Common sense from down under
Albrechtsen had the same reaction I did towards the Arab journalist who threw his shoe at George Bush:
Puerile as it is as a form of expression, Iraqis can now throw shoes freely at any leader, including the outgoing leader of the free world. So maybe Bush's final visit to Iraq is, after all, a healthy sign of democratic values taking root. What a shame those same values have, over a period of years, been uprooted in the West.
But as freedom grows in Iraq, it shrinks elsewhere:
The year 2008 deserves to be seen as a year of anticipatory surrender, a year when the West decided to roll over on free speech of its own accord. Just in case. No threats. No demands. Just suppress controversial speech in advance, just in case it causes offence. You understand, we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. In fact, such a trashing of core Western values is difficult to understand.
In no particular order, an audit of 2008 must begin with the comments of Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, who announced in October that Islam deserved different coverage in the media compared to other religions because Muslims were an ethnic minority.
...The same rank capitulation occurred in the private sector when, in August, Random House pulled the publication of The Jewel of Medina, a book by Sherry Jones that told the tale of Aisha, the child bride of Mohammed.
The publisher had received no threats, just "cautionary advice" that publishing the book "might cause offence to some in the community (and) incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".
Of course, Canada's HRCs warrant a place in this embarrassing list:
...But the West is killing free speech slowly - by more subtle means - through state-sponsored censorship under the grand name of protecting human rights.
The insidious role of human rights commissions was exposed in June when Mark Steyn and Canadian magazine Macleans were hauled before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for islamophobia.
While the complaint was ultimately dismissed, the fact that words warrant oversight by a state tribunal points to a rank attitude to free speech where a person is required to spend copious amounts of time and money defending words and ideas.
The same thing had happened in April, when the Ontario Human Rights Commission dealt with complaints against Steyn and Macleans. And in January, when conservative commentator Ezra Levant had to defend his publication of the Danish cartoons to the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.
After the Danish cartoons fiasco, the onus was on the West to show its spine, to reassert its faith in freedom of expression. So far it has failed on that score. Let's hope 2009 is a better year for free speech and the West's confidence in itself.