by Bruce Bawer
A few years back I was invited to give the keynote address at a one-day conference in Washington – or, actually, in Arlington – about the future of Europe. I am still baffled as to why I was invited. Pretty much all the other people there – the audience members as well as the conference speakers – were seasoned diplomats and sundry high-level government types, some of them Americans, the rest from various European countries. And all of them painted a rosy picture of Europe’s prospects. The European Union, most of them agreed, was just about the best thing ever to happen to the old continent – a guarantor of peace and prosperity for generations to come. The one or two passing mentions of Islam and immigration were also positive – thanks to the massive influx of “new Europeans” from the Muslim world, these experts assured us, Europe’s demographic decline wouldn’t really be much of a problem. Several participants expressed the desire that the tired, backward old USA could become more like the progressive, forward-looking EU.
Everybody was in good cheer and in almost total agreement. Then it came my turn to speak. My subject: the Islamization of Europe. Sharia enclaves. Subjugated women. Forced marriages. Honor killings. Jew-baiting. Gay-bashing. Spiraling rape statistics. Systematic welfare abuse. Police overlooking crimes, judges citing sharia law, journalists, writers, and artists practicing self-censorship for fear of giving offense to Muslim believers, and politicians pretending everything’s just fine.
My talk was a litany of horror stories drawn from newspapers all over Western Europe. And my audience’s reaction was one of pure outrage. Not over the horror stories themselves, but over my audacity. How dare I bring up such things! “These are all just…anecdotes!” one veteran diplomat angrily sputtered. “Mere anecdotes!”
Yes, mere anecdotes. Lots of them. And there were plenty more where those had come from. But these characters didn’t want to hear about what was actually happening on the ground. They were loftily dismissive about the whole business. They all inhabited the same lovely la-la-land of consular offices, embassy parties, ambassadorial residences, and conferences like this one – a cozy dream world into which the grim realities I had talked about hadn’t yet intruded and could still be comfortably denied. And a world, moreover, in which even the slightest hint of criticism of Islam was utterly verboten. Such talk just wasn’t diplomatic, you see.
Over the years I’ve given similar talks to audiences in several European countries. Not audiences of diplomats and the like, but audiences of real people who are living with the problems I talk about, who’ve watched things go steadily downhill for years, who know their continent is in trouble, and who are glad to hear somebody talking frankly about it all and to have a chance to get a few things off their own chests without being shouted down by their PC “betters.” You might have expected those folks in Washington – sorry, Arlington – to be better informed about these matters than anyone. That’s sort of their job, after all. But they preferred to remain in their bubble of denial – to cling to their glorious idea of Europe and to brush aside unpleasant accounts of the real Europe as “mere anecdotes.”
As it happened, I didn’t give a talk again in the Washington area until earlier this month – and the difference between the two events was like night and day. Sponsored by the Federalist Society and held on November 4 in connection with the publication of the new book Silenced: How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, this conference brought together a group of people who were refreshingly, even stunningly, plainspoken about the reality of Islam in the world today – the very opposite of those see-no-evil, hear-no-evil diplomats in Arlington.
What was especially cheering was that this conference, entitled “Silenced: Are Global Trends to Ban Religious Defamation, Religious Insult, and Islamophobia a New Challenge to First Amendment Freedoms?”, took place in the heart of official Washington – in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building. At a time when it’s hard not to despair over the willingness of government officials at every level to avoid addressing such matters honestly, it was encouraging to hear so many home truths about Islam being spoken in such a setting – and to see them heeded with respect and concern by a sizable Capitol Hill audience.
British barrister Paul Diamond discussed some of the high-profile cases in which he’s been involved – such as that of a Christian airline employee who was prohibited from wearing a cross on the job even though members of other faiths were allowed to wear religious symbols. And Mark Durie, a linguist, human rights activist, and Anglican vicar in Melbourne, provided a rivetingly detailed chronicle of the notorious trial in Australia of two pastors for vilifying Islam, at the end of which the pastors were ordered never to “express their views about Islam in public” again and forced “to take out prominent advertisements…reporting the findings against them, at an estimated cost of over $50,000.” (The pastors won on appeal, but while their Muslim accusers had been represented pro bono, the pastors ended up hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.)
Can such conferences make a difference? The fact that the audience stayed for hours to listen attentively to paper after paper made it clear that they were interested in what they were hearing; their visible and audible reactions to many of the “mere anecdotes” indicated that these stories, which have been largely ignored by mainstream media, were new to them; and the questions they asked at the end of the day showed that they had taken it all very seriously, that they were shaken by much of what they had learned, and that they didn’t want it to end with just talk. What could be done about all this?
Well, one thing they could do is to use their own positions to draw attention to these matters and help bring the wall of PC silence and fearful self-censorship crashing down. On the way to and from the caucus room, I passed the office of the courageous Representative Pete King of New York, whose hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims have brought to the awareness of Congress, and in turn the American people, the extremism of supposedly mainstream U.S. Muslim organizations and mosques and the danger posed by creeping sharia to American freedom. Imagine a Congress with ten Pete Kings, a hundred Pete Kings – legislators who realize that taking seriously “mere anecdotes” about the consequences of the Islamization of the West means nothing more or less than taking seriously the lives of the people who pay your salary and whose constitutional liberties you’ve sworn to uphold.
One thing’s for sure: if we want to preserve freedom of speech in an age when celebrated writers and artists, military leaders and police chiefs, and once-great newspapers can be cowed by the fear of being called Islamophobes (or of having their homes or offices blown to bits), we need more anti-jihadist heroes like Pete King – and we need them, most desperately of all, in the corridors of government power. Unfortunately, as that fiasco in Arlington so vividly underscored, our high-level public servants have tended to be among the smoothest and most accomplished of Islam’s appeasers and whitewashers. Let’s hope that the “mere anecdotes” aired at the Cannon House Office Building on November 4 reached one or two influential people who can mount a real challenge to that disgraceful state of affairs.
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