Friday, November 05, 2004
New Thoughts on Free Speech in Old Europe
The great-nephew of my favorite artist, Vincent van Gogh, was murdered earlier this week by a Muslim fundamentalist. Van Gogh was cut down in the streets of the Netherlands because, according to the Muslim, van Gogh had offended and blasphemed Islam by producing a short documentary regarding the ill treatment afforded many Muslim women and allegedly profaning the Koran by painting a verse on a semi-nude woman's body.
Following the murder, a Dutch citizen painted (in Dutch) the words "Thou Shalt Not Kill" on a wall as a protest.
Local officials, responding to complaints from a nearby Mosque, have sandblasted the mural claiming the words are "hate speech". A video of this is available at the link above (in Dutch).
This is indefensible, and is why the cultural gap between the Old World and the New will continue to grow wider. How can any nation claim to champion free speech when it actively suppresses the most important form of speech, political speech? How can you be a democracy? How can one engage in healthy civic debate if one cannot be honest, or take a stand some may dislike?
This is in the same vein as actions in Belgium to suppress a conservative political party and laws in several central European countries barring national socialism. Rather than debating, and defeating, these ideas (and the Nazi ideas are repugnant, indefensible, and morally outrageous), they prefer to use the heavy hand of government prohibition to silence those whose voices the political class dislike.
In Europe, then, it seems that freedom of political speech only applies so long as the political speech does not offend anyone else.
That's not freedom -- that's a mockery of freedom, a pale ghost of liberty.
And it is tragic.