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The Elephant in the Room: Intimidating critics of Islam

Politicians and citizens who raise questions about the religion are targeted.

A Pakistani woman holds a copy of Muslim holy book Quran during a rally to protest the destruction of girls schools by Taliban and Islamic militants. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
A Pakistani woman holds a copy of Muslim holy book Quran during a rally to protest the destruction of girls schools by Taliban and Islamic militants. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)Read more

We lost more than a million jobs in the past few months, the headlines remind us. So last month's story about a Dutch court's ruling that Geert Wilders was "inciting hatred and discrimination" - and that "it is in the public interest to prosecute" him - understandably didn't make the American news.

Did Wilders rip off a minority in a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme? No, he's a member of the Dutch parliament, and his precise villainy was releasing a 15-minute film. Entitled Fitna, it suggests a direct link between certain verses of the Koran and acts of terrorism.

Not to be outdone, the United Kingdom this week banned Wilders from entering the country. Its reasoning: His "presence in the U.K. would pose a genuine, present, and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society." A letter from the home secretary went on to tell Wilders that "your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film Fitna and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security."

In 2007, Cambridge University Press destroyed unsold copies of Alms for Jihad after it was sued by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi-Irish businessman whom the book accused of financing al-Qaeda. So much for academics standing up against book-burning.

In 2005, reporters from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten were forced into hiding after publishing a series of 12 cartoons about Muhammad. Islamic fundamentalists found the images blasphemous and threatened to bomb the paper's offices and kill its cartoonists - apparently, in certain quarters, an alternative to a letter to the editor.

Last year, at the urging of the Canadian Islamic Congress, author Mark Steyn was forced to defend himself against charges of racism and "Islamophobia" that were filed with three Canadian human-rights commissions, based on his columns in Maclean's magazine.

And, following a 2008 U.N. resolution urging nations to outlaw "defamation of religion," several nations - including Italy, the Netherlands and France - are attempting to ban "hate speech" against religious groups.

All of these incidents are calculated to intimidate critics of Islam in Europe and across the West. The message in the European Union is clear: Politicians, religious figures, and even private citizens with religiously and politically incorrect opinions will be subject not only to Muslim protest, but to criminal prosecution and violent retribution.

What publisher will print Steyn's next book if it can be labeled a hate crime and banned in most countries? "Pretty soon, your little book is looking a lot less commercially viable," Steyn has said. "At the end of the day, there'll be a lot of . . . American books that will go unpublished here in America."

In addition, these incidents deflect attention away from real - rather than trumped-up - religious discrimination. In the arena of actual persecution of religious minorities, Arab and Islamic nations are much of the problem.

Look at the U.S. State Department's 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom. Among the dozens of limitations on religious freedom in the Arab-Islamic world are the crimes of apostasy - converting from Islam to another religion - and blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad, both punishable by death under Muslim Sharia law. Coptic Christians are, at best, second-class citizens in Egypt; Baha'is are savagely persecuted in Iran; and churches and synagogues are banned in Saudi Arabia, as is any non-Muslim religious activity in public.

This is not a front- or even back-page story in the American press today. Why? Because it has nothing to do with the economy.

The gathering storm I have been warning of for years has now formed over the West. Yet instead of fighting the gradual incursion of Sharia and the demands of an intolerant, even militant Islam, Westerners are cowering and fatalistic. Last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury conceded that acceptance of some parts of Sharia in Britain seemed "unavoidable."

So how did the market do today?