Referring to the writers who have pulled out of the PEN ceremony honoring Charlie Hebdo, Afshin Ellian has the perfect response to those who say that drawing Muhammad cartoons is needlessly insulting and provoking Muslims: “If you start with saying they shouldn’t make the cartoons, you may as well say they shouldn’t write novels. After all, what have the Jews done? Why are they killed? Would the writers say they shouldn’t have been Jews? A writer who cannot tolerate such a prize is not worthy of the name ‘writer.’”
Indeed. One may say that the cartoonists provoked the Charlie Hebdo killers, but then one must also say that the Jews killed at the Hyper Cacher supermarket provoked their killers. And where does it stop? How much must the West give up of its own identity in order to avoid provoking Muslims?
“Attacking Free Speech is a Core Element of Terrorism,” by Abigail R. Esman, Algemeiner, May 3, 2015:
Afshin Ellian has a thing or two to say about terrorism.
He also has a few things to say about Islam – specifically political Islam – but many don’t particularly like to hear it. In fact, the threats against his life from radical Muslims, particularly in the Netherlands, where the Iranian dissident now lives, have become so frequent that at least one bodyguard accompanies him anywhere he goes.
But Ellian, a professor of jurisprudence at the University of Leiden, also knows a thing or two about freedom: he has spent his life pursuing it since his days as a student in Iran, where in 1978 he took part in the uprising against the Shah. After the revolution, the Ayatollah banned political discourse; threatened with execution, Ellian fled the country. He settled briefly in Kabul before further ideological conflicts led him to escape again, arriving as a political refugee in the Netherlands in 1989.
Now the human rights and counterterrorism expert works valiantly to protect the freedom that he so long fought for – even as he finds the most precious quality of that freedom itself now under threat: the principle of free speech.
It is this which recently brought him to the Nieuwspoort, a debate center for journalists and politicians in The Hague, a city not coincidentally known as “the International City of Justice and of Peace.” The occasion: the presentation of his latest book, simply and appropriately titled Freedom of Speech Under Attack.
In the post-Charlie Hebdo era, it is a book that defines our time.
Speaking to assembled press and his guest of honor, Flemming Rose – the publisher of Jyllands Posten and the renowned “Danish Mohammed cartoons” who also lives under guard – Ellian is clearly unbowed by the threats and attacks on his own freedom. To the contrary, he speaks the words many would prefer went entirely unsaid: Europe must defend itself against radical Islam. To do so, its strongest weapon, stronger than arms, stronger than money, is the protection of free speech.
Yet at the same time, the very principle of free speech is being abused by jihadists to destroy the democracies from which it was created, says Ellian. Recruiters for jihad, those who threaten apostates and Jews and who call for violence against the West rely precisely on the principles of free speech to spread their messages of hate. Consequently, he says, “democracy as a form of society must be understood in terms of a militant system. Whenever democracy is threatened by violence, it has the right to defend itself violently. The alternative would be suicide.” And freedom, he pronounces, “is no suicide pact.”
Ellian’s own confrontation with radical Islam in Europe dates back to 2000, when an article he wrote against the Prophet Mohammed’s orders to destroy poets led to death threats. (In addition to holding graduate degrees in philosophy and law, Ellian is a celebrated poet.) More threats followed, chiefly after the murder of Theo van Gogh in November 2005 by Muslim extremist Mohammed Bouyeri. Immediately after the killing, Ellian called on other Western intellectuals to “put radical Islam on the surgical table” and to fight back against politically correct censorship because, as he says now, “whenever a society applies self-censorship out of fear from terrorism, freedom dissipates.
Yet days after the presentation of Ellian’s new book, six members of PEN America, the prestigious organization for authors and writers that defines itself as a leader in the defense of free expression, called for a boycott against the association, citing its decision to honor the magazine Charlie Hebdo with its Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage award. When I tell him of this, Ellian’s fury sizzles through the phone.
“If you start with saying they shouldn’t make the cartoons,” he fumes, “you may as well say they shouldn’t write novels. After all, what have the Jews done? Why are they killed? Would the writers say they shouldn’t have been Jews? A writer who cannot tolerate such a prize is not worthy of the name ‘writer.’”…