Illiberal Europe

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.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Religion, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ugh says:

    There’s video of Jesus?!!?

  2. anjin-san says:

    Political correctness is hardly the only threat to freedom of expression in this country. Question the war in Iraq on this blog and see how quickly some will lable you a friend of Bin Laden.

  3. Roger says:

    Political correctness comes in many forms. Some political correctness (typically associated with campuses) goes overboard in trying to avoid offending minorities, while other political correctness (typically associated with political media) attempts to stifle questioning authority through creating “no-go” zones for questioners. The second seems much more pernicious than the first, though neither is desirable in the 1st Amendment sense. And, of course there are many other forms of pc.

  4. LJD says:

    The Anjin and Roger show- yippeee!

  5. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘Question the war in Iraq on this blog and see how quickly some will lable you a friend of Bin Laden.’

    That’s a threat to your freedom? Somehow the irony of commenting on the web about dissent being stifled is lost on the Trollians.

  6. McGehee says:

    I love how “being labelled a friend of bin Laden” is somehow more censorious than being labelled a Nazi by the “Bush = Hitler” types.