Friday, November 11, 2005

Fear and Free Speech in the Netherlands

Today's Washington Post has a disturbing article on the extent to which radical Islamists have succeeded in intimidating public figures in the Netherlands into silence:

As Prof. Afshin Ellian arrived at Leiden University law school one day recently, two bodyguards hustled him through the entrance and past the electronically locked doors leading to his office. For the rest of the day, the men stood sentry outside those doors, scanning the hallways for any sign of the people who want him dead.

Ellian is one of a soaring number of Dutch academics, lawmakers and other public figures who have been forced to accept 24-hour protection or go into hiding after receiving death threats from Islamic extremists. In a country with a tradition of robust public debate and an anything-goes culture, the fear of assassination has rattled society and forced people such as Ellian to reassess whether it's worth it to express opinions that could endanger their lives.

"The extremists are afraid that if Dutch society becomes a safe haven for an intellectual discussion of political Islam, it will be very dangerous for them," said Ellian, an Iranian-born professor of social cohesion who escaped to the Netherlands two decades ago from Afghanistan after receiving death threats from communists there. "This is normal behavior in the Middle East, but not in Europe. They think it's their obligation to kill people they consider to be enemies of Islam."

In other European countries and in the United States, Islamic extremists have generally sought to spread terror with indiscriminate attacks -- bombing trains and hijacking airliners. In the Netherlands, however, radicals have embraced a different strategy: singling out individuals for assassination.

For Public Figures in Netherlands, Terror Becomes a Personal Concern

As the article makes clear, there is ample reason to take the Salafists' death threats seriously. Keep in mind that this is not Egypt or Saudi Arabia. This is the Netherlands, a stable western European democracy of long standing. Little by little, the Islamist campaign of creeping terrorism is threatening the freedom of the Dutch people, Christian and Muslim alike. If the Salafists are able to destroy liberty in the Netherlands, other European countries will be next.

The proper response is not to burn mosques and engage in mindless bigotry, as some shamefully did after last year's murder of Theo Van Gogh. No, what needs to be done is for all those in Holland who believe in liberal democracy and the right of free speech and expression to stand up for their beliefs. If the Dutch do not fight for their democracy, they will surely lose it.


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