Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Law in Austria: Guilty for Questioning Islam

by A. Millar

The European "elite" has increasingly asserted that any questioning of Islam is criminal.

A few weeks ago Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was fined 480 Euros for the "denigration of religious teachings of a legally recognized religion in Austria." In a three-part seminar Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff had referred to Islam's prophet Mohammed's marriage to Aisha. According to generally-accepted Islamic textual tradition, Aisha was six at the time of the marriage, which was consummated when she was nine. Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff asked rhetorically "if this does not constitute pedophilia, what does?"

Defending the doctrines, beliefs, and figures of various "legally recognized" religions is liable to have unanticipated consequences. As Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff observes, "the judge didn't deny that Mohammed had sex with a nine year old. It is actually now proven in court that Mohammed had sex with a nine year-old." However, she says, "it's just that I am not allowed to say that he was a pedophile." Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff is not allowed to, because, in the words of the judge, as she passed sentence, "pedophilia is a sexual preference which solely or mainly is directed towards children. Nevertheless, it does not apply to Mohammad. He was still married to Aisha when she was 18."

The fine – representing a sentence of 120 days – is deceptively low. It was reduced to the minimum allowed to take into account that Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff has no income. It is usually waived for first time offenders, however, the presiding judge claimed Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff was a "repeat offender" because she had, in her judgment, referred to Mohammed being a pedophile more than once.

Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff says she is stunned by the verdict, and determined to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. "I was actually asking a question," she says, "and for that I was convicted."

The court did not find that she had made her comments maliciously: "I am the first Austrian ever to have been convicted of the hate speech charge," she notes, "I was not found guilty under the hate speech charge [paragraph 2, 83, section two]." Instead, the charge of denigration of religious teaching was introduced after the court proceedings were underway, apparently to ensure a guilty verdict. Denigration has a lower burden of proof than hate speech.

Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff insists there has never been "any hate speech in [her] seminars," and that no one, based on the evidence, could ever have thought that there had been. The judge agreed, saying, "The language used in the seminars [was] not inciting hatred, but the utterances regarding Mohammed and pedophilia were punishable." Because, it would seem, these were colloquial rather than strictly in accordance with the medical definition of the term.

In the media, as Mark Steyn rightly observed, Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted on a technicality. Steyn himself has been dragged through the Canadian courts on the charge of hate speech, and is, unsurprisingly, especially attuned to the threat that the legal suppression of dissent poses to liberal democracy. Nevertheless, you might still expect the Austrian press to be alarmed. You would be wrong.

The case has aroused little publicity in Austria, and almost none in other EU member states. I have also not seen any articles on the subject in the British media.

Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff says that the Austrian press "gleefully reported that I have finally been convicted. Apart from one journalist, no one even questioned what this was about" – nor, apparently, how such a conviction might affect freedom of speech and freedom of the press inside Europe.

It was the Left-wing News magazine that had first approached the authorities to press for a prosecution. Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff believes the real target was the Austrian Freedom Party, as she had delivered the seminar to the party's Freedom Education Institute. "The Muslim community in Austria has, apart from a very few comments, ignored me," she says. "They were not the ones who reported me to the police. They could not have cared less about me."

The "anti-racist" Left, in particular, never seems to tire of calling for a "discussion" or a "conversation" about Islam and issues such as immigration, yet at the outset the views of one side are deemed racist.

Nevertheless, where the story has been covered in the media, Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff notes, that of several hundred, or about "70 percent of the comments were on my side." Even on the far-Left, she says, people were saying 'I don't like this woman, I don't like what she said, but she should be allowed to say it."

Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff believes that the judge reached her conclusion even before all the evidence had been heard: "I could have produced Mohammed and Aisha on the spot," she says; "it would not have made any difference."

She also believes the guilty verdict has implications not only for free speech, but also for gender equality, and moral and legal norms within the European Union: "The first thing I thought was "Oh my G-d, what has she done to my daughter? What has she done to other young girls? And this from a woman. It is despicable. This verdict," she says, "has shown us that the truth has become so irrelevant that it is now easy to convict people on bogus charges."

By "truth" she seems to mean, without saying so explicitly, not only facts, but also standards of morality, and individual liberty: the court case, conviction, and appeal are a clash between two worldviews, one based on the Judeo-Christian tradition and Enlightenment, and the other that perceives questioning or dissent as a criminal offense -- as the Organization of Islamic Conference (56 Muslim countries plus the Palestinian Authority) is now pressing to have internationally established at the United Nations.

It is with the criminalization of naming what one observes –- or, as in the case of the Dutch MP Geert Wilders, of trying to deliver a warning -- that many of Europe's "elites" appear to be siding, as Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff found out at her cost.

She believes that if this authoritarian turn goes unchecked, Europe is in for serious trouble. It is, she says, already "going faster than I ever thought it would."

Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff will appeal the verdict to Austria's high court, and, if necessary, take her fight to the European Court of Human Rights. However, with her case having garnering so little attention, she is, she says, "desperately in need of donations." The case has already cost 7,000 Euros, and it will take more to fight the decision. "If there are no funds that means I will have to stop [the appeal]," she says.

If this happens, a court in Austria will have set a precedent for the EU, and perhaps eventually even for the US: Question Islam, and you will be hauled into court, tried, and convicted.

Original URL: http://www.hudson-ny.org/1946/austria-law-guilty-questioning-islam

A. Millar

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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