By Barry Rubin
We are at a point in history where free speech advocates call for muzzling journalists, law professors assault those who ask too many questions, and European society is daily turned upside down. Consider this tale from staid Holland.
Naema Tahir is a Dutch author of Pakistani origin and a moderate Muslim. Interviewed on a popular Dutch talk show, she spoke of her great respect for democracy, morality, and citizens’ rights. In particular, she praised Job Cohen for his honorable behavior in politics. Cohen was until a few days ago the leader of the opposition and head of the Labor Party. He has just resigned, reportedly because he opposes the campaign by some members to shift the party to the far left.
But, she continued, there is one reporter she doesn’t like because he is right-wing, controversial, and makes fun of things that Tahir likes. And so he should be banned.
This man’s name is Rutger Castricum and he apparently is both a fearless journalist who skewers the pretentious and a showman. So he went to Tahir’s house to ask her why she wanted to end freedom of speech and of the press for him. He took along a camera crew, knocked on the door, and politely asked to speak to Tahir.
Her boyfriend or husband–the sources differ–is Andreas Kinneging, a law professor at Leiden University and an expert on ethics. The fact that Tahir has a boyfriend or husband who is a non-Muslim would mark her for death in many Muslim communities in Europe.
But obviously Kinneging can take care of business. Oh, yes, the law professor is also a former national weightlifting champion.
In his speech on obtaining his doctorate, Kinneging spoke of the need for open debate since nobody has a monopoly on the truth. He did not apply those beliefs in dealing with Castricum.
What follows, and is caught on the video tape, is a confrontation in which Kinneging puts his hand over the camera lens and threatens Castricum. The journalist says that Kinneging strangled him; Kinneging denied this. Both men are consulting their lawyers.
On the tape, Kinneging grabs the camera and says. “I’m not involved in politics so I do not have to behave in a civilized way to you.” A rather interesting take on the rules of morality from the professor who then adds, “Do you see the pond over there? Next time you folks come around here, you will go into it and your camera, too!” And later, “If I see on television any of what you have just filmed, I will find you!” Presumably, the results would be unpleasant for Castricum.
Kinneging could merely have said that his home is private property, politely asking Castricum to leave, and closed the door. But he didn’t.
Civility is boiling away in Europe and basic rights so long taken for granted now seem to be evaporating. Is the continent headed for a massive fistfight or merely growing calls to ban dissent? Presumably, it would benefit from having more people like Tahir but even Tahir doesn’t quite get the concept of free speech.
And in Holland and elsewhere Europe is now dealing with a society in which things happen like this: When the government threatened to raise taxes on certain Amsterdam storeowners the retailers retaliated by warning that they close down and go on welfare. They won since the government knows that welfare and other entitlements are so attractive one might wonder why anybody continues to work at all. That is the road to being the next Greece.
Holland is arguably the world’s oldest continuously democratic state. Yet someone like Castricum might be put on trial for exercising free speech too much. Increasingly, the dominant view seems to be that if you disagree with someone the response is to demand they be silenced (Castricum), kill them (Pim Fortuyn), or put them on trial on trumped-up charges (Geert Wilders, the leader of one of the country’s largest parties and a critic of Sharia or the cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, both unsuccessfully tried for daring to criticize Islam).
There’s another possible element here–and I want to stress that this is total speculation. Did Kinneging get so upset because he knew that highlighting his relationship with Tahir might endanger her life? Only a few days earlier, radical Islamists disrupted an event at which two moderate Muslims spoke, threatened them, and threw things at them forcing the meeting to end. Again, I’m speculating about that motive but the need to make such considerations also tell a great deal about contemporary life in Europe.