In Defence of Free Speech by Lars Hedegaard
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to address this important gathering.
To be absolutely frank, I have to admit that I was in grave doubt as to whether I ought to accept your courteous invitation to speak.
As you know, I am the President of the Danish and International Free Press Societies. Both organisations are entirely and exclusively devoted to the protection of free speech. Apart from that, we have no political or religious agenda.
Every member of our organisation is perfectly welcome to say anything he likes and to argue any point he wants to make as long as he does not say or do anything in contravention of free speech. But as an organisation we stick to one issue only: the defence of free speech where ever and by whom ever it is threatened.
So I am not here to heap praise on your party, Die Freiheit, or on your political programme.
I wish you well as I would wish any democratic and freedom-loving (freiheitlich) political party well – in Germany, in Denmark, all over the world.
It may well be argued – and I am prepared to accept this argument – that the struggle for freedom of expression is a political struggle. No doubt the most important political struggle of our time. But once we have agreed on this point, we in The Free Press Society welcome anyone in our midst.
Whether people are socialists, liberals, conservatives, for or against the war in Afghanistan, for or against the European Union, higher or lower taxes, immigration or whatever is of no concern to us.
We have among our members people of many political and religious persuasions – Social Democrats, liberals and conservatives, adherents and opponents of the welfare state etc. We have Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists. We get along famously because we have one thing in common: freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression is the absolute prerequisite for any other freedom. Without it there can be no democracy, no personal liberty, no rule of law, no equality before the law, no equality between the sexes. In fact no social or scientific progress.
Unfortunately, a growing number of people in our Western societies – and particularly in our governments, in our universities, in the press and among church leaders – think that free speech has become a burden. That it is an affront to the sort of decent and well behaved society they prefer. They think that free speech exists and is encoded in our free and democratic constitutions in order that people may say nice things to each other. In particular, people are not supposed to criticise so-called ethnic minorities, by which they invariably mean Muslim minorities.
According to our ruling elites, any criticism of Islam or of unfettered immigration or of the growing trend in our Western countries towards parallel societies should be seen as racism.
Not only are dissidents called every name in the book and evicted from polite company. Their careers are ruined. They are fired from their jobs. They receive threats. They are beaten up and sometimes killed.
Anyone who thinks that political murders belong in our fascist or communist past should ponder the fate of the two brave Dutchmen Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, who were cut down by political fanatics.
And they should remember what recently happened to the Danish artist Kurt Westergaard and his Swedish colleague Lars Vilks. Fortunately they are still alive but only because they are protected by the security police.
And what crime have Kurt Westergaard and Lars Vilks committed? They have drawn some pictures!
Think about that! What do you think would have happened if forty years ago, some daring soul had suggested that Islam’s implantation in the West would result in this state of affairs? He would have been ridiculed. People would have said that he was ready for the insane asylum. And if he was a politician, his career would have been cut short. That was precisely what happened to the British Conservative parliamentarian Enoch Powell when he had warned against the consequences of mass immigration.
And today – as it is becoming clear for all to see unless they shut their eyes – that orthodox Islam is incompatible with free speech, new methods are being employed in order to shut up anyone who will not toe the line.
We have come to a point where the upholders of the official state ideology of multiculturalism and cultural and moral relativism can no longer defend their position in free and open discourse. They have run out of rational arguments as more and more Germans, Dutchmen, Danes, Britons, Italians etc. realise that all cultures are not equal and that some religions and political ideologies are better than others.
So they mobilise the judicial system in order to indict and punish dissidents for what they call “hate speech”.
That is why we have seen criminal trials like the ones against my friends Geert Wilders in Holland and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Austria and myself in Denmark.
Geert, Elisabeth and I haven’t threatened anyone. We have not incited violence against anyone. We are neither anti-Semites nor racists.
We have simply insisted on our right to criticise a totalitarian ideology that threatens to obliterate everything that Europe and the West have achieved over the past 350 years.
Let me remind you that free speech is not an institution intended to ensure that people speak nicely. Quite the contrary. Freedom of expression exists in order to protect those who make statements that people abhor. Statements that are shocking, outrageous, unheard of and – yes – plain blasphemous.
Whenever I get the chance, I take the liberty of slightly rephrasing something that the incomparable English author George Orwell once remarked: Free speech is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear!
If you are looking for an easy-to-remember definition of freedom of expression, there you have it!
Anyone who takes the trouble to study the history of Western societies, will notice that any new thought, any novel scientific hypothesis or insight, any new idea that has brought our Western civilisation forward has invariably been condemned as outrageous, evil, contrary to common sense and moral decency if not outright blasphemous.
Scientific progress and advancement in human understanding cannot take place outside a climate of free speech. This means that people must have an unlimited right to advance any crazy idea they please. They must be permitted to offend, ridicule and blaspheme.
It is characteristic of every known totalitarian system – in the modern world primarily varieties of Fascism, Communism and Islam – that it will not permit people to make mistakes or deviate from a truth they consider god-given.
The pioneers of the European Scientific Revolution did not evade their share of persecution. In 1616 – 73 years after his death – the Catholic church condemned Copernicus’ heliocentric world picture as heretical. In 1633 the church basically crushed Mediterranean science by forcing Galileo to retract his contention that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Not that it made any difference in the real world – except that the Catholic Church drove serious science out of Italy and the Mediterranean lands and thereby handed the scientific and soon after the economic, political and philosophical lead to countries in Northern and Western Europe.
What distinguishes Europe – and later European societies across the seas – from the Islamic World is the fact that religious orthodoxy and religious stupidity could not survive the onslaught of free thought and free expression.
Let me emphasize that this entire development could not have taken place without critics who insisted on their right to free speech and more precisely without the hard-won freedom to criticize religion, including the right to express opinions that someone would find blasphemous. Let us recall that every major step of social progress – the abolition of royal absolutism and the prerogatives of the nobility and the religious hierarchy, the freeing of the peasants, voting rights for workers, equality for women, the abolition of slavery and apartheid, prohibition against beating servants and children etc. – has invariably been opposed by reactionaries and holy men as offensive to the god-given order. So there is no progress in human society without a relentless struggle against the very concept of blasphemy.
A few days ago, at a church gathering – the so-called Kirchentag – in Dresden, German President Christian Wulff repeated his earlier statement that Islam is a part of Germany and others at the conference said that more should be done to make Muslims feel welcome in Germany.
President Wulff might have enlightened his Christian audience that if Islam is to be a part of Germany, freedom of expression cannot be a part of it. If a political ideology such as Islam, according to which any criticism of the prophet or the Koran is punishable by death, is to be a part of Germany, then obviously free speech will have no place this brave new land.
Your President might have said that Muslims can become a part of Germany to the extent that they distance themselves from the insane political ideology that has crippled every society where it has taken hold over the past 1400 years.
But that was not what he said.
I am not mentioning President Wulff’s statement in order to single out your President or Germany for blame. I mention it because I am sure that you have all noticed what President Wullf said and wondered what it might mean.
We hear the same sentiment repeated by governments and political and church leaders all over the Western world: We have to make room for Islam in Europe, they say. Islam is an enrichment of our culture.
Strangely enough we never hear Muslim leaders either in the West or in the Islamic countries say that more should be done to make Christians, Jews and people of other faiths or without religious faith feel more welcome in the Muslim world.
We never hear governments or religious or political leaders in the Dar al-Islam (The House of Islam) demand that non-Muslims should have the right to assemble without fear, that they should have the right to build churches or synagogues. That they should be permitted to freely express their religious beliefs in public without fear of physical attacks or discrimination. In other words, that they should enjoy freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Instead we hear of endless and very often vicious and violent persecution of non-Muslims all over the Islamic world. In Algeria, Egypt, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan. From Indonesia in the East to Nigeria in the West.
Soon the last Christians of Iraq will have been driven out. That is after our troops have liberated the country. Some liberation! In Egypt – which is supposed to have carried out a democratic revolution – the 8-10 per cent of the population that still clings to Egypt’s old Christian religion are still being killed, Christian girls are still being kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married off to Muslim men, and their families never see them again.
I think that your President and other Western leaders ought to have pondered this before making statements intended to give their citizens a bad conscience because by and large, Muslims are poorly integrated in Western societies.
We live at a time when free speech is under the heaviest attack we have experienced since the Nazis tried to impose their absolutist rule two generations ago.
At a time when we should be exchanging views and information about the real threats to our civilization and whole way of life, Western countries and international organizations are busy trying to shut down free discourse. Hate speech and blasphemy laws are being brushed off or reintroduced as a means to regulate and discipline what may be said.
It seems to me that what is politically correct ought be determined by the electorate when it has had the opportunity to listen to all arguments and every relevant piece of information.
But we are going about it the other way around. First our governments tell us what is politically correct and then they decide what may be said without fear of ostracism or criminal prosecution.
It is about time that we return to the roots of our Judeo-Christian civilization and to the founding fathers of free speech.
Let me quote from a pamphlet published by the Englishman John Milton in 1644. The language may be a bit dated, but the ideas are as fresh and relevant as when they were first penned:
“Where there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men is but knowledge in the making.”
“Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
“[Truth] needs no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings to make her victorious.”
Milton goes on:
“If we think to regulate printing, thereby to rectify manners, we must regulate all recreations and pastimes, all that is delightful to man. No music must be heard, no song be set or sung, but what is grave and Doric. There must be licensing of dancers, that no gesture, motion, or deportment be taught our youth, but what by their allowance shall be thought honest.”
That was John Milton in 1644 at the time of the English Revolution.
How ironic, how sad, how despicable that 367 years later, we should again be discussing the need to license opinions, to regulate and rectify manners and indeed to place upon ourselves “this iron yoke of outward conformity” – to quote John Milton once again.
For that is precisely what we do when we introduce laws on hate speech and blasphemy, when the state outlaws certain opinions and put people in jail for voicing them.
Where does all this end? As Milton pointed out, there is no end to it.
Next they will be regulating the internet, they will be scouring e-mails for wrong opinions.
They will invade the private sphere and listen in to what people say in their homes or places of work.
For make no mistake. If you regulate what may be said in public, you’ will simply drive the frank exchange of opinions underground. So the logical outcome will be a police state with millions of snooping stasi informers.
We have already seen such cases in Europe.
It is high time that we the people put a stop to this. A society that regulates speech is a society that is unable to solve its problems – let alone identify them.
And such a society is doomed.
This is not the kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.
We must do away with speech rules and political correctness.
We must repeal all hate speech and blasphemy laws.
We in the International Free Press Society will commit all our efforts and resources to achieving this objective.