Sometime in the early afternoon on Feb. 5, a foreign-looking man in his 20s, dressed as a postal deliveryman, rung the doorbell of 70-year-old Lars Hedegaard, a conservative Danish journalist and social critic. When Hedegaard opened the door, the deliveryman raised a pistol and fired at his head.
The bullet missed and Hedegaard survived the attack, but the message was clear. Like Geert Wilders, Ayan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie, Hedegaard had insulted the wrong religion, Islam, by scholarly criticism and outspoken defense of free speech, and nearly paid for it with his life. He now lives like them, off the grid and under constant police supervision.
What is most disturbing about this is not the attack itself however; it is the ambivalence, and in some cases even outright support of what British journalist Douglas Murray described as, “an attempt at the ultimate form of censorship.”
The threat of violence is all it takes. Richard Dawkins, the outspoken critic of religion at large, refused to criticize Islam on Al Jazeera earlier this month. I myself had an article pulled from The Watchdog last year about the “Innocence of Muslims” film controversy, specifically because our then editor-in-chief was worried about the potential reaction to my calling violent, rioting mobs an “overreaction.” As Penn Jillette says, “the fact that we have not done an [episode] on Mohammed…does not say anything about us—except a certain amount of cowardice—but it says a lot about Islam.”
In World War II, Nazis made Jews wear a yellow star in an attempt to identify and control them. Instead of acquiescing, however, many northern Europeans responded by opting to wear the badge themselves. If we really do believe in freedom of expression, and choose not to let perpetrators of violence dictate what we can say and write, and by extension, hear and read, we would do best to follow the example of the Danes and Poles of WWII. Solidarity is our only defense against such a chilling attack on the enlightenment principles our nation was founded on, and it’s not a solidarity that is coming through strongly enough in our society today.