The European Union has offered to host the next meeting of the so-called Istanbul Process, an aggressive effort by Muslim countries to make it an international crime to criticize Islam.

The announcement comes less than one month after the United States hosted its own Istanbul Process conference in Washington, DC.

The Istanbul Process – its explicit aim is to enshrine in international law a global ban on all critical scrutiny of Islam and/or Islamic Sharia law – is being spearheaded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 Muslim countries.

Based in Saudi Arabia, the OIC has long pressed the European Union and the United States to impose limits on free speech and expression about Islam.

But the OIC has now redoubled its efforts and is engaged in a determined diplomatic offensive to persuade Western democracies to implement United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) Resolution 16/18, which calls on all countries to combat "intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of … religion and belief." (Analysis of the OIC's war on free speech can be found here and here.)

Resolution 16/18, which was adopted at HRC headquarters in Geneva in March 2011, is widely viewed as a significant step forward in OIC efforts to advance the international legal concept of defaming Islam.

However, the HRC resolution – as well as the OIC-sponsored Resolution 66/167, which was quietly approved by the 193-member UN General Assembly on December 19, 2011 – remains ineffectual as long as it lacks strong support in the West.

The OIC therefore scored a diplomatic coup when the Obama Administration agreed to host a three-day Istanbul Process conference in Washington, DC on December 12-14, 2011. In doing so, the United States gave the OIC the political legitimacy it has been seeking to globalize its initiative to ban criticism of Islam.

Following the Obama Administration's lead, the European Union now wants to get in on the action by hosting the next Istanbul Process summit, tentatively scheduled for July 2012.

Up until now, the European Union has kept the OIC initiative at arms-length. But Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the OIC, says the EU's offer to host the meeting represents a "qualitative shift in action against the phenomenon of Islamophobia," according to the International Islamic News Agency (IINA), the OIC's official news/propaganda organ.

According to the IINA, "The phenomenon of Islamophobia is found in the West in general, but is growing in European countries in particular and in a manner different than that in the US, which had contributed to drafting Resolution 16/18. The new European position represents the beginning of the shift from their previous reserve over the years over the attempts by the OIC to counter 'defamation of religions' in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The IINA report continues: "Officials in the Cultural Affairs Department of the OIC said that the European Union's offer to host the third meeting (the first was in Istanbul in July and the second in Washington, DC in December) is considered a promising new possibility of solving this problem. The 'Istanbul Process' will have an added momentum by holding the meeting in Europe, which is more affected by the phenomenon of Islamophobia and hostility towards Islam."

The OIC is especially angry over its inability to silence a growing number of democratically elected politicians in Europe who have voiced concerns over the refusal of Muslim immigrants to integrate into their host countries and the consequent establishment of parallel Islamic societies in many parts of Europe.

According to the IINA, "Ihsanoglu said that the growing role of the extreme right in politics in several European countries has become stronger than the capacity of the Organization [OIC], explaining that the extreme right, who [sic] hates Muslims, became leverage in the hands of politicians. He added that the rise of the extreme right through elections has become an issue that cannot be countered, considering the democratic way in which these extremists reach their positions. He pointed out to the referendum held in Switzerland, as an example, which resulted in suspending the construction of minarets there following a vote by the Swiss people."

In other words, the OIC is now seeking the support of non-elected bureaucrats at the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels to enact pan-European hate speech legislation to limit by fiat what 500 million European citizens – including democratically elected politicians – can and cannot say about Islam.

To be sure, many individual European countries that lack First Amendment protections like those in the United States have already enacted hate speech laws that effectively serve as proxies for the all-encompassing blasphemy legislation the OIC is seeking to impose on the European Union as a whole.

In Austria, for example, an appellate court in December 2011 upheld the politically correct conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife and anti-Jihad activist, for "denigrating religious beliefs" after she gave a series of seminars about the dangers of radical Islam. The ruling showed that while Judaism and Christianity can be disparaged with impunity in postmodern multicultural Austria, speaking the truth about Islam is subject to swift and hefty legal penalties.

Also in Austria, Susanne Winter, an Austrian politician and Member of Parliament, was convicted in January 2009 for the "crime" of saying that "in today's system" the Islamic prophet Mohammed would be considered a "child molester," referring to his marriage to Aisha. Winter was also convicted of "incitement" for saying that Austria faces an "Islamic immigration tsunami." Winters was ordered to pay a fine of €24,000 ($31,000), and received a suspended three-month prison sentence.

In Denmark, Lars Hedegaard, the president of the International Free Press Society, was found guilty by a Danish court in May 2011 of "hate speech" for saying in a taped interview that there was a high incidence of child rape and domestic violence in areas dominated by Muslim culture.

Hedegaard's comments, which called attention to the horrific living conditions of millions of Muslim women, violated Denmark's infamous Article 266b of the penal code, a catch-all provision that Danish elites use to enforce politically correct speech codes. Hedegaard has appealed his conviction to the Danish Supreme Court, where the case is now pending.

Also in Denmark, Jesper Langballe, a Danish politician and Member of Parliament, was found guilty of hate speech in December 2010 for saying that honor killings and sexual abuse take place in Muslim families.

Langballe was denied the opportunity to prove his assertions because under Danish law it is immaterial whether a statement is true or false. All that is needed for a conviction is for someone to feel offended. Langballe was summarily sentenced to pay a fine of 5,000 Danish Kroner ($850) or spend ten days in jail.

In Finland, Jussi Kristian Halla-aho, a politician and well-known political commentator, was taken to court in March 2009 on charges of "incitement against an ethnic group" and "breach of the sanctity of religion" for saying that Islam is a religion of pedophilia. A Helsinki court later dropped the charges of blasphemy but ordered Halla-aho to pay a fine of €330 ($450) for disturbing religious worship. The Finnish public prosecutor, incensed at the court's dismissal of the blasphemy charges, appealed the case to the Finnish Supreme Court, where it is now being reviewed.

In France, novelist Michel Houellebecq was taken to court by Islamic authorities in the French cities of Paris and Lyon for calling Islam "the stupidest religion" and for saying the Koran is "badly written." In court, Houellebecq (pronounced Wellbeck) told the judges that although he had never despised Muslims, he did feel contempt for Islam. He was acquitted in October 2002.

Also in France, Brigitte Bardot, the legendary actress turned animal rights crusader, was convicted in June 2008 for "inciting racial hatred" after demanding that Muslims anaesthetize animals before slaughtering them.

In The Netherlands, Geert Wilders – the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party who had denounced the threat to Western values posed by unassimilated Muslim immigrants – was recently acquitted of five charges of inciting religious hatred against Muslims for comments he made that were critical of Islam. The landmark verdict brought to a close a highly-public, two-year legal odyssey.

Also in The Netherlands, Gregorius Nekschot, the pseudonym of a Dutch cartoonist who is a vocal critic of Islamic female circumcision and often mocks Dutch multiculturalism, was arrested at his home in Amsterdam in May 2008 for drawing cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims. Nekschot (which literally means "shot in the neck," a method used, according to the cartoonist, by "fascists and communists to get rid of their opponents") was released after 30 hours of interrogation by Dutch law enforcement officials.

Nekschot was charged for eight cartoons that "attribute negative qualities to certain groups of people," and, as such, are insulting and constitute the crimes of discrimination and hate according to articles 137c and 137d of the Dutch Penal Code.

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, Nekschot said it was the first time in 800 years in the history of satire in the Netherlands that an artist was put in jail. (That interview has since been removed from the newspaper's website.) Although the case against Nekschot was dismissed in September 2010, he ended his career as a cartoonist on December 31, 2011.

In Italy, the late Oriana Fallaci, a journalist and author, was taken to court for writing that Islam "brings hate instead of love and slavery instead of freedom." In November 2002, a judge in Switzerland, acting on a lawsuit brought by Islamic Center of Geneva, issued an arrest warrant for Fallaci for violations of Article 261 of the Swiss criminal code; the judge asked the Italian government either to prosecute or extradite her. The Italian Justice Ministry rejected this request on the grounds that the Italian Constitution protects freedom of speech.

But in May 2005, the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, filed a lawsuit against Fallaci, charging that "some of the things she said in her book 'The Force of Reason' are offensive to Islam." An Italian judge ordered Fallaci to stand trial in Bergamo on charges of "defaming Islam." Fallaci died of cancer in September 2006, just months after the start of her trial.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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