Cliff May
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It’s funny, in an Orwellian way, that in Europe there are now militant groups with such cutesy names as Sharia4Belgium and Sharia4Holland. Less funny, but perhaps more Orwellian, is this: Last month, the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) held an event in Amsterdam featuring two speakers who favor liberalizing Islam. More than 20 members of the pro-Sharia groups pushed their way in shouting “Allahu Akhbar!” They demanded the event be stopped, called the speakers apostates, spat on them, threw eggs at them and threatened to kill them. Proud of these actions and apparently not overly concerned with legal consequences, they even made a YouTube video of their “protest.”

Now here’s the least funny and most Orwellian part: Very few Europeans – very few journalists, politicians, members of the self-proclaimed Human Rights community, Muslim organizations claiming to be moderate – have expressed outrage over this boot-stomping suppression of free speech in a city, country and continent that claim to value freedom and tolerance. Imagine if the situation had been slightly different -- if, say, a Muslim Brotherhood event had been violently disrupted by spitting, egg-throwing, death-threatening Christians or Jews.

Roberta Bonazzi, EFD’s Italian-born executive director – a friend and colleague -- bravely vowed not to be silenced. “We are united and will continue to support inspirational Muslim reformers across Europe,” she said. The speakers she had attempted to feature also kept a stiff upper lip. Irshad Manji, Canadian author of “The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith,” said that she and Dutch Parliamentarian Tofik Dibi had “refused to leave, even when police asked. We wouldn’t play on jihadi terms.” Dibi, of the Green-Left party (and of Moroccan descent), said “the disruption shows that even in the Netherlands it is necessary to continue the debate on reforming Islam.”

Necessary, yes; safe, no. In Europe, increasingly, free speech ends where Islam, Islamism and even Islamic terrorism begin. Two months ago, the Paris offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed and its staff targeted with death threats after publication of an issue “edited” by the Prophet Mohammad.

In 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street: He had directed a film about the treatment of women in Islamic societies. The film’s author, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, also was subjected to death threats. She subsequently fled to America.

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Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.