Melanie Phillips, speech, the Sappho Award, 4/23/09
Freedom of speech is one of the core values of the free world. Without free speech there can be no free thought. Yet freedom of speech is under threat as never before; and as with the threat to the free world in general, it is a threat being mounted both from outside and from inside. The onslaught from without is being facilitated by erosion from within.
The onslaught from without comes from the Islamic jihad. A few weeks ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution calling upon member states to provide legal ‘protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from defamation of religions and incitement to religious hatred in general.’
Since the proposal came from Pakistan and had the backing of the 57-government Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the UN’s largest voting bloc, it was clear that Islam was the only religion the drafters had in mind.
And now ‘Durban II’ -- the second World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance under way this week in Geneva – threatens to prohibit criticism of Islam as a form of incitement.
This all part of a relentless strategy to use the UN as a vehicle for the jihad to rewrite international law and overturn the core values of the west.
In March last year, the OIC developed what the Associated Press called ‘a battle plan’ to use the law against ‘Islamophobia’ by curbing free speech. That month, it changed the mandate for the UNHRC’s rapporteur on freedom of expression, who was now to be expected to report to the Council on all instances in which individuals ‘abused’ their freedom of speech by giving expression to racial or religious bias. In short, the UN voted to force the official charged with protecting freedom of expression to suppress it instead.
In June last year, the UNHRC president Doru Romulus Costea announced that criticism of sharia law would not be tolerated. This followed pressure by Islamist delegates after NGOs tried to raise the plight of women under sharia. In a curious turn of phrase, the Egyptian delegate claimed that silencing these NGOs was necessary to ensure ‘that Islam will not be crucified in this Council’.
As we have seen from the ‘Durban 2’ meeting in Geneva this week, the UNHRC has turned the human rights it is supposed to protect into a mockery of the term. This is because it has been hijacked by the Islamic states which have turned the UN -- the iconic embodiment of western liberal values of reason and negotiation, justice and peace -- into a kind of metaphorical suicide bomb strapped to the underbelly of the free world. In the form of the UN, the west now unwittingly embraces a deadly weapon that threatens to destroy it.
Just as the west can’t see that the UN club of terror in fact promotes the negation of freedom, so the west is being equally undermined from within by a crisis of confusion over the core values it is supposedly trying to defend.
It has repeatedly sold the pass over freedom of speech. First there was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie over the Satanic Verses in 1989 when Britain failed to prosecute a single person for threatening to murder him. Then there was the Mohammed cartoons furore.
Now London has turned into a magnet for libel tourism, with the draconian British libel laws being successfully used by wealthy Arabs to intimidate authors and publishers into censoring exposes of the hidden links between Islamic terror and its financing.
You might call this the ‘jihad of the word’ -- the suppression of free speech which is such a crucial part of the global jihad. For terrorism is by no means the only threat we are facing. What we are up against is a pincer movement by global Islamism to attack the free world, using both terrorism or hard jihad and cultural infiltration or soft jihad. The two work both together and separately to advance the same end: the Islamisation of the west.
And that’s because the real ground on which we are being attacked – even though so many of us don’t recognise this – is the battleground of the mind. The Islamists understand very well that if they can control public discourse and what is in people’s minds, they will win this great war of civilisation. The ‘jihad of the word’ both recruits terrorists to the cause and confuses, demoralises and terrorises the designated victim population.
All over Europe, elites are caving into the soft terrorism of the ‘jihad of the word’. But Britain is the principal target and recruitment centre for both kinds of jihad, because it has allowed the creation of the most extensive network of terrorism and radicalisation outside the Muslim world.
The reason for that is the hollowing out of British culture, which has paralysed it through the prevalent doctrines of multiculturalism, human rights law and cultural Marxism otherwise known as political correctness. These have rendered Britain’s political, security and intellectual establishment incapable of acknowledging this pincer movement and therefore dealing with the threat. They fully realise the threat of terrorism; but they fail to acknowledge the true nature, origins and full strategic dimension of the attack. They fail to grasp the cultural dimension of the onslaught because they refuse to acknowledge that this is a religious war.
Instead they think it’s terrorism driven by ‘grievances’, that it’s fuelled by a ‘distortion’ of Islam, and that the antidote is to win the hearts and minds of Britain’s Muslims by acceding to their demands that Islam is afforded a privileged status in British society which afforded to no other minority group. So instead of holding the line for western and British values, the government and security establishment show at every juncture that they will cave in to intimidation.
Thus the British government and security world won’t use the word ‘terrorism’ in conjunction with the words ‘Islam’, ‘Islamic’, ‘Islamist’ or ‘Muslim’. One senior official said: ‘We must talk in a language which is not offensive.’ Another said that the terrorist threat must not be described as a ‘Muslim problem’. In a speech on counter-terrorism earlier this year, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, even declared the ‘violent extremism’ that threatens us to be ‘anti-Islamic’.
But if we can’t even name the threat we’re up against we will never defeat it. The problem in the UK is further that the government defines this threat as ‘violent extremism’, not ‘religious extremism’. It does not regard religious fanaticism as a threat; and so when Muslims refuse to tolerate any criticism of Islam, it doesn’t see this as a threat to British values.
On the contrary, so anxious is the British government to pacify the Muslim community that it genuflects to their demand that no offence should be caused to their religion. The government believes it can thus defuse anger and control ‘violent extremism’. But it is the British government being controlled and led by the nose to surrender its core values.
Moreover, in so doing it is abandoning the many truly moderate British Muslims who are neither violent nor extreme and do not subscribe to the interpretation of their religion being imposed by Islamist fanatics. Instead they subscribe to the separation of religion and state and the value of free speech and want to live as British citizens under one law for all. But by seeking to appease the extremists, the government makes it much harder for such moderate Muslims to stand up to them.
The reason the government is so bamboozled and confused is that Britain and Europe have been weakened by their own internal cultural confusion and erosion of core values – a confusion the Islamists are busily exploiting. This is true of two issues in particular: multiculturalism and the fear of giving offence.
Many people think multiculturalism just means showing respect and tolerance to other cultures and faiths. If that were so, it should be unarguable. We should all support respect and tolerance. That’s what a liberal society requires. But that’s not what multiculturalism is at all. It is a specific doctrine which holds that all minority values must have equal status to those of the majority. Any attempt to uphold majority values over minorities is a form of prejudice. That turns minorities into a cultural battering ram to destroy the very idea of being a majority culture at all. And so, since no culture can assert itself over any other, liberalism cannot assert itself as a dominant cultural force. Instead society must fragment into a kaleidoscope of equal — and opposing —values, and liberal values must give way to their opposite.
That is what happened over the Mohammed cartoons. Freedom of expression is a key liberal precept. But under multiculturalism, that cannot trump the doctrines of a minority faith which holds that to publish these images is to give offence. So the minority wins over the liberal majority, and Europeans decry not the violence and intimidation, the kidnappings, riots and murder which followed the publication of the cartoons but the offence to minority religious feelings that was given in publishing them.
Worse still, multiculturalism has reversed the notions of truth and lies, victim and victimiser. Since minorities can do no wrong, they cannot be held responsible for acts such as suicide bombings -- which must instead be the fault of their victims if they are from the ‘oppressive’ western world. This key confusion, which has caused intellectual and moral paralysis in the west, plays directly into the pathological Muslim victim culture which makes dialogue impossible. Because so many Muslims genuinely believe they are under attack by the west, which is a giant conspiracy to destroy Islam. So they perceive their own aggression as legitimate self-defence, and the west’s defence as aggression.
This fundamental untruth has created a dialogue of the demented. Instead of treating it as the mad discourse that it is and refusing to play along with it, Britain regards it as an extension of its own multicultural, minority rights doctrine which routinely reverses victim and aggressor where any ‘vitim’ or minority group is concerned. So the untruths driving the terror are merely deepened – particularly since the left, which controls British and European culture, demonises America and Israel. So the central Islamist perception of the Big and Little Satan -- based on the Big Lie that America and Israel are not the victims of Islamist terror but instead are aggressors seeking to destroy the Islamic world -- is echoed in mainstream British discourse where anti-Americanism is rampant and Israel is well on the way to being delegitimised altogether.
This acts as an echo chamber for Muslim prejudice, reinforcing it and fuelling the sense of paranoia and victimisation. And it has also released the virus of Judeophobia, with claims of a world Jewish conspiracy that are a re-run of the medieval blood libels leading to rising numbers of physical attacks on Jews. Our debased liberalism thus negates the power of reason, the key characteristic of liberal thinking, promotes murderous prejudice and weakens the west in its defence against Islamism by paving the way for its distortions and twisted thinking to take even deeper root.
Another example is the insistence that Islamic terrorism should be represented as having nothing to do with Islam and that to link them is evidence of ‘Islamophobia’. This in itself is the jihadi tactic of using the west’s own corrupted values to sow confusion and be fashioned into a weapon against the west. The west’s victim culture, the belief that all minorities are victims of the majority and so any attempt to hold them to account is a form of prejudice, is used to label all attempts to tell the truth about Islamic violence or cultural conquest as a form of prejudice in order to silence it. Because of the dominance of victim culture and the terror of being accused of prejudice against an ethnic minority, as well as the implicit threat of violence unless this demand is met, the west has caved into this.
This has turned freedom inside out. In London, Islamists freely demonstrate on the streets with their calls for infidels to be beheaded or death to the Jews tolerated by the police as their right to free expression. By contrast, enraged passers-by who protest at such displays find themselves threatened with arrest. Thus defending western liberal values is criminalised by a society exercising tender liberal regard for the interests of minorities.
In similar vein Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom party who defends western freedom against Islamic violence, faces prosecution in the Netherlands for criticizing Islam. It was Geert Wilders who was banned by the British Home Secretary from entering Britain for threatening public order -- while allowing into the country a procession of Islamists who preach death to the Jews, the destruction of Israel and the defeat of the west. This is because it is Muslims who threaten violence when hearing something that displeases them -- while the authorities know that whatever vile threats or libels are thrown at the Jews, they will never harm anyone. So in Britain, the doctrine of free speech has now been replaced by the doctrine that violence pays.
It’s not just fear that has turned all this inside out. It’s the overriding importance within western society of not giving offence, which has paralysed us when we are faced with the same demand made of us by Muslims. The prohibition against giving offence arises from the importance we now attach to the subjective individual, and thus the primacy of respecting their feelings. With the rise of group rights and victim culture, the giving of offence is seen as an assault on someone’s very identity. It is therefore classed as prejudice regardless of whether it is well-founded in truth. Prejudice is the crime of crimes, and so the giving of offence is criminalised as hate speech.
British authorities repeatedly cave in over this question of giving offence to Muslims. In Britain, attempts to criminalise as hate speech truth-telling about the jihad took the form of a law against incitement to religious hatred. This was watered down after a campaign which seemed driven mainly by outrage that popular comedians would no longer feel able to tell jokes about religion on TV. But the law was nevertheless still passed.
A TV Dispatches programme uncovered disturbing evidence of incitement to the murder of homosexuals and the killing of British soldiers along with hatred of ‘unbelievers’ going on below the official radar in ostensibly respectable British mosques. But instead of prosecuting such fanatics, the police turned on the Dispatches producers, accusing them (in a complaint eventually thrown out by the broadcasting watchdog) of selective editing and distortion and undermining community cohesion.
On another occasion, a Muslim police community support officer stopped two Christian preachers from handing out Bible extracts in a Muslim area in the Midlands. They were told they could not preach there and that attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity was a ‘hate crime’. The officer involved did not uphold the law of the land, which gives people the freedom to say in public whatever they want within the law. Instead he upheld the Islamist principle that this particular area of an English city was a Muslim area, within which it was not permissible to do anything contrary to Muslim principles such as preach Christianity.
Such developments have been made possible by the acceptance within Britain and Europe of the need to prevent ‘hate crime’. Hate crime marches under the banner of human rights. Yet hate crime criminalises the wrong kind of thought. So it is actually a totalitarian measure that is contrary to human rights. This apparent contradiction has come about because ‘human rights’ have been transformed from the rights of the individual to the rights of the group -- which has turned ‘human rights law’ from a tool of freedom into an instrument of oppression.
European elites now use hate crime legislation to silence people with opinions that do not conform to prevailing orthodoxy. Under it, favoured minorities are being treated differently from the majority, for whom freedom is restricted and justice stood on its head.
In 2000 Alison Redmond Bate was convicted of obstructing a police officer who stopped her preaching with her mother on the steps of Wakefield cathedral after a crowd of more than a hundred gathered and shouted at them to shut up. The previous year, she had been found guilty of wilful obstruction after allegedly ‘unsettling’ the crowd by warning them not to turn their backs on God. Allowing her appeal against conviction, Lord Justice Sedley upheld true liberal principles when he observed that free speech had to include ‘the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative’.
But this ringing re-statement of western core values certainly didn’t apply to George Staunton , a 78 year-old war veteran who embellished posters he was putting up on a wall for the UK Independence Party -- which opposes British membership of the EU -- with the legends ‘Don’t forget the 1945 war’ and ‘Free speech for England’. As a result, he was arrested and charged with racially aggravated criminal damage – a case that was eventually dropped by the police, who boasted nevertheless of having launched a ‘dramatic, painstaking, dawn-till-dusk surveillance operation against racist graffiti’ –which netted one 78 year-old man whose crime was to believe that Britain should be independent of Europe to uphold the liberties for which it had fought .
In Britain last year, a law banning incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation was amended in the House of Lords to include a ‘free speech’ clause, exempting from prosecution general discussion or criticism of homosexuality -- a move which campaigners hailed as providing protection for comedians (again!) and those opposed to same-sex unions. However, another bill (the Coroners and Justice Bill) has now overturned this legal protection for free speech; as a result, the crime of inciting homophobic hatred could in theory could now target Christians and others expressing a religiously principled opposition to homosexual practices, for which they would face a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
All these are examples of my point that, far from expanding liberty ‘human rights law’ diminishes it. It has become a tool to enforce the power of minorities against the majority and enforce a narrative of unchallengeable virtue -- even if this is actually a narrative of lies -- by shutting contrary views out of public discourse altogether. By a ‘narrative of unchallengeable virtue’, I mean attitudes which are considered to be expressions of some absolute truth which brook no dissent whatever and are impervious to any counter-argument, mediating context or factual evidence because they are held to embody a kind of secular version of metaphysical belief.
One of the most conspicuous examples of this is Israel, the target of a systematic campaign of demonisation and delegitimisation based on lies which are regarded as uncontestable truths. This particular ‘narrative of unchallengeable virtue’ has led to an eruption in Britain and Europe of prejudice, bigotry, bullying and physical attack against Israel and the Jewish people. And it has also created the Orwellian situation where blood libels which incite hatred, peddling the calumny of a cosmic conspiracy by Jews who are deemed to have hijacked public policy and control the world, are now considered perfectly acceptable in mainstream debate; but any protest by Jews at this true hate-speech is deemed to be proof positive of the sinister Jewish power to control public debate, thus creating an argument it is impossible to refute.
But then Jews can never be the victims of one of those fashionable ‘phobias’ because Jews fall foul of the prevailing Marxist definition of prejudice, which holds that only those with power can be guilty of prejudice and can never be its victims. Since Jews are seen as controlling western capitalism, they are never to be seen as victims – despite, ironically, thus being conspicuous victims of the bigotry of that very observation. But Muslims are always powerless because they are of the third world, not the capitalist west; and so they can claim to be victims of ‘Islamophobia’.
Thus lies are given precedence over truth -- because I suggest that truth can never constitute prejudice. Real prejudice inescapably involves lies or distorted thinking. Although some people are indeed truly prejudiced against Muslims – just as some people are prejudiced against any people or creed – ‘Islamophobia’ is a myth. A phobia is not a type of hatred but a type of fear; and fear of Islam is not a prejudice but a reasonable reaction to the violence and assault on western freedoms being carried out in its name.
Yes of course many Muslims reject this interpretation of their religion; but the fact is that holy war against the free world is being perpetrated in the name of Islam, sanctioned by the highest religious authorities in Islam and in accordance with its theology and history. It is as absurd to say anxiety about this is a ‘phobia’ as it would have been to say resistance against Nazism was a phobia towards Germans. There are, after all, Muslims who bravely speak up against Islamic extremism; are they too to be deemed ‘Islamophobic’? That’s how absurd this is. Yet while ‘Islamophobia’ is being used to shut down legitimate and indeed essential debate about Islam and what is being done in its name, no such attempt is being made to stop the gross defamation of Judaism rampant in the Arab and Muslim world which is fuelling the jihad and hatred of the west.
So where should a liberal society draw the line when it comes to the giving of offence? My own view is that giving offence should never be criminalised. Take Holocaust denial, which is a form of antisemitism. In Britain, this is not a crime and I do not think it should be one. After all, if antisemitism were to be criminalised much of English literature would have to be censored.
But the problem is that such prejudice can easily shade into incitement; and the difficulty is over where that line should be drawn. For example Hizb ut Tahrir, which works towards the overthrow of the west and the restoration of the Caliphate but whose activists in Britain are not associated with violence, is recruiting thousands of impressionable young British Muslims to the cause of overthrowing the British state and inspiring hatred towards their fellow Britons, along with Americans and Jews. Should it be allowed to do so?
I suggest that context makes a difference. For example, Holocaust denial should not be a crime in the UK because there it is unlikely to lead to much harm. But in countries like Austria or Germany where Nazism remains a serious potential threat, those sentiments can become an active risk to the security of the state. So criminalising Holocaust denial there is much more understandable.
Similar considerations should surely apply to Muslim extremism, which does not take place in a vacuum. In Britain and Europe, radical Islamist sentiments are being used to recruit terrorists and radicalise young Muslims against their own country and fellow citizens. Those sentiments are therefore an active danger to the security of citizens and the state.
In other words, freedom of expression is a core principle of our western liberal democracy -- but it is not the only principle and not the supreme principle. It has to be balanced against other principles, such as the preservation of life and liberty.
In some quarters, any diminution of free speech is said to undermine our liberal values. But the paradox of liberalism is that it can only defend itself against attack if it sometimes uses robust and even illiberal measures. If we take the view that any such measures are out of the question because freedom cannot ever be constrained without liberalism being destroyed, the consequences of such doctrinal preciousness may well be that liberalism simply disappears up its own backside.
Unless we understand not just the values we need to uphold but also the vulnerability of our own culture and the internal contradictions within post-Enlightenment liberalism, we will not be able to defend it against the onslaught being waged against it. Which is why organisations like the Free Press Society and gatherings like this of people like yourselves are so important.
Thank you again very much.Melanie Phillips, the Sappho Award, Københavns Bymuseum, 4/23/09