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Combating Religious Intolerance When Freedom of Speech Enables Hate Speech

7 July 2011 12 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

The social cancer of Islamophobia must be recognized as unacceptable as anti-Semitism. It is a threat to the very fabric of our democratic pluralistic

We have been discussing this topic for a while now. We also addressed, Pamela Geller’s hate rally cancellation.

What must be affirmed is that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are compatible, and neither will be sacrificed to the bigots.

Combating Religious Intolerance When Freedom of Speech Enables Hate Speech

(Huffington Post) by John L. Esposito and Sheila B. Lalwani

Religious pluralism, versus the defamation of religion and freedom of speech have become an increasing source of conflict in international politics and interreligious relations. Preachers of hate and activists in America, Europe, and many Muslim countries are engaged in a culture war. Far right anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political leaders and parties warn of the Islamization of America and Europe to garner votes. The acquittal on June 22, 2011 of Dutch politician Geert Wilders on charges of “inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims,” is a political victory for Wilders but also a sign of the times, growing normalization of anti-Islam bashing in the West.

The OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference which represents some 57 countries) lobbied the United Nations for more than a decade to address this issue. Initially targeting Islamophobia, it broadened its request to a resolution on “defamation of religions” that would criminalize words and actions perceived as attacks against religion.

Opponents, in particular the U.S. and E.U., maintained that the resolution could also be used to restrict religious freedom and free speech, and foster religious intolerance and violence against religious minorities. Indeed, in recent years attacks against Christians and other religious minorities have risen in Egypt, Malaysia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. These conflicts have varied from acts of discrimination to the bombing and burning of churches and murder.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law exemplifies the issue. In 2009 Asia Bibi, a Christian and 45-year-old mother of four was sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, a charge she strongly denied. The case sparked international outrage that was heightened in 2011 by the brutal assassination of Salman Taseer — the governor of Punjab and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, and the assassination of Pakistani Chief Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and outspoken opponent of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

The United Nations Human Rights Council recently ostensibly resolved the conflict over “Defamation of Religions.” After close discussions with the U.S. and E.U., Pakistan introduced a compromise resolution on behalf of the OIC, which addressed the concerns of both the OIC and those of member states and human rights organizations, including the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The “Combating Discrimination and Violence” compromise resolution affirms individual rights, including the freedoms of expression and religion that are part-and-parcel of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At the same time, the 47-member state body also called for strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue and the promotion of a culture of human rights, tolerance and mutual respect.

But will this U.N. resolution prove to be an effective tool in combating the rise of Islamophobia? A clear sign of the limits of the resolution can be seen in the stunning verdict in Geert Wilder’s acquittal. Wilders’ track record includes the charges that “Islam is a fascist ideology,” “Mohammed was a pedophile,” and “Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are not compatible” and warnings of a “tsunami” of Muslim immigrants. Wilders’ “missionary” efforts have extended other parts of Europe to the US where his admirers refer to him as a “freedom fighter.” Plaintiffs had charged that Mr Wilders’ comments had incited hatred and led to a rise in discrimination and violence against Muslims. But Judge van Oosten ruled that although he found Wilders remarks “gross and denigrating”, they had not given rise to hatred. Spiegel Online’s headline of the acquittal read “Wilder’s Acquittal a ‘Slap in the Face for Muslims.'”

The exploitation of freedom of speech to promote religious intolerance emerged only days after the Wilders’ decision. Stop Islamisation of Europe (SIOE) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), a coalition of far right anti-Muslim European and American groups billing themselves as human rights organizations, had scheduled “United We Stand: First Transatlantic Anti-Islamization” in Strasbourg, France on July 2. On June 28, French and EU authorities’ cancelled the conference. In response, the Islamophobic cottage industry and their websites’ headlines blared: “Free in speech rally cancelled in Strasbourg over Muslim violence threats” and “Democracy Collapses in Europe: EU Cancels SIOA/SIOE Free Speech Rally.”

Freedom of speech is a precious right that must be guarded carefully. But what happens when that right is used to incite hatred and to feed religious intolerance, such as Islamophobia, that is spreading like a cancer across the United States and Europe? While some statements may not immediately be the direct cause of a specific act of violence, they spread seeds of intolerance and anger that lead to legitimizing and accepting acts of bigotry and hate, like the “Burn a Quran day” that took place in Florida, the desecration of mosques, physical attacks against Muslims including women and children. As a result, the public slowly becomes inured to Islamophobic actions and statements. At the same time, this ideology of hatred has a very real effect on the everyday life of Muslims and Arabs: issuing in verbal attacks from their community members, Islamophobic statements by political candidates, or law-enforcement policies that target Muslims and Arabs.

The issue of freedom of speech and the rights of hate groups is not new in American history. Even today, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations are allowed to express their disdain for certain ethnic and religious groups, regardless of how distasteful their ideologies may be. However, their power to attack has greatly diminished and their words have become a social taboo in the public square because our country has created a social environment where racism and anti-Semitism are loudly condemned and discredited in public life and in media. Muslim Americans and Europeans are entitled to the same treatment, rights and protections.

Islamophobia and its impact, like racism and anti-Semitism, must be countered by creating a climate in which hate speech and discrimination in the public square are not tolerated even when bigots exploit freedom of speech. Today, one can engage in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hate speech and threats in print, media, and protest rallies that promote a popular culture that paints the religion of Islam, not just terrorists, as a threat to America. These preachers of hate and Islamophobia must be rejected and marginalized. Their mission to polarize our society must not be allowed to threaten our belief that religious tolerance and free speech are indeed compatible.


  1. What you should also know is that Muslims living in the Netherlands don’t have the same “free speech” as Geert Wilders, nor religious freedom.

    As someone with a background in National Security, I have taken a long look at Dutch intelligence and counter-terrorism documents, in both Dutch and English. What is frightening is how Dutch intelligence uses the term “radicalization” and who they describe as “radicalized.”

    Dutch intelligence spends a great deal of time (and tax money) worrying about non-violent Islamic proselyting and non-violence, legal political activity by Muslims, both inside and outside of the Netherlands. Even Islamic teachers that have never preached violence come under the eye of Dutch intelligence. Dutch intelligence also considers Muslims that engage in pious views or hold “orthodox” views of Islam as “radicalized.”

    Muslims that hold and express “anti-Western,” anti-Dutch and hostility toward Dutch and Western society are also labeled “radicalized” in Dutch counter-terrorism practice.

    What can happen if a Muslim is labeled as “radical” is that a city mayor can bring about “Personal Disruption Measures.” This means that the subject has their bank account frozen, is harassed by police by telephone, knocks at the door and followed by security agents. This “disruption measured” has been brought upon Muslims for only their religious practice.

    This follows a recent past criticism against the FBI that it was using level of religious piety and viewpoints as “indicators of radicalization.”

    The obvious question to the Dutch is why they believe that Geert Wilders should have the right to spread hate, say absolutely anything he wants — while Muslims are labeled as “radicalized” even for non-violent political activism and religious practices?

  2. “Islamic teachers that have never preached violence”

    Very Funny! LOL

  3. Where are these teachers that preach violence?
    Not in the Netherlands or US…

    In an obscure mosque is Saudi Arabia?

    What I’m referring to are definitions of “radicalization” that include religious practices, viewpoint and opinions… This is NOT how to do counter-terrorism in a free society.

    I do have a PT job with a security company — but I have a MS degree in National Security Studies.

    Now – what’s your educational background?

  4. Free speech must be protected and to critique or even make fun of a religion must be tolerated. Now I agree with the marginalize comment and it will be fine if such speech become marginalized due to education and experience with Islamic peoples. This, however, did not happen over night for blacks, Indians, Jews, Chinese, and many other peoples in America. It took effort on both sides to create a better living enviroment. I do not think the situation will change very quickly for Muslims as very vocal groups of Muslims maintain that they want to see the downfall of the United States and they are willing to commit violence to see this change happen. People are not sure which Muslims to trust or even what they believe. I do think it may be helpful if all services in Mosques were given in the dominate language of the country they reside in. That way people could actually attend meetings in Mosques and understand what is being taught. Pamplets and other written materials should also be in the language the majority can understand. Simple understanding will go a long way to making people trust and be more accepting.

  5. Geert Widers is a hero. Everything he says about Islam is written in the Koran, Sharia or Hadith, and he proved that true Muslims follow them to the letter in hundreds of thousands of incidents since 9/11. Every single one of his claims. No Muslim has ever disputed that.

  6. Since 632 and through 9/11 the world has earned the right to be Islamophobe. It is Muslims who need to show that they mean Peace and they don’t.

  7. Better be an Islamophobe than sorry, very sorry.

  8. Oh, so, ONE person does this? Hummm.. that means “they all believe this?”
    That is then to say that Muslims are not individual human beings that develop their own believes, that is to dehumanized “Them.” There is a wide variety of Islamic practice, just as there is a wide variety of Christian beliefs.

    The personal disruptions measures have been shot down in a court in Amsterdam some time ago – as they have been placed on someone for pious religious practices. In this case, a native Dutch woman with kids who decided to convert to Islam and engage in strict practices.

    The Dutch intelligence and counter-terrorism services have defined and operationalized the term “radicalized” to mean pious religious beliefs, as well as political beliefs. We have “radicalization” being defined not by intelligence related to terror plots – but things not related to terrorism and violence, like religious practices, viewpoints and anger over discrimination.

    The Dutch counter-terrorism paradigm is nothing but social control of Muslims…

    Good for ANY efforts against restrictions and chilling against religious liberty. The Netherlands is historically a country of religious minorities – and anything we can do to reclaim the Netherlands and liberate the Dutch people from the likes Wilders, the PVV and Fortuynism and its sympathizers, and restore religious liberty, human rights for all, pluralism and peace for all Dutch people is welcomed and should be strived for !

  9. There is also a dispute as to whether the van Gogh killing was actually a “terrorist act,” or just a horrible murder by a very troubled young man for personal reasons. We should note that the “debates” of immigrants in Europe, starting in the early 1990s took on a different flavor in the Netherlands, where religion also came into play. We now have street crimes and other violent crimes described as “terrorism” in the Netherlands when the suspect is from some kind of “Muslim” background.

    I would say that the van Gogh killing was not terrorism, but a horrible murder. Yet, papers and journal articles I see, both in Dutch and English, appear use this horrible murder as the only thing justifying Dutch counter-terrorism policy and practice (which is Islamophobic as all hell!) is the Theo van Gogh murder, as there actually is NO problem with “jihad terrorism” in the Netherlands that can be demonstrated.

    To demonstrate this… the 2009 Queen’s Day attack in Apeldoorn was committed by a fellow by the name of Karst Tates. This attack was intended on the royal family and Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima saw the bodies flying as they were hit be Tates black Honda. This attack could even be in just about all definitions of “terrorism” out there – but yet was NOT described as an “act of terrorism.” Also, the April shootings in a shopping mall in Alphen aan den Rijn with (7 killed, 16 wounded) by ethnic Dutchman and PVV voter, Tristan van der Vlis. Also – this is not “terrorism” even as the Dutch believe that “terrorism” includes mass public shootings.

    Tristen van der Vlis was a PVV sympathizer…so, perhaps, that’s how he got “radicalized?!” But oooopppppsssss, he can’t be “radicalized” under Dutch AIVD and NCTb definitions, as he as a PVV voters cannot be a Muslim…

    The reason why these “post-van Gogh” mass murders are not “terrorism in the Netherlands” is due to only and exclusively the religious backgrounds of the perpetrators and not being a Muslim.

  10. eslaporte:

    Congrats on your credentials!!

    Defend your position, but don’t waste your time debating with those who are self-acclaimed idiots….particularly in the realm of Islam.

  11. The problem, //DeucePrez, is that these idiots have the right to vote and the right to be loud-mouthed, and in Europe and the Netherlands they have the right form “political parties” and to vote for “political parties” that want to persecute and oppress others.

    We are actually at the same situation as Germany in the 1930s – except the threat of fascism has now moved over to a country west of Germany…

  12. no when one person does something everyone in the group is not to be blamed. the proplem is when some claim a holy text tells them to do such things. ok van gogh aside, what about 9/11? so have to go wish i had more time on va ca

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