Five Years After Van Gogh’s Murder, Free Speech Is Under Attack

by David J. Rusin

On November 2, 2004, Dutch columnist, filmmaker, and all-around provocateur Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death as he biked to work on an Amsterdam street. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, insisted that Islam “compels me to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah and the prophet.” He targeted the anti-Islam van Gogh because of his movie Submission, which graphically highlights Koranic verses often used to justify the mistreatment of women.

A half decade later, Islamists still answer free speech with violence. Two Chicago-area Muslims were charged last week with plotting attacks against those involved in publishing the Danish Muhammad cartoons. Shortly before that, Dutch MP Geert Wilders was welcomed to the UK by Islamist thugs who warned him — and everyone else — to “take lessons from people like Theo van Gogh,” because “whoever insults the prophet, kill him.”

Yet the greatest threat to free speech does not come from homegrown jihadists who wish to make examples of rabble-rousing Westerners. It arises from governments and related entities blinded by the fanciful notion that radicals will leave us alone if we only stop saying things that offend them. Some recent happenings:

  • Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed yet another resolution — this time, with support from the U.S. and Europe — urging governments “to take all necessary measures” to combat “religious stereotyping” and “hatred.” While noting a few improvements over previous years’ text, law professor Eugene Volokh called it “a step backward” for the constitutional rights of Americans. The resolution will be considered in November by the General Assembly, where the Islamic bloc hopes to use it as a springboard for banning criticism of Islam and enacting global blasphemy statutes.
  • Paul Belien reports that “if all goes as planned, the 27 member states of the European Union will soon have a common hate crime legislation, which will turn disapproval for Islamic practices … into crimes.” The text names an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment” as one (extremely subjective) facet of discrimination. No doubt Bouyeri would be pleased. It passed the European Parliament and will be debated by the Council of Ministers this month.
  • Geert Wilders continues to serve as a lightning rod for those who wish to stifle Islam’s critics. First, a court order was needed to convince the British government to let him set foot on UK soil last month. Second, Pennsylvania’s Temple University, which accepts state funds, pressured students to cancel an October appearance by the legislator; they refused. Third, in what may be the trial of the century, at least in the Netherlands, Wilders is preparing to defend himself against speech crime charges; the start date is January 20.

Daniel Pipes referred to the van Gogh slaying as “education by murder,” part of the “slow and painful way people wake up to the problem of radical Islam.” Unfortunately, for many of our drowsy leaders, the only lessons learned are the wrong ones.

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