"It is Seldom That Any Kind of liberty is lost all at once," wrote David Hume. To warn that the erosion of economic freedom by interventionist measures would lead to the erosion of political and intellectual freedom, Friedrich Hayek placed this quote on the front page of The Road to Serfdom. It perfectly illustrates the threat to the destruction of freedom in Europe after World War II.
Although seven decades have passed, the warning has not been heeded. Economic freedom in Europe has been largely abolished as month after month, regulations emanating from the unelected, self-appointed, technocratic Brussels Commission continue to multiply.
Political freedom has also been confiscated as key decisions between heads of state are made -- behind closed doors -- by the equally unelected, self-appointed, technocratic European Council.
It now looks as if intellectual freedom is about to be eradicated as well.
In almost all European countries, only monolithic thought is allowed to be actually spoken. Many of the elites seem to think of themselves as The Bequeathers of Absolute Truth -- proud, self-righteous, totalitarian antagonists to any contrarian thought or speech -- and they have seized power in universities, in the media and in nearly all political parties.
In Europe, defending free market ideas and Judeo-Christian values has become almost impossible. When European journalists report on the debates between Republican candidates during the primary elections in the United States, what they hear is so strange to them that they need to invent new words. "Conservatism" is not enough; they speak of "ultra conservatism," implying, of course, that anyone "ultra conservative" must be an insane extremist.
Evoking the contributions of Western civilization, or saying that these contributions are worthy, leads immediately to harsh criticism. Silvio Berlusconi, a few weeks after the September 11 attacks on the US, said, "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights." Faced with the unanimous indignation of his peers, he had to declare a few days later that he was withdrawing his remarks.
When the French Interior Minister Claude Gueant recently declared that "not all cultures are of equal value," a socialist deputy publicly expressed outrage, and added that sentences of this kind had "paved the way for the Third Reich;" the French National Assembly has envisioned legal action against him.
Criticizing Islam is even more dangerous. This apparently marks you as an "Islamophobe" and a "racist." Complaints are filed, and courts impose heavy fines, sometimes prison sentences.
The prominent Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who expressed the opinion that Islam was "fascism," was prosecuted in the Netherlands in January 2009 for "inciting hatred against Muslims." Although he was acquitted in June 2011 by a Dutch court, those who sued him brought the case before the European Court of Human Rights. Final judgment has not yet been reached. The plaintiffs said they felt "humiliated and threatened" by Wilders who, unlike them, must live in safe houses, under police protection. The film director Theo van Gogh was murdered for having made a short film, "Obsession," about the treatment of women in Islam. The Dutch Parliamentarian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had worked in women's shelters, was threatened with death for having written the script for it; she eventually fled to the United States.
An Austrian woman, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, gave a private lecture in Vienna in November 2009, during which she remarked that the prophet Mohammed, who married one of his wives, Aisha, when she was nine, "liked young girls," and one month later found herself charged with "denigrating the teachings of a recognized religion." In February 2011, she was sentenced to a heavy fine, which she paid; she nevertheless lives under constant threat.
Lars Hedegaard, President of the Danish Free Press Society and the International Free Press Society, affirmed in a December 2009 interview, that Islam treated women in a "degrading manner." He was immediately convicted of "inciting hatred" and of "racism." In May 2011, he too was sentenced to a heavy fine.
When two Frenchmen, Pierre Cassen and Pascal Hillout, created a secularist movement, Riposte Laïque, [Secular Reply] in 2007, and published several articles against the Islamization of France and Europe, they were charged with "inciting racial hatred" against Muslims. It should be noted that Cassen is a trade-unionist and belongs to the left, and that Hillout was born a Muslim. Complaints against them were filed by the League against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA), the Movement against Racism and for Friendship among Peoples (MRAP), and the League of Human Rights (LDH) -- three organizations that used to fight to defend human rights but that now pursue very different goals and act only when Islam appears "threatened." On February 3, 2012, the prosecutor requested a jail sentence of two months for Hillout, a jail sentence of three months for Cassen, and a crippling fine of 150,000 euros ($200,000) for Riposte Laïque. The verdict is to be delivered in a few weeks.
For a book about Islam in 2004 (Who's Afraid of Islam?), that criticizes Islam and defends Israel, I also have been attacked by the MRAP and still receive frequent explicit death threats -- anonymous letters and e-mails, and pictures of slit throats -- and copies of The Invention of the Palestinian People, my latest book, have been destroyed by organized gangs raiding bookshops.
The list of examples could be long; all who dare to criticize Islam, defend Israel, or even speak of "Western civilization" in Europe live in a situation of provisional freedom, and face increasing risks. The situation resembles nothing so much as that of dissidents in the former Soviet Union, who risk harassment, fines and even, as we have seen, incarceration. Newspapers and magazines no longer feel free to publish their writings; large publishing companies refuse their books.
Muslim imams in mosques all over Europe feel free to preach hatred for the West and to call for "War against Christians and Jews," while mainstream politicians and journalists hear nothing, and judges see nothing.
What happened to Europe needs to be a warning to the American people; it needs to be urgently known and explained. The loss of freedom can occur gradually. It can also be brutal. A ban takes hold, then another, and another and another. And nobody pays attention until its too late.