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The other day I took note here of a recent New York Times feature in which several prominent figures from the worlds of law and religion were invited to answer the question: Is religious freedom in America under threat? I focused on one of the responses, entitled “A Campaign Against Patriotic Muslims,” in which Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, maintained that when it came to his coreligionists, the answer was a definite yes. Al-Marayati painted a picture of an America awash in “anti-Islam groups” and “Muslim haters” who make life difficult for American Muslims, whom he depicted as overwhelmingly peaceful, freedom-loving, and terrorism-hating. It didn’t seem to matter to the Times that Al-Marayati himself is a longtime associate of and apologist for terrorists.
Another participant in the same Times feature was Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor. Like Al-Marayati, Feldman claimed to be concerned about a plague of Islam-hatred in America. Feldman complained about legislative proposals in Oklahoma and Tennessee that would “ban Islamic law from the courts — a measure that the American separation of church and state makes completely unnecessary.” Feldman concluded: “It would be nice to say these proposed laws are un-American. But they are sadly reminiscent of our history of targeting vulnerable religious minorities out of bigotry and political expediency. We can only look forward to a day when anti-Islamic sentiment seems as archaic as these other old hatreds do today.”
It’s interesting to note that while the New York Times was giving Al-Marayati and Feldman a platform from which to preach about the supposed persecution of Muslims in America, a woman named Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was actually being persecuted, and prosecuted, in Austria – not for being an adherent of Islam but for speaking the truth about it. Most readers of Front Page will know about Sabaditsch-Wolff, whose whole saga has been covered here, from her frank, fact-based statements about Islam at a 1997 seminar to her conviction last February on the charge of “denigration of the religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion” to her appeal to a higher court, which last week affirmed the February verdict and ordered her to pay a €480 fine or spend two months in jail. Sabaditsch-Wolff, who refuses to pay the fine, quite rightly called it “a black day for Austria.”
Most readers of Front Page will also know exactly what got Sabaditsch-Wolff in trouble with the Austrian judiciary: she said that the founder of Islam “married” his wife Aisha when she was six and consummated the “marriage” when she was nine, and that this made him, by definition, a pedophile. This, of course, is a plain statement of fact – and, according to the court, if Sabaditsch-Wolff had just indicated that Muhammed had had intercourse with a child, she supposedly wouldn’t have been convicted. But the appeals court didn’t like the way she put it – she said that Muhammed had a thing for small children, or words to that effect, which added to the statement of fact something that the court viewed as an unacceptable expression of opinion about the facts. In other words, it would appear to be illegal in Austria now to express disapproval of the sexual molestation of children, provided the child molester in question is the prophet of a certain religion.
The court underscored, moreover, that while Austrians’ freedom of expression is guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights, that right is bound up with the obligation not to be insulting – which is another way of saying that there’s no real freedom of expression at all.
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