Freedom dies not just at gunpoint

Diana West
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Posted: Jun 27, 2005 12:00 AM

With guns pointed at his shaved and visibly battered head, Australian hostage Douglas Wood said things he didn't mean, parroting words his captors fed him. In a clip of film that has become a jihadist cliche -- masked gunmen, dehumanized captive, Al Jazeera logo -- Mr. Douglas called for coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq, a jihadist goal he doesn't share with the thugs who imprisoned him for nearly seven weeks. After his rescue by American and Iraqi forces this week, the 64-year-old engineer made it clear he'd been coerced on tape, that he had not been speaking freely. "Frankly, I'd like to apologize to both President Bush and Prime Minister Howard for the things I said under duress," Mr. Wood said upon arriving in Melbourne. He also sang out a jubilant chorus of "Waltzing Matilda," Australia's unofficial anthem.

What a twist, then, that this same week, in that same corner of Australia, just as Mr. Wood was exulting in his renewed pursuit of life and liberty, two of his fellow Aussies, Christian pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot, were finding their own such pursuits derailed -- not by vicious criminals in Iraq, but by civilized state statute. Mr. Wood could breathe freely in Australia and speak his mind once again; but the pastors Nalliah and Scot have been ordered by a tribunal in the state of Victoria to make public statements against their will, their conscience and their faith: namely, to apologize for their teachings on Islam, and to promise never to so teach again. As the first to be convicted of vilifying Islam under Victoria's "1984"-style Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, these men have vowed to go to jail rather than surrender their freedom of speech.

The cases of the kidnapped engineer and the "guilty" pastors are not really parallel. The Victoria state court is not a murderous gang of jihadists. But there's something similarly outrageous about the coercion brought to be bear on these men -- coercion at gunpoint in Iraq, or on pain of prison time in Australia -- to revoke the precious and essential Western liberty to speak freely. Such liberty is what compelled both pastors to flee their native Pakistan, where "blasphemy" against Islam can be a capital offense. And there's another connection: The Islamic doctrine of jihad that inspires the terrorists in Iraq is precisely what lies at the core of the Australian pastors' lectures and teachings, which are based directly on verses of the Quran and other Islamic texts.

What is car-wreck fascinating here is Judge Michael Higgins' conclusion that simply pointing out what the Quran says now constitutes outlawed speech in Victoria. During court proceedings, when Mr. Scot began to read verses from the Muslim holy book that denigrate women, a lawyer for the Islamic Council of Victoria, the plaintiff, cut him off, explaining that reading such verses aloud is itself an act of vilification. "How," wondered Mr. Scot, "can it be vilifying to Muslims in the room when I am just reading from the Quran?"

How, indeed. As Robert Spencer, author of "Islam Unveiled" (Encounter Books, 2002), has pointed out, at another point in the trial the Australian judge was affronted that Mr. Scot had said that "the Quran promotes violence, killing and looting." Mr. Spencer wrote in FrontPageMag.com: "In light of Quranic passages such as 9:5, 2:191, 9:29, 47:4, 5:33 and many others, this cannot seriously be a matter of dispute. Muslims have pointed to verses in the Bible that they would have us believe are equivalent in violence and offensiveness, or have claimed that the great majority of Muslims don't take such verses literally; but it takes a peculiarly strong resistance to reality not only to deny that such verses are there, but to charge one who pointed them out with religious vilification."

Mr. Nalliah, who plans to visit Great Britain to campaign against a similar vilification law now under consideration in Parliament, calls Victoria's shockingly totalitarian statute "sharia law by stealth." And so it is. In outlawing criticism of Islam -- which, so far, is the effect of the law -- Victoria has not only codified a peculiarly strong resistance to reality, it has also adopted the practice of sharia-ruled states. This makes for a startling spectacle -- a free people placing a muzzle on speech, a limit on faith and a damper on inquiry. Douglas Wood lost his freedom at gunpoint; Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot lost theirs by court-ordered political correctness. We know who rescued Mr. Wood; who will save the pastors?