Diana West's piece on the state of freedom of speech in Austria brought back memories. I lived for two years in Vienna, and it truly was magical at Christmas time. The Christmas markets are beautiful and elaborate, and public skating rinks offer hot chocolate and other hot drinks in perfectly picturesque settings. It was always clean; the people, kind and friendly.
Yet West's piece seems also spot on that Austria—like much of Western Europe—seems a country that is allowing some of its best features and culture to erode in an attempt to appease a foe that it doesn't want to name or acknowledge. And the West's best features aren't the Christmas markets or the pretty building or the good food: It's those fundamental principles of respect for the law and basic human rights.
West details the conviction of an Austrian woman who dared to criticize the prophet Mohammad. What she said (that Mohammad had a “thing” for young girls) wasn't even that disrespectful, and was historically accurate.
Yet that really shouldn't matter. One should be able to lob completely disrespectful critiques of any religion and their leaders, even if they have no basis in fact. And while this may still apply to just about all other religions and aspects of life, Austria, like too many Western countries, seems to have found it expedient to compromise that principle when it comes to Islam.
It reminds me of my worst moments in parenting. No, it's not fair to force my six-year-old to turn over a toy she was playing to her two-year-old brother just because he's pitching a fit about it. But it sure is easier than trying to calm him down and go to the trouble to enforce fair rules. I can try to impress on the relatively mature older sister that it doesn't really matter anyway. And I hope with time the two-year-old will just go out of it.
This may be a dubious approach to parenting, but it's even worse when dealing with adult members of society and different religious or other sects. In the short-term, it may seem like an easy bargain, and not such a big deal, for Austria and other Western countries to set up some guidelines that carve out special speech rules when it comes to Islam. But it is a big deal, since the demands from radical Islamists are certain to become more frequent and more at odds with western tradition. When will the appeasement stop?
The West (which is often inclined to focus on its own faults and failings, of which there are, no doubt, many) needs to recall that these principles are worth standing up for. There may be a price to pay, but trying to put off the day of reckoning isn't a long-term solution.