Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff’s appeal to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR) was just rejected. Pursuing the principle that publicly discussing Islam and related matters should not lead to arrest and jail, the Middle East Forum had helped fund her important case with its implications for all of Europe.
Ms. Sabaditsch-Wolff has been criminally convicted under Austria’s “defamation of religion” law for “publicly denigrating” the Islamic prophet Muhammad “in a way likely to arouse justified indignation.” Her crime? Asking in a private seminar: “A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?” She was referring to Islamic texts stating that Muhammad married Aisha when she was six years old and consummated their marriage when she was nine.
“Since the Rushdie affair thirty years ago, criticism of Islam has become hazardous throughout the West,” said Marc Fink, director of the Forum’s Legal Project, which protects the public discussion of Islam in the West. “It has become fashionable to ban and even criminalize ‘hate speech’ and ‘defamation of religion,’ but these terms are poorly defined and the attendant laws are inconsistently applied.
“The survival of liberal democracy depends on the freedom to discuss controversial subjects, including Islam and Islamism. Censorship of these topics leaves the public ignorant of the threats it faces. The ECHR ruling is a preview of things to come in the U.S. should the First Amendment be weakened.”
The Forum has recently been criticized for this principled stand – for example, from The Guardian (UK), The Times of Israel and Vice News. But MEF has offered a vital lifeline to many authors, researchers and commentators victimized by Islamist lawfare.
“The Legal Project has stood by my side since the day I was reported to the Austrian police,” said Ms. Sabaditsch-Wolff. “I could not have come so far without its assistance. It is my hope that one day there is no need for the Legal Project, for it would mean the rule of law has returned.”
In another Legal Project case, a Quebec Superior Court found feminist author Djemila Benhabib not guilty of defamation for criticizing a Montreal Islamist school. “From now on freedom of expression will be better off in our democratic society,” said Ms. Benhabib. “In helping me, the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project has played such an important part in that matter.”
The Forum has also helped UK counter-Islamism activist/journalist Tommy Robinson. Author Bruce Bawer provides perspective on the Robinson case: “I’ve benefited from the Forum’s principled largesse myself, when my outspokenness about Islam has landed me in legal or financial quandaries. As an American, I’m extremely proud that the Forum has stepped in to cover Tommy’s expenses.”