Israeli Amb. Oren Shouted Down

Wednesday, 07 Apr 2010 10:17 AM

By Herbert London

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British Islamist Anjem Choudary argues that freedom and democracy are idols that must be destroyed and replaced with obedience to Allah. And to a remarkable degree, this totalistic impulse is being implemented in the West.

On February 1, 2010, a group of students at York University, with the permission of university officials, set up a table on campus to discuss with other students the status of Hamas-kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

However, outspoken Palestinian students and sympathizers were unwilling to have these sentiments aired. They surrounded the table, made menacing gestures and spewed anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli slurs at the Jewish students.

This was not the first time such an incident occurred. In fact, a year earlier the police had to be called to usher Jewish students to safety after they were forced to barricade themselves inside the university's Hillel offices because of physical and verbal threats from radical student groups.

The York Federation of Students Against Israel Apartheid has demonstrated time and again that intellectual debate on campus is little more than an ideologically driven "shout down." Thuggery is something of a tradition with this student group. When Natan Sharansky was invited to speak in April of 2008 he was jeered at and protested.

This is not Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but Canada, where free speech was once considered sacrosanct. Even in the United States, open discourse is imperiled by radical students pumped up with self righteous indignation. At the University of California (Irvine) Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, was greeted recently with shouts and uncivil behavior when he tried to speak.

Arguably the most serious blow to free speech in the West is the trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Wilders is on trial for "intentionally offending a group of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion" through his film "Fitna," which links terrorist acts to passages in the Quran. This claim of incitement is, on its face, quite absurd since Islamists themselves justify willful acts of violence with reference to the Quran.

Since cities like Rotterdam are, or will soon be, at a Muslim majority, the trial is in some sense a way to establish order. But of course, order, in this case, means the abandonment of free speech in order to mollify one sub-group in the Netherlands prone to violent acts.

One might describe the action of the Dutch court as preemptive capitulation since the authorities seem to be far more interested in preventing possible violence than protecting an essential Dutch freedom.

Wilders contends that the Amsterdam court isn't even interested in pursuing the truth, since 15 of his 18 witnesses have not been permitted to testify. One of those witnesses Wilders was not permitted to call is Mohammed Bouyeri, the man who murdered Theo Van Gogh in revenge for his film "Submission," which portrays the oppression of Muslim women.

Bouyeri noted at his own trial that the murder was inspired by the Quran. As he said, "Kill them, and Allah will help you and guide your hand."

Here is the quintessential madness associated with radical Islam. Death is to be preferred to life and any criticism of Islam cannot be tolerated. If ever there was a threat to freedom, this is it. If a politician cannot criticize an ideology, western civilization itself is in jeopardy.

Violence or the threat of violence must now be put into the freedom equation. From university settings to parliamentary houses, radicals have left their noxious stamp on the principle of free and open discussion. Of course officials invariably proclaim a defense of free inquiry. But when the pressure is on, these proclamations become empty exhortations.

The Voltaires in the West are rarely vocal. Voices of determination have become diffident, fearful that they will be the target of violent expression.

Each day that passes without resistance to these religious fanatics is a victory for intolerance and totalitarianism. Yet appeasement is in the air we breathe.

Many in the West prefer to avert their gaze rather than confront the problem. A dark cloud is about to envelope the West and in the background I can hear contemporary storm troopers shouting, "Hey ho, Western civ has got to go."

Alas, it appears to be going of its own volition.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books).

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