It started out with an isolated case here and there. In 2005, Oriana Fallaci was put on trial in Italy for her anti-Islam book The Force of Reason. In 2010 and again in 2011, politician Geert Wilders was tried in the Netherlands for publicly criticizing Islam. In 2011, the Danish Lars Hedegaard was found guilty by a Danish court of hate speech for having, in the privacy of his own home, made reference to the frequency of incest rape in Muslim communities. (The verdict was later reversed by the Danish Supreme Court.) Also in 2011, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was tried and fined in Austria for having stated, truthfully, that the Prophet Muhammed was a pedophile. The verdict was upheld by two higher Austrian courts and, this year, by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
In the years since those notorious prosecutions were initiated, the net has spread ever wider, and such cases have become routine aspects of Western European life. In 2017 alone, about 77 people, most of them “middle aged and elderly ladies,” were convicted in Sweden of “inciting hate.” Also in 2017, two Norwegian parliamentarians, one of them belonging to the Conservative Party and the other to the Progress Party (which gained power by promising to fight such things) introduced a website at which citizens can, with a couple of keystrokes, report “hate speech” to the police. In Britain, too, members of the public are being urged to report “offensive or insulting comments” to the police, and increasing numbers of otherwise law-abiding British subjects are being imprisoned for, as Reason’s Brendan O’Neill put it, “making racist comments or just cracking tasteless jokes on Twitter.”