Tuesday, September 16, 2008
by Baron Bodissey
Imagine the following: In May this year a well-known and highly accepted expert on Islam — notably a woman — was invited to speak in the Austrian city of Traun. The topic of her address was to have been “Islam in Europe — A Challenge to the Government, Society and the Church”. A group comprising members from religious and community organizations, including the Catholic and Protestant churches as well as Muslims, had organized the event, which was supported by the city of Traun. However, only five days before the event Omar Al-Rawi, in charge of integration matters in the Islamic faith community and member of the socialist party, strongly criticized the event. He wrote to the organizing committee that Mrs. Schirrmacher was a well-known anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim activist and that the city of Traun’s support was terrible. Due to Al-Rawi’s criticism the event was then canceled. Now, Mrs. Schirrmacher’s credentials are impeccable. Her book Women and the Sharia is considered a standard work, and she has held countless speeches and written articles in which she propagates the rights of Muslim girls and women. A well-respected German law professor and expert on Islam hit the nail on its head by saying, “I am very surprised that no one wants to hear her crucial arguments. She cites many facts and examples.”
Mrs. Schirrmacher was uninvited simply because one man deemed her unworthy of speaking. Did he even know what she was going to say? Did he care?
These happenings in May can be considered an assault on the basic right to freedom of expression and opinion. This assault was neither the first nor the last in a series of attempts by Muslims and Muslim organizations to suppress any kind of dissenting opinion, to suppress anything that seemingly goes against the teachings of Islam. Also contributing to the suppression of free thought is the labeling of anyone daring to speak out against Islam. “Islamophobe!” is the new battle cry. “Racist! Nazi! Right-winger!” We are none of that. The notion of Islamophobia — for which there is no agreed-upon definition — according to Roger Kimball is “a misnomer”, since a phobia describes an irrational fear. The fear of the effects of radical Islam is not irrational, but well founded. Kimball believes that we should actually speak of “Islamophobiaphobia”, the fear of and revulsion towards Islamophobia.
Attacking the freedom of expression and accusing critics of Islamophobia are part of a tactic referred to as “soft jihad”. We should worry more about this version of jihad, rather than the bloody version. Soft jihad uses and abuses the language and the principles of democratic liberalism not to secure the institutions and attitudes that make freedom possible, but to undermine that freedom and pave the way for theocratic intolerance (R. Kimball). Soft jihad, according to Barbara Kay, is law-abiding. It exploits liberal discourse and weaknesses in our legal systems to induce guilt about a largely mythical Islamophobia.
Let us examine the manifestations of both Islamophobia and the attempts to ban freedom of expression and how it is aided and abetted by the United Nations and the European Union and also some of its manifestations and particularities in Austria.
In spring of this year, free speech effectively died at the UN and, with it, around the world. The UN Human Rights Council caved in to a demand by Muslim member countries that religious matters, i.e. matters of Islam, only be discussed by religious scholars. Council President Costea explained that religious matters can be “very complex, very sensitive, and very intense.” Since the council is no longer allowed to discuss religious matters in depth, it will not do so. Period. Case closed. No more discussion about genital mutilation, stoning, or child marriage. None of this has much, if anything, to do with religion per se, but everything to do with Islam.
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This discussion of religion has a long history dating back to the late 1990’s, when Pakistan introduced the first “defamation against Islam” resolution to the Human Rights Council. Although the title was later changed to include all religions, Islam remained the focus of these resolutions, which have passed not only in the Human Rights Council, but also in the UN General Assembly. In March of this year, the Islamic nations were also successful in introducing a change to the mandate of the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression who now “reports on instances where the abuse on the right of freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination.” At first glance, all of this may look and sound good. However, on closer scrutiny one realizes that defamation of religions is not about protecting individual believers from damage to their reputations caused by false statements, but rather about protecting a religion, or some interpretation of it, or the feelings of its followers. According to Angela Wu, an expert on international law, “Defamation of religions protects ideas rather than individuals and makes the state the arbiter, thereby requiring the state to sort good and bad ideologies. This violates the foundations of human rights rather than the individuals who hold the ideas.” What is worrying about all this is the fact that these resolutions keep passing, as they have been for the past ten years. This could help the concept of “defamation of religions” to become an international legal norm.
What about the European Union, one might ask. The EU prides itself in upholding fundamental rights as demonstrated by the creation of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. The EU also prides itself in being at the forefront of human rights by making available to its citizens the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Again, all of this looks and sounds just wonderful, even reassuring, until one scratches the surface. According to its website, the agency’s areas of activities include the fight against racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance. What is meant by “related intolerance”? It is not explicitly stated. However, upon his nomination as director of the EU Agency of Fundamental Rights, Morten Kjaerum named rising Islamophobia his biggest challenge.
Honesty in dealing with the population has never been on the agenda of the EU. Again, the Charter of Fundamental Rights sounds innocuous until one takes a closer look. For instance, Article 11 of the charter grandly states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.” However, the legal explanations make more explicit what is meant by this freedom, namely that it is “subject to conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, for public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.” In essence, there is freedom of expression in the EU, but it is a very limited freedom, a freedom quickly abused by those who do not agree with free thought. As Fjordman succinctly sums up, “The anti-discrimination laws in Europe come from a small group of appointed leaders who respond to pressures from the Islamic world, not from their own people. If native Europeans vote “no” to the proposed EU-constitution, they are immediately denounced and ignored. If Muslims say they want a total ban on “discrimination and Islamophobia” in Europe, they get it immediately.”
To emphasize the above, the EU has introduced a framework decision to combat racism and xenophobia, which punishes certain forms of conduct as criminal offenses, such as public incitement to violence and hatred or public distribution of material containing expressions of racism and xenophobia. Punishment must be “effective, proportionate and dissuasive”. Remember that criticizing Islam de facto falls under the category “racism and xenophobia”. According to the Council of Europe, European governments “bear a special responsibility to ensure full respect for the freedoms of thought, speech, and religion.” Governments are also asked “to develop guidelines to combat Islamophobia in the media.” The EU even offers a special media toolkit “to promote the principles of cultural diversity in TV programs.” It’s all there for you to grab paid for with your taxes if you want to be re-educated as mandated by the EU and the Council of Europe. More recently, the United Nations admonished Austria for not doing enough to combat racism and stereotyping. The UN report suggests adopting “self-mechanisms of print media”, in short, introducing self-censorship. And while both the EU and the Council of Europe introduce framework decision after framework decision on the rising Islamophobia and discrimination in Europe, not one piece of legislation covers the rise of Christianophobia. Discrimination against Christians in Europe is mentioned in passing by a member of the Fundamental Rights Agency board, focusing on intolerance and discrimination against Christians, but also against members of other religions.
The Fundamental Rights Agency takes advantage of member states by asking their national officials to do the work, with the added advantage that their cost is borne by the national taxpayer (Booker, North. “The Great Deception” p. 525). For instance, data collection reports on the local issues of fundamental rights are compiled, and thus its research paid for, by the Austrian taxpayer, through the so-called RAXEN National Focal Points (NFPs). In Austria, two institutions, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights and ZARA (Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus Arbeit), compile this so-called data collection report. The 2007 report notes that no tendencies of Islamophobia were observed in Austria. As always, one needs to look closely for the real story. In this case it is found in the section called “Unofficial data and information”: “There were 37 cases of racist violence in 2006, where the victims were visibly belonging [visibly belonged] to an ethnic or religious minority recognizable by (…) a religious symbol, especially the Muslim headscarf.” The report furthermore notes that the “high vulnerability of Muslim women wearing a headscarf is striking”.
The current situation in Austria epitomizes the success of institutions such as the Fundamental Rights Agency and the Council of Europe. Eurabia is fully implemented and going ahead full steam. Interfaith dialogue between Christianity and Islam is one case in point. There is no questioning of the oft-repeated, mantra-like assertion that Christianity and Islam are Abrahamic religions, that there is a common ancestor, Abraham, uniting all monotheistic religions. Why are the visible differences in religious practice not raised? Reference to a “common ancestor” does not help us today to solve our problems in peaceful coexistence. In addition, Austria is forced to contend with the “Law on Islam”, introduced in 1912, which states: “The doctrines of Islam, its institutions and customs shall enjoy the same protection, unless they are in contradiction to state law.” However, the Quran has never been scrutinized for such contradictions! The Law on Islam and the Islamic Faith Community are considered the definitive problem solvers. Unlike members of other religious groups, those of the Islamic faith enter the political spotlight by demanding “integration by participation”. This means, according to one representative of the Islamic faith community, that although Muslims are not religiously defined, they do want more participation. The insistence on a more detailed explanation was met with accusation that the inquirer was an enemy of Islam.
The implementation of the Eurabia concept has permeated society as a whole. This is evident in numerous areas, such as the media, the sciences, the integration policies, or the schools. The media, for instance, either practices rigorous self-censorship or disinformation as well as deliberate non-information. The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation has been sugar-coating Islam for many years and routinely does not question Muslim claims. In one radio show the listener is not told whether or not Islam provides a foundation for terrorism. Another point raised was that the terror attacks in Great Britain were committed by British citizens. Why was the fact that the terrorists were naturalized Pakistanis neglected? At a conference of imams in Vienna, topics for discussion were, among others, how Muslims in Austria are continuously being excluded. However, it was not explored how acceptance can be expected if the Western way of life is rejected and Westerners are considered infidels. Euphemisms are used for Muslims: “Asian youth”, “südländisch aussehend” (having a southern appearance).
Integration policies are geared towards favoring immigrants over the native population. There is an official government agency — the Austrian Integration Fund — catering solely to immigrants and their “problems” by offering “effective, unbureaucratic assistance in finding accommodation, job-seeking or language learning”. Successful asylum seekers are even granted scholarships as well as other financial assistance to help them integrate into Austrian society. For those wanting to learn more about integration, the Integration Fund offers an “Intercultural Conflict Management” course open only to students with a migration background or those familiar with intercultural conflict. Integration policies, however, do not assert any claims on the immigrant other than softly forcing them to learn the German language. Yet even these free language courses — at the taxpayer’s courtesy — are deemed excessive by the Islamic faith community.
To conclude, there is a widespread and multi-pronged approach in silencing dissenting opinions. The European Union does not constitute a safe haven for freedom of speech; rather, it furthers the opposite by launching and instating countless programs to curtail this very freedom. We should not endorse what Senegal’s president Wade wants: “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy. There can be no freedom without limits.” What we must stand up for every day is what Voltaire so famously said: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” This would mean the right to say “I think Islam suspicious and dislikable” and “I’m sick of constantly being told that all religions should be considered equal and that the brutal Islamic behavior is our fault” without being labeled racist or xenophobic. This would be a step in the right direction.