For a prosecutor, it was a simple matter of cause and effect. First, I showed that the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel Rahman, called for acts of violence: He admonished Muslims that Allah commanded them to slay non-believers and precisely quoted Islamic scriptures to back up that admonition. Then I showed that Muslim terrorists responded to these scripturally based exhortations by plotting and carrying out terrorist acts.
For this, the Clinton administration presented me the Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award, the Justice Department’s highest honor. For doing exactly the same thing, the justice department of the Netherlands presented Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders with an indictment.
I got the pretty glass eagle for the mantelpiece, and the Blind Sheikh got sent to prison. Wilders, by contrast, got to stand in the dock while the global Islamist movement got to savor the possibility of something far more valuable than a trophy: a white flag draped over the shriveling remains of free speech. Wilders has been acquitted, but his trial was nonetheless damaging to what remains of the Western tradition of free discourse and inquiry.
For demonstrating cause and effect, for graphically displaying — most notoriously in his short film, Fitna — that Islamic scriptures beget jihadist atrocities, Wilders was put on trial in the Netherlands. In this Kafkaesque situation, as Diana West reports, it would have been hard to conjure words more frightening than the ones that tripped off the Dutch prosecutor’s lips: “It is irrelevant whether Wilders’ witnesses might prove Wilders’ observations to be correct. What’s relevant is that his observations are illegal.”
And so they might easily have proved to be, in much of Europe.
Wilders was charged with speaking words and producing images that were discriminatory toward Muslims, and that insult and incite hatred against Muslims. Such speech is criminal in the Netherlands, as it is throughout Europe, which teems with defiantly non-assimilating Muslims and which has responded to the resulting cultural confrontation with the societal surrender known as political correctness. That the things Wilders has said may be true made no difference in the case. It is immaterial whether the bracing opinions he has expressed are grounded in fact, or that the success of a free society hinges on its being an informed society. Wilders, says the prosecution, was guilty simply for saying these things. In the new West, we are unconcerned with the pathologies that besiege us. But those who call our attention to the pathologies — who dare to puncture our “religion of peace” fantasy — must be quelled. After all, they may get Muslims upset, and you know what happens when Muslims get upset.
Here in America, I can still write the last part of that last sentence — for now. But maybe not for long, if President Obama has anything to say about it. Last spring, the administration joined with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to propose a United Nations resolution that condemns “negative stereotyping of religions.” The resolution exhorts all nations to take “effective measures” to “address and combat” incidents involving “any advocacy of . . . religious hatred” that could be construed as an “incitement” not just to “violence” but to any form of “discrimination,” or even to mere “hostility.”
We needn’t worry about that here, you tell yourself. We’ve got the First Amendment. Don’t be so sure. The anti-hostility resolution states that the “effective measures” it urges are compelled by each nation’s “obligations under international human-rights law.” When we look at one source of such law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (foolishly ratified by the first President Bush, after U.S. Senate consent, in 1992), we find — nearly verbatim in Article 20 — the same speech-suffocating standard proposed by Obama and the OIC: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Even before Elena Kagan made it to the Supreme Court, there existed a five-justice majority (including Anthony Kennedy) for the proposition that international and foreign law should be weighed in interpreting American constitutional guarantees. Justice Kagan keeps that bloc intact, sliding comfortably into the shoes of her predecessor, Justice John Paul Stevens. She is also known to harbor hostility toward free speech: As an academic she belittled its value, and as solicitor general she argued that “categories of speech” may be suppressed if the government, in its wisdom, decides the “societal costs” of permitting them are too high.
When it comes to Islam as a category of speech, there is no doubt that our current government reflects the transnational progressive consensus: that the Western tradition of critical examination must give way to the Muslim tradition of submission. This is why when jihadists attack, the self-loathing elite’s response is to wonder what we did to offend them. It is also why when Muslims rioted over harmless cartoon depictions of their warrior-prophet as a warrior-prophet, the State Department’s harshest condemnation was reserved not for the marauders but for the offending newspaper. It is why Yale University Press would only publish a book about the cartoon controversy after the author agreed to purge from its pages the cartoons themselves. It is why the Washington Post just spiked a “Where’s Mohammed?” spoof in which the prophet nowhere appeared — and, by this craven act, validated cartoonist Wiley Miller’s point about Western timidity.
At least Mr. Miller is around to tell the tale. Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris had to go underground for merely suggesting an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” — as Mark Steyn observes, even being a good lefty who never followed through and tried to disavow the whole business didn’t help her. The threat whose name must not be spoken was too much. On the FBI’s advice, she disappeared without a trace, much to the relief of her former employer, the Seattle Weekly.
The Blind Sheikh has more maladies than I’ve got space to describe them. He can’t build a bomb, hijack a plane, or carry out an assassination. His one and only capacity to cause mayhem is his renowned mastery of Islamic doctrine. We know little about Islam. By comparison, the Blind Sheikh is a doctor of Islamic jurisprudence, graduated from storied al-Azhar University and steeped in that ancient institution’s literalist, militant construction of Muslim theology. We are instructed by our betters to view Islam as a religion of peace — indeed, as one of our best assets in the fight against terrorism. To the contrary, the Blind Sheikh instructed the faithful that Islamic scriptural commands — Allah’s personal commands — to violence and intolerance mean exactly what they say.
Because of his exalted clerical status — that is, owing to his authority in Islam and nothing else — the Blind Sheikh was able to spur Muslims to terror. Upon demonstrating this fact, I was given an award, while he was locked in a prison cell.
Fifteen years later, for making a similar demonstration, Geert Wilders risked being the one locked in a prison cell. Fifteen years later, when Iraq’s Ayatollah Ali Sistani says Islam requires the killing of homosexuals, it is considered preaching; when Geert Wilders says it, it is a hate crime.
I don’t know if the Netherlands gives its prosecutors baubles for proving this sort of thing. Wilders’ prosecutors seem unlikely to be lauded: They have now tried to dismiss the charges against him for a second time, the first (in 2008) having been rejected by Dutch jurists who seem hell-bent on nailing Wilders and whose approval is needed before the case can be dropped. I do know the Islamists at the OIC have already been handsomely rewarded by this travesty. Their campaign to impose sharia proscriptions against speech unfavorable to Islam — against telling uncomfortable truths about Koranic injunctions and the terrible consequences that flow from them — is steadily vanquishing the West’s commitment to discourse and reason.
– Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.