Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Wrong Response

A week ago Saturday, a young man was physically assaulted in the Netherlands. Normally, such an incident isn't really a global news story. However, in this particular case, the victim was an outspoken former Muslim, and this was not the first time he was attacked. Radio Netherlands has the details of the assault:

Ehsan Jami (pictured) was knocked to the ground and kicked by a group of three men: two young Moroccans and one Somali. During the incidents, his attackers called him a 'filthy homo' and 'filthy traitor'. Mr Jami's advisor, Afshin Ellian, later pointed out that it was not the first time he had been physically attacked:

"He's also been threatened before, attacked or beaten up, and he reported this to the police too. This is the third time."

Since the attack, Mr. Jami is now under 24 hour police protection. Unfortunately, as the Radio Netherlands story reports, he is not the only such individual under threat:

Afshin Ellian does not regard what happened to Mr Jami as an isolated incident. In his view, the climate of intolerance in the Netherlands has hardened in recent years, and he says that such incidents put him in mind of the atmosphere in places such as the country of his birth, Iran, or Pakistan:

"We ought never to forget that people like former Amsterdam councillor and current deputy minister Ahmed Aboutaleb and Amsterdam City Mayor Job Cohen have also been threatened, and you really can't accuse them of making any harsh statements against Islam. Many opinion-shapers and satirists are simply scared to death of writing anything about Islam."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Since the November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, the Netherlands has been at the epicenter of radical Islamism's assault on free expression in Europe. Last week's attack on Mr. Jami was merely the latest example. In response to this incident, one right-wing Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders, has proposed banning the Quran. According to Middle East Times:

Wilders, who heads the far-right Freedom Party, which holds nine of the 150 seats in parliament, argued for the ban in a letter published in the De Volkskrant newspaper.

Wilders compared the Koran to Adolf Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf and said that it has "no place in our constitutional state."

"I have been saying this for years: there is no such thing as a moderate Islam," he wrote, arguing that several chapters in the Koran called on Muslims "to oppress, persecute, or kill Christians, Jews, dissidents, and non-believers, to beat and rape women, and to establish an Islamic state by force."

Unfortunately, responding to Islamist censorship with counter-censorship is exactly the wrong approach. Even if you believe Mr. Wilders' interpretation of the Quran, banning it or any other book is absurd, counterproductive, and wrong. In addition, Mr. Wilders' inability to distinguish between Islam and Islamism, his conflation of those portions of the Quran cited by Islamists to justify their beliefs with the entirety of the Islamic belief system, simply plays into the hands of the latter. Finally, by attacking all Dutch Muslims, Mr. Wilders condemns the innocent along with the guilty and pushes moderates into the arms of the Islamists.

Make no mistake: European societies need to take a forthright stand in defense of free expression, including instances where Muslim sensibilities are offended. Censoring Muslims, or anyone else, however, makes a mockery of the principles we in the West are fighting to defend. The goal, instead, should be to prevent Islamists from forcibly censoring others, especially moderate and reformist Muslims. This is the point made in a recent interview by Dutch scholar Hans Jansen:

'I do not have a solution for the existing problems,' Jansen admits. 'I do think it is important that Muslim critics and ex- Muslims feel protected if they 'come out of the closet.'

At present they are afraid to come out. The repeated attacks on Ehsan Jami, who openly renounced Islam, demonstrates their fear is legitimate.'

'It would be a good start to arrest those who incite people to violence. Perhaps we should expel them from the country. Imprisoning them definitely does not solve anything.'

I agree with Jansen, as long as it is only direct incitement to violence that is at issue. The point of standing up to the Islamists is to defend free expression, not deny it.


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