Saturday, March 27, 2010

Better silent than dead

Not long ago there were those who agonized over the possibility that a Christian fundamentalist theocracy threatened religious liberty in the United States. This was always ludicrous, focusing as it did on monuments to the Ten Commandments in public parks. There are, however, genuine threats not only to religious liberty, but to every kind of liberty. Reviewing a new book by Paul Berman, Ron Rosenbaum notes the increasing self-censorship by European intellectuals in the face of life-threatening intolerance:
.... What made the difference between the wholehearted response to Rushdie and the cold-hearted response to Hirsi Ali? Berman may disclaim it, but I think the subtext of his critique of Ali's nitpickers is that, in the two decades since the Rushdie affair, standing up against Islamist death threats requires more physical courage than the intellectuals are willing to muster. ....

But now the threat of murder, the attempted murder, and the actual murder of dissidents from Islam have all become a regular feature of the intellectual landscape of Europe. ....

It was not healthy for Theo van Gogh to get too close to Hirsi Ali. The Danish cartoonists are still under constant death threats, Berman reports. And Ibn Warraq, the pseudonym of another apostate, reads death threats against himself online, while Bassam Tibi, who, Berman tells us, "pioneered the concept of Islamism as a modern totalitarianism and pioneered the concept of a liberal 'Euro-Islam' [as well] ... spent two years under twenty four hour police protection in Germany. ... [T]he Egyptian and Italian journalist Magdi Allam ...was travelling with a full complement of five bodyguards. ... The Italian journalist Fiamma Nienstein … was accompanied by her own bodyguard. … Caroline Fourest in France, the author of the first and most important extended criticism of Ramadan, had to go under police protection. ... [T]he French history professor Robert Redkeker had to go into hiding. In 2008 the police in Belgium broke up a terrorist group that had planned on assassinating, among other people Bernard Henri Levy."

He spends an evening in New York "... with Flemming Rose the culture editor of the Danish newspaper who was visiting New York only because at that particular moment it was too dangerous for him to remain in Denmark."

The list continues. Kurt Westergaard, Boulem Sansal. This is cumulatively (and individually) scandalous. .... The fact that theological censorship backed by death threats has been installed on the continent of Europe with just about everyone deciding it would be wiser to keep silent about it is once again burying the lede. But to my mind, printing it at all is a service.

A certain kind of irreverent speech once valued in Europe since the time of Chaucer and Rabelais has been, it seems, powerfully threatened if not silenced, and the heirs to that intellectual tradition are too scared to speak out about that silence. .... [more]