Appeasing Islamist radicals imperils Western freedoms
Disturbing trends in ostensibly democratic nations are currently threatening our fundamental liberties of free speech. Western nations, intimidated by threats of violence from Islamic radicals, are re-evaluating the rights of citizens to criticize the beliefs of others with whom they disagree.
Consider the case in Australia, where it took hundreds of thousands of dollars and several years of litigation before charges were dropped against two pastors who ran a seminar on the virtues of Islam vis-a-vis Christianity. Lower courts had convicted them of "hate speech." The two pastors were exonerated, but are now impoverished.
The source of this growing movement against free speech is the anti-blasphemy laws that are being passed in predominantly Muslim countries.
There it is routine for nonconformist thinking about Islam to be adjudged heresy at best, and apostasy at worst. Death threats are common.
Whole segments of the global Muslim community, -- the Ahmadia Muslims, for example, over 4 million strong in Pakistan -- are denied civil rights and have absolutely no legal standing. They cannot get passports, their publications are banned, their children are expelled from schools, and they cannot even legally call themselves Muslim -- all because they revere a different Muslim "messiah" than the approved Sunni or Shiite sects.
In supposedly moderate Indonesia, Ahmadia Muslims are considered "deviants" and risk criminal penalties for being a member of that sect, the maximum being up to five years in prison.
Of course, conversion to Christianity in majority Islamic countries is deserving of death as the current sentence levied on Abdul Rahman -- a former Muslim in Iran who as a teenager converted to Christianity -- demonstrates. Only the threat of global opprobrium appears to be keeping Iran from carrying out the sentence. Western nations, while not totally caving in to this infringement of free speech, have been complying with it privately -- and in some cases openly.
President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Cameron of the UK have publicly said that Europe's multiculturalism has been a failure.
But Denmark was intimidated by the publication of anti-Mohammed cartoons, and other nations like the Netherlands have shown a similar spinelessness.
Norway's educated elite has openly criticized free speech as dangerous and inciting violence.
In England a couple running a bed-and-breakfast called Mohammed a "war lord," while chatting with a Muslim lady. For this they were vilified in the press and put on trial for hate speech. They, too, were acquitted but by then they had been bankrupted.
Even the Yale University Press backed down under pressure, and refused to print the Mohammed cartoons in a book it published about them.
Recently in Washington a conference sponsored by the Federalist Society asked the question: Are global trends to ban religious defamation, religious insult, and Islamophobia a new challenge to First Amendment freedoms?
Noted speaker after speaker demonstrated that the answer was a resounding yes.
Dr. Paul Marshall, the principal speaker and co-author of a new book titled "Silenced" (Oxford University Press), said "under blasphemy laws a large body of ideas are no longer open to be debated. Coercively applied blasphemy laws narrow the boundaries of discussion about religion, science, and politics."
All of which leads me to ask: Are we headed towards a society where book banning, muzzling of minority speakers, mob protests against perceived insults against another religion, legal action aimed at the suppression of controversial ideas, and unchallenged intimidations leveled at those with unconventional opinions are all deemed unprotected by law? If radical Muslims have their way, we most certainly are.
What we are seeing in the enforcement and expansion of anti-defamation laws is that charges of blasphemy and apostasy have become key instruments in the imposition of ultra-conservative viewpoints.
As the "Arab Spring" turns into the Arab winter, we are seeing the suppression of all critical debate within Islam that has the effect of delegitimizing moderate Muslims -- the very ones whose viewpoints the world needs to bring sanity and order to a wide swath of humanity.
Unless we in the West are on guard against this creeping trend, we, too, will find ourselves sleepwalking into Sharia Law -- even here.
Peter C. Moore, D.D.
St. Michael's Church