PC Culture

In Europe, Free Speech Bows to Sharia

Members of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, October 2017. (Jean-Francois Badias/Pool/via Reuters)
Europeans are free to say only what the courts let them.

When he was 50, the prophet of Islam took as his wife Aisha, who was then six or seven. The marriage was consummated when Aisha was nine.

This is not a smear. It is an accurate account of authoritative Islamic scripture. (See, e.g., Sahih-Bukhari, Vol. 5, Book 58, Nos. 234–236.) Yet it can no longer safely be discussed in Europe, thanks to the extortionate threat of violence and intimidation — specifically, of jihadist terrorism and the Islamist grievance industry that slipstreams behind it. Under a ruling by the so-called European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), free speech has been supplanted by sharia blasphemy standards.

The case involves an Austrian woman (identified as “Mrs. S.” in court filings and believed to be Elisabeth Sabaditsch Wolff) who, in 2009, conducted two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam.” She included the account of Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha. Though this account is scripturally accurate, Mrs. S. was prosecuted on the rationale that her statements implied pedophilic tendencies on the part of the prophet. A fine (about $547) was imposed for disparaging religion.

Mrs. S. appealed, relying on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That provision purports to safeguard “freedom of expression,” though it works about the same way the warranty on your used car does — it sounds like you’re covered, but the fine print eviscerates your protection.

Article 10 starts out benignly enough: Europeans are free “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” But then comes the legalese: One’s exercise of the right to impart information, you see, “carries with it duties and responsibilities.” Consequently, what is called “freedom” is actually “subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties” that the authorities decide “are necessary in a democratic society,” including for “public safety” and for “the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”

Translation: Europeans are free to say only what they are permitted to say by the unelected judges of the European courts. Truth is irrelevant. As the jurists reasoned in the case of Mrs. S., a person’s freedom to assert facts must be assessed in “the wider context” that balances “free” expression against — I kid you not — “the right of others to have their religious feelings protected,” as well as “the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace.”

It is thus verboten to say things that might upset Muslims. Particularly offensive is mention of Islam’s many doctrinal tenets that make us cringe in the 21st century — approbation of child marriage, violent jihad, the treatment of women as chattel, the duty to kill apostates, and so on. That these tenets are accurately stated, supported by undeniable scriptural grounding, is beside the point. Or as the ECHR put it, reliance on scripture could be classified as “an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam, which could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.”

What the vestiges of Western civilization are coming to: I say something that is true; it hurts your feelings, so — of course — you blow up a building; and it’s my fault.

Nearly four years ago, when Europe bowed to the mob and curbed its tongue following the jihadist massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I tried to explain the stakes in a pamphlet called “Islam and Free Speech.” If a society is to be a functioning, flourishing, free society, it must safeguard the robust exchange of knowledge and ideas. Absent that, the rule of reason dies, and with it freedom of conscience, equality before the law, due process, property rights, and equality of opportunity.

Islamists and their transnational-progressive allies seek to redefine democracy as a guarantee of domestic tranquility, on the road to global tranquility in a post-Westphalian order. It is a sweet-sounding roadmap to tyranny, in which “tranquility” is enforced Soviet-style, with an official version of history and truth that is not open to question or debate. Your “freedom” to speak is strictly limited to those confines.

There is no free speech in Islam. Sharia states do not merely forbid speech that insults or denigrates Islam; they regard as blasphemy — and punish with cruelty — any form of expression that casts Islam in an unfavorable light.

That, of course, is the problem with Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha: The description of it is deemed a pedophilic slander. That owes to one of the worst aspects of the solipsism that passes for modern culture: the severe judgment of past events, including ancient history, based on current sensibilities — which the “arc of history” crowd so confidently assures us are just the best sensibilities ever.

In Mohammed’s time — a time of rampant infant mortality and low life expectancy — notions of adulthood and marriageability were conflated with puberty. The coupling of men and girls was not uncommon or considered condemnable. Indeed, as observed by Myriam Francois-Cerrah, a progressive scholar of Islam, five centuries after Mohammed married Aisha, King John of England, at age 33, married 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême.

The problem is not that, in the seventh century, Mohammed married a young girl. It is that, while the West evolves because it venerates reason, much of Islamic culture regards Mohammed as the perfect role model, and this conception of the good is immutable. To fundamentalists, enacting laws against child marriage would be tantamount to saying Mohammed was in the wrong — unacceptable.

As a result, child marriage, like the abuse of women and girls in many other contexts, remains a major problem in Islamic countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, efforts to establish the marriage age at 15 (and, some hope, to raise it to 18) have been flattened by sharia authorities. The ulema point to the example of Aisha, as well as scripture that marks the onset of puberty as the point of marriageability, and decree that no minimum age is appropriate. Even when governments enact a marriage age, fundamentalist communities flout it.

Speaking of fundamentalist communities, one objective of sharia supremacists is to establish Muslim enclaves in the West and then pressure the host governments to concede their right to govern themselves under Islamic law. That is not seen as a permanent arrangement. It is a transition on the path to imposition of sharia standards on all of society.

You think it can never happen? Okay, but then ask yourself, after the ECHR ruling, what is the state of free speech in Europe compared to a sharia society? And if free speech dies, how does reason survive? How does Europe survive?

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