Beaumarchais’ Marriage of Figaro, written at the close of the 18th century, included this freedom of speech monologue in Act V, Scene 3,
I cobble together a verse comedy about the customs of the harem, assuming that, as a Spanish writer, I can say what I like about Mohammed without drawing hostile fire. Next thing, some envoy from God knows where turns up and complains that in my play I have offended the Ottoman empire, Persia, a large slice of the Indian peninsula, the whole of Egypt, and the kingdoms of Barca [Ethiopia], Tripoli, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. And so my play sinks without trace, all to placate a bunch of Muslim princes, not one of whom, as far as I know, can read but who beat the living daylights out of us and say we are “Christian dogs.” Since they can’t stop a man thinking, they take it out on his hide instead.
Sadly, today, over two centuries later, Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders’ free speech rights are under attack in an effort to appease the same irredentist Muslim attitudes—attitudes which are devoid of self-criticism, and violently opposed to any criticism of Islam by non-Muslim “infidels.”
Wilders’ film Fitna—the putative source of this Muslim outrage—includes examples of how various Koranic verses are used by Muslim clerics and political leaders to incite Muslim populations to violence. And Fitna is entirely faithful to classical, mainstream Islamic exegesis on the Koranic verses cited in the film regardless of what cultural jihadists, and their witting or unwitting apologists and abettors, may claim. It is beyond Orwellian to vilify, let alone prosecute Wilders – who simply holds up a mirror to Islamic societies – for being in any way responsible for the Koranic incitement and Muslim violence his documentary faithfully records, and he appropriately condemns.
Moreover, Geert Wilders is opposed to hate speech laws. On February 19, 2009, in Rome, Italy where he received the Oriana Fallaci Free Speech Award, Wilders proposed the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe, and a European First Amendment.
That is why I propose the withdrawal of all hate speech legislation in Europe. I propose a European First Amendment. Freedom of speech is the keystone of our Western civilization, it is the keystone of our democracies and the keystone of our freedom. That is why freedom of speech should be extended instead of restricted. Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s and Theo van Gogh’s film ‘Submission’, Kurt Westergaard’s cartoons and my documentary ‘Fitna’ should never be banned, but should be protected. As George Orwell once said: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”.
Earlier, while calling the Koran hate speech with specific reference to the Dutch Penal Code, Wilders was simply asking for consistent application of the Dutch law. And, like Winston Churchill (who wrote that Mein Kampf was “…the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message”), Wilders compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, and called it hate speech according to the Dutch Penal Code.
Wilders’ previous demand for consistency, recalls the Calcutta Quran Petition of the 1980s. Like his Hindu predecessors, Wilders was fed up with Muslim abuse of similar Indian laws, and simply saying if one bans hate speech, in accord with existing Dutch Law, then the Koran is hate speech. The Calcutta Quran Petition chronicled how it was the abuse of hate speech laws by Muslims seeking to impose Sharia mandates on non-Muslim majorities that was the source of the problem.
As described in the Calcutta Quran Petition, two Hindus were arrested—under Indian penal code sections exploited by Muslims to prevent public criticism of Muhammad or other aspects of their creed—for publishing a poster which simply cited 24 Koranic verses, with a caption, “Why riots take place in this country.” In this landmark case, the Hindus were eventually acquitted by a sober magistrate who opined,
…a close perusal of the Ayats [verses] shows that that the same are harmful and teach hatred, and are likely to create differences between Mohammedans on one hand and the remaining communities on the other.
It is well past time for the media—across the political spectrum—to stop their grotesque mischaracterization of Wilders’ unequivocal defense of free speech. But demonizing Wilders, and imposing de facto limitations on his free speech criticism of Islam—no matter how reasonable his concerns may be—is a task for which our craven, lemming-like media elites appear far better suited. To amplify the final point on media responsibility, or irresponsibility, let me close with this sobering observation by Professor Robert Conquest, the pre-eminent scholar of Soviet Communist totalitarianism:
One role of the democratic media is, of course, to criticize their own governments, draw attention to the faults and failings of their own country. But when this results in a transfer of loyalties to a far worse and thoroughly inimical culture, or at least to a largely uncritical favoring of such a culture, it becomes a morbid affliction—involving, often enough, the uncritical acceptance of that culture’s own standards.