First they came for the crackpots, and I did nothing, because I was not a crackpot…
IN JULY 2000, I SAT IN ZURICH, in the freest country in Europe, unpacked my bags, and found I’d committed a Thoughtcrime.
While researching an exposé of Holocaust revisionists some years before, I’d turned up one of their lying tracts. It denied—let’s see… that Auschwitz contained gas chambers, that the Nazis had planned genocide, perhaps that World War II had even happened. The details escape me. I’d chucked the screed in a suitcase and forgotten about it.
Now here it was, that nasty little piece of work, stinking up my room at the Glockenhof. My first trip to Europe, and I’d broken the law—as surely as if I had smuggled in a dime-bag of hash. (Actually, the laws against hate literature are much stricter than anti-drug laws—as I’d confirm with my Zurich friends the next day.) My pulse racing, feeling like one of John Le Carre’s spies making a drop, I slipped out with the pamphlet and tucked it away in a waste bin, then took a sneaky route back to the hotel.
I was being absurdly dramatic, but then I’m a screenwriter. Also, it was my first trip to a Continent where speech isn’t quite… free. I’d spent my life in the U.S., where we hold liberty so dear we even extend it to the most wretched liars—sure that the light of day is our best defense against obscurantism. On the Continent, that notion of freedom was strangled in its cradle by the French Revolutionaries. Faithful sons of Rousseau and Robespierre, those states’ managerial elites feel the duty to protect the simple people against ideas which will confuse them—and so they give Nazi scribblers the cachet of political dissidents by imposing prison sentences for writing and speaking drivel. Worse, they forbid the publication of books of historic importance to scholars—such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf. (Why? Is it so sexy and persuasive? To generations schooled in the horrors that man inspired and led?)
These authorities even ban comic books that accurately depict German WW II tanks, which (it’s whispered here in the States) bore swastikas…Not that this stops the real crypto-Nazis in Germany from organizing, using euphemisms, winks, and hints. Such parties exist alongside the heirs to the Stalinists who used to tyrannize East Germany. The only difference is that the neo-Nazi thugs don’t form part of local coalition governments with the Greens and the Social Democrats. Yet.
To Hell With Those People
But what does it matter if the racist fringe in Europe doesn’t have free speech? To Hell with those people. Well, that’s where most of them are no doubt headed, and if the censorship stopped there I wouldn’t care a subsidized French fig. But the Europeans go much, much further—always using the same logic of protecting freedom, promoting equality, and defending human rights—and actually restrict the rights of churches to preach.
I know what you’re thinking: To hell with the Scientologists, too. Not living in Los Angeles, I tend to agree—although one man’s science fiction is another man’s Faith. (What is St. Paul, Mohammed, or Joseph Smith to the unbeliever, but a weaver of fantasies who hornswoggled millions?) But the whole point of religious freedom is to force men to settle such questions without resort to thought police, prison and the gibbet. That’s what’s supposed to set the institutions of the modern West apart from say, the Taliban, the Spanish Inquisition, Elizabeth I’s “priest-hunters,” and Communist China. The Vatican, not a bastion of relativism, accepted religious liberty at Vatican II as a corollary of human dignity and free will. Every world religion now accepts the freedom of conscience, except for some Moslems and Russian Orthodox—two groups still intoxicated with wielding the power of the state.
So why is the German government censoring the Baptists? That state closely regulates broadcast media—forbidding advertisements for any organization deemed to be “anti-democratic” or a religious cult. Early in 2002, pastors from left-wing German churches asked their federal government to ban ads by the Arthur DeMoss Foundation for the inspirational book Power For Living. Their reasoning? That the DeMoss Foundation was an “extremist” organization—witness the fact that it is associated with American evangelicals, and that it funds a series of (extremely warm and fuzzy) pro-life advertisements. The German government agreed to impose this religious tariff, and the ad—featuring a Bavarian soccer star and English pop singer Cliff Richards, among others—disappeared from the airwaves. Religious protectionism, at its contemporary best.
Are you alarmed yet? How about this: The European Parliament, that institution which even now seeks to expand its powers at the expense of smaller, more decentralized and democratic national governments, is even now considering a resolution aimed at Orthodox Jews, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and every other faith that restricts its ministry to men. As the church-sponsored Zenit News Agency reported this Tuesday:
“The document, written by Spanish Socialist María Izquierdo Rojo, was approved last October by the Women’s Rights Commission and analyzed subsequently by the Citizens’ Liberties and Rights Commission. Among other things, the document condemns ‘the administrations of religious organizations and the leaders of extremist political movements who promote racial discrimination, xenophobia, fanaticism and the exclusion of women from leading positions in the political and religious hierarchy.’ The report also deplores ‘the interference of the churches and religious communities in the public and political life of the state, in particular when such interference is designed to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms, for instance, in the sexual or reproductive sphere.’” Robespierre couldn’t have said it any better.
Now, I love Europe—its history, culture, art and heritage have captivated me since childhood, to the neglect of matters American. (It has something to do with growing up in New York, in many ways an island off the coast of the U.S.) I think American public life could learn much from the civic-minded ways of Germans and Swiss, the warmth and wit of Italians, the cinema of France, and so on—not to mention the heroism of so many in Eastern Europe who endured decades of oppression. But reading the machinations of today’s Eurocrats gives me an icy chill that runs to the bone, and makes me profoundly grateful to those rebellious colonists who in 1776 rejected the collectivist temptation, and launched for us a system of our own. It’s worth fighting for.