Law professor Eugene
Volokh calls it "censorship envy." Muslims in Europe
want the same sort of censorship that many nations now offer to
other aggrieved groups. By law, 11 European nations can punish
anyone who publicly denies the Holocaust. That's why the strange
British historian David Irving is going to prison. Ken Livingstone,
the madcap mayor of London, was suspended for four weeks for calling
a Jewish reporter a Nazi. A Swedish pastor endured a long and
harrowing prosecution for a sermon criticizing homosexuality,
finally beating the rap in Sweden's Supreme Court.
Much of Europe has
painted itself into a corner on the censorship issue. What can
Norway say to pro-censorship Muslims when it already has a hate
speech law forbidding, among other things, "publicly stirring
up one part of the population against another," or any utterance
that "threatens, insults or subjects to hatred, persecution
or contempt any person or group of persons because of their creed,
race, color or national or ethnic origin ... or homosexual bent"?
No insulting utterances at all? Since most strong opinions can
be construed as insulting (hurting someone's feelings), no insults
means no free speech.
It's not just Europe.
In Canada, a teacher drew a suspension for a letter to a newspaper
arguing that homosexuality is not a fixed orientation, but a condition
that can be treated. He was not accused of discrimination, merely
of expressing thoughts that the state defines as improper. Another
Canadian newspaper was fined 4,500 Canadian dollars for printing
an ad giving the citations -- but not the text -- of four biblical
quotations against homosexuality. As David Bernstein writes in
his book "You Can't Say That!": "It has apparently
become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition
to homosexual sex."
have set themselves up for Muslim complaints by adopting the unofficial
slogan of the West's chattering classes: Multiculturalism trumps
free speech. Sensitivity and equality are viewed as so important
that the individual right to speak out is routinely eclipsed.
Naturally enough, Muslims want to play the same victim game as
other aggrieved groups. The French Council of Muslims says it
is considering taking France Soir, which reprinted the
Danish cartoons, to court for provocation.
In truth, Muslims
have been playing the game for some time. Michel Houellebecq,
a French novelist, said some derogatory things about the Quran.
Muslim groups hauled him into court, but the novelist was eventually
exonerated. Actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist,
criticized Muslim ritual slaughter and was fined 10,000 francs
for the offense. Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci wrote an angry
anti-Muslim book, meant to waken the West to the gravity of the
threat posed by Islam. Muslims pressed for her prosecution in
France. The case was thrown out of court on a technicality in
2002, but she is scheduled to go on trial again this coming June.
In Australia, a state
tribunal found two pastors guilty of vilification of Muslims.
They had argued that Islam is inherently a violent religion, and
that Islam plans to take over Australia. To avoid a fine of up
to 7,000 Australian dollars or three months in jail, they were
ordered to apologize and to promise not to repeat their remarks
anywhere in Australia or over the Internet. The pastors refused
to comply and are appealing to the Supreme Court. The case has
become a major cause, with churches and Christian leaders fighting
to overturn the law, and Muslims pushing for a broad hate-speech
An obvious thing to
say about laws that limit speech is that we have no evidence that
they work to meet their stated goal -- reducing bigotry and increasing
tolerance. Banning Holocaust denial, on grounds that it is inherently
anti-Semitic, has no track record of improving respect for Jews.
If anything, hatred of Jews appears to be on the rise in these
nations. Setting up certain groups as beyond criticism is bound
to increase resentment among those not similarly favored. (Yes,
we know all groups are supposed to be treated alike, but that
is not the way these laws work.) In real life, the creation of
protected classes sharpens intergroup tensions and leads to competition
for victim status.
An even more obvious
point: We are very lucky to have the First Amendment. Without
it, our chattering classes would be falling all over themselves
to ban speech that offends sensitive groups, just like many Eurochatterers
are doing now. We know this because our campus speech codes, the
models for the disastrous hate-speech laws in Europe, Canada and
Australia, were the inventions of our own elites. Without a First
Amendment, the distortions and suppressions of campus life would
likely have gone national. No more speech codes, please. In America,
we get to throw rocks at all ideologies, religious and secular,
and we get to debate issues, not have them declared off limits
by sensitivity-prone agents of the state.
Leo is a contributing columnist for RealClearPolitics.