Michael Moynihan on Free-Speech Restrictions

by Reihan Salam

Michael Moynihan has a provocative new Tablet column on free-speech restrictions in Europe:

There are clear differences between denying a historical event like the Holocaust and mocking religious prophets, but the Islamists who see a free-speech double standard in Europe are correct. In Germany and Russia, for example, the printing and selling of Mein Kampf is banned (though Germany has recently considered publishing a version of the book annotated by historians). Holocaust deniers can be prosecuted in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Romanian, Poland, and Luxembourg. Other European states don’t explicitly outlaw denial but often prosecute offenders on other statutes, like inciting racial hatred. In all these countries, though, the mocking of religious belief—be it Islam or Christianity—is protected speech. And perhaps more important, these laws, while well-intentioned, have had little effect on the distribution or consumption of offensive material. By forbidding it, these governments may actually be creating interest where there was previously none.

Rather than relent to Islamist demands for suppressing speech, Moynihan calls on European states to embrace a more consistent stand in favor of free expression.