A defiant breeze has swept across Europe in the wake of the horrific massacre at the offices of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. Londoners, Berliners, and Romans are reaching out in solidarity to the people of Paris in their time of grief and anger. “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) they proclaim, an affirmation of their common European heritage of free speech and openness.
Yet I can’t help but wonder if the mourners aren’t a day late and a euro short in their defense of a value that has slowly but persistently eroded over a period of decades. It would be wonderful if the sentiment expressed at these vigils were a genuine revival of the spirit of 1848 but it hardly seems possible to “defend” a principle that in all likelihood no longer exists.
Free speech is dead in Europe and while it is certainly tempting to blame the immigrants, as intolerant as they may be, it would also be folly. The real culprits are the cowardly, hedonistic, post-Christian, post-industrial native born white majority.
The three bestial al-Qaeda terrorists who murdered twelve people at Charlie Hebdo HQ might seem like menacing enemies of free speech but they’re actually bush league amateurs when it comes to gagging people. The real pros are sitting behind desks in the various capitals of Europe. Nearly every European nation extends some guarantee of free speech to its citizens, and nearly every one of them flagrantly violates that guarantee.
Government censors lurk around every corner, even among parties that pride themselves on their classical liberal appreciation for the free exchange of ideas. Take, for example, Nick Clegg, Britain’s deputy prime minister. By European standards, Clegg may actually be a staunch champion of free speech, having fought against section five of the Public Order Act, which criminalized “insulting words” that cause “alarm or distress,” but he’s still a spaghetti-spined appeaser in my book. Writing for the Telegraph this week, he proclaimed his support for the freedom to criticize ideas, even religious ideas, but drew the line at “racist” speech. Sorry Nick, but you’re still a government censor.
Having won his fight against section five, Clegg is apparently at ease with the degree of censorship in his country. He even boasted of Britain’s supposed freedom in his most recent column. “We are all free to agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve, support or oppose. That we in Britain can do so… makes us a beacon for the world’s oppressed.”
Bollocks, Mr. Clegg. I don’t look to your country as any type of beacon. The authorities in Britain arrest people who harbor banned ideas, and believe me, I’ve got a lot of them. Clegg’s prescient countryman, Eric Blair (George Orwell) predicted this phenomenon nearly seventy years ago and gave it a name—thoughtcrime.
Thought criminals should take notice that they will find no shelter in today’s United Kingdom. Little more than a week before the cartoon jihadists spilled French blood, police in Scotland tweeted the following threat: “Please be aware that we will continue to monitor comments on social media & any offensive comments will be investigated.” Offensive to whom, exactly? They don’t say. But in a free society it shouldn’t matter a lick. Offensive comments are exactly the kind of comments that free speech is designed to protect. Innocuous comments don’t require protection.
Clegg’s “beacon” of freedom banned right-wing radio host Michael Savage from even entering the country because he says, uh, really mean stuff. A more honest Briton, Hugo Rifkind, penned a column for the Times of London defending the decision to ban Savage without making any pretense of cherishing free speech. Rifkind’s column, bluntly titled “We Brits Don’t Do Free Speech, Thank God,” conflated the Jewish Michael Savage (real name Michael Weiner) with backwoods Nazis who shout the n-word in public. Britain bans the latter kind of speech and therefore it can and should ban Savage from stepping foot on its soil, Rifkind argues. Never mind the fact that Savage is not a Nazi and does not use the n-word, the point is that free speech is a commodity so hazardous as to be undesirable.
Rifkind’s honesty is preferable to Clegg’s mealy-mouthed support of free speech. Rifkind writes of Jacqui Smith, Britain’s Home Secretary at the time and the woman who placed Savage on the no-entry list: “’Of course,’ [Smith will] bleat, ‘we’re not against free speech, but…’ Stop it. Grow some balls. Yes you are against free speech. Almost all Brits are. It’s in our nature.”
Very true, but the feeling isn’t confined to the Brits. On the Continent, outspoken MP Geert Wilders faces criminal prosecution under “hate speech” laws for comments he made about immigration. At a rally in the Hague he asked a crowd “Do you want more or fewer Moroccans?” to which they chanted, “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” Mindless xenophobia? I don’t think so, though it’s also irrelevant. Free speech protects mindless xenophobia.
Nor is everyone feeling the spirit of freedom after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Swedish MP Veronica Palm contacted the police to report that another MP of an opposing party, Bjoern Soeder, might have violated Swedish law with a comment he posted on Facebook concerning the terrorist attack in Paris. “’The Religion of Peace’ shows its face,” he said, clearly indicating with his use of derisive quotes that he doubts Islam’s pacifistic nature, as many people do. His nemesis Veronica Palm declared: “This statement is offensive to a group of people and I want to see if it comes under laws against inciting racial hatred.” Ms. Palm apparently does not understand that Islam is not a race. Even if it were, free speech guarantees the right to make racist comments as well.
Are we much better? Oh, a little bit, I suppose. Anyone who thinks that free speech is alive and well in America ought to experience the suffocating environment of academia. If you happen to be on a college campus and you still think America guarantees a healthy exchange of controversial ideas then you’re probably one of the drones who keeps the rest of us line. Good for you.
Europe, however, is a decade or two ahead of us in the downward slide toward mind control. Governmental censorship has infested the birthplaces of Voltaire and John Stuart Mill. These government officials who impose gag rules upon their people are popularly elected and could be summarily bounced out of office if only their constituents had the will, which they don’t. Europeans are getting the governments they deserve and those governments happen to be authoritarian. No, we aren’t all “Charlie” now.