23 June 2011

A win for secularism and free speech

Imagine if, here in the United States, criticism of the Christian Right were a criminal offense. Imagine if anyone who objected to the Christian Right agenda or pointed out its true nature were immediately smeared as an extremist in the media, and if even one of the most popular and powerful politicians in America were to be arrested and charged with "hate speech", facing up to a year in prison, for merely voicing his opposition to the fundies.

Well, that's the situation that prevails in some European countries, where there is no First Amendment and the local equivalent of our Christian Right has weirdly achieved a sort of sacred-cow status with a sclerotic political and media establishment.

Islam is a small minority in western Europe, mostly imported by immigrants since World War II, but it has become an outspoken and sometimes dangerous force. In Europe, Islam is the main enemy of gay rights, the main source of attacks on secularism and women's equality, the main promulgator of hatred against Jews, and the main -- indeed, pretty much only -- advocate of teaching creationism in schools. Like the Christian Reconstructionists in the US, who want to impose Leviticus as the law of the land, some extremist Muslims have openly called for Europe to be Islamized and for SharĂ®'ah to be imposed there, in some of the world's most secular societies. More recently, assimilation has taken hold in most of Europe, with many Muslims becoming absorbed into the mainstream culture; but, as in the US, the religious-extremist sub-culture becomes more extreme as it shrinks, because it's the most committed and radical who remain.

As in the US, the rise of militant religion has provoked vigorous opposition. Prominent atheists such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Pat Condell have spoken out forcefully against the Islamists, in the same terms as they have against fundamentalist Christianity. In the Netherlands, the conflict has turned violent. Pim Fortuyn, a gay, Marxist professor, founded an anti-Islam party; he was murdered. Leftist film-maker Theo van Gogh, sometimes called the Michael Moore of Europe, made a film critical of Islam; he was murdered. Immigrant Muslim-turned- atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after speaking out against Islam, was so hounded by threats that she had to flee to the US. (Bizarrely, such critics are routinely branded "far right" in the European media, though it's perfectly clear that Islam is the real "far right" in this situation. It's true that some genuine extreme-right figures and splinter parties have attached themselves to the anti-Islam cause, but if anything, they've harmed that cause by association.)

In Denmark as well, the publication of the famous Muhammad cartoons (mild compared with the mockery of Christianity which is routine on the US left), led to rioting and threats from Muslims, and later an attempt to murder a cartoonist. Europe's enfeebled Christian church leadership mostly sided with the Islamists, while many secular newspapers re-published the cartoons in solidarity.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders has emerged as the most prominent (surviving) critic of Islam in the Netherlands. He has denounced Islam as violent (a claim supported by numerous terrorist attacks and other killings, as well as by the sacred texts' endorsement of war and violence against unbelievers), called for a ban on Muslim immigration (far from unreasonable, given the results of earlier immigration), and compared the Koran to Mein Kampf (I've read both, and he has a point). For these statements, which in the US would be considered radical but protected free expression, he was put on trial for hate speech, with a maximum possible sentence of a year in prison. His trial has become widely seen as a test case of whether the Western values of secularism and free expression can still stand in Europe against religious totalitarianism.

Today the Western values won. Wilders was acquitted (reports from MSNBC, Radio Netherlands, and Der Speigel), with the court ruling that his words, while offensive to some, were a legitimate part of public debate.

In truth, Europe's taboo on criticizing Islam has been weakening for some time, and the secular resistance has been growing more assertive. Let's hope that the Wilders verdict emboldens others to speak out.

And, American readers, be very glad that we do have the First Amendment, so that you don't need to worry about being arrested and put on trial for criticizing a religion. We must fight to keep it that way.

14 Comments:

Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

This is a very troubling trend in Europe. And as you have pointed out, our 1st Amendment is a right quite unique to the US.

23 June, 2011 10:18  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Good Afternoon Infodel! ... Actually I read this posting earlier this morning, but had to run before I commented ... just wanted to say it is an excellent posting considering all the religious partiality and trash that the human species has relentlessly tolerated as if it was actually the "word of some God" for far too long ... I am sure you know my sentiment's on these inbred ingrate's as well, so I need not say much more.

Thanx ....

23 June, 2011 11:02  
Blogger Nance said...

Well done! I keep losing sight of the larger picture and pondering worriedly, "Why is America...why is the world, indeed...leaning further and further right into repressive fundamentalism?" I keep forgetting the forces that keep building the pressure on humankind, bringing out the worst, the most fearful, the least tolerant and humane of our impulses: global climate change, a planetary energy crisis, the imminent collapse of cultural boundaries that were once experienced as the definitive supports of life. Change, in short, on a scale unprecedented in what's known as modern, or recorded, history. When I remember this, most of what's occurring in the way of stress response was and is predictable, but too painful to stare at head on for long.

23 June, 2011 16:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RtS: I think Europeans increasingly grasp the point of a clear principle of free expression, but getting it established, especially where criticism of religion is concerned, is an uphill battle.

RC: Oh, yes, I know quite well what you think of them! You and Wilders would probably get along great.

Nance: I actually don't think the world is getting further into fundamentalism. Religious extremists are getting more extreme and strident, and in some cases violent, precisely because they realize they're losing the culture war. Here in America, gay rights are gaining support at a startling pace. In Europe, more and more young Muslims are assimilating the values of the secular mainstream culture, and the taboo against open criticism of Islam is eroding. The crazies are frothing and raging because they sense that their day is done and they're becoming irrelevant.

Thanks for the comments!

23 June, 2011 17:42  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Yes ... I think Wilders is very frank and make's alot of worthwhile point's ... I even feel some of those he would like to kick out of his country would feel the same as him and his culture in their's. I wouldnt put a well bred show poodle, in a pit with a bunch of pit- bull's either :) And if many folk's didnt actually feel like that ... they wouldnt breed their animal's/ pet's the way they do either ... goes to show you how full of caca the plastic liberated mindset is as well :)

I love the Bible as far as historic literature is concerned ... but I'll be damned if I would live by it, or take it as the truth, or having a thing to do with 21st century culture and living on any continent. I have alwayz looked at it simply as an ancient occult/ sci- fi/ horror classic with a family tree story mixed in. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh ... I dont even see it as having a bloody thing to do with a spiritual mindset or even nature ... and if God/ Allah doesnt respect the enviroment and nature ... what the Hell did he create it for? ... could that be a sign of bi- polarism? ... Just a thought ....

24 June, 2011 05:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I wouldnt put a well bred show poodle, in a pit with a bunch of pit- bull's either :)

In this case, it's more like the pit bulls invading the poodles' house -- but they should be careful -- poodles are smart and can be fierce when they need to be.

could that be a sign of bi- polarism?

That means being attracted to polar bears of both genders, right?:-)

24 June, 2011 05:46  
Anonymous Jack said...

While I am certainly glad that Geert Wilders was not convicted, and truly wish that the Netherlands and all of Europe had a first amendment equivalent, it would seem that you also are pretty confortable, if not down right supportive, of his overall view of Islam. In a reasonably long post which positively highlights his views, you seem to elide over his proposal not merely to restrict all Muslim immigration, but also to ban all preaching in a language other than Dutch, to ban construction of all Mosques or Islamic schools, a convenient view of the Koran (but not the Bible) that takes all the worst elements as literal requirements of believers which allows him to lump all self-described followers of Islam into one big potentially terrorist lump. Geert Wilders is hardly a free speach icon, he is merely a free speech for Geert Wilders icon.

24 June, 2011 16:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Regardless of Wilders's own views, efforts to punish him for expressing them are an alarming interference in free speech.

What the post highlights is the reality of the problems posed by Islam in Europe -- it is a threat very much parallel to the threat posed by the Christian Right in the US. Wilders is just one of many people who have grasped this and taken a stand. I certainly didn't "elide over" his proposal to restrict Muslim immigration, but specifically mentioned it.

I don't support banning the Koran, because one of the best ways to get people to see how dangerous Islam is, is to encourage them to read it.

24 June, 2011 18:54  
Anonymous Jack said...

I can see that my syntax was awkward. If you start with my "not merely" and read that as "here is what you did say", and the "but" becomes "but here is what you elided over" I think you will see what I am getting at. Seeing Islam as a threat equal to the religious right zealots in the U.S.: no problem, I think they are a great problem for Europe even. But if you spend a lengthy paragraph praising and positively highlighting Geert, and you do so without the slightest mention or allusion to the clearly bigoted, authoritarian, freedom-limiting proposals and agenda he has in mind, well then I think you tacitly signaling that you are down with that, or willing to completely overlook it.

I get that the primary point of your article was to highlight a free speech victory, and I'm all down with that. But it seems to me you take it further. It is sort of one of the points that make reading yoru blog jarring for me. So so many areas of complete agreement, insightful lengthy posts, fantastic link round ups of things in which we are both interested, and so it is disconcerting (more so than it would be if we didn't have so many areas of commonality) to run across areas of significant disagreement, in which it appears to me you are buying into existential threat type arguments. I lost into the ether a lengthy comment along these lines I made sometime in the past. I think it was your positive link to some sort regional flag controversy in England that had public officials and immigrants in a tizzy, and your positively highlighted linkee spend a good portion of his post making ethnic jokes about immigrants funny hats and accents, and generally being an a-hole. In any other circumstance, i think you would have castigated such a post, but since it touched on the supposed danger of middle eastern and central asian immigration, you gave it a thumbs up. I minor link in a round up, I realize, but it seems part of a larger ethos.

25 June, 2011 07:58  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: Sorry, I flat-out disagree with you. Islam in Europe is an existential threat, just as Christian extremism in the US is. Opposition to a religion is not "bigoted". A religion is an ideological belief system. Opposing Islam is no more "bigoted" than opposing Communism or fascism is. Some of the most vigorous opponents of Islam are former Muslims such as Ibn Warraq or Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Religion in general is a dangerous virus; when it turns militant, I support tough measures to fight it.

I agree with most of Wilders's views. There is no reason why any country should be obligated to allow immigration at all; that's something each country has to decide based on its own interests. Muslim immigration to Europe has brought huge problems and almost no benefits. It would be perfectly rational for Europeans to simply cut it off. (If Christian fundamentalism in the US were being augmented by a steady stream of immigrants from outside the country, I'd support cutting that off, too.) I don't agree with banning the Koran, for the same reason I wouldn't want to ban Mein Kampf, but compared with the other points at issue, that's a trivial matter.

If the England link you mention is the one I think it is, it was to a case where a blogger in England was being harassed by local authorities for displaying an English flag on St. George's Day, England's national holiday, on the grounds that some ethnic groups might find it offensive. The blogger in question has a lot of views I find repulsive, but that doesn't change the fact that the specific incident in question was an absurd and maddening example of political correctness gone berserk.

25 June, 2011 09:08  
OpenID ecks why said...

the success of multiculturalism requires that all parties involved show some tolerance for each other. islam does not meet this requirement and is dangerous no matter how it is packaged.

muslims do not assimilate into western society because islam is a theocracy and demands supremacy. there is no radical, moderate, hijacked or any other nuanced semanticism type of islam. there is only islam which is based on the life of a murdering 8th century warlord.

the twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

see the links in the pdf version below for more accurate info about islam
==========

islam is a horrible ideology for human rights

5 key things about islam

1. mythical beliefs - all religions have these (faith) because its part of being a religion: having beliefs without proof until after the believer dies. the problem is people will believe almost anything.

2. totalitarianism - islam has no seperation of church and state: sharia law governs all. there is no free will in islam: only submission to the will of allah as conveniently determined by the imams who spew vapors to feather their own nests. there are no moderate muslims: they all support sharia law.

3. violence - islam leads the pack of all religions in violent tenets for their ideology & history: having eternal canonical imperatives for supremacy at all costs and calling for violence & intimidation as basic tools to achieve these goals.

4. dishonesty - only islam has dishonesty as a fundamental tenet: this stems from allah speaking to mohamhead & abrogation in the koran which is used to explain how mo's peaceful early life was superseded by his warlord role later.

5. misogyny - present day islam is still rooted in 8th century social ethics: treating females as property of men good only for children, severely limiting their activities, dressing them in shower curtains and worse.

conclusions ??

there really are NO redeeming qualities for this muddled pile of propaganda.

islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

graphics version
http://img829.imageshack.us/img829/5792/dangero.jpg

1 page pdf version - do file/download 6kb viewer doesn't show fonts well, has better fonts header footer links, great for emailing printing etc
http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B_UyNP-72AVKYWNiNTFlYTEtMTA1ZC00YjhiLTljMDUtMDhhNDE0NDMzNmYz

27 June, 2011 11:00  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

EY: There is a lot of truth in what you say, but not all Muslims' attitudes are determined by Islam. A lot of Muslims are ignorant of what their own religion says or believe things that are outright contrary to it, just as secular and tolerant Christians do. There can be no moderate Islam, but there are moderate Muslims.

For example, this:

there are no moderate muslims: they all support sharia law.

is simply empirically false. There are many Muslims who do not support SharĂ®'ah, even though strict adherence to the tenets of Islam would require them to do so.

28 June, 2011 01:43  
OpenID ecks why said...

well if we are going to explore word games & semantics :)

how can a person profess to be a muslim if they do not adhere to islamic theology ?

yes i realize many followers of many religions behave exactly like this, claiming to be religion-x while not adhering to various doctrines of x

generally religious doctrines ignore such quibbles otherwise how could broad sweeping statements ever be made about anything ? especially religious beliefs where the final proof is not revealed until after we die ?

so for my purposes with this polemic rant it is categorically true - there are no moderate muslims they all support sharia law, because a person cannot truely (heh :) claim to be a muslim and not support islamic theology

and rest assured once enough so-called muslims congregate in ANY area the true believers start enforcing doctrine per the koran because islam itself appeals to the worst in human nature, thug like behavior abusing others for personal gain just more violence in the name of some delusional "god" blah blah blah

28 June, 2011 10:22  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

how can a person profess to be a muslim if they do not adhere to islamic theology ?

If you re-define an adherent of a religion as being only someone who supports every detail of its dogmas, then only a minority (probably small) of Muslims are actually Muslims, and there are almost no Christians in the world at all (Fred Phelps's bunch might be the only ones to qualify).

Re-defining words so that they mean something completely different from normal usage is playing word-games.

The fact is, for every religion, the adherents fall along a continuum; a minority really believes every detail of the dogma, but many others don't believe, or even know about, some portion of it.

so for my purposes with this polemic rant it is categorically true - there are no moderate muslims they all support sharia law,

No, you're wrong. Religion is vile enough in reality, without adding hyperbolic claims which everyone can see are empirically false, and which discredit the anti-religion cause by association.

"If we call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs does it have? Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one." - Lincoln

29 June, 2011 04:53  

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