Conference on Libel Tourism Highlights Importance of Speech, Freedom Part II

Posted: 29 Apr 2008 03:41 PM CDT

 

 

I’m posting the following on behalf of Aaron Eitan Meyer, from the conference “Free Speech in an Age of Jihad: Libel Tourism, “Hate Speech,” and Political Freedom.”

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Conference on Libel Tourism Highlights Importance of Speech, Freedom Part II:

Aaron Eitan Meyer

       Entitled Suppressing Discussion on Islam, the second panel of the conference brought the issue from the specific practice of libel tourism to the effect of attempts to chill speech relating to Islam, and broader concerns. After a brief introduction by the panel’s moderator, Clifford D. May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the panel began with a presentation by Robert Spencer, Director of Jihad Watch.

       Mr. Spencer began by noting the existence of the doctrine of ‘conversion or death’ in Islam – on the context of Jihad – and then paused. Looking up at the audience, he stated, “I just committed hate speech.” As he went on to explain, the net effect of entities like Canada’s Human Rights Commissions and predatory defamation law suits and the like is that the proposition has already been set forth that questioning the motives of Jihadists constitutes ‘hate speech.’ In fact, he said, “’Islamophobia’ is really ‘Islamorealism.’” Turning to the problem as it faces the United States, Mr. Spencer explained that, to Americans, having a religious ideology is intimidating on some levels, leading to a subtle acquiescence on our part to assertions that we have no right to even attempt to analyze the religious/ideological motivations of the Jihadists.

       Breaking with some of the other panelists to a degree, Mr. Spencer went on to state that the use of terms such as Islamism, Islamofascism and the like actually obfuscate the central issue of the battle, being the nature of Islam itself in this context. Turning back to the double standard at play when discussing Islam and others, he spoke about the controversial Dutch film Fitna, and the Organization of Islamic Conferences’ response to and preoccupation with it. Specifically, he pointed out that Geert Wilders, the filmmaker, didn’t actually say or invent anything in the Qur’an or Hadith, but has instead been skewered for daring to report on them.

       Building on the last point, Mr. May made the telling statement that it’s neither ironic nor funny that Islamists threaten those who criticize Islamic violence. Rather, that reflects fundamental condescension by Islam, asking rhetorically, how dare we ‘lesser infidels’ criticize our ‘betters?’

       The next speaker was the noted author Ibn Warraq, who most recently published Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism. In a brief, wry manner, Mr. Warraq mentioned the firestorm he himself had been subjected to in the wake of his first book, Why I’m Not a Muslim in 1995, and joked that a fatwa “is sort of a Nobel Prize” for Muslims who criticize radical Islam. He would later note that on March 28th of this year, the United Nations “killed Freedom of Expression” by forcing the UN Special Rapporteur on the matter to report on ‘abuses’ of freedom of expression. Notably, however, the amendment was opposed by 40 Non-Governmental Organizations, including 21 Islamic NGOs.

       Steve Emerson, Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, was the next panelist to speak. He noted a recent Jordanian advertisement that identified nine critics of Islam as ‘apostates’ and ‘wanted.’ He then turned to domestic matters, stating unequivocally regarding the Council on American-Islamic Affairs that, “CAIR is a front for Hamas” and further, that the “New York Times has been a sort of appendage to Hamas.”

       Mr. Emerson’s criticism was not limited to private entities. He mentioned that the uncooperative FBI had called him “an enemy of the FBI” – but was willing to give interviews to Al-Jazeera. He went on to discuss a history of FBI pandering to groups like CAIR and even Hamas, despite knowing that they are actively demonized by those very groups. The overall theme of his presentation was the disproportionate influence and motives of groups courted by the FBI and others, and warning against pandering to them.

       Frank J. Gaffney Jr., President of The Center for Security Policy then spoke on his experiences regarding his film Islam versus the Islamists. CBS decided that his film was ‘unfair’ to the Islamists, and attempted to marginalize the film. However, over 70% of its affiliates picked it up, and Fox News publicized it, running two 90 minute specials consisting of excerpts from the film and extra footage.

       Mr. Gaffney then mentioned the case of Steven Coughlin, who’d been purged from the Department of Defense at the instigation of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and further cautioned against the spread of the practice of Shar’ia Compliance Officers – a trend in American banking corporations. He also commented that prosecution of those who aid terrorists may be aided by provisions of the Smith Act and statutes derived therefrom.

       Claudia Rosett, Journalist in Residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, noted her own difficulties in obtaining a copy of the effectively banned book Alms for Jihad, and then turned to the complicity on the part of the United Nations in allowing terrorism to flourish. Ms. Rosett specifically addressed the fact that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon responded to Fitna and the attacks against it by blaming Wilders – without a word of condemnation for those who made threats against him. Ms. Rosett also mentioned a federal case that was scheduled for April 11th in the Southern District of New York on whether disclosure is applicable in order to show Osama bin Laden’s finances.

       The keynote luncheon address was given by Mark Steyn, whose most recent book is America Alone. The subject of his rousing speech was “The Dimming of Liberty: Legal Jihad and the Criminalization of Resistance.” Mr. Steyn spoke passionately of the need for actual freedom of speech, and stressed that the being a true believer in the right to free speech is really only shown when the speech at issue is objectionable. It’s easy to defend speech that one agrees with, but the actual freedom of the speech is only directly at issue when that speech goes against one’s beliefs.

       While it is impossible to adequately express the impact of Mr. Steyn’s speech in a few sentences, his emphasis of the crucial importance of free speech in contrast to the theories that lead to the creation of ‘Human Rights’ Commissions is readily discernable. He stressed the broadness of powers allocated to the HRCs, powers not granted to other Canadian agencies, including law enforcement agencies, and simply unthinkable to Americans. In particular, he mentioned the lack of evidentiary rules governing the Commissions, and their virtually unlimited power to search anywhere and seize anything once a complaint had been filed.

       After hearing him speak, it was no wonder to any in the audience why he is a priority target by Canadian Islamists who seek to quell criticism of their ideology. In stressing the crucial importance of a natural right to freedom of speech, Mr. Steyn succinctly presented the fundamental basis for a response to the tactics and strategy employed to date by Islamist groups, thus providing a perfect segue to the third panel on legislative options.

 

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