The first thing I ever wrote about Islam was an essay for Partisan Review entitled “Tolerating Intolerance,” which was published a few months after 9/11. My argument, in brief, was that Islam is not just a religion but an ideology that teaches an extreme and violent intolerance – and that Europeans had a right to protect the freedom of their societies by implementing well-informed immigration and integration policies. Now the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR), founded in 2008 and consisting largely of former European presidents or prime ministers, has issued a report whose thrust is – and I quote – that there's “no need to be tolerant to the intolerant.” But the
argument of the report – which was presented to the European Parliament in late September and takes the form of a “Model Statute for Tolerance” that the ECTR hopes to see enacted by all EU member states, is light-years away from the one I made all those years ago in Partisan Review. The ECTR's concern is not with addressing the importation into Europe of Islamic intolerance but, rather, with addressing the purported intolerance of Europeans toward (among other things) imported Islam.
If you want an idea of where the ECTR is coming from, check out a recent article, “Divided We Fall: Intolerance in Europe Puts Rights at Risk,” by Benjamin Ward of Human Rights Watch. Here's how Ward starts out:
An Afghan migrant is stabbed in the heart on the streets of Athens. Black-shirted paramilitaries linked to Hungary’s third-largest political party march through a Roma neighbourhood shouting, “You will die here.” A neo-Nazi gang commits a string of murders of Turkish immigrants in Germany. An ideologue driven by hatred of “multiculturalism” kills 67 mostly young people on a Norwegian Island….It may be comforting to see these incidents as isolated, disconnected or driven by local events. But the truth is more discomforting: hatred and intolerance are moving into the mainstream in Europe.
Never mind intolerance by Muslims. Even to speak of that intolerance is to be, well, intolerant. Ward slams Silvio Berlusconi for suggesting in 2010 that reducing immigration into Italy would lower crime rates, and vilifies Angela Merkel for saying that Germans “feel tied to Christian values” and that immigrants “who don’t accept them don’t have a place here.” Ward's picture of a continent where the principal threats to life and liberty are nativist bigots who torment innocent gypsies and slaughter peaceable Muslims is a fantasy. But Ward's not alone in promulgating it. On the contrary, this funhouse-mirror picture underlies every current attempt by the EU and its affiliates to shut down free speech, including, as Soeren Kern reports, “the EU's ongoing work towards a new 'Equal Treatment Directive,'” which is the malignant framework within which the ECTR's report was presented.
“There is no need to be tolerant to the intolerant.” The sentence is immediately succeeded, in the ECTR's “Model Statute,” by the following statement: “This is especially important as far as freedom of expression is concerned: that freedom must not be abused to defame other groups.” The report goes on to prescribe comprehensive guidelines for the surveillance, monitoring, prosecution, and punishment of such “abuses” of “freedom of expression.” As European Dignity Watch, a Brussels-based NGO, puts it in a blistering commentary, the ECTR's “understanding of tolerance” is “highly problematic,” with the term itself being defined “vaguely” (as “respect for and acceptance of the expression, preservation and development of the distinct identity of a group”) and employed in a way that is riddled with “double standards.” Nor could the ECTR's recommended edicts be much more sweeping: it proposes that speech be subjected to controls of a sort unheard of in the modern West, that groups be placed above individuals, that European law recognize the concept of “group libel” and punish it as a crime, that the burden of proof be reversed in cases of allegedly “intolerant” speech about groups, that certain “vulnerable and disadvantaged groups” be given “special protection” (“some animals,” wrote Orwell, “are more equal than others”), that juveniles found guilty of speech crimes against groups “be required to undergo a rehabilitation program designed to instill in them a culture of tolerance” (re-education camps, anyone?), that schools and the media be pressured to indoctrinate “tolerance” (as defined, needless to say, by the ECTR), and that an elaborate enforcement and judiciary apparatus in the form of National Tolerance Monitoring Commissions and “special administrative unit[s]” subordinate to European nations' respective Ministries of Justice.
Many European countries have been prosecuting anti-Islamic hate speech for some time now. But the ECTR's report makes it clear that a number of highly placed people on the continent aren't satisfied with the degree to which speech has already been stifled. (I'm not surprised at the participation of former Swedish PM Göran Persson in this perfidious project, but I didn't expect to see former Spanish PM José María Aznar, whom I have previously admired, on board.) They're determined to utterly eradicate unauthorized ideas from what they still plainly regard – despite the dismal health of several European economies, the floundering of the euro, and widespread doubts about the long-term sustainability of the union itself – as a European utopia in the making. Underlying this breathtakingly mischievous and arrogant enterprise, it would appear, is the conviction that if only you pass enough laws forbidding enough things, you can transform human nature itself: the report describes itself as seeking to “eliminat[e] racism, colour bias, ethnic discrimination, religious intolerance, totalitarian ideologies, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism and homophobia.” Not curb, mind you – eliminate. Of course, the only way to eliminate all those things is to eliminate human beings themselves. It was governmental goals on this screwy scale that steered Europe, in the previous century, into unspeakable totalitarian torment. You'd think European politicians would've learned – learned some humility, in any event, if not some respect for individual freedom. But no – the same imperial arrogance and blindness persists. Even as they think (or, at least, claim) that they're formulating a way to protect Europe from totalitarianism, they're trying to lead it on yet another forced march to that selfsame destination.
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