Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free speech abroad

Today I have two reports from the front in the global battle for free speech about Islam. Note that in both cases the battle is not between Muslims and Westerners, but between Western authorities and their citizens.

The first, by Dutch lawyer and historian Thierry Baudet, chronicles the torturous path of the trial against Dutch politician Geert Wilders (which I've reported on before). In the first round, public prosecutor Paul Velleman refused to prosecute because he did not consider that various statements made by Wilders (comparing the Koran to Mein Kampf or calling Islam a violent religion) had broken the law. Then judges on the Court of Appeal essentially ruled that Wilders was guilty of hate speech and incitement to discrimination - in other words, pronounced him guilty, not even bothering to preserve any illusion of the presumption of innocence. The District Court in Amsterdam gave in to this pressure and brought Wilders to trial.

At the trial, Vellemans stuck to his original position. The judges disagreed. The trial continued until their bias became so evident that they were dismissed from the case. Wilders isn't out of the woods yet, though, as the case will be retried at some future point.

Nor is Wilders physically safe. As Baudet notes: "while Wilders’s remarks have aroused no social disorder of the sort that the Dutch laws were intended to prevent, he himself receives continual death threats and lives under permanent police protection."

The second case involves the National Archives of Canada. It cancelled the showing of Iranium, a new movie about Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, after receiving threats and two suspicious letters. (Watch the Iranium trailer here.) Fortunately, Canada's Heritage Minister James Moore then stepped in, arguing that cancelation was the equivalent of censorship and ordering the Archives to show the film. So far no date has been set.

How, one wonders would U.S. courts or public prosecutors handle a case similar to either of the ones above? Somehow I can't see Attorney General Holder, President Obama, or New York Mayor Bloomberg rising to the defense of free speech if that speech risked offending Muslims. Can you?

2 comments:

jack said...

I think an excellent example of this would be the Terry Jones incident back in September. You really don't get much more hateful than burning a pile of Korans, yet neither local, nor state, nor federal officials seriously considered prosecuting him. The US, whether administered by the right or the left, takes free speech much more seriously than the rest of the world.

Leslie said...

No one tried to prosecute Jones because there was no applicable law. But President Obama leaned on him pretty hard: see http://www.haaretz.com/news/international/obama-koran-burning-could-spark-suicide-bombings-1.313055.