As we in the United States sat in horror, watching Islamic gunmen mow down 17 people in France last week, we were confronted once again with the horrifying knowledge that a clash of civilizations is underway between Western liberal democracies and the world of Islamism.
Many of us first became aware of the disproportionate Islamic rage over any depiction of their prophet in 1988, when Salman Rushdie first published his book Satanic Verses. This fictionalized account of the Prophet Muhammad elicited a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s assassination, forcing the writer into hiding for years. This was the opening salvo on our Western freedoms, fired from Tehran, by none other than the Iranian supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989.
In 2004, Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh was assassinated while working on a film with Somalian-born writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali about the treatment of women under Islam. After his murder, a note was pinned to his chest saying “Ayaan, you’ re next.”
On September 30, 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting Muhammad, which resulted in massive riots wherever there was a significant Muslim population. Consequently, approximately 200 people died.
Then, in 2009, Yale University Press published a book about the Danish cartoon case, written by Jytte Klausen and titled “The Cartoons that Shook the World.” The book was to include the controversial cartoons, but in a spineless act of anticipatory self-censorship, Yale University decided to remove the cartoons, the very subject of the book, from the publication.
Sometimes Islamists choose death as a way to muzzle our Western values of freedom of speech, the press and artistic expression. Sometimes they choose methods that may be less fatal to the individual artist or writer, but that are clearly damaging to the fabric of liberal, democratic societies.
In 2003, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld wrote the book “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop it.” The book specifically details how certain individuals, organizations, charities, banks, money laundering schemes and corrupt officials all contribute to the funding of terrorism. One of the individuals highlighted in the book was Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, who had engaged in the laundering of funds raised in the form of “zakat” — contributions to Muslim charities — to finance several Islamic terrorist organizations including al-Qaida and Hamas.
In response, Mahfouz researched where in the world the laws were harshest toward defendants in libel litigation. He found that in British courts, the defendant is presumed guilty before proven innocent. He then purchased 23 copies of the book through the internet, had them shipped to an English address, and in January 2004, Ehrenfeld was sued in a British court. This process is known as “libel terrorism.”
Ehrenfeld courageously refused to subject herself and her American First Amendment rights to the British judicial system. Because of her refusal to show up in court, Mahfouz won on a default judgment and Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay $200,000 and to issue a statement of apology to Mahfouz.
Rachel had tried to countersue Mahfouz in a New York court, but attorneys for Mahfouz argued that they did not have jurisdiction in the New York legal system and the judge ruled in their favor.
Not one to give up however, Ehrenfeld was determined not to allow American liberties to be trampled on by weaker foreign libel laws. In 2008, she went to the New York State Legislature and passed “Rachel’s law” — the Libel Protection Act. In 2010 with a bit of support from the Endowment for Middle East Truth, Rachel’s law was passed by both houses of Congress, and signed into law by the president. This law stipulates that foreign libel laws can never be enforced in the United States. It is a clear victory for First Amendment freedoms in the United States.
Yet, as we all mourn the brave cartoonists and writers of Charlie Hebdo magazine, how many newspapers will carry their cartoons? Will The Washington Post or The New York Times? Will President Barack Obama condemn this heinous act as what we all know it was: Islamic terrorism? All of these acts of omission are a type of anticipatory self-censorship that means we are all quietly submitting to the intimidation of the Islamist tormentor.
When Nidal Malik Hasan gunned down 13 people on November 5, 2009 in Fort Hood, Texas, shouting “Allahu akbar,” the Obama administration was quick to call the incident “workplace violence.” In September 2012, when the American compound in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other embassy officials were killed, the Obama administration initially pinned the blame on a silly, amateur movie titled “Innocence of Muslims” and the film-maker still remains in jail today on trumped up charges.
We will never win this long war of civilizations if we cower before Islamist bullies on the global playground, and are not prepared to defend our liberties or stand up for the truth. We must forever keep in mind the words of Stephen Charbonnier, Charlie Hebdo’s editor, who was gunned down in Wednesday’s attack: “Without freedom of speech, we are dead. We can’t live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than live like a rat.”
This article was originally published in the World Tribune.