It’s funny, in an Orwellian way, that in Europe there are now militant groups with such cutesy names as Sharia4Belgium and Sharia4Holland. Less funny, but perhaps more Orwellian, is this: Last month, the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) held an event in Amsterdam featuring two speakers who favor liberalizing Islam. More than 20 members of these pro-sharia groups pushed their way in shouting “Allahu akbar!” They demanded the event be stopped, called the speakers apostates, spat on them, threw eggs at them, and threatened to kill them. Proud of these actions and apparently not overly concerned with legal consequences, they even made a YouTube video of their “protest.”
Now here’s the least funny and most Orwellian part: Very few Europeans — very few journalists, politicians, members of the self-proclaimed Human Rights community, or Muslim organizations claiming to be moderate — have expressed outrage over this boot-stomping suppression of free speech in a city, country, and continent that claim to value freedom and tolerance. Imagine if the situation had been slightly different — if, say, a Muslim Brotherhood event had been violently disrupted by spitting, egg-throwing, death-threatening Christians or Jews.
Roberta Bonazzi, EFD’s Italian-born executive director — a friend and colleague of mine — bravely vowed not to be silenced. “We are united and will continue to support inspirational Muslim reformers across Europe,” she said. The speakers she had attempted to feature also kept a stiff upper lip. Irshad Manji, Canadian author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith
, said that she and Dutch parliamentarian Tofik Dibi had “refused to leave, even when police asked. We wouldn’t play on jihadi terms.” Dibi, of the Green-Left party (and of Moroccan descent), said “the disruption shows that even in the Netherlands it is necessary to continue the debate on reforming Islam.”
Necessary, yes; safe, no. In Europe, increasingly, free speech ends where Islam, Islamism, and even Islamic terrorism begin. Two months ago, the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed and its staff targeted with death threats after publication of an issue “edited” by the prophet Mohammad.
In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street: He had directed a film about the treatment of women in Islamic societies. The film’s author, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also was subjected to death threats. She subsequently fled to America.
In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen cartoons satirizing terrorism in the name of Islam. That led to protests, riots, death threats, an assassination plot, and the bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan.
All of this continues a trend begun more than a generation ago: In 1989, Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered any Muslim willing and able to murder British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses Khomeini deemed blasphemous. Rushdie has required body guards ever since.
Had he been resident in any of the more than 50 states that hold membership in the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (formerly called the Organization of the Islamic Conference but the new name is so much friendlier), that probably would not have saved him. Last year, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, defended a Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for having said something some Muslims found offensive. One of Taseer’s own bodyguards shot him 27 times with an MP5 sub-machine gun. Many Pakistani clerics and religious scholars praised the killer and prohibited praying at Taseer’s funeral.