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From pethern@inet.uni-c.dk Thu Jan  2 06:10:52 PST 1997
Article: 90549 of alt.revisionism
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From: pethern@inet.uni-c.dk (Peter Herngaard)
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Date: Thu, 2 Jan 1997 2:10:49 GMT
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     _________________________________________________________________
                                      
 Freedom of Speech, Frredom from speech, and the Wests Double Standard : A
                                Muslims View
                                      
     _________________________________________________________________
                                      
   I was deeply offended by the events described in an article in the
   Sep. 25, 1995 issue of "Qadhaya Dowaliyah" ("International Affairs" an
   Arabic weekly issued in Pakistan).
   
   It describes the furious reaction of many German intellectuals to the
   announcement of the Frankfurt based German Book Publishers Association
   that the prestigious Book Peace Award for the year 1995 would be
   awarded to Professor Annemarie Schimmel. Dr. Schimmel is an eminent
   Orientalist whose academic and literary achievements are
   extraordinary. She was born in Germany in April 1922.
   
   She started to learn Arabic and Persian when she was 15 years old. She
   got her PhD from the University of Berlin at the age of 20 and became
   a full professor at the age of 25. Dr. Schimmel taught in German,
   Turkish, and Indian universities as well as in Harvard. She is a world
   authority on Islamic Mysticism and her book, The Mystical Dimensions
   of Islam, is one of the most authoritative references on the subject.
   She has a good command of 12 languages and has translated many
   Oriental poems into German. She is the author of more than one hundred
   books, essays, and articles written in different languages. She was a
   member of the official delegation that accompanied the German
   President in his latest visit to Pakistan and Central Asia. After more
   than 50 years of scholarly achievements, Dr. Schimmel has been chosen
   to receive the German Book Peace Award for 1995 which she is due to
   receive on Oct. 15. As soon as it became known that Dr. Schimmel would
   be the recipient of this important award, many German intellectuals
   expressed their indignation at the decision. Hundreds of writers,
   academics, publishers, and book store owners signed a petition urging
   the German Book Publishers Association not to grant Dr. Schimmel the
   award. Moreover, some members of the German Parliament strongly
   protested giving the award to her as a "farce." The German President,
   who is scheduled to deliver the award to Dr. Schimmel, was put under
   intense pressure to dissuade him from handing the award to her.
   
   "Why are so many people angry at this lady despite her brilliant
   academic achievements?", I asked myself. Is she a Nazi war criminal?
   Is she a neo-Nazi? Is she a racist ? Is she a child molester or a drug
   addict? What crime on Earth could this professor have committed to
   cause such a wave of indignation in a country like Germany ? I could
   not find any answer that make sense. The article provided the answer
   which has deeply hurt me. Dr. Schimmel's crime was that she described
   Salman Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, as an insult to the
   feelings of millions of Muslims. That is all. Her grievous and
   intolerable mistake was defending the right of hundreds of millions of
   Muslims to express their anger at the words that Salman Rushdie had
   written in his book. The German intellectuals wrote in their petitions
   against Dr. Schimmel that she provided moral support to Muslim
   fundamentalists with her criticism of Rushdie. Moreover, granting an
   award to her is "a slap on the face" of those who are campaigning
   against terrorism inspired by religion. The fact that Dr Schimmel has
   expressed her disapproval of the death sentence issued against Rushdie
   did not abate the criticism against her. The only cheerful news in
   this sad episode is that the German President is still determined to
   hand the award to Dr. Schimmel and give a speech honoring her on Oct.
   15. He described the protesters as "believers in the theory of clash
   of civilizations." He also emphasized the need for understanding and
   having a dialogue with the Islamic civilization. As to Dr. Schimmel,
   she has been asked lately "Is it true that you have described yourself
   as a 50% Muslim?" She answered: "This is at least. I love the Islamic
   civilization and always try to defend it, especially in today's
   world."
   
   The whole affair has bewildered me for a while. Is it a crime to
   defend the feelings of Muslims ? Is it a crime for Muslims to express
   their anger at hurtful remarks ? Is it unacceptable in today's world
   that a religious group get angry when their sacred scripture is
   described as "Satanic" and the wives of their beloved Prophet are
   described as "whores" ? Is expressing indignation at offensive books
   wrong ? Should an outstanding scholar be punished for defending the
   abused group's right to express their true feelings ? Why did the West
   insist that Muslims were wrong when they reacted angrily to the
   publication of Rushdie's book ? Why did Western countries not accept
   Muslims' requests to put a ban on the book ?
   
   Some Westerners would attribute the reason for the West's reaction to
   the desire of some Muslims to end Rushie's life. However, it is a
   known fact that so many Muslims have stated that killing Rushdie is
   wrong as a matter of principle and that attempts to kill him would
   give him so much credit, wealth, and fame that he otherwise could have
   never achieved. Furthermore, It is very clear from what happened to
   Dr. Schimmel that Western intellectuals still consider any person who
   criticizes Rushdie to be a wrongdoer regardless of that person's
   disapproval of Rushdie's killing.
   
   As a matter of fact, the overwhelming majority of Westerners would
   justify the West's attitude by citing the magic phrase "Freedom of
   Speech." If one argues with them "Do you mean absolute freedom of
   speech even offensive and hurtful speech?", they would proudly affirm:
   "Yes unconditional freedom of speech. Anyone is entitled to express
   his/her views regardless of whether others will be pleased or offended
   by these views." If you ask them: "Is this theory practiced
   unconditionally in the West today?" So many would not hesitate to give
   an affirmative answer. At this stage one should say "It is not the
   first time in history that so many have been so wrong for so long."
   The truth of the matter is there is no such thing as absolute freedom
   of speech neither in the West nor any where else. Skeptics would,
   rightly, demand evidence for this claim. Here are some haphazardly
   collected examples that I have mostly encountered by chance while
   reading Western newspapers, magazines, and books in the last few
   months.
   
   Let us start with Germany. In 1991, Guenter Deckert, leader of the
   ultra-right-wing National Democratic Party organized a lecture at
   which an American speaker claimed that the Auschwitz gassing of Jews
   never took place. Deckert was prosecuted and convicted for arranging
   the lecture under a statute prohibiting incitement to racial hatred.
   In March 1994 he was tried again. Finally, he was given only a
   suspended one-year jail sentence and a light fine. The judges were
   criticized by other judges for the light sentence. The Federal Court
   of Justice overturned the light sentence and ordered another trial.
   The public was outraged by the series of events and the law responded.
   In April 1994, the German constitutional court declared that denials
   of the Holocaust are not protected by free speech. In order not to be
   outdone, the German Parliament passed a law declaring it a crime
   punishable by 5 years in prison to deny the Holocaust whether or not
   the speaker believes the denials.
   
   A German publisher based in Munich withdrew and destroyed the German
   language version of an American book titled, Eye for an Eye, by John
   Sack (Basic Book, 1993) because it alleged that Stalin had
   deliberately chosen Jews to oversee secret police activities in the
   former German territories of post war Poland.
   
   In Austria, one can get a prison sentence for denying the existence of
   the Nazi gas chambers. In 1992, the government modified the language
   of the law such that it would be considered a crime "to deny, grossly
   minimize, praise or justify through printed works, over the airwaves,
   or in any other medium the National Socialist genocide or any other
   National Socialist crime."
   
   In Denmark, when a woman wrote a letter to a newspaper describing
   homosexuality as "the ugliest kind of adultery", she and the editor
   who published her letter were targeted for prosecution.
   
   In Japan, a 250,000 circulation magazine, Marco Polo, carried, in its
   Feb. 1995 issue, an article claiming to present the new historical
   truth and argue that Nazi gas chambers are historically dubious. The
   reaction to the article was swift and severe. Major industrial firms
   such as Volkswagen and Mitsubishi cancelled their advertising in
   protest. The publishing house of Marco Polo withdrew all copies of the
   February issue, announced that it was dismissing Marco Polo staff, and
   shut down the magazine itself.
   
   In Australia, any unfair written material that could be described as
   inciting racial vilification is banned by the 1989 Anti-Discrimination
   act. The writer and the publisher of such material may be exposed to
   damages of up to $40,000.
   
   In Britain, laws against blasphemy still exist. British Muslims tried
   to make use of these laws against Salman Rushdie. They discovered that
   only blasphemy against Christianity is outlawed. That is, one is free
   to blaspheme against the religion of one's neighbor as long as the
   neighbor does not happen to be a Christian. Therefore, the Satanic
   Verses was not proscribed. Ironically, a Pakistani movie ridiculing
   Rushdie and the whole affair of the Satanic Verses was banned from
   Britain.
   
   In France, the French national assembly, in 1990, passed new laws to
   toughen the existing measures against racism, "The measures also
   outlaw revisionism -- a historical tendency rife among extreme
   right-wing activists which consists of questioning the truth of the
   Jewish Holocaust in World War II." Many intellectuals were disturbed
   by the words "measures" that "outlaw ... questioning" included in the
   French legislation.
   
   In June 1995, Princeton University professor, Bernard Lewis, was fined
   $2,062 for having denied that Armenians were victims of genocide in
   Ottoman Turkey early in this century. Moreover, Lewis was ordered to
   publish the court ruling in the daily Le Monde and warned that he
   risked further judicial action if he repeats his denial on French
   soil. Professor Lewis did not contest "the terrible human tragedy of
   the deportation" of the Armenians. But he considers that there was no
   "systematic annihilation" and that most of the victims died of
   "famine, disease, exhaustion or cold." That is why, in an interview
   published by Le Monde in November 1993, when he was asked why Turkey
   still refused "to recognize the genocide of the Armenians', Lewis
   replied: "You mean why do they refuse to recognize the Armenian
   version of that event?"
   
   This comment led to a storm of protest from the Armenian community in
   Paris. Thirty university teachers published an open letter accusing
   Lewis of "betraying the truth and insulting the victims of Turkish
   brutality." At first they tried to prosecute Lewis under the Loi
   Gayssot, passed in 1990, which makes denying the Holocaust a criminal
   offense. But it was pointed out to the Armenians that the communist
   deputy Gayssot had restricted his new law to those denying the truth
   of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. It should be noted that Lewis is
   a historian whose specialty is the history of Ottoman Turkey. He is
   recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the subject.
   
   In Aug. 17, 1995, A book published in Switzerland by the "Algerian
   committee of free activists" has been banned from entering French
   territory because "Its distribution is liable to affect public
   order...its underlying tone is anti-French", said the spokesman of the
   French interior ministry.
   
   In the U.S., the government cannot do much to silence obnoxious speech
   because of the first amendment to the constitution. However,
   nongovernmental institutions, especially the media and the
   universities have taken the lead. At the university of Michigan, a
   student said in a classroom discussion that he considered
   homosexuality a disease treatable with therapy. He was summoned to a
   formal disciplinary hearing for violating the school's policy of
   prohibiting speech that victimizes people on basis of sexual
   orientation. The case has generated a lawsuit in federal courts.
   Another student who denounced Dr. Martin Luther King as a communist
   has been sentenced by his university's judicial board to thirty hours
   of community service.
   
   The American Media has a long history of voluntary censorship. For
   example, a series of films which explained why Muslims were growing
   more furious with the West, were taken off-air in the US. Broadcasters
   were faced with a lobby against them and there was a threat to
   advertising. The films titled, Roots of Muslim Anger, were made by Dr.
   Robert Fisk who has received the British Press Award as the best
   British foreign reporter for "Foreign reporting at its finest." The
   reason for the intense lobbying against the series was that it
   considered Israel responsible for many Muslim grievances against the
   West. An imposing scholar such as Noam Chomsky who has been described
   by the New York Times as "arguably the most important intellectual
   alive" has never appeared in any of the US major television networks
   because his views always upset the American elite.
   
   House speaker Newt Gingrich has dismissed a House historian when it
   was brought to his knowledge that she has once written: "The Nazi
   point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view, and is not
   presented."
   
   In the summer of 1995, The War Veterans Lobby (one of the most
   powerful lobbies in Washington) has lobbied successfully to remove all
   the material describing the tragedies caused by the American atomic
   bombs thrown on Japan in 1945 from a World War II exhibition in
   Washington. Several historians protested the move as enforcing a kind
   of "patriotically correct history" which has no thing to do with the
   "real history."
   
   In 1986, author George Gilder (whose book Wealth and Poverty was a
   worldwide best seller in 1981) had a great difficulty in finding a
   publisher to republish his earlier book, Sexual Suicide, because of
   protests from feminists who think (as one of them has recently said on
   ABC) that "Sexual differences should not even be studied."
   
   Oxford University Press rejected Professor John Vincent's book, A Very
   Short Introduction to History, which it had previously welcomed. The
   reason was that Vincent had not been politically correct. He had used
   the word "men" instead of "people", referred to historians as "he"
   thereby excluding women historians, etc.
   
   Michael Jackson's latest album generated a wave of protest because
   some of the words therein were deemed racist by some American Jews.
   Charges of anti-semitism prompted Jackson back to the studio to get
   rid of the offensive words.
   
   In Canada, CTV Television network on its popular morning show "Canada
   AM" has, on Oct. 15, 1994, hosted Josef Lepid, a leading Israeli
   political commentator, who, on the air, called for "a decent Jew in
   Canada" to assassinate Victor Ostrovosky (a former Israeli
   intelligence officer and author of two books exposing Israeli
   intelligence secret operations). The incident received conspicuous
   silence in the Canadian media. The very same commentators who had
   clamored for Rushdie's right of free speech uttered no words in
   support of Ostrovosky's same right.
   
   A couple of years ago, a British historian was giving lectures in
   Canada in which he denied the Holocaust. He was arrested and deported
   by the Canadian authorities. Also, a school teacher was relieved of
   all teaching duties because he taught his students to disbelieve that
   the Holocaust has ever happened.
   
   A university professor wrote on his campus journal that a woman who
   had been raped by her partner should bear some of the responsibility
   for the rape especially if she was improperly dressed. His comments
   prompted a huge outcry on campus. He was forced into early retirement.
   
   It seems that the West does not only lack absolute freedom of speech,
   it lacks absolute freedom of thinking as well. One might enjoy the
   hospitality of German prisons (for 5 full years) for 'believing' that
   the Holocaust has never happened. In France, one does not have to be a
   'true believer', merely questioning the Holocaust will do. One wonders
   what should be the punishment if some people deny World War II
   altogether. Perhaps, they should be executed. In North America, one
   would 'only' lose one's job for disbelieving in the Holocaust. This
   'leniency' is perhaps due to the fact that American jails are
   overcrowded. Questioning the differences between men and women is a
   taboo that any 'decent' human being should not discuss. Charges of
   sexism are used to deter those who contemplate exceeding the
   acceptable limits. Discussions about homosexuality and race are
   similarly stifled.
   
   The seldom acknowledged fact is that thought control does exist in the
   West. It is practiced by the governments, the media, the universities,
   and more importantly by the politically correct crowd. Several
   insightful Western intellectuals have recognized this fact. For
   example, Alexis de Tocqueville described America (at a time when
   America was considered the freest place in the world) by saying: "I
   know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind
   and real freedom of discussion as in America." George Santayana had
   this to say about the same theme: "There is no country in which people
   live under more overpowering compulsions...You must wave, you must
   shout, you must go with the irresistible crowd: otherwise you will
   feel like a traitor, a soulless outcast...In a country where all men
   are free, every man finds that what most matters has been settled for
   him beforehand."
   
   It should not be construed however that freedoms of thought and speech
   are nonexistent in the West. Such a conclusion would be untrue and
   unfair. As a matter of fact, the West does enjoy more freedom of
   speech than anywhere else in the world today. One cannot ignore the
   freedom to protest, demonstrate, and strike provided by Western
   constitutions. One cannot disregard the relatively open and free
   discussions and debates taking place in parliaments and lecture rooms
   throughout the West. One cannot dismiss the role of Western media in
   exposing politicians misdemeanor as insignificant. For example, one
   cannot forget the role of the Washington Post in the Watergate affair.
   Nevertheless, these freedoms are neither unlimited nor unconditional.
   Opinions which might irritate powerful groups, important interests, or
   significant segments of the population are silenced by many
   'nonviolent' means. George Orwell in his article, The Freedom of the
   Press, has eloquently described the status of Western press:
   "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark
   without the need for any official ban...[the] press is extremely
   centralised and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every
   motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind
   of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well
   as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an
   orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking
   people will accept without question...Anyone who challenges the
   prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising
   effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given
   a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow
   periodicals."
   
   Let us now try to honestly address the ticklish question of free
   speech. Should there be freedom of speech? Certainly. Absolute freedom
   of speech? Certainly not. Why? Offensive speech have disastrous
   consequences affecting individuals and the society at large. It leads
   to the spread of hatred, animosity, and divisiveness. For example, how
   many human beings would accept others to accuse their mothers of being
   whores ? Should the society protect the freedom of speech of the
   accuser or the freedom from offensive speech of the accused ? If one
   whole group in the society is denigrated as 'niggers' by another
   group, should the society protect the freedom of speech of the
   offending group or the freedom from speech of the offended group ? If
   non-Jews accuse Jews of conspiring to exterminate all other races,
   whose freedom should be protected ? If men describe women as sources
   of all evil, whose freedom should be protected ? When a group of
   women, whom one billion Muslims revere more than their own mothers,
   have been gratuitously defamed by Rushdie as whores, whose freedom
   should have been protected ? In general, societies have little to lose
   and so much to gain by proscribing outrageous speech. In fact, all
   human societies have, to one degree or another, practiced freedom from
   speech. However, not all societies have been honest to admit what they
   practice. The Quran has been unequivocal in forbidding all kinds of
   insulting speech: "O you who believe Let not some men among you
   ridicule others: it may be that the latter are better than the former.
   Nor let some women ridicule others: it may be that the latter are
   better than the former, nor defame nor be sarcastic of each other, nor
   call each other by offensive nicknames..." (49:11)
   
   However, in limiting freedom of speech for the purposes of social
   peace and harmony, no society should go to the extreme of "outlaw ...
   questioning." This is the mentality of the dark ages, the Inquisition,
   and some ailing dictatorial regimes. The whole world must struggle to
   wipe out all the traces of this mentality rather than enforcing it by
   democratic legislation. Objective inquiry must never be banned for any
   reason whatsoever. If some people, for whatever reason, exploit the
   freedom of inquiry to incite racial, ethnic, sexual, or religious
   vilification, then a line has to be drawn between benign and malicious
   motives without sacrificing the priceless freedoms of thinking,
   questioning, and inquiring. It is exactly the same line that has to be
   drawn to distinguish between freedom of speech and freedom from
   speech. The Canadian Supreme Court has recently (July 20) drawn a
   similar line in its decisive ruling on libel law: "criticism, yes, but
   accusations rooted in non-facts that do gratuitous damage to the
   reputation of individuals, no." The Quran does not only guarantee the
   freedom of thinking and questioning, it considers the act of thinking
   a sign of good faith. Thinking and reflection are considered among the
   characteristics of righteousness: "In the creation of the heavens and
   the earth and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs
   for people of understanding. Those who celebrate the praises of Allah,
   standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides and reflect upon the
   creation of the heavens and the earth.." (3:190-191) The Quran in its
   numerous arguments with the unbelievers cites compelling evidence for
   them; not to make them believe, but to make them think: "...Thus does
   Allah make clear to you His signs: in order that you may reflect"
   (2:219) "...Such are the similitudes which We propound to people, that
   they may think" (59:21)
   
   To sum up, the whole Rushdie affair and its protracted aftermath has
   never been a mere question of free speech in the West as any simple
   comparison between the fate of professor Lewis in France and the
   treatment professor Schimmel received in Germany would clearly reveal.
   The support which Rushdie has received in the West and the defamation
   which Dr. Schimmel has been subjected to in Germany have more to do
   with Western "Islamphobia" than with absolute freedom of expression.
   The Western blatant indifference towards the feelings of Muslims is
   due to intense Western misunderstanding, suspicion, and fear of
   Muslims and Islam. Had the West really believed in and practiced
   absolute freedom of speech, then Muslims would have been very wrong to
   demand a ban on the Satanic Verses since it would have been a
   violation of a well-established Western tradition. But the West has
   never practiced this imaginary absolute freedom of speech and probably
   never will. It is not at all unprecedented that Western publishing
   houses have voluntarily ( for fear of fines or of upsetting the
   public) refrained from publishing a book. Upsetting Muslims, on the
   other hand, was deemed by the publishers of the Satanic Verses to make
   the book far more saleable. The publishers realized the simple fact
   that Muslims in the West are neither powerful nor respectable and that
   perturbing them would attract the attention of so many readers who
   would have otherwise never paid any attention to the book. Muslims in
   the West are the least studied, the least understood, the least
   trusted, and the least respected minority group. According to a
   nationwide poll conducted for the American Muslim Council, 67% of
   Americans had favorable opinions of Roman Catholicism, 52% of Judaism,
   39% of Christian fundamentalism and only 23% had a favorable opinion
   of Islam. Muslims in the West, especially in some European countries
   such as Germany, France, and Britain, live under conditions that can
   at best be described as contemptuous tolerance.
   
   Therefore, my conclusion is that Muslims should not have reacted the
   way they did with respect to Rushdie's insults. They must learn how to
   create a respectable and powerful presence for themselves in the West
   first before asking the West to be considerate to their feelings. They
   ought to understand the lesson that something is far more deeply
   rooted in the Western tradition than free speech and that is: double
   standard.
   
     _________________________________________________________________
                                      
   The writer of this article can be reached at
   sherif@eleceng.ee.queensu.ca
     _________________________________________________________________



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