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Geert Wilders - Article in Forbes on free speech by Elisabeth Eaves

Salman Rushdie was our canary in the coal mine: He first felt the effects of suffocating gasses that would start to envelope us all.

Rushdie's fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, published in late 1988 when he was living in Britain, was seen as blasphemous by some Muslims. Feb. 14 will mark 20 years since Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini sent the author a bloody Valentine, issuing a religious decree calling for his death.

Rushdie was forced to live in hiding and under guard for many years and eventually moved to New York.

In 1989, I was struck by the singular strangeness of the whole story. Riot-inciting thought police? In England? In the modern era? Two decades later I'm struck by how encroaching this story has become.

Rushdie, now 61, shared the 92nd Street Y stage on Sunday with Irshad Manji, a 40-year-old Canadian born in Idi Amin's Uganda.

Manji, a devout but controversially reformist Muslim, is the author of The Trouble With Islam Today; she also does things like post an imam's defense of interfaith marriage on her Web site in multiple languages, so that forlorn Romeos and Juliets may show it, as she says, to "conservative parents and bigoted clerics." She, too, is the subject of death threats.

Neither Rushdie nor Manji are refugees; both come from places where they enjoyed the protection of the law and both chose to live in New York for the reasons so many of us do--work, pleasure, lifestyle. But their conversation got me thinking about the unique protections accorded to free speech in the U.S.

Consider Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. Israeli-born and resident in New York, Ehrenfeld has made a career of following money trails to their murkiest sources and been threatened and sued multiple times for her efforts.

Most recently she became a victim of so-called libel tourism. InFunding Evil, she wrote that a wealthy Saudi Arabian, Khalid bin Mahfouz, had financed terrorist activities. Under U.S. law her well-documented accusation doesn't qualify as libel, so bin Mahfouz sued her in Great Britain.

The book had never been published in Britain or sold in book stores there, but a few copies had been obtained via online sellers. A British judge imposed a fine on Ehrenfeld and said her book should be destroyed.

Through cases like these, U.K. laws, which have a chilling effect on the country's own publishers, are affecting foreign publishers and writers, too. Recently the government came close to clamping down on free speech even further.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a sop to Muslim constituents upset about his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, urged the criminalizing of "religious incitement"; the law failed by just one vote. In one of the great crucibles of democracy, this is where free speech is heading.

Then there is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian, author of Infidel, and one of Europe's most vocal critics of militant Islam. She wrote a movie script critical of Islam; its director, Theo van Gogh, was subsequently stabbed to death.

Hirsi Ali, an elected member of the Dutch parliament, lived under high security in the Netherlands for years before an immigration minister from her own party effectively hounded her out of the country, accusing her of lying about her name, age and refugee status when she first came to Holland, and threatening to strip Hirsi Ali of her passport.

That didn't happen, but Hirsi Ali resigned her seat in parliament and now resides in Washington, D.C., where she is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. (This is just as well for her. Another Dutch member of parliament, Geert Wilders, was ordered by an appeals court on Thursday to stand trial for "insulting Islam" and will face jail time if found guilty. Maybe another American think-tank will offer him a perch if he's acquitted and wants to take a breather from the Netherlands.)

I find it remarkable that it's not just regimes we know to be despotic that are stifling free speech, but also Western democracies. Canada is now embroiled in a debate over its so-called anti-hate laws, under which the Canadian Human Rights Commission is responsible for ferreting out and stopping acts of hatred, among them insults to religion.

The absurdity of these speech-curtailing laws emerged when the Commission summoned Maclean's magazine and writer Mark Steyn to defend themselves against accusations of Islamophobia.

But now that Canadians are finally talking about doing away with the laws, it's Jewish groups that want to keep them on the books. Here's a good litmus test for whether a law makes any sense: If the "crime" in question can only be described using the word for an emotion, like "hate" or "phobia," then we have wandered into thought-police territory.

Finally, there's the United Nations, which admittedly isn't much of a democracy, but which claims to uphold the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The declaration, though, says that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression."

The U.N. General Assembly, on the other hand, has passed resolutions, most recently last November, banning "defamation of religion."

Are we who live in the U.S. so safe? Our politicians and judges haven't lost their heads, but self-censorship can be chilling, too. Last year, Random House was planning to publish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a fictionalized version of the life of one of Mohammed's wives.

After the company received some cautionary advice about the controversy the book might cause, it shelved the project. Random House can do whatever it wants, of course, and another imprint, Beaufort Books, went on to publish the book without incident. But the decision to abandon the project suggests that an unhealthy fear has crept onto these shores. When those canaries in the coal mines went quiet, it was time to pay attention.

Elisabeth Eaves is a deputy editor at Forbes, where she also writes a weekly column.

A very good article - posted at forbes.com

With regards the film Fitna - despite the weak willed cowards at the EU preventing the film from being screened, and their attempts to accuse Mr Wilders of hate crimes (an article Mr Wildersdid on the rise of Islam in Europe.)

Some who you would assume would be screaming for the death of Mr Geert Wilders over Fitna have not quite reacted that way, a certain Omar Bakri, the Libyan-based radical Muslim cleric who is barred from Britain his reaction quite calm. 

If as the legal people claim moslems will be offended and hurt by Fitna then perhaps they should call him up as he did not think the film was very offensive. ‘On the contrary, if we leave out the first images and the sound of the page being torn, it could be a film by the [Islamist]Mujahideen,’ he said.

Hmmmmmmm. This arguement of hate speech against Geert Wilders appears to be getting weaker by the day.

Although maybe they should also spare a thought for Pim Fortuyn also killed by the religion of peace's followers.

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