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It's time for adult conversations about Islam

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Is Islam affecting our freedom of speech? Is it altering our democracy? Roger Kiska looks at the recent ruling of an Austrian woman convicted of ‘hate speech’ for suggesting a truth about Muhammad, and concludes that if we are to uphold freedom of speech, then “offence is a small price to pay”.

Speech is Becoming Anything But Free

In November, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a judgment in a case involving freedom of expression which sent shock waves through the legal and political world, and beyond. The facts are fairly straightforward.  Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted under Austrian criminal law for disparaging religious doctrines by suggesting, during a series of small public lectures, that Muhammad might rightly be called a paedophile for consummating his marital relationship with Aisha when she was only 9 years old.

The European Court of Human Rights went to great lengths to suggest that the clinical definition of paedophilia requires a tendency towards being sexually attracted to children. In upholding the criminal conviction as falling within Austria’s competency to define its own ‘hate’ speech laws, they argued that since there was no record that Muhammad had been sexually active with children other than Aisha and that child brides were common during that period, that her words amounted to criminal ‘hate’ speech.

It was announced by supporters of Mrs Sabaditsch-Wolff this week that her legal team has filed an appeal to the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg Court challenging the ruling of the lower chamber.

An objective observer may ask why the ‘hate’ speech conviction of an Austrian woman for statements she made to a small audience should matter to those of us in the United Kingdom.

‘Hate’ Speech

‘Hate’ speech laws, like the one used to convict Elisabeth, are little more than weaponised political correctness with criminal effect. They are meant to bully the population into changing their hearts and minds so as to fully capitulate to the cultural zeitgiest of the day. The result in this case is that a fairly innocuous incident at a lecture in Vienna will now have international repercussions for the rest of us by becoming European Court precedent.

The reality is that this is just very bad law. Accept the reasoning of the Court; shall those convicted of sexual crimes against a single child sue media outlets who refer to them as paedophiles because there is no evidence that they were sexually attracted to other children? Are we not allowed to question the character of a historical figure who Muslims are called to emulate on the basis that others at the time were engaged in child marriages? What about the child marriages which are happening in the United Kingdom today? Is it also hateful to question those?

Parallel Societies Within the United Kingdom

The European Court’s ruling seems to create a heightened level of scrutiny towards criticism of Islam. The Court’s ruling fails, in my estimation, to take into account the seriousness of the issues at play in some parts of Europe. We need look no further than here in the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that there are over 85 Sharia Courts currently operating within our nation. Concurrently, between 2001 and 2011, the Office for National Statistics reported a 4.1 million person increase in the population of the United Kingdom; with more than half of this growth due to immigration.[1] According to the Social Integration Commission, the lack of integration of largely Muslim immigrant communities costs the UK taxpayer £6 billion pounds each year.

It has been reported that between 2010-2014, in the United Kingdom alone, more than 11,000 honour crimes were recorded by police forces.Other reporting suggests that in the last 5 years, incidences of ‘honour’ violence have soared by 40 percent, and instances of forced marriages have doubled. The Honour Based Violence Awareness Network estimates there are 12 honour killings in the UK each year.

Nothing in this article is meant to disparage the large number of law-abiding, hard-working Muslims within the United Kingdom. That being said, these figures do suggest that the lack of integration of many immigrants from predominately Muslim countries, coupled with the exponential increase of Muslim immigration to the United Kingdom, pose both existential and structural questions that need to be answered.

It is time to start having adult conversations about these things

Whatever the intent of Mrs Sabaditsch-Wolff, whether hateful or not (and the truth is that she alone knows the answer to that question), what is clear is that Islam is affecting our culture in historically significant and possibly irrevocable ways.

The European Court has done us a great disservice by suggesting that discussing sensitive issues surrounding Islam may amount to ‘hate’ speech. It’s time to have adult conversations about culture, Islam, sharia, and the Islamisation of certain parts of Europe. Will some be offended by these conversations? You bet. But democracy allows us to have difficult conversations with the hope that the better angels of our nature will prevail, and that right reason will save the day. Offence is a small price to pay for the freedoms that we enjoy in this great nation. May God bless us all.

[1] Office for National Statistics (2016) Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: mid- 2015, Statistical bulletin (as cited in: Dame Louise Casey, The Casey Review: A Review Into Opportunity and Integration, Department for Communities and Local Government, §3.2).