All rights, including freedom of religion, stem from freedom of speech. Without free speech, we have nothing. Zero. The European Court of Human Rights has just dealt a death blow to freedom of speech in Europe. The ECHR decided that when an Austrian woman was convicted for criticizing the tenets of Islam, her right to free speech was not violated. The Wall Street Journal reported:
“Europe’s highest human rights court ruled on Friday that disparagement of religious doctrines such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad isn’t protected by freedom of expression and can be prosecuted.”
In 2009, an Austrian woman said that the Prophet Muhammed’s marriage to a six-year-old girl was tantamount to pedophilia. Muhammad “liked to do it with children,” she said, adding that, “A 56-year-old and a 6-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?” She claimed that her statement was protected by freedom of speech and that religious groups must tolerate criticism. The court in Vienna disagreed. She was convicted of disparaging religious doctrines and fined 480 Euros ($546).
In upholding the lower court’s verdict, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the right not to be offended is a more important right than freedom of expression. The Austrian court, said the ECHR, had “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected.”
The ECHR has reinforced “hate speech” laws that prohibit criticism of religion in many European countries. Freedom of speech is restricted where religious feelings are involved, especially if the religion happens to be Islam. When other religions are criticized, the courts look the other way. Tucker Carlson on Fox News has correctly pointed out that the latest ECHR ruling effectively imposes Islamic blasphemy laws on the European continent. Such laws are inconsistent with the European tradition of free speech. Carlson also suggested that the ECHR has provided encouragement for Muslim terrorists such as the Charlie Hebdo shooters.
For several years, I have followed the career of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, a strong critic of Islamic immigration. After Wilders suggested last year that there are too many Moroccan immigrants in the Netherlands, he was convicted by a Dutch court of “insulting a group and inciting discrimination.” Wilders reacted by saying that, “The Netherlands has become a sick country. You have restricted the freedom of speech for millions of Dutch.”
What these restrictive court decisions are actually doing is masking a reluctance on the part of European countries to acknowledge the threat posed by Muslim immigration. The open border policy in the Netherlands, for example, has spawned dozens of crime-ridden “no-go” zones throughout Holland because so many of the Muslim immigrants refuse to assimilate. The same scenario is occurring in France, Belgium, the UK, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
The winner in this controversy is Islam. When freedom of speech is curtailed because Muslims complain they are being offended, it plays into what is known as “civilizational jihad”—the attempt to transform Western societies so they can be brought under the control of Islamic law, known as sharia. Sharia does not recognize freedom of speech, nor does it accept any concept of individual rights as embraced by the West. The self-destructive policies of European countries, led by Angela Merkel’s open door policy in Germany, are collaborating with the Muslim hardliners who seek to destroy Western Civilization.
There is another dangerous implication in the European court’s decision. If followed to its logical conclusion, anyone can claim that another person’s speech is offensive and ought to be prohibited. Free speech is under attack because of two flawed ideas: political correctness and “emotional reasoning.” The concept of political correctness, advocated by the Left, is a way of stifling free expression in favor of socially controlled thought. Emotional reasoning is where feelings determine the interpretation of reality. If someone is upset, that proves something is wrong. Under this doctrine, free speech does not apply if someone is offended.
Emotional reasoning has taken over American college campuses. “The belief that free speech rights don’t include the right to speak offensively is now firmly entrenched on campuses and enforced by repressive speech or harassment codes,” wrote attorney Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic. Emotional reasoning has given birth to a slew of neurotic concepts: microaggressions, free speech zones, safe spaces, trigger warnings, and hostile environments.
In a poll of 800 undergraduates conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, a majority of students favored codes limiting free speech. Campus authorities “are creating what tort law calls ‘eggshell plaintiffs,’” wrote author Heather Mac Donald in City Journal. “Preternaturally fragile individuals injured by the slightest collisions with life. The consequences will affect us for years to come.” These eggshell plaintiffs will be running the country in another generation.
Where will these trends lead? As the late author Christopher Hitchens said, “Freedom of speech must include the license to offend.” I am offended, he said, “by those who claim the right not just to be offended but to seek violent reprisal as is so vividly being done by the votaries of the Prophet Muhammed.” According to a poll by Wenzel Strategies, 58 percent of Muslim-Americans believe criticism of Islam is not protected free speech under the First Amendment. “To learn who rules over you,” said Voltaire, “simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
Ed Brodow is a political commentator, negotiation expert, and author of seven books including his latest, Tyranny of the Minority: How the Left is Destroying America.