Monday, February 16, 2009

While We Were Sleeping

The first non-English language into which my political-suspense novels were translated was Dutch. The Netherlands is a delightful country with its canals, houseboats and tall, skinny buildings. A nation of readers. The first place I was ever served raw meat as a main dish--and enjoyed it!

The Netherlands is also famous for its laissez faire attitude towards moral issues Americans take seriously like drug use, prostitution, euthanasia. So I was disturbed to have the Netherlands pop up recently on my 'freedom of speech' watch-list.

In synopsis, a supreme court has just ruled that a Dutch politician may be prosecuted criminally. Not for trying to sell a parliament seat. Nor hiding bribe money in a freezer. Nor indulging in inappropriate conduct with interns.

No, the charge is 'insulting Islam'.

It is a charge that across the Islamic world has sentenced countless journalists, moderate Muslim scholars, and Christian converts to prison. Only this time the ruling did not come from a sharia court, but from a Dutch appeals court. Politician Geert Wilder had stated publicly his belief that Islamic 'sharia' law is a fascist totalitarian ideology that poses a threat to Western democratic freedom.

At issue is a film documentary Wilder produced juxtaposing Koranic verses calling for armed jihad against images of that jihad actually being carried out. Was the film tastefully produced? Have all Wilder's statements been PC? I couldn't say, not having seen the film. It may be that I myself would not appreciated the final product.

FITNA: "This 15-minute film, which drew millions of viewers since its release Thursday, contains footage of Muslim clerics and protesters calling for the slaying of Jews, verses from the Koran, videos from scenes of suicide bombings and executions, illustrations of the demographic increase in the number of European Muslims and archive material from the Dutch media about Islamic terrorism-related incidents."

But what sends chills up my spine is that the veracity of Wilder's position has not been made an issue. After all, sharia law imposed currently by Islamic regimes across the planet proscribes freedom of speech, religion, association, and self-determination. Meanwhile Islamic leaders make no bones that the Koran's ultimate command is a global 'caliphate' ruled by sharia theocracy. So Wilder isn't the only one who might consider 'totalitarian' or 'fascist' a not unreasonable characterization.

The Dutch court's ruling addressed a much simpler issue. To question or criticize Islam is offensive to Muslims (of course it is! By sharia law, it's punishable by death!), therefore making Wilder's public debate 'hate speech', a criminal offense. It seems the Dutch haven't forgotten the worldwide violence and destruction that followed Danish cartoons lampooning Islam. And if you think the Dutch are alone, Wilder was just banned from travel to Britain. Why? Because his presence might incite violence among British Muslims.

Is anyone as concerned as I am by this ruling in a Western democratic nation? When was the last time questioning the tenets of Christianity was made a criminal offense? Oh, yes, something called the Inquisition. And why has not our media, so protective of its rights, jumped to speak out at this erosion of freedom of speech? The abridgement of public debate or criticism on any topic should have every human rights activist across the free world on their feet.

If I am passionate about freedom of speech, it is because I have seen firsthand the consequences of its denial. I grew up in Latin America at a time when too many who spoke up against oppressive regimes became one more 'desaparecido' or 'disappeared one'. In Afghanistan, where I traveled recently, a 23-year-old journalist in prison for downloading an internet article, has been joined by two other journalists who translated the Koran into local Dari vernacular.

They thought they were doing something good, since few Afghan Muslims read the Arabic of the original Koran. After all, the Christians have translated their Holy Book into Dari. An Afghan court judged it blasphemy and handed down a death sentence. Working in recent years with ministry partners in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, and many other countries, I have seen the bludgeoning club of 'anti-conversion' laws use against those who would choose their own faith or share it with others.

Among them more than 50,000 Christians burned out of churches and homes this past year in Orissa, India. I have shared in earlier blog entries about the refugee camps our own ministry organization, BCM International, established on the Orissa border to shelter the 62 pastors [see group picture; faces blurred for security] and their families of our own Orissa churches, all of whom had lost home and church to Hindu extremist mobs.

We recently hosted a BCM medical team, including dentist and ophthalmologist, at the camp. Along with their services, the team was able to give to each family a set of dishes and pans[see photo below].

The reason is that our refugee camps are closing at the end of this month. The government camps are already closed. These Christians have lost homes, jobs, loved ones. Now they are being sent back to the same villages that burned them out. The government is insisting they can maintain order. The Hindu extremists have announced that returnees must convert to Hinduism or be killed.
Meantime some of our pastors have already returned to burned-out ashes of their churches. Below is an excerpt of a recent letter from our Orissa regional director, Rev. Nayak [his phrasing]:

"It is worthy to praise the work of our BCM pastors during this tough time of hazardness. Pastor Tuna of Bataguda boldly went to their village and gathered the scattered out believers from different places of the area and started worship service in his church in spite of dreadful fear. He encouraged to others that they are serving the living God. He said to others that we are already dead in Christ, no need to fear any more to anyone. If they die, they die for Christ and their eternal place is heaven. This very thin and short BCM pastor shows a strong faith, and looking to his braveness, other pastors also have been taken the steps, among them Pastor Bimalraj and Pastor Lubara Mallik. Pray for these
pastors who could be the example for others."
It is easy to make a stand on freedom of speech sitting in my current comfortable swivel chair in front of my computer monitor. It is another to raise one's voice and refuse to be silenced under threat of death. And I am reminded as I see the courage of penniless Orissa Christians on one hand, while on the other a well-armed democratic state knuckles under without a fight on their own freedom of speech, that freedoms can be lost far more easily than they can be won. Freedom of speech and religion as we know it today is less than 250 years old. Current events in the Netherlands are a frightening object lesson of what may be in store if erosion of those freedoms is allowed to continue unchallenged.

Meanwhile, my own upcoming Afghanistan release, Veiled Freedom, explores just what it means to be an Islamic 'democracy' without those accompanying freedoms. And I have to ask myself, having written in its pages truth and only truth, is Veiled Freedom one title of mine that will not be welcome in its Dutch translation?


  1. Thank you, Jeanette, for your commitment to speak truth. I am honored to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this commitment, and to use our God-given talent to "write the vision...and make it plain" to convey that truth to anyone who will listen...before it is too late.

  2. Jeanette,
    This is something we all need to know and keep in the front of our awareness. Our freedoms are at stake now, as never before. Thank you for this!!

    Kim Ford
    Window To My World