Wednesday, April 22, 2009

CATCHING UP - Meeting Flemming Rose

I've been too busy to post lately. Here are three piece back-to-back.

An Islamist 'new world order'

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member-states at the Durban II gathering in Geneva is pushing for "a new world order" that would expand and impose "nondemocratic and illiberal values on the West," says the Danish editor who in 2005 commissioned and published a series of cartoons, one of which depicted the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban that led to worldwide Muslim rioting.

Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest-circulation newspaper, is visiting Israel under the auspices of the Hebrew University's Shasha Center for Strategic Studies, headed by former Mossad director Efraim Halevy. He's here to lecture on how nations need to find the right balance between religious sensitivities and freedom of expression.

Rose says the OIC is trying to use Durban II to rewrite the rules of human rights and international law in a way that undermines the values of liberty enshrined in the Western canon - including the US Bill of Rights, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It's all part of an ongoing Muslim campaign that has been making significant strides, says Rose.

European liberal values, which dominated United Nations voting following the fall of the Soviet Union, are now in retreat. Muslim states attending Durban II are pushing the conference to say that criticizing Islam is a form of incitement.

"We're seeing an erosion of support in the West for freedom of expression in the guise of preventing incitement against Islam," says Rose.

He wants the West to stop being so defensive, pointing out that "Muslims in Demark enjoy far more civil and political rights than they would have in their home countries."

Rose would distinguish between criticizing Islam as a theological and political idea and insulting its adherents.

"I spent many years in the former Soviet Union as a foreign correspondent and married a Russian woman. I am a strong anti-communist, but my late Russian father-in-law was a staunch Stalinist. I abhorred his convictions, but felt love and tenderness for him as an individual."

His experience in the Soviet Union gave him a "very strong antagonism against self-censorship and intimidation of people because of what they are saying."

In Muslim society, he notes, the rights of the dominant religion and culture are paramount. In the West, it is the rights of the individual that reign supreme.

Rose argues that in a globalized world, the idea that Westerners conduct their lives according to Western values while Muslims conduct theirs according to Muslim values simply does not work - because globalization involves both technology and human migration.

"When you publish in Denmark, you can read it within minutes in a totally different political and cultural context. At the same time, every European society is getting more complicated culturally and ethnically. Different taboos and moral codes are forced to live together."

Within their own world, says Rose, Muslims "do not see their own minorities. And when they come to the West, they continue to behave as if they were in the majority."

In this context, the West has no choice but to stand firm on its values - because Muslims are constantly pushing theirs. In our interconnected world, the old model of live and let live simply doesn't make sense.

What Rose would really like to see is reciprocity. He dreams of challenging Muslims: "Accept my taboos, and I will accept yours. If it is a crime to build a church in Saudi Arabia, then it should be illegal to build a mosque in Europe."

But such an approach, he readily admits, is unacceptable because it would lead to an intolerable decrease in freedom.

He talks about "sleeper" blasphemy laws - statutes that have long been on the books in European countries, and that Muslims are trying to reinvigorate. He argues for a "redefinition" of the concept of blasphemy so that it is not exclusively about religion but includes values, classical liberal ones as well.

Were it up to Rose, the only free speech restrictions he'd allow are those that prevent incitement to violence, and discourage libel and infringement on privacy.

"All other restrictions - like blasphemy laws, some of which date back to the 1930s - I'd get rid of."

The key, says Rose, is for the West to continue to emphasize individual rights and not, as in Muslim society, collective rights.

That leads him to make the controversial case for repealing legislation that makes Holocaust denial a crime - even though he feels strongly that the Shoah was a unique event in history, "without precedence. But I think it is a question of morality that you deal with through education and debate; it is not something you legislate. I would only leave [the Holocaust denial law] on the books if you could prove that repealing it would lead to violence. That is not a danger in today's Europe."

"Let's be consistent," he says. "We don't want Jews to have a law based on them as a group if we're arguing that Muslims living in the West should equally not have special group privileges."

Moreover, he says, holding firmly to preserving Western values at home makes it easier for the West to defend human rights in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

Rose wants Israelis to understand that Durban II is part of a broader trend of non-democratic societies trying to hijack international law, thereby instituting a new set of values.

How ingenious, he notes, that having coined the term "Islamophobia," Muslim countries are insinuating that criticizing Islam - as distinct from discriminating against individual Muslims - "is a disease, a sick fantasy that needs to be cured."

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