The dismissal of the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov by Vladimir Putin was unsurprisingly front page news and subject of many editorials in the mainstream media. Conservatives also added their concern that it was a step back for democracy in Europe. David Pryce-Jones harrumphed on NRO: "If all this isn't annoying and teasing, then it's real trouble ahead."
But in contrast, a direct attack on free speech and democracy in the heart of Western Europe has received very little attention.
On the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a large demonstration was to be held in Brussels—"the Capital of The New Europe"—to protest what organizers called "The Islamization of Europe". Part of this demonstration was to be a minute of respectful silence for the victims slaughtered by the terrorists six years ago.
Europe has actually been hit harder than the U.S. since 9-11. There have been a number of attacks by radical Islamists, ranging from the murder of Theo Van Gogh to the bombings in London and Madrid. All of these attacks originated, not in the Middle East, but among the Muslim residents of Europe. Unlike the U.S., Europe has also seen a number of riots after a Danish newspaper published images of Mohammed and when Pope Benedict made comments that offended Muslims. Just recently, a Swedish cartoon satirizing Mohammed required a direct response from the Swedish Prime Minister to "local Islamic leaders."
Given this, the growing Muslim population in what was once Christendom is a legitimate cause for alarm. In cities across Europe, Muslims now often account for the majority of the births. In Brussels, the most common name given to baby boys is Mohammed.
It is perhaps one thing to allow a small number of immigrants in the interest of diversity. It is quite another when honor killings and female genital mutilation become common practices in a modern society.
Any democracy worthy of the name should allow its citizens to express their concerns on these issues. But this was not the case in Brussels last week.
The exact sequence of events on September 11 has yet to be sorted out, but a few facts are clear. The first is that the socialist mayor of Brussels banned the march, citing fears that it would incite violence. The detail that the "socialist" majority on the Brussels city council is actually a Muslim majority in the heart of Europe may have contributed to his decision. After appeals failed, members of the Vlaams Belang—a conservative political party from the Flemish region of Belgium—stated they would still come in the name of free speech. But hundreds of riot police broke up the protest and arrested over 150 people.
According the Vlaams Belang, the party was assured by the police that the demonstration would be allowed if it remained peaceful. From all accounts, the rally was without incident—until the police began to attack and arrest members. Videos and photographs of the protest show the leaders of the Vlaams Belang arrested while talking to reporters, beaten when in restraint, and having their genitals grabbed by police. The largely French-speaking police even yelled ethnic slurs at the writhing victims, calling them "dirty Flemish."
As Diana West noted in the Washington Times, such conduct would "get any American policeman thrown off the force." [Brussels and 9/11, September 14, 2007] I have yet to see a single video of a protestor—much less a politician from the Vlaams Belang—engaging in violence, even among the many articles by the hostile European press.
The few accounts of this event in the American media all call the Vlaams Belang a "far right" fringe party. The truth is that the Vlaams Belang is one of the largest parties in Flanders. Videos do not show skinheads or Nazis, but men and women of all ages in business attire being confronted by black-clad police. [See video at Capital of the EUSSR, By Paul Belien, The Brussels Journal, September 11, 2007] The most prominent men arrested were Luk Van Nieuwenhuysen, vice president of the Flemish Parliament; Filip Dewinter, group leader in the Flemish Parliament; and Frank Vanhecke, a member of the European Parliament. A French and Italian MEP were taken in as well.
This incident is of special interest to me. Last year, The Robert Taft Club, which I am involved in, sponsored a speech in Washington DC given by Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke. The subject was, appropriately, "Immigration, Multiculturalism, and The End of Free Speech in Europe."
Contrary to what media would have you think, these men did not quote Timothy McVeigh or George Lincoln Rockwell; but rather Mark Steyn, Tony Blankley, and Pat Buchanan. Their speeches were not filled with anti-Semitic or racist rhetoric. They merely issued concern over the influence that Islamic immigration was having over the culture and political institutions of Europe. The tone and content was milder than that of many mainstream American conservatives—for example Michelle Malkin.
As far as the charge of anti-Semitism, the Vlaams Belang is one of the few European parties that support Israel. They have has received endorsements from the head Rabbi of Antwerp and many other Jews who are understandably worried about the anti-Semitism of many of the Muslim immigrants and the seeming lack of concern by "tolerant" leftist politicians.
When the Vlaams Belang visited Washington, DC, they met with a number of conservatives and immigration control activists and intellectuals. I thought that some major conservative group would sponsor their speech and give them more attention than my organization, which had previously held small meetings in the backrooms of larger organizations or at bars and restaurants.
After all, these were very prominent politicians who, more than probably any other European party, were conservative in the American sense. They supported the free market, limited government, and traditional values, and opposed abortion, gay marriage, and mass immigration.
I was shocked to find no takers.
I soon found out why. Following the speech, the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release:
"U.S. Anti-Immigrant Groups Meet with Belgian Racists: The Robert A. Taft Club, a right-wing organization linked to The American Cause, founded by Patrick Buchanan in 1993, hosted a speech on February 23, 2007 by Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke, leaders of the racist and xenophobic far-right Belgian party, Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), in Arlington, Virginia."
It seems incredible this ridiculous collection of slurs was the reason why so many groups were hesitant to meet or sponsor the Vlaams Belang. But it is understandable if that was the case. Belgian politics have little impact on American debate. And dealing with unfounded accusations of racism scares off most "conservatives".
Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons why American conservatives should care about what's happening to the Vlaams Belang.
E.U. passports will make it much easier for terrorists to enter the United States and more difficult for us to track them, than if they were coming from the Middle East.
Even neoconservatives should consider that we would find it increasingly difficult to form even a token "Coalition of the Willing", never mind credibly defend our interests in the Islamic world.
In Belgium, all elections are publicly financed and virtually no private contributions are allowed. The Belgian courts ruled that the Vlaams Belang's predecessor, The Vlaams Blok, was "racist" for merely reprinting an article about female genital mutilation in Islamic countries—by an Islamic member of the party. The courts then took away the Vlaams Blok's public funding, effectively banning the party.
The old cliché "he who pays the piper, calls the tune" is of special meaning here. Remember it whenever you hear talking heads suggest government funding is the way to stop special interest groups. Traditionalists and libertarians should be concerned about the extinction of self government in Europe and its replacement by a repressive alliance of leftists and Islamists that literally outlaws dissent.
As Filip Dewinter has stated, the alliance between European leftists and Islamic radicals should be termed "Islamosocialism," an attack on the people, culture, and traditional liberties of the West from two directions.
We do have some advantages over Europe. We have the First Amendment. We also have fewer immigrants from the Muslim world, and by and large Muslims in America tend to be better assimilated than the hostile diaspora in Europe.
However, we should not let down our guard. Many other traditional liberties of the American people seemingly guaranteed by the Constitution have been casually thrown out by an activist judiciary in the past. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a Hillary-appointed Supreme Court could find a "compelling government interest" in preventing "inflammatory speech".
While these Muslims are not as directly hostile to West, they still come from cultures that do not respect traditional western liberties like free speech. We also still have growing Islamic enclaves, and a political culture that tries to stifle any serious discussion about difficult issues like the threat of multiculturalism, radical Islam, or mass immigration.
American Establishment conservatives often use passionate and even alarmist rhetoric about "Dhimmitude" in Europe, the march of "Islamofascism," and dangers of political correctness preventing America from securing itself against Islamic terrorism.
But if we wish to confront these issues seriously, and not just spout empty rhetoric, we should turn their eyes to the heart of Europe and stand with these patriotic Europeans.
They are fighting our fight—and America's.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.