A letter to the Belgium embassy in support of Brussels Journal and Paul Belien, facing police harrasment
(Update, Tuesday, August 15, 2006. Bienvenidos a visitantes de Libertaddigital. Me perdonan el mal espanol - yo he vivido en la America Latina de vez en cuando durante los ultimos treinta anos, y pasaba un semestre sabatical muy lindo en Sevilla hace dos anos, pero dominio sobre el idioma todavia me elude.
Pero una cosa: durante mi semestre sabatical en Sevilla, pasaba mas tiempo que debia en la red, revisando la politica espanola. Muy, muy pocas veces descubria algo con una politica liberal, en el sentido de 'libertario' [existe la palabra?] que encuentro en las partes que he leido en libertaddigital. Aun los conservadores espanoles tenian algo ... no se, corporativo, corporatista [??], conservador en un sentido, por un mano, muy centro-derecho a la manera de partidos democratas cristianos europeos pero, por otra mano, algo que todavia participaba de un sentido bastante viejo de altar, cruz, y patria. Carece de un aspecto de la libertad personal que es mas que meremente la expresion personal del consumidor mas es, todavia, una expresion de la libertad individual. Y tocante al resto de la politica espanola, la de Zapatero, etc., pues, en cuanto a la relacion externa, por ejemplo, que dice que no se dice primero y mejor en Paris? La izpuierda espanola es, quizas, muy sabio, pero, visto desde afuera, tiene razon, no tiene razon, no tiene idea original, por lo menos tratando de asuntos afuera de Espana, o sea, no tiene idea que no tiene origen en otro lugar de Europa. (Me equivoco?)
Es por eso que me asombro verdaderamente encontrar algo sofisticado y original y dispuesto a considerar ideas liberales en Espana - casi nunca las encontraba en mi tiempo en aquel muy grato pais. Vale, entonces - lectores de la libertaddigital, bienvenidos y felicitaciones en la libertad de su pensamiento. Y gracias, ademas, por su interes en apoyar la libertad de expresion aun en Bruselas, casi siempre clausurado de facto, y ahora contemplando estar clausurado de jure.)
(Update, Saturday, August 12, 2006: Thanks Glenn for the Instlanche! There are some updates at the end of the post.)
(Update, Saturday, August 12, 2006. I am adding a couple of the comments here into the main page, plus Paul Belien's comment at Brussels Journal. In addition, readers interested in more on multiculturalism might be interested in the following related posts on this blog: Flowers For Voltaire, Zizek on Defenders of Faith, OT photo of my kid shooting a rifle last year, Dear Europe, Meet Your New Masters, Thoughts on Free Expression and the Muhammad Cartoons. In addition, you can read a more extended, academic discussion of the problems of Islam and Western multiculturalism in my new draft book review of Francis Fukuyama's After the Neocons and Peter Beinart's, The Good Fight, free pdf download from SSRN, here, titled Goodbye to All That? A Requiem for Neoconservatism. Also, What the Islamofacists were doing while we indulged the end of history, and Muslims in the West and Western multiculturalism.)
(Update, Monday, August 14, 2006. Stanley Kurtz adds his own message to the Belgium government, at National Review Online, here.)
You too can contact the Belgium embassy in support of Paul Belien and Brussels Journal, here. (Thanks Instapundit.) My letter:
August 10, 2006
First Counselor, Political Affairs
Embassy of Belgium to the United States
Dear France Chainaye,
I write to object to your government's harrasment of the internationally recognized and acclaimed blog Brussels Journal and its editor Paul Belien. As reported on that blog and elsewhere, your police ministry has called Mr. Belien in for questioning in relation to complaints of racism and intolerance.
While I understand that Belgium law is Belgium law, as a regular academic reader of Brussels Journal, I frankly cannot understand what could be considered racist or intolerant on that blog. On the contrary, it is a beacon of clarity in opposing the political correctness that makes it virtually impossible for Europeans to defend their secular, liberal traditions in the face of intolerance by Islamists and others intent on imposing their religious views on a secular society. The government of Belgium has things seriously turned upside down when Brussels Journal's reporting on Muslim demands for a separate, religious society in Belgium and elsewhere in Western Europe is treated as "intolerance." In any case, as a close reader of that website, and as a professor of international law and human rights in the United States, nothing I have read on that site is anything, in my view, other than protected free expression under international human rights standards and law.
I urge your government to cease its harrasment of Brussels Journal and Mr. Belien, and to respect norms of free speech and expression.
Very truly yours,
Professor of Law
Washington College of Law
The Hoover Institution
Update: Here is the reply from the Belgium embassy - much appreciated, and more substantive than would usually be the case. The problem, of course, is not that Belgium guarantees freedom of speech while banning racist speech; the problem is what happens when those two come into conflict. The response, understandably, does not address that. In practice, you have to choose between liberal values and multicultural management of speech; Belgium has laws it can point to that allow it to paper over the differences, but the government's continued harrasment of Brussels Journal shows that, in practice, multicultural bureaucratic and police management prevails. In theory, the law is liberal and neutral; in practice, the law is multiculturalist and typically comes after non-Muslims, as Brussels Journal has been impolite and impolitic enough to point out. However, here is the letter, which is, I stress, more substantive than embassy responses usually are (including those of the US government):
In response to your mail I wanted to inform you that Belgium is a democracy in which the freedom of _expression and a free press are guaranteed by the constitution and the legal system.
However, expressions of racism are a punishable offense in Belgium. An Act of Parliament created the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism in 1993. A task of the Centre is to promote equality of opportunity and combat any form of distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, skin color, descent, origin or nationality. The Centre offers the possibility to internet users to complain about the racist content of web sites. These complaints are evaluated in a serious manner. Most cases are solved through giving information or through setting up a mediation process. Only in a small number of cases, the Center proceeds to legal action. More information on this program is to be found on http://www.cyberhate.be .
The Belgian government and people oppose manifestations of racism and intolerance and intend to fight these through education and the application of the law. For further information on issues regarding racism in Belgium you can go to the following web site: http://www.antiracisme.be/.
I remain at your disposal for further information.
Embassy of Belgium
3330 Garfield Street, NW
Washington DC 20008
Tel: (202) 6255868
Fax: (202) 6257567
From the comments:
Brussels Journal comments. "Our case has nothing to do with racism. Belgium is following an old tradition which, in the fall of 1939, led Brussels to introduce an 'administrative censorship' which prohibited 'anti-German and unpatriotic publications.'"
Cosmo writes: "The conflict between free speech rights and bans on 'racist' speech is further complicated by nebulous definitions of what constitutes 'racist' speech and by who possesses authority to determine such.More important is that the system is clearly being gamed and hijacked by one group, turned into a tool for intimidating and silencing its critics.Flooding the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism with allegations of 'racist' speech, each of which must be taken seriously, is a game any group can play -- especially when it is backed by the implied threat of violence."
The Monster writes: "Islamism is not a 'race', it's an ideology of totalitarian religion. Rowan Atkinson, in opposing similar laws in the UK, said it well: To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. Unfortunately, the term 'racist' now appears to mean nothing more nor less than "someone winning an argument with a liberal"."
KA: I particularly want to underscore Atkinson's remarks that the difference between race and religion is entirely ignored by multiculturalism, which treats religion, being Muslim, as though it were an immutable characteristic of one's genes, rather than a set of ideas that can be discussed, debated, agreed with, not agreed with.
I also realize that the embassy has sent identical responses to everyone who has written - still, it is a more substantive response than the typical response of an embassy dealing with criticism.