Andrew C. McCarthy
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.”
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.