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Damascus Gate 

by Robert Stone

damascus-gate

 

 

What is it about authors who have been incarcerated in Catholic orphanages and other religious institutions during their formative years? This is another book I found at Clunes Book Festival in Victoria and I wonder, is it the title that attracted me or the intense stories about faith written within its pages? The author Robert Stone has himself a past bathed in religious upheaval and search for identity. He was raised by his schizophrenic mother until he was five, when she was committed to an asylum for the insane. Five year old Robert, whose father abandoned the family, was then taken in by a Catholic Orphanage, who Stone describes as having the ‘social dynamic of a coral reef’. The violence the boy experienced at the hands of men posing as carers, is a heart rending story retold many times over by children raised in religious institutions.  I think it must be the passion and fearlessness with which these authors take on ‘taboo’ subjects that attracts my undivided attention. Someone wrote that books, once written, have no need of their authors. That is true enough, but I must admit to seeking out most books by author, rather than title or genre. I like to know more about the background of the author, particularly if a book has had a deep effect on me, and Damascus Gate is just such a book.   You can never judge a book by its cover in my view, especially when it’s a good read you are looking for.

At the centre of the Damascus Gate story is struggling free-lance journalist, Chris Lucas (Catholic mother, Jewish father), who teams up with a psychiatrist in Jerusalem to write a book about religious zealots, some insane, of all persuasions who come to the Holy City to ‘find the truth’ a condition labelled the ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’. The two men enlist the help of an archaeologist, who himself seems to have caught the ‘combative spiritualism’ endemic in Jerusalem. Little does Lucas realise that he is being followed, photographed and controlled by various groups fulfilling their own agendas. The Jerusalem Syndrome is a label attached to a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are believed to be triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. Followers of the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be equally affected by the syndrome. There is no doubt that with the Israeli army surrounding the city, and with its spies everywhere, the religion of Judaism appears to have the upper hand and control of the city and its environs with the help of its watch towers and road blocks at every twist and turn.  The best known manifestation of Jerusalem Syndrome is whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem. The psychosis is characterised by an intense religious mania and most often resolves to full recovery for the afflicted over time or immediately following their departure from the city.

Even those of little faith, or atheists, sense ‘there is something here in Jerusalem’, but what, they cannot say.

Damascus Gate is set in Jerusalem and surrounding areas, is fiction based on fact; we all know what a powder keg Jerusalem is with its struggle to contain the three religions within a relatively harmonious state. Making the situation even more volatile, are the various sects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism competing to have their ‘truth’ realised, even though archaeological proof is yet to be discovered for any of their respective claims. This book is a great read and highlights the sectarian differences between  Christians, Muslims and Jews whose followers all fight for supremacy over this small historically important city. Each sect has its own neighbourhood and if you’re not one of them, you are forewarned to avoid walking through its streets alone without an approved escort. It can be a very dangerous city and riots between Jews and Arabs can erupt at any time for the slightest of motives. Not only that, this fraught city attracts all manner of religious lunatics hell bent on ‘saving’ their respective Messiah’s or Holy Prophet’s relics from the infidel. Drugs, money and sexual favours add to the heady religious mix, and anything can happen at any time. Herman Melville’s quote sits revealingly on the front page of Damascus Gate: ‘Enigma and evasion grow; And shall we never find Thee out?’

A  Jewish extremist underground movement exists in Jerusalem and it aspires to rebuild the Temple. To achieve this, the mosques must be blown sky high. The Israeli Defence Force and Mossad know that if this happens Armageddon will erupt in Jerusalem which will surpass its many past destructions, the effects of which will be felt across the globe. There is not much going on in Jerusalem that these two forces don’t know about.  The tensions are deep and ancient, with their thousands of years of history fought over every day and at every religious festival. Serious political games are being played out at the very highest levels where murder, intrigue and ‘religious  authority’ are used to control and incite violence which is forever simmering at a very shallow depth beneath the surface of this ancient land.

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the state of Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there. One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law refers to Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister, President and the Supreme Court while the State of Palestine ultimately foresees the city as its seat of power. However, neither claim is widely recognized internationally. In latter years Muslim extremists have become more powerful and dangerous making Jerusalem even more volatile than ever. Staff of non-government organisations such as the UN and Save the Children, feature in this story and all play an integral part in the intrigue and hidden agendas.

One reviewer says of Damascus Gate: ‘Stone has a journalist’s eye for detail, but a novelist’s eye for irony’…and I believe that this is what makes the book such a great read. Stone manages to capture all the intrigue, all the religious fervour and menace in his words and all the while there is the ‘festering menace of Gaza’.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 23 January 2017

 

Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff – Fighter for free speech

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Updated 21 September 2014

 

Some Australian Muslims want Sariah Law to be introduced into Australia…for some, it’s already here!

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Beware! “Islam is a political ideology disguised as a religion.”

The United West is an umbrella organisation for opponents of shariah law in America, Europe, and elsewhere. Its motto is: “Uniting Western Civilization Against Shariah Islam”    Elisabeth tells us “Violence is deeply embedded in Islamic theology, and especially in Islamic law, or shariah. Violence is endemic in Islam because its scriptures and law require Muslims to be violent in order to protect Islam and extend shariah throughout the world. Shariah has already come to my country (Vienna), and to most of the rest of Western Europe.”

“So now it seems we must all learn to shut up and keep our heads down while shariah descends on our countries.” As Geert Wilders said: ‘The lights are going out all over Europe.”  But it’s not just Europe. Shariah is coming to America, too.  “It begins with little things, like prayer rooms and footbaths and special prayer breaks for Muslim employees. Then comes ‘Shariah-compliant finance’, which sounds so innocuous.  Then come the restrictions on speech that offends Muslims.”

Such restrictions are already here in the United States. Yes, you have the First Amendment to protect your God-given right to free speech, but that has not been enough to prevent ordinary American citizens from being silenced.

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In Vienna the free-speech activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff was recently sentenced to paying a fine for insulting a religion by calling Muhammad a paedophile. However, that is the truth. Numerous hadiths contain testimonies by Muhammad’s favourite wife, the child bride Aisha. Aisha literally says: “The prophet married me when I was six years old, and had intercourse with me when I was nine.”

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Source for the article below is Geert Wilders:

Ali Sina is an Iranian ex-Muslim who established the organisation for apostates of Islam Faith Freedom International. In his latest book he posits that Muhammad was a paedophile, as well as a narcissist, a mass murderer, a terrorist, a misogynist, a lecher, a cult leader, a madman, a rapist, a torturer, an assassin and a looter. Sina has offered 50,000 dollars for the one who can prove otherwise. Nobody has claimed the reward as yet. And no wonder, as the description is based on the Islamic texts themselves, such as the hadiths, the descriptions of Muhammad’s life from testimonies of contemporaries.

In his book ‘Psychology of Mohammed: Inside the Brain of a Prophet‘ Dr. Masud Ansari calls Muhammad “the perfect personification of a psychopath in power.”  Muhammad had an unhinged paranoid personality with an inferiority complex and megalomaniac tendencies. In his forties he starts having visions that lead him to believe he has a cosmic mission, and there is no stopping him.  (Sounds like certain other Arab leaders!)

The historical Muhammad was the savage leader of a gang of robbers from Medina  who looted, raped and murdered. The sources describe orgies of savagery where hundreds of people’s throats were cut, hands and feet chopped off, eyes cut out, entire tribes massacred. An example is the extinction of the Jewish Kurayza tribe in Medina in 627. One of those who chopped off their heads was Muhammad. The women and children were sold as slaves. Confronted with the lunacy of Islamic terrorists today, it is not hard to find out where the lunacy comes from.  According to the historian Theophanes (752-817) Muhammad was an epileptic. Epileptic crises are sometimes accompanied by hallucinations, perspiration from the forehead and foaming at the mouth, the very symptoms which Muhammad displayed during his visions.

A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that it will proceed with the trial of Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders on charges of inciting hate and discrimination against Muslims when he compared the Koran to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and called it a “fascist book.”  However, the prosecution has no intention of convicting him.   Public support for Mr Wilders  is huge.  The comparison of books is a good one.

See posts  Hina & Alicia – Victims of muslim fanaticism &    Go Back to the Hellhole…


Hina – A Beautiful Young Woman With Her Life in Front of Her.

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Hina was a beautiful 20-year-old who emigrated with her Pakistani family to Italy.  She lived with her Italian boyfriend, smoked, was happy and free. In other words, she became westernised; Hina came to Italy an Asian girl and grew into a western woman.   And, she had refused an arranged marriage.   Therefore, her father killed her, slitting her throat 28 times because his honour had been sullied.

He then garnered support from members of  his extended family to help him bury Hina’s body in the back garden of his home.  Did he think none of her friends would miss her?  No, because Hina was once again his possession.  He has been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment;  plenty of time to pray to Allah.

The United Nations Population Fund believes that, globally, as many as 5,000 women and girls are killed each year by members of their own family in the name of ‘honour’.  This figure, many believe, is the tip of the iceberg.

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Alicia Gali – A Brave Young Woman From Queensland

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Alicia Gali made the mistake of working in UAE, a muslim country.  She spent eight months in a United Arab Emirates jail for adultery after complaining to police about being drugged and raped by co-workers. Alicia, 29, detailed her harrowing ordeal after filing a Queensland lawsuit against the five-star international resort where the attack allegedly took place in 2008.

Warning other women against going to the UAE, Alicia said she endured eight months in a crowded prison room with up to 30 other women after she complained to authorities about the assault. Apart from her family, no one in Australia knew Alicia had been jailed for adultery and illegal drinking, because Australian embassy staff advised her and her family not to go to the media.

“It was just traumatising,” she said. “Everything that happened was the worst thing that somebody could go through.”

“You’re just totally alone in a foreign country, with no assistance from your employer or the embassy.”  Alicia, a salon manager at the resort, said she had been in the staff bar, where she was told she could legally drink, when another employee put the drug, ice, in her drink.

It was the last thing Alicia remembered before waking the next day in her room with painful injuries. “I didn’t know what had happened. I was traumatised, I felt ill. I didn’t even remember getting there or what had happened”.  It was only when she took herself to hospital did she realise she had been sexually assaulted.

Later she learned she had been heard screaming in the hotel and security guards had found men hiding in her room, where she was naked and unconscious.  When she was discharged from hospital she was asked to go to a police station to make a statement and then speak in front of a judge.   “I realised when I was put in a police car that I was being taken to jail.”

Alicia said she was never warned by her UAE employers that she could be charged with adultery and face prison if she complained of being raped, without having four adult male Muslims as witnesses.   “I didn’t even know what the charges were until five months into my sentence”.

Three of the men Alicia claimed sexually abused her were jailed, but for adultery and not rape.   After serving eight months of a 12-month sentence, Alicia was pardoned, released, and flew home in March 2009.  Since then she has been treated for post traumatic stress disorder, suffered claustrophobia and flashbacks.  “I felt depressed, angry and confused”.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn on Thursday filed a damages claim in the Supreme Court in Brisbane, alleging Ms Gali’s employer failed to warn her of the risk of being drugged, raped, charged with adultery and jailed if she complained.   Solicitor Melissa Payne said it was a complex legal case and they would consult experts in UAE law.

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These two cases represent the clash between dark age religious beliefs and western freedoms.  Islam means ‘submission’ therefore  muslims must submit to the power of Allah and  women must submit to the power of men.

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See post Carla Bruni – The Problem Being Female


The American Pastor Terry Jones, said that the burning of the Koran was a success and ‘a once-in-a-lifetime experience’. One wonders what he meant by ‘a success’.  Pastor  Jones, a fundamentalist Christian,  oversaw the torching of a copy of the Muslim holy book on Sunday, after staging a mock ‘trial’ in which it was found guilty of what he described as ‘crimes against humanity’.  The ‘jury’ in the case had heard arguments from a ‘prosecutor’ and a ‘defender’ of the Koran before sentencing it to ‘death by execution’.   Is he using human terms for the Koran because he is too afraid to ‘try’ the author?

I have never read the Koran, but a muslim acquaintance told me that it is all about interpretation, and unfortunately fundamentalist muslims  interpret verses in the Koran as catalysts for acts of brutality to infidels, ie anyone who is a non-muslim.  The majority of muslims don’t read such senseless violence into what is written in their holy book.  The same can be said of the Christian bible,  both books written hundreds of years ago. Most decent Christians and muslims only want the best for their families; for their children and grandchildren to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

How can the pastor’s stance be anything other than an attention-grabbing one?  Or perhaps the man is mentally ill.  It just doesn’t make sense, that an intelligent man could verbalise such rubbish as:  ‘After listening to ‘evidence’ and arguments from both sides, the jury pronounced the Koran ‘guilty’ of five ‘crimes against humanity’ including the promotion of terrorist acts and ‘the death, rape and torture of people worldwide whose only crime is not being of the Islamic faith’.  The Koran’s ‘punishment’ was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options had included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings.  Hasn’t this church leader and his small congregation got better things to do, such as helping the sick and the poor?

“It is not that we burn the Koran with some type of vindictive motive,” Mr. Jones said. “We do not even burn it with great pleasure or any pleasure at all. We burn it because we feel a deep obligation to stay with the court system of America. The court system of America does not allow convicted criminals to go free. And that is why we feel obligated to do this.”   Mahatma Gandhi was reputed to have said something along the lines of: “There is nothing wrong with Christianity.  Christians are the problem”.   One could say the same about Islam and muslims.

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All this mindless stupidity on both sides achieved nothing but senseless  killingsNews Item:

Stirred up by a trio of angry mullahs who urged them to avenge the burning of a Koran at a Florida church, thousands of protesters overran the compound of the United Nations in this northern Afghan city, killing at least 12 people, Afghan and United Nations officials said. The dead included at least seven United Nations workers — four Nepalese guards and three Europeans from Romania, Sweden and Norway — according to United Nations officials in New York. One was a woman.  Five Afghans were also killed.

See  Burning  Books Leads to More…

Burning the Koran; English Al Jazeera

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Mad American Christian Pastor, Terry Jones

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Terry Jones has published a guide called Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran; railed against the rights of women to have abortions; and describes homosexuality as ‘a sin’. When Pastor Jones was in Germany, his daughter Emma, one of his three children, described the church, run by Dove World Outreach, as a cult and accused them of financial and workplace abuse.

Dove World Outreach is funded by the pastor’s furniture firm, TS & Company, which buys vintage items from Europe and sells them in the US. The employees are members of the church, who are understood to work for no wages and live rent-free in run-down properties owned by the pastor and his wife.

Perhaps this pastor should heed an old warning: When you point the finger of accusation at someone, be careful what you say, because there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Karima will leave France if she can’t wear her veil

For Muslim women who cover their faces with veils, it is time for liberation.  Starting April 11, a new law in France banning garments that hide the face takes effect. Women or men who disobey it risk a fine, special classes and a police record.  The fines are greater if a minor is forced to wear the veil against her will.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant put it bluntly Monday:   “This growth in the number of (Muslims) and a certain number of behaviors cause problems,” he commented on French radio. “There is no reason why the nation should accord to one particular religion more rights than religions that were formerly anchored in our country.”   Debate is needed to address evolutions in French society,  such as a growing demand for mosque building and Islamic butchers  since the country’s 1905 law formally separated the state from the Catholic Church.

This is another one of those cases that most of us just don’t get.  Why did Karima (wont give her surname)  go to France if she didn’t want to live as the French do?  I mean, there are many Muslim countries around the world she could have emigrated to, where she could cover her whole body in black sheets, where she would be just another faceless, nameless, woman, with no rights.

Apparently, women are supporting their men in the current riots in Arab countries; riots for more freedoms and less oppression for women and men.  And yet, here we have some 2,000 women in France who wish to cover themselves from head to foot, despite the new law.   The increasing focus on France’s Muslims, who number at least 5 million, comes with presidential elections a year away and support for a far-right party growing. A recent palpable rise in tensions has also been boosted by fears of a mass migration of Muslims due to disarray in the Arab world.

In unusual terms for a secular leader, Sarkozy extolled the virtues of his country’s “Christian heritage” during a recent visit to Puy-en-Velay, the starting point of a famed medieval Christian pilgrimage route.  “Without identity there is no diversity,” the president said. “The (French) republic is secular. It belongs to each citizen without any distinction.”

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Perhaps it is not the fact of wearing a burqa, per se, that is disconcerting to some people.  It just may be about muslims wanting to be superior, to stand out from the rest,  to have their own butchers, mosques,  schools, etc, making European countries seem more like Muslim countries.  We in the West are called ‘infidels’ after all.  I believe that most tolerant people don’t mind headscarfs, at least you can see facial expressions.  The burqa can be very intimidating, especially in black.  And all those mosques popping up everywhere!  It would be just as bad if there were huge Catholic cathedrals and royal palaces everywhere.  History teaches us that to be too different, can be very dangerous, especially in times of food and job shortages.

More …

Burqa or Crash Helmet

Go Back to the Hell Hole…

Muslims firebomb Christian Church in Egypt

Some Muslims are nothing more than thugs consumed by hate, disguised as religious fanatics. The problem is that there are thousands of them swarming across the Middle East and Christians are soft targets. At least Christianity has moved forward with the times, but Islam is still fomenting in the dark ages. No wonder the uneducated masses are following a religious belief system that is just plain stupid.

Muslims have been targeting Christians for hundreds of years.  Muslims were the reason my Lebanese ancestors fled from Iraq to the hills of Lebanon in the 14th Century. It is one of the reasons my Grandparents  left Lebanon for New Zealand in the late 19th Century.  More in  my book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ .  Nothing has changed.  My heart goes out to the minority Christian communities in Iraq and other muslim countries.  Christmas, the focal point of Christian beliefs, is a time of fear for Christians in Muslim countries instead of a time for celebration and joy.  See world news item below:

BAGHDAD – Militants attacked at least four Christian homes Thursday night with a combination of grenades and bombs, killing two people and sending fear into the already terrified tiny Christian community.  It was the first attack against the country’s Christian community since al-Qaida-linked militants last week threatened a wave of violence against them. Christians went so far as to tone down their Christmas celebrations in what was a peaceful holiday, but the attacks Thursday night demonstrated the intent of militants to keep up their deadly pressure on the Christian community.

In the deadliest attack, assailants in southwestern Baghdad threw two grenades inside the home of a Christian family, killing two people and injuring five more, police said. In a different neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, militants planted a bomb near a Christian home. Two people were injured in that attack. Then another bomb planted near a Christian house in western Baghdad exploded, injuring one member of the family as well as a civilian who was driving by, police said.

Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi confirmed that two people were killed Thursday evening; he said a bomb planted near the fence of a Christian home in southern Baghdad also exploded but he had no information about casualties in that incident.  “The aim of these attacks is to prevent Christians from celebrating the New Year’s holiday,” al-Moussawi said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but such attacks have generally been the work of Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida.  The casualties were confirmed by hospital officials. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk to reporters.  The attacks are sure to ratchet up tension in the tiny Christian community still living in Baghdad. At least 68 people were killed in October when militants stormed a Baghdad church during Mass and took the congregation hostage.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled to northern Iraq, fearing further attacks.  Father Mukhlis, a priest at the Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad where the Oct. 31 hostage incident occurred, called the Thursday attacks “direct oppression” against Iraqi Christians.

He said one Christian family already was staying at the church because they were worried about militants targeting their home. The family was planning to travel Friday to the Ninevah Plains area of northern Iraq which is home to a large Christian community and much safer than the rest of Iraq.  Last week, al-Qaida warned of further violence against Christians, leading many in the community to tone down their Christmas celebrations and cancel many events such as evening Mass and appearances by Santa Claus.

The Christmas holidays also coincide this year with the Shiite holy month of Muharam, an important holiday for the country’s Shiite Muslim majority.

Some Christians said they were also playing down the Christmas holiday this year out of respect for their Shiite neighbors, but other Christians reported intimidation by members of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia backed by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who pressured them not to celebrate the holiday publicly.   Christian leaders estimate 400,000 to 600,000 Christians still live in Iraq, according to a recent State Department report. At one time before the war, that number was as high as 1.4 million by some estimates.   – Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this report.

Another interesting post from: seifandbeirut.com

Lebanon has alway been home for minorities in the Middle East. A haven for those persecuted, chased out of their homes, and face destruction in their original homes. The Armenians, Palestinians, Assyrians, and even many Syrians have taken refuge inside of Lebanon over the years… their treatment, whether good or bad, has always seemed irrelevant. We simply focus on the fact that “hey, we take in all the refugees of the Middle East”.

I think its time, finally, to tackle the treatment of refugees inside the country. We have almost 250 000 – 300 000 Palestinians inside Lebanon, almost 150,000 Armenians (who are now Lebanese citizens, and not considered refugees anymore), and now 50, 000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. This post, for specific reasons,  is going to focus specifically on the latter group as it is the most recent group of refugees in the country. Most, almost 79%, of Lebanon’s Iraqi refugees are Iraqi Christians who fled Iraq for their safety after sectarian groups threatened their safety. Now for the sake of making things clear, sectarian groups in Iraq represent very small portions of the population, keeping in mind Iraqi Christians and Muslims have lived along side each other for hundreds and hundreds of years prior to this time, with very little tensions and fighting.


 

Biblical Scene: 'Noah's Sacrifice' Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione known as Grechetto (early 17th Century)

The interesting and thought-provoking  article below reinforces musings on my previous post Are We But a Flock of Sheep?

I am sure that the beautiful religious images painted by Italian artists helped persuade many a young mind toward belief in Catholic dogma and biblical stories.  I know I was captivated by their depictions of saints and martyrdom.

Article below. Source: Council for Secular Humanism:

Author: Peter Singer

Freedom of speech is important, and it must include the freedom to say what everyone else believes to be false, and even what many people take to be offensive. Religion remains a major obstacle to basic reforms that reduce unnecessary suffering. Think of issues like contraception, abortion, the status of women in society, the use of embryos for medical research, physician-assisted suicide, attitudes towards homosexuality, and the treatment of animals. In each case, somewhere in the world, religious beliefs have been a barrier to changes that would make the world more sustainable, freer, and more humane.

So, we must preserve our freedom to deny the existence of God and to criticize the teachings of Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, and Buddha, as reported in texts that billions of people regard as sacred. Since it is sometimes necessary to use a little humor to prick the membrane of sanctimonious piety that frequently surrounds religious teachings, freedom of expression must include the freedom to ridicule as well.

Yet, the outcome of the publication of the Danish cartoons ridiculing Muhammad was a tragedy. More than a hundred people died in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and other Islamic countries during the ensuing protests and riots. In hindsight, it would have been wiser not to publish the cartoons. The benefits were not worth the costs. But that judgment is, as I say, made with the benefit of hindsight, and it is not intended as a criticism of the actual decisions taken by the editors who published them and could not reasonably be expected to foresee the consequences.

To restrict freedom of expression because we fear such consequences would not be the right response. It would only provide an incentive for those who do not want to see their views criticized to engage in violent protests in the future. Instead, we should forcefully defend the right of newspaper editors to publish such cartoons, if they choose to do so, and hope that respect for freedom of expression will eventually spread to countries where it does not yet exist.

Unfortunately, even while the protests about the cartoons were still underway, a new problem about convincing Muslims of the genuineness of our respect for freedom of expression has arisen because of Austria’s conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the existence of the Holocaust. We cannot consistently hold that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust and that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures. David Irving should be freed.

Before you accuse me of failing to understand the sensitivities of victims of the Holocaust or the nature of Austrian anti-Semitism, I should tell you that I am the son of Austrian Jews. My parents escaped Austria in time, but my grandparents did not. All four of my grandparents were deported to ghettos in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Two of them were sent to Lodz, in Poland, and then probably murdered with carbon monoxide at the extermination camp at Chelmno. Another one fell ill and died in the overcrowded and underfed ghetto at Theresienstadt. My maternal grandmother was the only survivor.

So, I have no sympathy for David Irving’s absurd denial of the Holocaust-which, in his trial, he said was a mistake. I support efforts to prevent any return to Nazism in Austria or anywhere else. But how is the cause of truth served by prohibiting Holocaust denial? If there are still people crazy enough to deny that the Holocaust occurred, will they be persuaded by imprisoning some who express that view? On the contrary, they will be more likely to think that views people are being imprisoned for expressing cannot be refuted by evidence and argument alone.

In the aftermath of World War II, when the Austrian republic was struggling to establish itself as a democracy, it was reasonable, as a temporary emergency measure, for Austrian democrats to suppress Nazi ideas and propaganda. But that danger is long past. Austria is a democracy and a member of the European Union. Despite the occasional resurgence of anti-immigrant and even racist views-an occurrence that is, lamentably, not limited to former Nazi nations-there is no longer a serious threat of any return to Nazism in Austria.

Austria should repeal its law against Holocaust denial. Other European nations with similar laws-for example, Germany, France, Italy, and Poland-should do the same, while maintaining or strengthening their efforts to inform their citizens about the reality of the Holocaust and why the racist ideology that led to it should be rejected.

Laws against incitement to racial, religious, or ethnic hatred, in circumstances where that incitement is intended to, or can reasonably be foreseen to, lead to violence or other criminal acts, are different, and are compatible with the freedom to express any views at all.

In the current climate in Western nations, the suspicion of a particular hostility towards Islam, rather than other religions, is well justified. Only when David Irving has been freed will it be possible for Europeans to turn to the Islamic protesters and say: “We apply the principle of freedom of expression evenhandedly, whether it offends Muslims, Christians, Jews, or anyone else.”


Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, New Jersey, is the author of, among other books: Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather,  and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna.

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