Nick Cohen writes in today’s Observer about the increasing fear in Western Europe of free expression.
Next week, the Council of Europe is holding hearings on whether freedom of expression should include the right to offend religions. It is already clear that the tide is with the supporters of suppression. Meanwhile, Franco Frattini, the EU’s Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, has already banned the use of the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ to describe Islamic terrorism. ‘You cannot use the term “Islamic terrorism”,’ he insisted. ‘People who commit suicide attacks or criminal activities on behalf of religion, Islamic religion or other religion, they abuse the name of this religion.’
I was brought up as a democratic socialist and abhorred the crimes committed in the name of the left. But I would always agree that Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were inspired by a version of socialism, just as the most liberal American Christian would accept that fundamentalists who bomb abortion clinics are inspired by a version of Christianity. Yet the EU wishes to deny that political Islam inspires terrorists to blow up everything from mosques in Baghdad to tube trains in London, even when Islamist terrorists say explicitly that it does. You should always pay your enemies the compliment of taking them seriously. The EU can’t understand what its enemies are saying, because it won’t call them by their right name.
[W]e should worry about how illiberal ‘liberal’ Europe is becoming. It’s not only Islam that is provoking censorship. Bans on Holocaust denial have spread across the Continent. In France, it is an offence to question any genocide, including the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, while in Belgium, the country’s highest court denied Vlaams Blok, a Flemish nationalist party, state funding and forced it to disband after finding it guilty of racism.
The point here is not to argue in favour of Holocaust deniers or Flemish rightists, any more than it is to argue in favour of incitement of religious hatred, except when the religious are hateful. What matters is that the supposedly liberal states of Europe are showing an indecent eagerness to reach for their lawyers. Their contempt for plain speaking, as much as the refusal of the European Commission to accept the ‘no’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the European Constitution, shows their waning faith in liberal democracy. A backlash from Europeans who believe they have the right to speak their minds and have their votes respected strikes me as inevitable.
Of course, the United States is not far behind in this enterprise, with political correctness running rampant on our campuses and much of our media. Not to mention our politics. We have newspapers who refuse to print the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise for fear of offending American Indians and a television network that will gladly show Jesus defacating on the American flag but won’t show Mohammad for fear of offending Muslims.