Taking a whack at prognostication at the end of 2005, it wasn't hard to imagine, as I did, that 2006 would be a rotten year for freedom of speech. Both inside the Islamic world and, more alarmingly, outside the Islamic world, sharia laws prohibiting criticism of Islam were already working smoothly. When in 2005 we watched the death-penalty-seeking prosecution of editor Ali Mohaqeq Nasab for "blasphemy" in U.S.-liberated Afghanistan, we could see we were dealing with a sharia state. When in 2005 we watched the early stages of what later became known as Cartoon Rage in Denmark, we could see we were dealing with a sharia state of mind. It wasn't exactly going out on a limb to predict things would only get worse.
And, of course, in 2006, they did. Just ask Abdul Rahman -- if you can find him. (The "apostate" fled Afghanistan for his life last spring.) Or Robert Redeker, if you can find him. (The teacher who published a critique of Islam in September still lives in hiding in France.) Or maybe Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. (The Bangladeshi journalist faces the death penalty when he goes on trial in January for "blasphemy" and treason for writing favorably about Israel and unfavorably about Islamic terrorism.)
Of course, such censorship is Over There and beyond, not in the United States of America, right? And it can't, as they say, happen here. Right? Please, right? I called 2006 the Year of Speaking Dangerously, and that was before anyone likely imagined seeing "Behead Those Who Insult Islam" placards on jihadist display outside the Danish Embassy in London. What kind of year will 2007 be? What I fear most is that it will turn out to be the Year of Shutting Up. As in: Why speak dangerously when you can simply not speak at all?
In fact, the Year of Shutting Up probably began back in September when Pope Benedict famously argued that the practice of forced conversion -- key to Islamic expansion over the centuries -- is inimical to both faith and reason. The eruption of anger among Muslims at such criticism was instantaneous and severe. Just shut up, the umma exclaimed. Basically, the Pope did exactly that. At the time, Daniel Pipes explained why placating such anger with silence was dangerous for the West: "The Muslim uproar has a goal -- to prohibit criticism of Islam by Christians and thereby impose Shariah norms in the West. Should Westerners accept this central tenet of Islamic law, others will surely follow. Retaining free speech about Islam, therefore, represents a critical defense against the imposition of an Islamic order."
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