Hungary, Where Europe’s Faultlines Meet
As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Protecting Free Inquiry from Religious Bullies
In the perpetual war waged in order to enshrine in statute or enforce by intimidation religious exemptions from the universal principle of free speech, the events of last week should give the nation cause for further reflection.
After the previous week’s demonstration in front of London’s United States embassy, at which Israeli and American flags were burnt and calls made to impose sharia upon the world entire, copycat acts where held outside the French embassy in the wake of cartoons published by that country’s satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. AFP reported that protestors shouted slogans against the French publication, waving placards which read “Sharia for France” and “Muslims will conquer France”. This, after 200 Muslims picketed the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, brandishing placards proclaiming “No religion is allowed to insult any other religion” and “We demand international law to stop religious hatred”.
The delicious paradox which envelopes and undermines their actions – remonstrations calling for the curtailment of free expression, permitted by laws protecting said right – is entirely lost on the demonstrators themselves. Hizb ut-Tahrir – the Islamic political organisation behind the London protests –published an open letter to non-Muslims which noted in the opening paragraph that Islamists are open to “debate, tolerate criticism and hear the critiques of others”, but that Charlie Hebdo’s doodles which do indeed pass judgment on their faith are “unacceptable provocations that cross a red line that no Muslim or decent human being would ever accept”.
This having been established, in a separate letter to imams and community leaders, they make their plan to end the propagation of such indecencies known: a state in which law would “protect the honour” of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and “halt such abuses” against him and the Qur’an. The threat of non-compliance is made evident too in the previous communiqué, for although Hizb ut-Tahrir allegedly condones the violence witnessed in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, “the blood-stained track record of Western foreign policy means that all right to take the moral high ground has been forfeited when arguing that violence is an unacceptable response to this provocation”.
What Hizb ut-Tahrir seeks, therefore, is the right to censor, the right to decide for us what words and thoughts are acceptable or unacceptable. But when pressure groups seek to impose prior restraint, it is our duty to critique their censorious instinct. There goes a wonderful apocryphal tale in this regard concerning Dr. Samuel Johnson, compiler of the influential A Dictionary of the English Language. Following the publication of his lexicon, he was visited by a delegation of venerable ladies of London who wished to commend him for excluding all rude and obscene words from his work. “Ladies,” he informed them, “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.”
Salman, The Messenger
“Salman was the messenger” -- Christopher Hitchens
Ayatollah Khomeini had not read The Satanic Verses at the time his fatwa suborning the murder of Salman Rushdie was proclaimed. After all on February 14, 1989, the novel had yet to be translated into Arabic, let alone Farsi. Rather, the Iranian leadership had witnessed on television the immolation of a copy of Rushdie’s book by a council of Muslims in Bradford, which triggered a succession of replicate demonstrations of ire and rage across parts of the Islamic world. Heine’s assertion, “Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen”, was thus eerily appropriate – “Wherever they burn books, they also burn people in the end”.
‘The Rushdie case’, as it was dismissively referred to at the time, has been pushed back into the public consciousness with the upcoming release of Rushdie’s memoirs, Joseph Anton, and his torture has come to seen as a forewarning. The order of Rushdie’s execution by a theocratic dictator in Iran, the assassination of the novel’s translators, the bullying and intimidation of publishers, the destruction of bookstores, and the burning of books – all for the offense of writing a literary novel – was not an isolated incident, but the precursor to a larger campaign of Islamist terror waged upon the peoples of New York, London, Madrid and elsewhere during the last decade – a war which is still very much ongoing.
But as important as the physical consequences of the fatwa was the test it placed on our most fundamental, inalienable right, that of freedom of speech. For, at the time of publication and reaction, there were a good number of cultural and political commentators who deemed that Rushdie had made a rod for his own back by daring to write a novel which played with themes pertaining to the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad.
Julian Assange: When Rape Doesn’t Matter
It is a sign of just how low the international left has sunk since the loss of the Soviet Union and the attacks of September 11 that they are willing to defend genocidal dictators and alleged rapists, all in the name of vapid anti-Americanism. This reactionary faction has become so farcical that it now resembles parody, as a recent comment piece in The Guardian by Mark Weisbort pointedly demonstrates.
For the sake of clarity, Julian Assange is wanted by Swedish authorities on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. Assange has refused to go to Sweden to answer these suspicions, stating that the allegations are part of a smear campaign. Indeed, Assange has gone through the British courts up to and including the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom to avoid facing these serious allegations. When it became clear that he would have to leave the UK, Assange fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking political asylum, arguing that if he were to fly to Sweden, the government there would extradite him to the United States on other charges.
You might not know any of this if you read Weisbort’s article, however. After all, it does not use the words ‘rape’ or ‘sex’ once. Rather, Weisbort argues that “the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution”. Rather, it can be inferred from Weisbort’s musings that these sexual molestation and rape allegations are mere fabrication, a cover for a wider plot to organise “a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist”.
In Strategic Vision, What Brzezinski Doesn’t See
In his bright if occasionally problematic review of the current condition of the United States and its place in the world, Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power, Zbigniew Brzezinski calls with some justification for the expansion of the Western alliance through Eurasia, with Turkey and Russia’s integration into existing economic and military frameworks, once their internal and external politics reach a condition where they are simpatico with ours.
Brzezinski envisions a somewhat diminished America which is, he seeks to stress, the “promoter and guarantor of greater and broader unity in the West, and the balancer and conciliator between the major powers in the East”. With respect to the latter, his attention is focused on China – for obvious reasons – and her relationship to India, South Korea, and Japan amongst others.
What Brzezinski fails to foresee, in his world beyond 2025, is either the place for Israel in this new global dynamic, or the consequence of the rise of China for the country and the Middle East more widely. In fact, on the subject of what Brzezinski describes as a “larger and vital West”, he doesn’t appear to have any thoughts on such matters at all, save a passing reference warning the United States against “a solitary military action against Iran or just in cooperation with Israel, for that would plunge America into a wider and eventually self-destructive conflict”.