The OIC campaign against Islamophobia began in earnest at its annual meeting in March 2008 in Senegal. At this meeting, the OIC declared its intention to craft a “legal instrument” to fight against the threat to Islam “from political cartoonists and bigots.” The reference was to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that appeared in 2005, touching off international protests by Muslims worldwide, which included riots, the burning of embassies, and even murders of non-Muslims, including a Catholic nun. “Muslims are being targeted by a campaign of defamation, denigration, stereotyping, intolerance and discrimination,” fumed Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who gave attendees “a voluminous report by the OIC that recorded anti-Islamic speech and actions from around the world. The report concludes that Islam is under attack and that a defense must be mounted.” The attack by Muslims on non-Muslims and the 100 plus fatalities caused by the protests went un-noted and un-deplored.
Ihsanoglu even compared the appearance of the Danish cartoons to the 9/11 atrocity, warning that “the Islamic world took the satirical drawings as a different version of the September 11 attacks against them.” He then urged the European Union to adopt new laws against Islamophobia.”
At the Senegal conference, Ihsanoglu declared: “Islamophobia cannot be dealt with only through cultural activities but (through) a robust political engagement.” Political engagement meant a campaign to restrict freedom of speech. Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal and OIC chairman, explained: “I don’t think freedom of expression should mean freedom from blasphemy. There can be no freedom without limits.” In a July 2008 briefing on Capitol Hill, Pakistani Embassy representative Asma Fatima defended the anti-cartoon outrages as necessary and called for restrictions on speech that insulted Islam: “The ideal of freedom of speech is precious to you, but it’s not value-neutral. You don’t have to hurt people’s sentiments and bring them to the point where they have to react in strange ways.”
The OIC’s new anti-Islamophobia campaign also focused on Fitna, a short film by Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The offense committed by the film consisted of quotes of passages from the Qur’an exhorting Muslims to violence and then depictions of the contemporary violence directly inspired by those passages. The OIC condemned Fitnain “the strongest terms,” claiming that Wilders’ film was “a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims,” and was intended only to “provoke unrest and intolerance.” There was no suggestion that the citations from the Qur’an were inaccurate or that the incidents depicted hadn’t taken place. Physical threats against Wilders by Muslims resulted in the Dutch government providing him with a 24-hour security detail. The same threats forced Wilders to live in hiding, separated from his family.
It was extraordinary enough that a member of the Dutch Parliament and leader of the nation’s third largest party would have to live in hiding, but the indictment was even more outrageous than that. It charged that Wilders had “intentionally offended a group of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion”; had “incited to hatred of people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion”; and had “incited to discrimination…against people, i.e. Muslims, based on their religion.” It also claimed that he had incited people to hate Muslims because of their race. All this was based on statements Wilders had made about Islam that were entirely true and accurate; the Netherlands came quite close to criminalizing the speaking of unpleasant truths.
But instead of defending Wilders’ right to his opinions, many Western officials rushed to support the OIC’s condemnation. Ihsanoglu noted that the anti-free speech campaign had made “convincing progress at all these levels mainly the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, and the UN General Assembly. The United Nations General Assembly adopted similar resolutions against the defamation of Islam.” He added: “In confronting the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film ‘Fitna’, we sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed. As we speak, the official West and its public opinion are all now well aware of the sensitivities of these issues. They have also started to look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility, which should not be overlooked.”
Doudou Diène, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of “racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance,” went further, suggesting that even quoting the Qur’an accurately but in a critical manner was an act of bigotry:
One may note that a number of Islamophobic statements have been falsely claimed to be scientific or scholarly, in order to give intellectual clout to arguments that link Islam to violence and terrorism. Furthermore, the manipulation and selective quoting of sacred texts, in particular the Qur’an, as a means to deceptively argue that these texts show the violent nature of Islam has become current practice.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the international campaign against free speech was the readiness of western politicians of a leftist bent, including government leaders, to support the Muslim assault and to impose restrictions on their own people. This was especially egregious in the Netherlands, the scene of shocking acts of Islam-related violence.
The gay politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered in 2002 by a leftist Dutchman, Volkert van der Graaf, who explained that he had done it on behalf of the country’s Muslims, to stop their “scapegoating” by Fortuyn. In 2004 an Islamic jihadist, Mohammed Bouyeri, murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh – also gay – in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam, because van Gogh had insulted Islam with his film, Submission, criticizing the Islamic treatment of women.
The trial of Geert Wilders ended in an acquittal in June 2011, on which occasion he said: “It is my strong conviction that Islam is a threat to Western values, to freedom of speech, to the equality of men and women, of heterosexuals and homosexuals, of believers and unbelievers.” These claims are founded in the behavior of the OIC and the failure of any Muslim authority to defend Wilders, in the clear and elaborate strictures about women and homosexuals in Islamic teachings and Islamic law, and in the persecution of non-believers, Christians in particular, in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia, all of which go un-noted and un-lamented in the pronouncements of the 56 Muslim states (and the Palestinian Authority) included in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Nonetheless, Wilders’ post-trial utterance is precisely the sort of statement that led to his indictment. Even as the Dutch court acquitted him, moreover, it affirmed the false and dangerous premises that underpinned the prosecution, including the idea that one could and should face legal action for saying things that others deemed offensive. Amsterdam judge Marcel van Oosten explained: “The bench finds that your statements are acceptable within the context of the public debate. The bench finds that although gross and denigrating, it did not give rise to hatred.
In other words, the presiding judge would not have hesitated to fine or jail Wilders if he had determined that his words gave rise to “hatred.” Thus the false and dangerous premise of Wilders’ indictment is still in place in Dutch law. Upon his acquittal, Wilders said: “Today is a victory for freedom of speech. The Dutch are still allowed to speak critically about Islam, and resistance against Islamization is not a crime. At least for now.