Should critically discussing Islam be a form of hate speech?
Several days ago, I noted with interest that Danish journalist and historian Lars Hedegaard has been acquitted by a unanimous Dutch Supreme Court of charges that he violated Holland's notorious "hate speech" laws. His crime? He made a public utterance that state prosecutors concluded was "denigrating" of Islam.
Hedegaard dared say that Islam should be criticized for referencing a Norwegian book concerning the high frequency of sexual abuse in Muslim families, stating, "We hear about that all the time." The prosecutor never alleged that anything Hedegaard stated was untrue. Truth under the Dutch hate speech law is largely irrelevant.
The acquittal follows on the heels of the more widely publicized dismissal of charges against flamboyant Dutch politician Geert Wilders for violating the very same law. Wilders' crime was the production of the film Fitna, which had the audacity to draw a connection between certain passages of the Koran and Islamist jihad. Like the Hedegaard prosecution, Wilders' prosecutor never alleged that anything in the film was untrue.
While the ultimate acquittals were encouraging, the fact that these men were forced to spend years in court fighting such frivolous charges is more than a travesty. And this doesn't begin to take into account the small fortune such legal disputes cost both the state and the defendants.
The irresponsible willingness of governments to promulgate and encourage the prosecution of truthful but critical comments on Islam needs to be closely scrutinized.
In the U.S., voices have been heard calling for Muslim communities to circumvent the federal Constitution and govern themselves using the socio-political component of Islam called sharia. Sharia itself may fairly be characterized as hatching the monster of all "hate speech" laws. It calls for capital punishment of anyone who utters criticism of Muhammad or the religion he founded. The U.K. already is allowing several Islamic communities to govern themselves according to sharia.
For the last several years, Pakistan and its friends have attempted to push a U.N. resolution through the Human Rights Council calling for an international ban on any criticism of Muhammad or Islam. Such criticism, truthful or otherwise, would fall within the gambit of a new kind of "hate speech" regulation called "Islamophobia." What is perhaps most frightening is that this effort is taken quite seriously and backed by almost a dozen U.N. member-nations.
In another startlingly shocking application of such laws, Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah, both pastors in Melbourne, Australia, were sued for their alleged "hate speech" violations. In March 2002, they held a religious seminar that factually critiqued Islam. Three Muslims attending the seminar reported what they heard to the local Islamic Council. Soon afterward, it brought suit against Scot and Nalliah under the state's then-new "hate speech" law. The court ruled that the pastors, in criticizing Islam, had violated the law, ordered them to apologize publicly, and banned them from making similar comments anywhere in Australia. Most notably, as in the cases mentioned earlier, it was never alleged that anything the pastors said was false.
Several years ago, a complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission related to an article titled "The Future Belongs to Islam," written by commentator Mark Steyn and published in Maclean's magazine. In a straightforward and factual way, the article outlines the growing influence of Islam in Europe and the West. In a typical knee-jerk reaction, an Islamic group filed a complaint alleging that Steyn's work was "hate speech." While the commission properly declined to pursue an action against Steyn, it issued a purely gratuitous public statement that condemned the article and characterized it as "hate speech." Once again, there was never an allegation that anything contained in the article was factually incorrect. Sensing a pattern here?
And, of course, we are familiar with well-publicized Islamic groups in America, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which routinely classify true statements about Islam, sharia law, and jihad as "hateful."
Several years ago, CAIR began a campaign against National Review magazine because of a biography of Muhammad the magazine was then advertising. CAIR did not assert that anything in the book or National Review's advertisement was in any way inaccurate. Accuracy and truth were seemingly irrelevant. What was important to CAIR was that Muhammad was being subjected to unflattering criticism and critical analysis.
Prominent Canadian lawyer Roger D. McConchie, speaking out against British Columbia's hate speech laws, sums up the problem. When it comes to hate speech laws:
[I]nnocent intent is not a defense. Nor is truth. Nor is fair comment on true facts. Publication in the public interest and for the public benefit is not a defense. Opinion expressed in good faith is not a defense. Responsible journalism is not a defense.
As far as I can observe, he is entirely correct.
Corrected: our thanks to Henrik Raeder Clausen of EuropeNews for corrections on the details of Hedegaard's charge and his nationality