January 23, 2009

Where in the World is Freedom of Expression?

Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament and producer of the short film Fitna, should be prosecuted for insulting Islam and instigating hatred of Islamic worshipers, a court in the Hague, Netherlands, has ruled:

"In a democratic system, hate speech is considered so serious that it is in the general interest to... draw a clear line," the court in Amsterdam said.
Fitnayou can watch the entire film here — is a documentary that presents several controversial Qu'ranic verses, juxtaposed with pictures of Islamic terrorism and speeches from radical Islamists. A sampling of the relevant verses:
"4.56": (As for) those who disbelieve in Our communications, We shall make them enter fire; so oft as their skins are thoroughly burned, We will change them for other skins, that they may taste the chastisement; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

"47.4": So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. That (shall be so); and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish.

The irony in the Dutch Court's ruling is astounding. Tell me, what's more incendiary — these verses in Qu'ran that incite murder and terror against anyone who disbelieves or criticizes Muhammad and his commands, or a 15 minute film that shows up these verses for what they are, and alerts us to the dangerous consequences of submission to the hateful ideology that they represent?

And, this from Thailand:

An Australian writer was sentenced to three years in prison Monday for insulting the Thai monarchy in a self-published novel.

Harry Nicolaides, 41, originally received a six-year sentence, which the court said it reduced because he had pleaded guilty. The book, "Verisimilitude," was published in 2005 and reportedly sold fewer than a dozen copies.

The case was brought under the country's strict lèse-majesté laws, which call for a jail term of up to 15 years for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the Regent."
I must admit that I have not read Mr. Nicolaides' Verisimilitude, but from its descriptions on the web, it does not sound so alarming. For example,
[Mr. Nicolaides'] new novel – VERISIMILITUDE – is a trenchant commentary on the political and social life of contemporary Thailand. It is an uncompromising assault on the patrician values of the monarchy, the insidious infiltration of religious missionaries in the education system and the intimate relationship between American foreign policy and Thailand’s battle against Muslim insurrections in the south.

Well, how can I complain about a fledgling democracy that is struggling to break free from centuries of totalitarian rule by its α-males, even when the very nations that gave birth to freedom and democracy are perfectly willing to compromise them in the face of economic exigencies?

Amidst the threats to freedom of expression from a mature democracy and an infantile one, a silver lining from a much vilified nation — Israel:

The High Court of Justice overturned Wednesday the Central Elections Committee's decision to disqualify the Arab parties, Balad and United Arab List-Ta'al from taking part in the next Knesset race.

The Central Elections Committee explained its decision by saying that since neither party recognized Israel as the Jewish homeland, they were not eligible to bid in the nearing general elections.

Fair enough, but the cautionary words from the Chairman of Israel's Beitenu party are worth repeating to the governments of Netherlands and India, which recently exiled writer-doctor, Taslima Nasreen for being critical of Islam's treatment of women:

Chairman Avigdor Lieberman condemned the court's decision: "(Former Chief Justice) Aharon Barak once said that democracy doesn’t have to kill itself to prove it was alive. The court threw that sentiment out today, and virtually gave the Arab parties permission to kill Israel's (character) as a Jewish and democratic state.[emphasis mine]

I don't agree with the "Jewish" part in Mr. Lieberman's condemnation, but hey, nobody is perfect, right?

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