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What They Are Saying, Sept. 11, 2008
Free Speech Obviously Extends to Islamists But Not to Their Critics
Columnist Clifford D. May writes in www.Townhall.com on Sept. 4 about the drive to restrict free speech about radical Islam:
"In Europe, free speech may end with neither a bang nor a whimper -- but with a lawyerly assist.
"It was three years ago this month that the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 editorial cartoons satirizing Islamist terrorism. Some Muslim organizations objected. Protests were organized. Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran were set ablaze. Dozens of people were killed. The cartoonists and their editors received death threats from such characters as Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in Gaza.
"Kurt Westergaard is the artist who drew the most iconic and controversial cartoon: He depicted Mohammed with his turban turned into a bomb, its fuse lit. His message was clear: Here is how Mohammed appears to those who learn about Islam from suicide bombers. Westergaard is neither apologetic nor regretful. But he has said as clearly as he can that his drawing was aimed 'at fanatic Islamist terrorists -- a small part of Islam.'
"Westergaard has required police protection ever since. Last year, he had to leave his home after Danish intelligence learned of an assassination plot. Earlier this year, he was forced to leave the hotel where he was staying because he posed 'too much of a security risk' to other guests and staff.
"And then, in June, a 'prosecutor general' in Jordan -- a Muslim nation usually described as moderate -- issued a subpoena demanding Westergaard face a lawsuit in an Amman courtroom.
"The 73-year-old cartoonist does not plan to submit. He said that although it ought to be obvious that 'my problem is with terrorists not Muslims,' people are free to interpret his work as they wish. 'Disagreement is very important and, if we disagree,' he told a reporter, 'it does not mean that we have to sue each other and kill each other.'
"It's not only Islamists who find that logic unpersuasive. The English language Daily Jordan Times reports that attorney Osama Bitar, an attorney affiliated with the lawsuit (on behalf of the 'Messenger of Allah Unites Us' campaign -- such an inspiring name!) has been in contact with French attorneys who 'have expressed their support for the campaign and its lawsuit against Westergaard.'
" 'The lawyers are studying the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the cartoonist in accordance with French and international law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,' said Bitar. He added that the French attorneys also are considering contacting colleagues in other European countries to file separate lawsuits against Westergaard.
"Bitar enthused: 'The idea of European lawyers joining us in the campaign and supporting our efforts is tremendous. We are defending Islam in a civilized way and are trying to hold those responsible for the caricatures accountable according to the law.'
"Additional legal assistance may be on the way. The United Nations General Assembly is considering a resolution sponsored by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference. The ostensible purpose of 'Combating Defamation of Religion' -- yet another inspiring name! -- is to stamp out 'incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.' As for other religions, rest assured this resolution will guarantee them as much protection and respect as Christianity, Judaism, Baha'i and Hinduism now receive in Saudi Arabia, Iran or any of the other sponsoring nations.
"While General Assembly resolutions do not actually have the force of law, they provide diplomatic cover for tyrants eager to muzzle critics, and they are routinely cited by leftist 'human rights' groups and journalists as though they were international law."
Moderate Arabs Appear to Be Giving Up on the Effort to Isolate Hamas
Scholar Jonathan Spyer writes in The Jerusalem Post (www.jpost.com) on Sept. 3 that Hamas is gaining increasing acceptance in the Arab world:
"A series of recent developments point to Hamas' increasingly solid position in the Palestinian and broader Arab political constellations. This process is of significance both for Arab politics itself, and for the likely direction of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the coming period.
"In the past week, it was announced that Jordan's Intelligence Department, led by Gen. Muhammad Dahabi, has opened a dialogue with Hamas. The renewal of contacts between Amman and Hamas reverses a decade of Jordanian policy since the Hamas leadership were expelled from Jordan in 1999. ...
"For Hamas, of course, the Jordanian move is welcome toward dialogue, since it seems to represent the gradual acceptance by the Arab political mainstream of its growing power among the Palestinians. This acceptance derives not from ideological factors or sentiment: Pragmatic, pro-Western, monarchical Jordan and Islamist Hamas, with its links to Iran, could not be more natural adversaries. Rather, the move points to a de facto acceptance of the fact that Hamas' rivals in the Palestinian camp are too weak to dislodge it, and that no one else seems keen to take on this task.
"In Gaza, Hamas has created a functioning Sunni Islamist enclave. Recent moves to ban Ramallah-produced Fatah literature and to round up the remaining mid-level Fatah activists were further confirmation of this. The movement is also quietly maintaining its strength in the West Bank. This is despite attempts by Mahmoud Abbas' forces to hit at Hamas' extensive social welfare structure -- the basis of its long-term support. Should a large number of Hamas political prisoners be freed in a deal for the release of [kidnapped Israeli soldier] Gilad Schalit, this is expected to further contribute to Hamas attempts to maintain and build its position in the West Bank.
"Gaza, though armed to the teeth, is poverty stricken, and Hamas functionaries are proving by no means immune to corruption and nepotism.
"The situation in the Strip is hardly a shining advertisement for Palestinian Islamism. But in the simple, zero- sum terms of Middle East power-brokering, there is no force currently both willing and able to deprive the movement of power. Jordan is therefore adjusting to accommodate to the facts on the ground.
"The Jordanian move is clearly reflected elsewhere. Egypt's decision to open the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Sinai -- ostensibly as a goodwill gesture in the approach to Ramadan -- may also be seen as an acknowledgement by Cairo that Hamas' de facto power is not about to disappear.
"The reverse side of Jordanian and Egyptian adjustment to new realities on the ground is the sense of the continued decline into irrelevance of Fatah and the West Bank Palestinian Authority. The Jordanians, from up close, observe the failure of the P.A. leadership to carry through on its promises to isolate Hamas in the West Bank. They observe with dismay the continued disarray, disunity and lack of direction within Fatah.
From this point of view, the desire of the current United States administration and the Olmert government in their final months to attempt to reach an agreement of some kind with the Abbas administration seems detached from reality."