined as an ethnic group.
Which brings us to:
3. Religion = Race
Morten Messerschmidt pointed out that under EU law, race and religion are considered to be aspects of the same thing. Therefore, criticism of Islam is effectively equivalent to racism, and Islamophobia is enshrined alongside racism in the pantheon of multicultural jurisprudence.
Mr. Messerschmidt also noted that under current European practices, “racism” can even exist between two groups which are manifestly part of the same race. Thus, disparaging inhabitants of another country or even a neighboring province can be construed as “racism”. Insulting the fans of an opposing football team is potentially actionable using this bizarre logic.
Such intricacies of orthodox PC theology make it easier to invoke “racism” against critics of Muslims in, say, Bosnia, Kosovo, or Chechnya, who are not racially distinct from Christian (or post-Christian) Europeans.
In the USA the situation is not so far gone, although we are headed in that direction. Most Muslims in the United States are Arabs, South Asians, Somalis, or African American converts. Whoever voices the slightest criticism of Islam thus makes immediate contact with the third rail of American public discourse. Hence the heroic efforts by George W. Bush and the Pentagon to fight “terrorism” — publicly mentioning the I-word is all but certain to bring on Sudden Political Death Syndrome.
According to David Harris, the situation in Canada is almost as dire as in Europe. Canadian Muslims are massively protected from criticism by the operation of the Human Rights Commissions, which act as an extra-judicial Star Chamber and are charged with punishing any outbreaks of heresy against Multiculturalism. The rules are, of course, enforced selectively on different religions, with Christians enjoying almost no protection at all — this will be discussed in more detail below.
Needless to say, heresy against Multiculturalism dovetails nicely with blasphemy against Islam, and thus the HRCs are effectively enforcing sharia in Canada.
4. The “Islamic finance” scam
Sharia-compliant finance is probably the biggest camel-nose under the tent of Western democracy. Financial institutions stand to make a lot of money from it, and thus generally have no problem with it. Why should they care if Muslims want to encumber themselves with a lot of ridiculous rules when they borrow money? A Muslim dollar is the same as any other dollar, isn’t it?
In the long run, the answer to that question is “no”. Allowing sharia-compliant finance tends to legitimize sharia as an institution, and will make it that much harder down the road to resist other provisions of Islamic law. Dietary restrictions, gender inequality, veiling, and all the other odious aspects of sharia will tend to creep in where SCF has blazed the trail.
It’s possible, however, for sharia opponents in the USA to fight the inroads of Islamic finance the same way the ACLU fights crèches and school prayer: under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. David Yerushalmi pointed out that when the U.S. government took over AIG, it acquired one of the world’s largest sharia-compliant finance institutions. If AIG does not divest itself of all aspects of SCF, then both it and the government are in violation of the First Amendment.
5. Selective enforcement of “hate speech”
Strangely enough, in most Western countries the protections afforded religions are usually enforced solely for the benefit of Islam. Offended Christians are unlikely to mount successful lawsuits or see their defamers charged under the same hate speech laws that Muslims use so effectively.
A gay group in Canada recently attempted to bring a complaint before a Human Rights Commission concerning Muslim comments about homosexuals. It’s not surprising that the HRC refused to accept the complaint.
Andrea Williams reported from Britain on her group’s defense of Christians who were charged or sacked for wearing crosses while on the job. Muslim women in Britain are never enjoined from wearing the hijab — in fact, virtually no expression of the Islamic faith under any circumstances attracts official censure. Rules protecting the religious sensitivities of citizens are almost entirely employed to persecute Christians.
In the United States, of course, displays of the Ten Commandments or Christian symbols are relentlessly hounded out of public spaces by the ACLU and similar groups, while Muslims are granted prayer rooms, foot baths, and all the other accoutrements of their faith wherever they demand them.
6. The “heckler’s veto”
The Mohammed Cartoon Crisis was perhaps the largest example of the heckler’s veto since 9/11. Loud, obnoxious protests — especially when accompanied by the implicit threat of violence — is a very effective means of silencing Western critics of Islam and compelling the adherence by non-Muslims to the tenets of Islam.
Another prominent example of this tactic was Lord Ahmed’s threat to put 10,000 Muslim demonstrators on the street in front of Parliament if Geert Wilders showed Fitna at the House of Lords. Lord Pearson described the concern this provoked within the British government, which eventually led to the refusal to allow Mr. Wilders entry into the UK.
Less ostentatious examples of the heckler’s veto occur virtually every day in universities and other public venues across Europe and North America. The question-and-answer session after a recent Geert Wilders speech in Pennsylvania was cut short after unruly members of the audience made their displeasure obvious.
Once again, the heckler’s veto contributes to the “chilling effect” and leads to the widespread self-censorship without which sharia would be unable to gain any traction. Diana West described the blatant self-censorship exerted by Yale University when it pre-emptively pulled the Mohammed illustrations from Jytte Klausen’s book. No fatwa had been issued, no threatening mob had gathered outside the president’s office, and no Muslims had protested the book’s illustrations. All it took was a fear of Muslim reaction — plus the hope of attracting Saudi petrodollars — to send the university into full dhimmitude.
Thousands of trivial examples of the same trend have brought down a blanket of silence over academic discourse. Public discussion of Islam has become limited to the approved talking points laid down by CAIR and the OIC, and most of the enforcement is carried out by the infidels themselves, out of both fear and a desire to be politically correct.
Ms. West observed the importance of Kurt Westergaard and his Turban Bomb cartoon in revealing the alarming extent of self-censorship in our institutions. The Motoons shone a light on the sharia-compliant underside of Western culture, which might otherwise have remained hidden.
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In all the discussions about creeping sharia, speakers and panelists made the repeated point that the problem isn’t Islam itself, which is simply seizing the opportunities offered by Western weakness. The problem is the pandemic of politically correct Multiculturalism, which has infected most political and cultural institutions in our countries.
Turning the tide of sharia will mean reclaiming the right to speak freely and honestly about it, which in turn will require overturning the reigning progressive paradigm, without which sharia could never take hold.