In George Orwell’s futuristic nightmare, 1984, citizens are watched by a secret police for “thought crimes” committed against the totalitarian state. These thought crimes are simply attitudes and ideas the authorities regard as politically incorrect.
Orwell wrote 1984 during the height of the Cold War and its vision reflected an all-too-real fact of life. The Soviet police state had spread its tentacles over hundreds of millions of captive peoples. Tens of millions of them whose ideas failed to conform to the prescriptions of the totalitarian state were sent to labor camps and firing squads for committing thought crimes. Their offense was to be “anti-Soviet” – to speak out against socialism, or its rulers, or to fail to parrot the views and opinions approved by the regime.
During the Cold War, America led a coalition of democracies to oppose Communism because America’s founders had made the principle of liberty the cornerstone of their Republic. The very first article of the American Bill of Rights was not to have one’s speech restricted by the power of the state.
This First Amendment freedom guaranteed citizens the right to dissent from orthodoxy, to criticize the powerful, and to tell the truth as they saw it without fear of reprisal. This freedom is the absolute and indispensable basis of every other freedom that Americans enjoy. For without the right to dissent from the opinions of the state, every other freedom can be taken away. Without this right, every dissent from the policies and practices of the state would be a thought crime.
“Islamophobia” is the name that has been given to a modern-day thought crime. The purpose of the suffix in the term “Islamophobia” is to suggest that any fear associated with Islam is irrational – whether that fear stems from the fact that its prophet and current-day imams call on believers to kill infidels, or because the attacks of 9/11 were carried out to implement those calls. Worse than that, it is to suggest that such a response to those attacks reflects a bigotry that itself should be feared.
Those with a perspective on history, however, will take a different view. In the fall of 2005 global Muslim riots resulted in the deaths of over 100 people. The riots were triggered by the publication of cartoons in Denmark depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. In the wake of these religiously inspired outrages, a group of internationally reknowned writers issued a manifesto called, “Together Facing the New Totalitarianism. One of the writers, Salman Rushdie, had himself been the target of such attacks after the Islamic leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling on all Muslims to kill him. His offense? Insulting the prophet Muhammad in a novel. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding for several years and was only able to regain his freedom after the Ayatollah’s demise, although every year the Islamic Republic of Iran renews the death sentence.
The manifesto issued by Rushdie and his fellow writers said: “After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global totalitarian threat: Islamism…. We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all. We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia,’ a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatization of those who believe in it. We defend the universality of the freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit can exist in every continent, towards each and every maltreatment and dogma.”