One courageous woman's struggle for equality and freedom of expression in Europe.
The self-proclaimed Austrian “anti-jihad” and “anti-sharia activist” Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff appeared on June 21, 2013 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, at an event co-sponsored by the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). In introducing the event, CSP’s Christine Brim called people like Sabaditsch-Wolff the “defenders of freedom” in a “struggle…to preserve free speech” and “equality under the law.” Sabaditsch-Wolff's subsequent presentation of her courageous struggles in no way belied Brim's introduction.
Sabaditsch-Wolff discussed her own well-publicized ordeals and subsequent activism stemming from criticizing Islam, a faith described by her as a “religion of peace” that “is not really peaceful to those who speak the truth.” Daughter of a diplomat, she had already developed reservations about Islam during her childhood stay in Iran right before the 1978-1979 revolution. During her diplomatic tenure, postings to Kuwait encompassing the 1990 Iraq invasion and to Libya where she saw her landlord on September 11, 2001, blame the Jews for Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks that day only increased these concerns.
The controversy surrounding Sabaditsch-Wolff began with her comments before an October 2009 Vienna seminar of the rightwing Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs or FPÖ). Discussing canonical accounts of Islam’s mid-50s prophet Muhammad consummating a marriage with a nine-year old Aisha, Sabaditsch-Wolff asked “what do you call” this “if not pedophilia?” Subsequently, Sabaditsch-Wolff received hate speech charges under Section 283 of the Austrian Criminal Code.
The trial found insufficient evidence for the Section 283 charge. Yet the judge's initiative brought a Section 188 charge against the denigration of recognized religions, resulting in a 480 Euro fine on February 15, 2011, later upheld. Thus Sabaditsch-Wolff concluded that under Europe’s various speech restrictions “you may not call a spade a spade” with respect to Islam.
This ordeal made Sabaditsch-Wolff devote herself to opposing Islamic totalitarianism, with her main “playground” the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This 1975-founded non-treaty organization “many people have never heard of” contains 57 states, including the United States and Canada, formulating various legally non-binding agreements in the areas of security, economics, and human rights. Here Sabaditsch-Wolff focuses on the OSCE’s Human Dimension covering human rights, in particular the Warsaw-based Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
Sabaditsch-Wolff described the OSCE as a “significant source” for developing hate speech laws in OSCE countries and the world. Thus Sabaditsch-Wolff proclaimed that “we don’t want to forfeit this game” at ODIHR against “Islamists” and “far left institutions…directly opposed to free speech.” To suppress criticism of Islam, these groups condemn “Islamophobia,” a “term not legally defined.”
Speaking of her own experience, Sabaditsch-Wolff declared, “How dare someone accuse me of a concept that does not exist.” In this respect Sabaditsch-Wolff showed a video of her Belgian colleague David Erzet calling at ODIHR for an OSCE prohibition of “Islamophobia’s” use, given that a “phobia is a mental illness.” Erzet noted that the “practice of suppressing freedom of expression by characterizing it as mental illness is reminiscent” of the Soviet Union. Sabaditsch-Wolff, meanwhile, cited Islamic anti-Semitism as a “huge problem in Europe.”
Sabaditsch-Wolff’s work for ODIHR has been on behalf of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Bürgerbewegung (Citizens Movement) Pax Europa, the Austrian chapter of ACT, and the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA). The OSCE offered many civic action possibilities and allowed for small groups to exercise considerable power given the organization’s consensus nature. Private individuals may raise issues, file papers into the OSCE record such that the “cat is out of the bag” and available for future reference, and create reinforcing alliances with other individuals and diplomats. Civic defenders of freedom like Sabaditsch-Wolff remained unpaid, unlike government officials at the OSCE, even while “doing their work for them.”
For those who would emulate Sabaditsch-Wolff, she says “don’t expect to make friends” at the OSCE, although Sabaditsch-Wolff mentions “sort of a working relationship” with the Holy See. Sabaditsch-Wolff, for example, notes the Pakistani-Danish “self-declared entirely secular Muslim” Bashy Quraishi who has publicly insinuated at ODIHR an “open threat” of violence from Muslims offended by Islam’s “demonization.” Quraishi is very "arrogant" and appears to Sabaditsch-Wolff as a “jerk,” but they smile to each other in OSCE hallways. Sabaditsch-Wolff observed that “only a brave few speak against the oppression under sharia” at the OSCE but she wants this to “expand into a brave many,” particularly given numerous uncovered events at OSCE conferences.
Sabaditsch-Wolff also noted that at the OSCE it is that it is “frowned upon” to mention “Islamic doctrine,” but she remains undeterred. During one discussion by Sabaditsch-Wolff of women under Islam, including Koran 4:34’s reference to wife-beating, the “room exploded,” she said. Sabaditsch-Wolff’s ACT associate at Capitol Hill, David Petteys, also described receiving “Brevik” shouts during one of his presentations in reference to the Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik often associated with anti-jihadists by their opponents.
Sabaditsch-Wolff concluded with the declaration that “nobody will shut me up” and “I will continue to speak out.” Sabaditsch-Wolff encouraged others to join her at the OSCE, saying “you can do it” and there is “no need to be afraid.” Likewise, Sabaditsch-Wolff said that “these fights were fun because some of them we won.” Others should emulate her courage, commitment, and good cheer in freedom's struggles sure to come.
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