Bruce Bawer

The clampdown on free speech intensifies.

It started out with an isolated case here and there. In 2005, Oriana Fallaci was put on trial in Italy for her anti-Islam book The Force of Reason. In 2010 and again in 2011, politician Geert Wilders was tried in the Netherlands for publicly criticizing Islam. In 2011, the Danish Lars Hedegaard was found guilty by a Danish court of hate speech for having, in the privacy of his own home, made reference to the frequency of incest rape in Muslim communities. (The verdict was later reversed by the Danish Supreme Court.) Also in 2011, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was tried and fined in Austria for having stated, truthfully, that the Prophet Muhammed was a pedophile. The verdict was upheld by two higher Austrian courts and, this year, by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

In the years since those notorious prosecutions were initiated, the net has spread ever wider, and such cases have become routine aspects of Western European life. In 2017 alone, about 77 people, most of them “middle aged and elderly ladies,” were convicted in Sweden of “inciting hate.” Also in 2017, two Norwegian parliamentarians, one of them belonging to the Conservative Party and the other to the Progress Party (which gained power by promising to fight such things) introduced a website at which citizens can, with a couple of keystrokes, report “hate speech” to the police. In Britain, too, members of the public are being urged to report “offensive or insulting comments” to the police, and increasing numbers of otherwise law-abiding British subjects are being imprisoned for, as Reason‘s Brendan O’Neill put it, “making racist comments or just cracking tasteless jokes on Twitter.”

You might deduce from all this that Western European governments are already doing a bang-up job of suppressing freedom of speech. But the United Nations doesn’t seem to think so. At a December 6 meeting in Geneva of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Keiko Ko, the committee’s Rapporteur for Norway, charged that the Norwegian government had not yet done enough to “prevent hate speech” directed at refugees and migrants, to ban so-called “racist organizations,” and to prosecute persons guilty of “racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia.” In response, a Norwegian official attending the meeting assured Ko of Norway’s determination to punish “hate speech” and to develop new ways for the police to “engage those spreading hatred.” Another Norwegian delegate affirmed that “[t]he prosecution of hate crimes, including hate utterances, was a priority in Norway.”

Members of the committee, however, complained that Norway’s sentencing for such crimes was too lax. One offender, it was noted, spent only 16 days behind bars; another was given a suspended sentenced and charged a fine. The committee was especially concerned to know whether Norwegian courts were doing enough to address “high-profile cases of hate speech.” (It’s important, you see, to go after big fish – people like Fallaci and Wilders – because the more damage you can do to them, the more you can scare other potential purveyors of “hate speech” into silence.) Yet another concern was that the Norwegian government’s war on “hate speech” is being waged less vigorously in some parts of the country than in others. While the Oslo police are apparently doing a good job of tracking down, arresting, and charging perpetrators within their jurisdiction, cops elsewhere – notably in Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen – are achieving less impressive results.

In a December 28 article, the Communist newspaper Klassekampen quoted Grunde Almeland, a a member of the Norwegian Parliament, as calling for tougher “hate speech” laws. Among other things, Almeland said that “hate crime groups” of the sort that already exist in Oslo should be established around the country. He also found the disparity in enforcement between Oslo and Bergen worrying. “You should be able to feel equally safe, whether you are trans, gay, or Muslim in Oslo and in Bergen,” he said.

Needless to say, none of this mischief on the part of governments and of international organizations like the UN is really about the harassment of gays or transsexuals. Yes, discussions of “hate speech” routinely contain pro forma references to homophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and “ableism.” But there can be no doubt as to why, at this point in European history, supposedly free countries are cracking down with increasing ruthlessness on freedom of speech. The show trials of such prominent Islam critics as Fallaci and Wilders make it obvious what this is all about.

One recent article issued by the news agency NTB actually admitted as much. While the Equality and Discrimination Ombudsman (LDO), the official Norwegian agency tasked with fighting bigotry, does handle cases of “hate speech” against Jews, gypsies, and Samis, the LDO, reported NTB, “is especially concerned about skepticism and hatred toward Muslims.” And of course, as the cases of Hedegaard and Sabaditsch-Wolff demonstrate, “hatred toward Muslims” in Western Europe today includes any criticism whatsoever of Islamic ideology, law, or culture, even when the object of that criticism is something – such as forced marriage or incest rape – that would otherwise be considered anathema by Western values and illegal under Western law.

Indeed, while publicly criticizing Muslim child marriage may well land you in prison nowadays in many Western European countries, actually practicing child marriage is now permissible in at least one of those countries – namely, Germany, where, in December, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that any such union, if entered into in a nation where sharia law applies, should be considered legitimate when the happy pair relocates to Berlin or Hamburg. Not very many years ago, such a morally backwards state of affairs – child marriages O.K., criticizing them a crime – would have been unthinkable. Now it’s the law in Germany and will probably soon be the law elsewhere in Western Europe.

In the same way, before too long, Britain’s neighbors will likely have copied its cowardly visa policies, whereby civilized critics of Islam (such as Robert Spencer) and Christians like Asia Bibi (who risks being murdered in her native Pakistan) are explicitly banned while promoters of ISIS, defenders of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, and imams who preach the slaughter of apostates are routinely admitted.

The direction in which these matters are developing is clear as day, and the speed with which things are going from bad to worse is unsettling. As we enter 2019, let us hope that in this new year the popular resistance to all this illiberal establishment knavery – a resistance represented by brave men and woman like Wilders and Anne-Marie Waters, by the Tommy Robinson protesters in Britain and by many, if not all, of the gilets jaunes in France – finally comes into its own. Because if it doesn’t, it will soon be too late to recover Western European liberty.

Enforced speech

Not long ago the political left were the guardians of free speech. Along with tech tyrants, the left today has gone from protecting speech to enforcing speech. Even to the point of penalizing you if you say the wrong thing in public. You can lose your job and livelihood. Welcome to the era of simply ‘shut up and nod.’