The EU Embraces Peace at Any Price
Accurately describing Muhammed is condemned as "hate speech" — coming to a theater near you.
American leftists have long desired to “fundamentally transform” this nation into something that closely resembles the European Union. The desire for top-down, centralized government that animates their counterparts in Brussels derives from the same mindset, as in the sheer hubris that a technocracy run by benevolent elites is the most “enlightened” form of government. Yet as a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) indicates, it is the hubris of cowards. The court upheld an Austrian woman’s conviction for “disparagement of religious precepts,” because she was critical of the Prophet Muhammed. In short, free speech took a back seat to Sharia law.
In 2009 the woman, called “Mrs. S” by the court but identified as Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, conducted two seminars entitled “Basic Information on Islam.” During those seminars, Sabaditsch-Wolff included the scripturally accurate account of the 50-year-old prophet of Islam taking Aisha as his wife when she was six or seven, and consummating the marriage when Aisha was nine.
During those lectures, NEWS magazine, a leftist Austrian publication, planted a reporter in the audience to secretly record them. Lawyers for the magazine subsequently provided transcripts to the Viennese public prosecutor’s office as evidence alleging Sabaditsch-Wolff had violated Section 283 of the Austrian Criminal Code that criminalizes “hate speech.” Initial charges against her were filed in September 2010, and her jury-less trial, adjudicated by Judge Bettina Neubauer, began that November.
It quickly devolved into farce. Neubauer pointed out that only 30 minutes of the first seminar had been recorded, and that statements attributed to Sabaditsch-Wolff were actually offhand comments made during breaks. Moreover, far fewer than the 30 people required by Austrian law to define a statement as “public” heard them. Sabaditsch-Wolff asserted her comments were not made in a public forum because the seminars were provided to a select group of people who had pre-registered to attend them. The fact that Sabaditsch-Wolff had actually quoted the Koran and other Islamic texts proved “problematic” as well.
A suspension of the original trial occurred on January 18, 2011, ostensibly so Neubauer could review the recordings more thoroughly. However when the trial resumed, Neubauer — not prosecutors — added the charge of “denigrating religious symbols of a recognized religious group” to the original indictment. The trial was again postponed by Sabaditsch-Wolff’s attorneys so they could address the additional charge. When it resumed on Feb. 15, 2011, Sabaditsch-Wolff was exonerated of the original charge but, convicted of violating Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code, which prohibits “denigrating or mocking any person or thing that is the object of worship of a domestically existing church or religious society, or a doctrine, lawful practice, or lawful establishment of such a church or religious community.”
In short, the judge ruled that Sabaditsch-Wolff had accused Muhammed of being a pedophile. What she actually said was that “Mohammed had a thing for little girls.” Sabaditsch-Wolff’s initial appeal of her $547 fine and the costs of the proceedings, or the alternative sentence of 60 days in prison, was rejected by the Vienna Court of Appeal the following December.
Sabaditsch-Wolff moved her appeal to the ECHR, using as her vehicle Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It states that everyone “has the right to freedom of expression.” Yet the same article notes that such freedom engenders “duties and responsibilities,” that may be “subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others.”
Thus, the ECHR ruled that the domestic courts “comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant’s statements and carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.”
Columnist Andrew McCarthy cuts through the double-speak. “Europeans are free to say only what they are permitted to say by the unelected judges of the European courts,” he writes. “Truth is irrelevant.” Columnist Bruce Bawer goes even further. “The ECHR has totally capitulated to Islam,” he explains. “It has dealt a major blow to freedom of speech in Europe. At this point, indeed, the ECHR might as well be a sharia court.”
More like a court dedicated to the idea that “peace at any price” — better known as the utterly bankrupt exigency that precipitated WWII — is now the law of the land.
McCarthy sees part of the big picture, noting that “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.” He adds, “That is not seen as a permanent arrangement. It is a transition on the path to imposition of sharia standards on all of society.”
The other part of the big picture? America already has its own wannabe supremacists. Nearly half of America’s college students believe “problematic speech” should be restricted, and only 53% believe handing out literature on controversial subjects is “always acceptable.” Even worse, 37% are on board with shouting down speakers, and one in 10 had no problem with resorting to violence to same.
Students are joined by a cadre of progressive tech titans, suffused with their own notions of permissible speech. Thus Google CEO Sundar Pichai rationalizes his company’s proposal to create a censoring search engine for a liberty-crushing Communist Chinese government, by insisting it will “serve well over 99% of the queries.”
China has more than 800 million Internet users. If 1% of a single query by each is censored, eight million queries go down Orwell’s memory hole.
As for the media in general, Victor Davis Hanson sees a nation where “celebrities, politicians, and almost anyone of influence and wealth are always an incorrect or insensitive word away from the contemporary electronic guillotine.” Columnist Robert Stacy McCain aptly notes that the real hate problem in America centers around the “media elite’s hatred of anyone who disagrees with them.” A media who, along with their Democrat allies, would prefer that debates about critical issues like illegal immigration be “effectively criminalized.”
Americans themselves are also well on their way toward criminalizing hate speech. While the Cato Institute reveals 71% of Americans believe that political correctness silences discussions the nation needs to have, a substantial number of Americans across the political spectrum are still okay with censorship, regulation, and punishment of speech that is “hateful” or “offends” them, even as 82% admit that people can’t discern what speech qualifies as either, or both.
The ECHR’s ruling is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. As a result of it, McCarthy wonders how long Europe survives if free speech dies. A better question? How long before American courts become like those of the EU, defending the “right” not to be offended in order to “preserve peace?”
It doesn’t get more “transformational” — and unconstitutional — than that.