As we noted last week, a court ruling has cleared the way for Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders to be prosecuted for hate speech. Wilders, producer of the 15-minute film Fitna, has compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and made other statements considered by some to be insulting Islam.
In a new article, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Nina Shea details just how arbitrary blasphemy definitions can be and how wildly varied are the punishments. Shea, who has spent a decade as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, starts by noting the lack of any commensurate sensitivity concerning hate speech against other faiths.
"In recent weeks, even while demands grew to punish Wilders under hate speech laws, Muslim demonstrators in European capitals freely chanted, ‘Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.' Insulting and even inciting violence against the religious ‘other' is sponsored by the state itself in some Muslim countries: Iran's government held a cartoon exhibit mocking the Holocaust; Saudi Ministry of Education textbooks describe Jews and Christians as ‘apes' and ‘pigs' and call for Muslims to rise up and kill Jews; the state media of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, all promote the fabricated anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion as historical fact."
She cites nine cases during the past decade in which books were banned and people were fined or imprisoned for various offenses toward Islam:
"It is not hard to see why ‘insulting Islam,' and the family of crimes relating to apostasy and blasphemy to which it belongs, is singled out as a principal reason for the Muslim world's underdevelopment. The vagueness of how this offence is defined undermines due process and chills speech in broad areas."
The Dutch, she concludes, walk down a similar path at their own risk.