Free speakers get EU protection

Freedom of speech is a hot topic these days, and those who speak more freely than others (or about more controversial issues, such as Islam), can now expect to get protection from EU. Few days ago, I wrote about Aayan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch politicians who is living with constant death threats on her shoulders, and yesterday, EU promised her and other threatened individuals protection across Europe, according to the EUobserver:

Security commissioner Franco Frattini said that EU member states are to draft special measures to guarantee freedom of movement across the Union for Ms Hirsi Ali and other individuals similarly targeted for what they have written or said.”

I think it is great the Hirsi Ali and others such as Salman Rushdie will get the protection they need, and that EU makes a stand on this issue. But sadly, I’m afraid more people will need this kind of protection with the harsh climate for free speech because of threats from religious fundamentalists these days.

I went to hear the Canadian Muslim Irshad Manji last week, and she told that she was living behind bullet proof windows at home, she is always taking different routes when she is walking, she knows how to look for bombs under her car, she is very restricted in the way she uses her cell phone – but she is living and traveling without body guards. She is very brave and outspoken, and she told that in order for her to be a role model for other young Muslim girls, she can’t encourage them to be outspoken and critical of Islam, if she is walking around with body guards, and they are not. That would be hypocrisy, and as she said, “hypocrisy is never a way to sell policy”.

She mentioned a conversation she had some year ago with Salman Rushdie where she asked him how he handled the death threats. “A book is more important than a life”, he said, and Manji laughed nervously and asked what he meant. He went on explaining: “Whenever an innovator puts out a thought, it can be struggled, but it can’t be unthought. That is the greatest gift the innovator can give”. Manji has given lots of thought on these sentences, and continued with some more of her own life wisdom: “The purpose of which you live, is more important than the number of years you live”.

This woman has plenty of smart sayings, here is another of my favorites: “Courage is not about absent of fear, but the recognition that some things are more important than fear”.

Irshad Manji suggests micro-credit as a way to give Muslim women more freedom. Here is more on that debate.

10 thoughts on “Free speakers get EU protection

  1. As much as I hate the Islamists I have to that there is no Free Speech in the EU. It’s only certain kinds of speech that are allowed freedom.

    If you say you do not believe in the official details of the Holocaust you can be imprisoned fr doing so. Other sorts of speech are similarly banned.

  2. Irshad Manji has so much courage but more importantly she has far more faith in the thoughts and culture we all live and thrive in.
    That perhaps is far more important than having the courage to face up to the bogey of Islamic terrorism.

  3. Jonolan, do you argue that Holocaust did not take place? Seriously, I’m not interested in that kind of discussion on this blog.

    Sashi, I think it is impressive that Manji still is a Muslim, even though she is so critical towards the religion. But I think that’s the only way the religion can change (and be reformed) – from within. And definitively, it seems like she has a lot of faith in humans.

  4. Bente Kalsnes,

    No, I’m not arguing that the Holocaust didn’t take place. I was merely stating that Free Speech doesn’t exist in the EU because if you did make such an argument there you could be arrested for doing so.

    We have a saying in America – Only unpopular speech needs protection.

    Irshad Manji – a brave lady – has never been critical of Islam. She has been critical of middle eastern and near eastern cultures and various interpretations of Islamic law – mostly those laws derived from the hadith as opposed to those actually based on the suar of the Qu’ran.

  5. Pingback: Vox Publica » links for 2008-03-05

  6. As much as I hate disagreeing with Bente, I’m on jonolan on this one.

    David Irving was sentenced to jail in Vienna just a short while after the Damascus incidents – just as we were tying to explain our liberal freedom of speech practices to the Middle East. Denying Holocaust is still a criminal offense in ten European countries. Of course, it is ludicrous to deny that a mass murder of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities took place. But in an open and liberal democracy, ideas should be brought into the public sphere and be countered by critical arguments. Irvings revisionism would certainly not survive such a test. By outlawing his position, we give unnecessary credence to the claim of many Muslims that we practice double standards: Protect the Jews while allowing them to be mocked. This is an argument I hear often in discussions with Muslims – radical and moderate alike.

    A similar logic applies to flag burning, which is outlawed in several countries (e.g. Belgium, Denmark (sic!), Finland, Germany, New Zealand). Why are we so sensitive when it comes to our national symbols while we feel we can satirize the symbols of Muslims? Again, such double standards play nicely into the hands of those who want to restrict freedom of speech on religious grounds.

    Western liberal democracies need to dispose of our own, largely superfluous limitations on freedom of speech in order to gain credibility while trying to educate the non-democratic world of the virtues of an open society and critical argument.

  7. Okay, I understand what you are saying, jonolan, and I’m glad this has not turned into a discussion whether Holocaust took place or not. Still, I don’t think your are right about getting arrested for saying that free speech doesn’t exist in the EU. By the way, have you ever challenged Margot Wallström in her blog about this topic?

    Dag, thanks for a very thoughtful and smart argument. I am a bit curious – do you argue that there should be absolutely no limits on free speech?

  8. I think we’ve had a failure to communicate. I wasn’t saying you could be arrested in the EU for saying that free speech doesn’t. I was saying you could be arrested for saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, therefor free speech doesn’t truly exist in the 11 countries in the EU.

  9. Pingback: Satanic Verses on stage « Bente Kalsnes’ blog

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