If we had to choose one thing that has obstructed many Westerners from understanding modern Islam and undermined our ability to handle its excesses, it would be our perception of Islamophobia. How many times have fair and honest criticisms of one aspect or another of Islam, rebukes of behaviour, or literary and artistic expressions of Muhammad or other figures been loudly shouted down or banned on the grounds that such criticism was “Islamophobic”? In Europe, individuals have been arrested, tried and sentenced for “Islamophobic” utterances. As Judith Bergman recently commented, in Europe it is becoming a criminal offence to criticize Islam.
In 2011, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, for example, a former Austrian diplomat and teacher, was put on trial for “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion [Islam],” found guilty twice, and ordered to pay a fine or face 60 days in jail. Some of her comments may have seemed extreme, but the court’s failure to engage with her historically accurate charge that Muhammad had sex with a nine-year-old girl and continued to have sex with her until she turned eighteen — its regarding the historical record as somehow defamatory — and the judge’s decision to punish her for saying something that can be found in Islamic sources, illustrates the betrayal of Western values of free speech. A charge of “Islamophobia” was enough to confine the freedoms that most Westerners take for granted.
Sabaditsch-Wolff is not the only person to suffer for this “offence”. Danish author Lars Hedegaard suffered an attack on his life and lives in a secret location. Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist, suffered an axe attack that failed, and is under permanent protection by the security services. In 2009, in Austria, the politician Susanne Winter was found guilty of “anti-Muslim incitement”, for saying, “In today’s system, the Prophet Mohammad would be considered a child-molester.” She was fined 24,000 euros ($31,000) and given a three-month suspended sentence. The phrase “child molester”, like the charge made by Sabaditsch-Wolff was based on the fact, recorded by Muslim biographers, that Muhammad had sexual relations with his new wife A’isha when she was nine years old (after marrying her when she was six).
Neither historical fact nor literary sophistication (as the British author Salman Rushdie learned to his cost) are able to deflect charges of Islamophobia.
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