It all occurred in the same week. A German judge banned a comedian, Jan Böhmermann, from repeating "obscene" verses of his famous poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A Danish theater apparently cancelled "The Satanic Verses" from its season, due to fear of "reprisals." Two French music festivals dropped Eagles of Death Metal -- the U.S. band that was performing at the Bataclan theater in Paris when the attack by ISIS terrorists (89 people murdered), took place there -- because of "Islamophobic" comments by Jesse Hughes, its lead singer. Hughes suggested that Muslims be subjected to greater scrutiny, saying "It's okay to be discerning when it comes to Muslims in this day and age," later adding:
"They know there's a whole group of white kids out there who are stupid and blind. You have these affluent white kids who have grown up in a liberal curriculum from the time they were in kindergarten, inundated with these lofty notions that are just hot air."
As Brendan O'Neill wrote, "Western liberals are doing their dirty work for them; they're silencing the people Isis judged to be blasphemous; they're completing Isis's act of terror."
A few weeks earlier, France's most important publishing house, Gallimard, fired its most famous editor, Richard Millet, who had penned an essay in which he wrote:
"the decline of literature and the deep changes wrought in France and Europe by continuous and extensive immigration from outside Europe, with its intimidating elements of militant Salafism and of the political correctness at the heart of global capitalism; that is to say, the risk of the destruction of the Europe and its cultural humanism, or Christian humanism, in the name of 'humanism' in its 'multicultural' version."
Kenneth Baker just published a new book, On the Burning of Books: How Flames Fail to Destroy the Written Word. It is a compendium of so called "bibliocaust," the burning of books from Caliph Omar to Hitler, and includes the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. When Nazis incinerated books in Berlin they declared that from the ashes of these novels would "arise the phoenix of a new spirit." The same hatred is coming from Islamists and their politically correct allies. We do not even have a vague idea of how much Western culture we have surrendered to Islam.
Theo Van Gogh's movie, "Submission," for which he was murdered, disappeared from many film festivals. Charlie Hebdo's drawings of the Islamic prophet Mohammed are concealed from the public sphere: after the massacre, very few media reprinted these cartoons. Raif Badawi's blog posts, which cost him 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison in Saudi Arabia, have been deleted by the Saudi authorities and now circulate like forbidden Samizdat literature was in the Soviet Union.
Molly Norris, the American cartoonist who in 2010 drew Mohammed and proclaimed "Everyone Draw Muhammad Day," is still in hiding and had to change her name and life. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York pulled images of Mohammed from an exhibition, while Yale Press banned images of Mohammed from a book about the cartoons. The Jewel of Medina, a novel about Mohammed's wife, was also pulled.
In the Netherlands, an opera about Aisha, one of Mohammed's wives, was cancelled in Rotterdam after the work was boycotted by the theater company's Muslim actors, after it became evident that they would be a target for Islamists. The newspaper NRC Handelsblad headlined its coverage "Tehran on the Meuse," the river that passes through the Dutch city.
In England, the Victoria and Albert Museum took down Mohammed's image. "British museums and libraries hold dozens of these images, mostly miniatures in manuscripts several centuries old, but they have been kept largely out of public view," The Guardian explained. In Germany, the Deutsche Opera cancelled Mozart's opera Idomeneo in Berlin, because it depicted the severed head of Mohammed.
Christopher Marlowe's "Tamburlaine the Great," which includes a reference to Mohammed being "not worthy to be worshipped," was rewritten at London's Barbican theater, while Cologne's Carnival cancelled Charlie Hebdo's float.
In the Dutch town of Huizen, two nude paintings were removed from an exhibition after Muslims criticized them. The work of a Dutch Iranian artist, Sooreh Hera, was yanked from several Dutch museums because some of the photographs included the depictions of Mohammed and his son-in-law, Ali. According to this disposition, one day London's National Gallery, Florence's Uffizi, Paris' Louvre or Madrid's Prado might decide to censor Michelangelo, Raffaello, Bosch and Balthus because they offend the "sensibility" of Muslims.
The English playwright Richard Bean has been forced to censor an adaptation of Aristophanes's comedy, "Lysistrata", in which the Greek women hold a "sex strike" to stop their men from going to war (in Bean's script, Muslim virgins go on strike to stop suicide bombers). Several Spanish villages stopped burning effigies of Mohammed in the commemoration ceremony celebrating the reconquest of the country in the Middle Ages.
There is a video filmed in 2006, when the death threats against Charlie Hebdo became worrisome. Journalists and cartoonists are gathered around a table to decide on the next cover for magazine. They speak about Islam. Jean Cabu, one of the cartoonists later murdered by Islamists, puts the issue this way: "No one in the Soviet Union had the right to do satire about Brezhnev."
Then another future victim, Georges Wolinski, says, "Cuba is full of cartoonists, but they don't make caricatures about Castro. So we are lucky. Yes, we are lucky, France is a paradise."
Cabu and Wolinski were right. Democracies are, or at least should be, custodians of a perishable treasury: freedom of expression. This is the biggest difference between Paris and Havana, London and Riyadh, Berlin and Tehran, Rome and Beirut. Freedom of expression is what gives us the best of the Western culture.
Thanks to the Islamists' campaign, and the fact that now only some "crazies" still venture in the exercise of freedom, are we now going to be just fearful? "Islamophobic" cartoonists, journalists and writers are the first Europeans since 1945 who have withdrawn from public life to protect their own lives. For the first time in Europe since Hitler ordered the burning of books in Berlin's Bebelplatz, movies, paintings, poems, novels, cartoons, articles and plays are literally and figuratively being burned at stake.
The young French mathematician Jean Cavailles, to explain his fateful involvement in anti-Nazi Resistance, used to say: "We fight to read 'Paris Soir' rather than 'Völkischer Beobachter'." For this reason alone, it is self-defeating to quibble about the beauty of cartoons, poems or paintings. In the West, we have paid a high price for the freedom to do so. We should all therefore protest when a German judge bans "offensive" verses, when a French publisher fires an "Islamophobic" editor or when a music festival bans a politically incorrect band.
Or is it already too late?
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.