I was in Florence spending some time with my family when yesterday the local news informed me of a car bomb in Oslo, followed only moments later by news of a horrible mass shooting. Immediately the newscasters told us that it may be an Al-Qaeda attack in revenge of Norway’s marginal role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the more recent Libyan air campaign. Islamic terrorism has hit Europe again. Immediately a flurry of comments about the high number of Muslims living in Oslo appeared – yet these were quickly substituted, upon confirmation that the culprit behind the bloodshed was a tall blonde man, with comments about the danger of ‘converts’. Continue reading
Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, set to become a shadow partner of the next coalition government, goes on trial in Amsterdam on Monday for inciting hatred against Muslims. Wilders’ Freedom Party together with other parties forming the next coalition have agreed to ban the burqa. Yet this is surely the least controversial move since it has already been implemented by other European states, such as France. The peroxide blonde Wilders sees his own trial as an attack on freedom of speech in the Netherlands. His lawyer reported that Wilders thinks that “in the Netherlands, one must be able to say whatever one wants, barring incitement to violence.” Continue reading
Recently two events made me question how the UK, and Europe in general, understand the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ – the invitation to attend the annual Buckingham Palace garden party extended to white supremacist BNP’s Nick Griffin and the Home Secretary’s decision to ban the popular Muslim tele-preacher Dr Zakir Naik from entering the UK.
There is no one single definition of ‘freedom of speech’ and an attempt to formulate one can only result in empty theorizing and utopian visions. Freedom of speech is linked to local, regional and international contexts, social realities, cultural differences and an understanding of what freedom means. What for one person is ‘freedom of speech’, for another is just ‘freedom of insult’ or ‘unacceptable behavior’. Continue reading
The debate, despite enlightenment and modernization, remains the same as that which Dante advocated in the Divine Comedy: is Islam evil or a religion of peace? On one side of the argument, and siding with Dante, is Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician and self-declared ‘Islamophobe’ in the real meaning of the word (fearing Islam as religion). Of course, for both Dante and Wilders (who is facing trial in his own country), Islam and the Qur’an are, in the very words of Wilders, ‘bad’ and ‘evil’. Wilders also used adjectives such as ‘retarded’, ‘fascist’ and ‘anti-democratic’ – thus dangerous and worthy of being banned. Different variations on a theme of ‘Islam is evil’ can also be found in the work of several authors, for example Robert Spencer, Bat Ye’or and Magdi Allam among many others. Continue reading