Let­ting free­dom fade

Sur­ren­der­ing lib­erty has be­come the West­ern re­sponse to Is­lamist threats

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Clif­ford D. May Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

What­ever hap­pened to Char­lie Hebdo? For years, the French satir­i­cal mag­a­zine threw spit balls at po­lite so­ci­ety. Its writ­ers and car­toon­ists par­tic­u­larly de­lighted in ridi­cul­ing re­li­gions and pieties. Some peo­ple found that amus­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing. Oth­ers were ap­palled and of­fended. Such is life in a free coun­try.

Then on Jan. 7, 2015, two French Mus­lims of Al­ge­rian de­scent broke into Char­lie Hebdo’s of­fices fir­ing au­to­matic weapons and shout­ing “Al­lahu ak­bar!” They killed 12 peo­ple in­clud­ing the ed­i­tor-in-chief. As they left, they pro­claimed: “We have avenged the Prophet Muham­mad!” Their broader mes­sage: Un­der Is­lamic law (as in­ter­preted by them), in­sult­ing or even par­o­dy­ing Is­lam is for­bid­den. That law ap­plies not just to Mus­lims in Is­lamic states but to every­one ev­ery­where. Those who vi­o­late it are to be ex­e­cuted.

“Je suis Char­lie!” and “Not afraid!” were the de­fi­ant ral­ly­ing cries of the 2 mil­lion peo­ple, in­clud­ing more than 40 world lead­ers, who gath­ered for a unity rally in Paris a few days later. Never, they vowed, would they re­lin­quish their free­dom. But, lit­tle by lit­tle, that’s what is hap­pen­ing.

Last year, Char­lie Hebdo’s cur­rent ed­i­tor said he would pub­lish no more car­toons of Muham­mad. This year, jour­nal­ist Zineb El Rah­zoui re­signed from the mag­a­zine, ex­plain­ing: “Free­dom at any cost is what I loved about Char­lie Hebdo.” Today, she added, the mag­a­zine lacks the “ca­pac­ity to carry the torch of ir­rev­er­ence and ab­so­lute lib­erty.”

The 35-year-old, Moroc­can-born, French au­thor of a book ti­tled “De­stroy Is­lamic Fas­cism,” also has said: “You can be Arab, Mus­lim and a free thinker.” Yes, but the price is steep. Fat­was have been is­sued au­tho­riz­ing her as­sas­si­na­tion and body­guards now ac­com­pany her wher­ever she goes.

Other ex­am­ples of self-cen­sor­ship are less ob­vi­ous but should not go un­re­marked. What news­pa­per in Europe or Amer­ica today would run car­toons lam­poon­ing ji­hadists — much less Is­lam? The hit Broad­way show “The Book of Mor­mon” par­o­dies the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints. Can you imag­ine any­one pro­duc­ing a sim­i­lar show fo­cus­ing on Is­lam?

For five sea­sons, the Show­time se­ries “Home­land” told the tale of a CIA agent fight­ing ji­hadists. No longer. Now ex-spy Car­rie Mathi­son works at a “foun­da­tion for Mus­lims mis­treated by do­mes­tic law en­force­ment.” The Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran is de­picted as hon­or­ably abid­ing by its obli­ga­tions un­der the nu­clear agree­ment con­cluded by Pres­i­dent Obama — while a wicked CIA of­fi­cial con­spires with the Mos­sad to con­vince the pres­i­dent-elect (a tough­minded woman sen­a­tor from New York) oth­er­wise.

But the big­gest news is this: Canada is now con­sid­er­ing crim­i­nal­iz­ing free speech where Is­lam is con­cerned. Last month, Iqra Khalid, a Pak­istani-born Lib­eral mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, in­tro­duced into the House of Com­mons Mo­tion 103. It calls for a study and rec­om­men­da­tions for gov­ern­ment ac­tions, in­clud­ing new laws, to curb ex­pres­sions of “Is­lam­o­pho­bia.” The term is not de­fined, but it is char­ac­ter­ized as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of “sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.” You might won­der: How does a fear, even one that is un­jus­ti­fied and ir­ra­tional, fit into that cat­e­gory?

En­cour­ag­ingly, on April 9, a group called “Mus­lims Against M-103” will protest what it sees as the “in­fil­tra­tion of the Mus­lim Brother­hood” and the ef­fort to sup­press those Cana­dian Mus­lims “who stand up to the ji­hadi agenda and fight for Canada’s trea­sured in­sti­tu­tion of ‘Free­dom of Speech’ that this ini­tia­tive tries to sti­fle.”

Canada’s Mus­lim re­form­ers un­der­stand that what is be­ing con­tem­plated is not so dif­fer­ent from a blas­phemy law. And they know the im­pact such laws have had in other coun­tries.

In Pak­istan, for ex­am­ple, Asia Bibi, a Christian, sits on death row. Her crime? Mak­ing re­marks some of her Mus­lim neigh­bors con­sid­ered dis­re­spect­ful of Is­lam. In Saudi Ara­bia, Raif Badawi, a blog­ger who crit­i­cized se­nior re­li­gious of­fi­cials on­line, has for five years been im­pris­oned — and flogged — for “in­sult­ing Is­lam through elec­tronic chan­nels.” And in Iran, Maryam Naghash Zar­garan, a con­vert to Chris­tian­ity, has spent most of the past four years in Tehran’s no­to­ri­ous Evin prison for “prop­a­gat­ing against the Is­lamic regime.”

Such de­vel­op­ments would no doubt please Ruhol­lah Khome­ini, leader of Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion. In 1989, he is­sued a fatwa call­ing for the as­sas­si­na­tion of Sal­man Rushdie whose novel, “The Sa­tanic Verses,” he found of­fen­sive. A for­eign ruler pro­nounces a death sen­tence on a Bri­tish sub­ject for ex­er­cis­ing his rights in a free coun­try. That should have elicited a firm and fu­ri­ous re­sponse from West­ern lead­ers. It didn’t.

In 2011, the disin­gen­u­ously named U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil adopted a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for con­sid­er­a­tion of mea­sures to de­ter neg­a­tive com­men­tary about Is­lam. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion, the largest vot­ing bloc in the U.N., then went a next step fur­ther by or­ga­niz­ing the “Is­tan­bul Process,” in­tended to es­tab­lish laws against Is­lam­o­pho­bia. Dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton ex­pressed Amer­i­can sup­port for the Is­tan­bul Process.

I ex­pect Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son will take a dif­fer­ent view. But if he or oth­ers in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion are un­sure, they should talk to Tarek Fatah, the Pak­istani-born Cana­dian colum­nist for the Toronto Sun. He has writ­ten to Ms. Khalid as well as to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, an­other sup­porter of M-103, ask­ing whether they’d want him pros­e­cuted for Is­lam­o­pho­bia were he to pub­licly “dis­card” some pas­sages of the Ko­ran as “in­ap­pli­ca­ble today.” He cited one that calls on Mus­lims to “cast ter­ror into the hearts of those who dis­be­lieve” and “strike off their heads.”

Born in a land that has be­come de­creas­ingly free, Mr. Fatah is un­der­stand­ably dis­tressed that so many of his adopted coun­try’s lead­ers seem so will­ing to sur­ren­der Canada’s once-prized free­dom. What may be worse: They are not ashamed. On the con­trary, they are con­grat­u­lat­ing them­selves for their sen­si­tiv­ity and their virtue.


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