An Interview with Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
As 2011 draws to a close, a constellation of events, in the Middle East, Europe and the US have thrust certain doctrinal precepts of Islam which endanger basic Western values such as freedom of speech, into public debate. Terms like Shariah, blasphemy and Islamophobia have entered the mainstream largely at the insistence of the Saudi-based 56-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Bat Ye’or has described this organization in her recent book as the focal point of a rising world-wide Caliphate.
Witness these events. On October 28th, The Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued new guidelines for combating Islamophobia at a conference in Vienna followed by a two day forum on November 10 and 11th to discuss implementation at the Secretariat Headquarters at the Hofburg. On November 4th, The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies held an international symposium on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to address the topic of Silenced: “Are Global Trends to Ban Religious Defamation, Religious Insult, and Islamophobia a New Challenge to First Amendment Freedoms?” On November 11th, the first national conference “The Constitution or Shariah: Preserving Freedom,” was held in Nashville, Tennessee with scholars and experts from the US, U.K., Australia and Nigeria addressing the issues of Shariah and the Islamization of America.
This debate has arisen in the wake of more than 17,000 Islamic terror attacks perpetrated by Jihadis throughout the last decade. Among them were the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington DC, Bali on October 12, 2002, Madrid on March 11, 2004, London on July 7, 2005 and Mumbai on November 27, 2008.
The reaction in the West has been to grapple with combating the reality of Islamic terrorism, while avoiding any reference to the underlying totalitarian Jihadist principles masquerading behind the thin veneer of religious practices that passes for Islam.
In place of understanding and action to counter the intolerance of Islamic doctrine, what has eventuated has been a series of dialogues between representatives of the OIC and Western officials. These have occurred at different venues such as the UN Alliance of Civilizations in Madrid, the Council of Europe, the OIC Secretariat in Ankara and more recently, at the Secretariat of the Organization for Security Co-operation in Europe. These dialogues have a singular objective. That is to deny freedom of free speech and the right to criticize a religion, thereby supplanting national constitutions and universal human rights laws and declarations and to further the adoption of Islamic Shariah law. Another of these symposia on blasphemy will occur at the State Department in Washington, DC Bottom, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a three day conference from December 12-15th with representatives of the OIC, EU and concerned NGOs. Secretary Clinton announced in Ankara in July 2011, that the conference would address the implementation of guidelines against religious intolerance adopted in a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March, 2011.
Arrayed against this attack on freedom of speech is an intrepid band of European critics who have been brought to trial for their criticism of Islam. Among them are the Hon. Geert Wilders of The Netherlands, Lars Hedegaard of Denmark and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff of Austria. While Wilders has been acquitted in an Amsterdam District Court of all charges, Hedegaard and Wolff have been convicted in municipal courts in Copenhagen and Vienna for daring to tell the truth about doctrinal Islam. Under prevailing EU laws, Islam has been granted preferential status as a recognized religion and granted protection under statutes against “hate speech.” We have interviewed Hedegaard and Wolff about their respective cases in Denmark and Austria.
Both Hedegaard and Wolff are courageous free speakers active in the counter-Jihad movements in their respective countries and the EU. The lower court decisions have not impeded their willingness to speak out in criticism of the spread of Shariah under official auspices in the EU at the insistence of the OIC. Wolff will appeal her lower court decision on December 20, 2011. She recently attended the OSCE Islamophobia guidelines conference. In the interview, she paints a picture of abject dhimmi-like acquiescence by the OSCE, and the condonment of Shariah in her native Austria. At the conclusion of our interview with her, she warns America of the dangers of adopting Shariah blasphemy guidelines at the forthcoming State Department–sponsored conference on combating religious intolerance. Wolff also describes how through NGOs like the Burgerbewegung Pax Europa (Citizens’ Movement Pax Europa hereafter “Pax Europa”) and The International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA) she and others have been able to combat the implementation of Islamic doctrine at these international forums.
For more information about Ms. Wolff’s upcoming appeal trial in Vienna and support for her activities, please consult her website, In Defense of Free Speech.
Jerry Gordon: Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, thank you for consenting to this interview.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff: Glad to be back.
Gordon: What is the OSCE?
Wolff: The Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organization. It puts the political will of its participating states into practice through its field missions. There are 56 states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America who are participating states. The OSCE has a comprehensive approach that encompasses political, military, economic and environmental, as well as, human rights aspects. These are called dimensions. These 56 states span the globe encompassing three continents and more than one billion people. What is important to mention about the human rights dimension is that discussion of human rights had been a long standing taboo in East/West relations and these human rights then became, by virtue of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, a legitimate subject of dialogue. The COSCE was originally called the Conference for Security and Cooperation prior to the establishment of the OSCE. The Organization has been instrumental in keeping the spotlight on human rights.
Gordon: Who are OSCE participating states?
Wolff: OSCE participating states are all of the countries in Europe, Russia, the former Russian Republics, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan etc, Canada and the United States.
Gordon: Who are the OSCE co-operating partners in the Middle East, Asia and Oceania?
Wolff: The co-operating partners in the Middle East are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. There are also co-operating partners in Asia which are Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Afghanistan and Mongolia. Australia became a co-operating partner in 2009.
Gordon: What members of the OIC belong to the OSCE and its cooperating partners?
Wolff: The member states of the OIC that are also partners in the OSCE are Turkey, which is a participating state and the co-operating partners as I mentioned before, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Afghanistan.
Gordon: Where is the Secretariat for the OSCE located?
Wolff: The main Secretariat for the OSCE is located right here in Vienna in the Vienna Hofburg which used to be the seat of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, i.e., the Emperor himself resided in the Hofburg. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has its headquarters in Warsaw, Poland.
Gordon: What is the OSCE ODIHR?
Wolff: The ODIHR is the specialized institution dealing with elections, human rights and democratization, as well as tolerance and non-discrimination. ODIHR has an important role to fulfill in facilitating dialogue among states, governments and very importantly, civil society. Let me also add here that the role of civil society is a very important one especially in the human dimension. One of the most significant features of the human dimension is that it is open to the participation of NGO’s. Civil society has a vital function both in combating human rights violations and as a voice in the debate on such issues. The participation of NGO’s at Human Dimension meetings are on an equal footing with government representatives. This is crucial as it enriches the debate and makes the exchanges more relevant and constructive. The value placed on NGO participation is one of the things that sets apart the Human Dimension from other high level human rights conferences. The NGO’s, from states where civil society is weak and constrained, via the Human Dimension meetings, provide one of the few opportunities where their voices can be heard before an international audience. This is crucial in that it is the only possibility for NGO’s like Pax Europa, Act for America, ICLA and others to make their voices heard. The registration process is an easy one at the ODIHR website, ODIHR.pl. One can simply register to attend these sessions. We need as many supporters as possible. It doesn’t matter whether or not you agree on every single point that we talk about but we need help from other counter-Jihad organizations.
Gordon: What occurred at the OSCE meeting on October 28th?
Wolff: The meeting in Vienna on October 28th was focused on confronting intolerance and discrimination against Muslims in public discourse. This was the third in a series of meetings. The first one held in March, 2011 was on confronting anti-Semitism in public discourse. The second which was held in Rome in October covered intolerance against Christians. What was especially worrisome about this third meeting was that the OSCE and other international institutions are talking about terms that have no legal definition. If there are no legal definitions then what are we actually talking about? Let me give you an example from the agenda that was made available on the website. When ODIHR refers to anti-Muslim prejudices and stereotypes, no example is given. The agenda also asks how it is possible to draw a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable speech? Freedom of speech is an absolute concept. Who decides what is acceptable and unacceptable? Since the OIC was present at this meeting one can only assume that it is Shariah law that draws the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable speech.
Gordon: Did the OIC send Representatives to that meeting?
Wolff: Yes, definitely. The OIC was very heavily represented with both a high ranking Ambassador to the OSCE as well as NGO’s that are definitely linked in support of the OIC. The other representatives were basically the diplomats who represent states that are also members in the OIC. Let me also add regarding that meeting on October 28th that there was a lot of talk about the phenomenon of Islamophobia and how evil it is and that it needs to be combated. In Austria there is definitely no Islamophobia that can be seen in public discourse. Quite the contrary, as the Ministry of Interior actually supports and helps integration. There is a big fund, an integration fund, which has a budget of a couple of million Euros. There are programs called Mentoring for Migrants. There is a Charter of Diversity. There is a State Secretary for Integration who says that it doesn’t matter where a person comes from; rather it is only important what this person can contribute to Austrian society. There are dialogues in Austria. There are intercultural dialogues. There are conferences like, for instance, “Islam in a pluralistic world.” The Secretary General of the OIC had a long talk with the former Austrian Foreign Minister, Plassnik, on the topic of “sharing values and combating intolerance.” The Minister of Foreign Affairs has installed a task force for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. It is a partner in the UN Alliance of Civilizations and just a few weeks ago the International King Abdullah Center for Dialogue was opened here in Vienna. What more can one do? Let me also add here that for all of the dialogue that has been going on and taking place for the last fifty years or more, nothing has ever come from them. There are no results from these dialogues. We are talking and talking and talking without any results.
Gordon: Which NGO’s attended the Session of the OSCE Conference on Confronting Intolerance and Discrimination Against Muslims in Public Discourse?
Wolff: You had a number of different NGO’s concerned with intolerance against Muslims all over Europe. First and foremost is the Turkish NGO based in France, the Council for Justice, Peace and Equality (COJEP). They work closely together with the OIC. When you have COJEP speaking you actually have the OIC speaking.
Gordon: What was the Pax Europa position on the OSCE Islamophobia Guidelines at the October 28th Meetings?
Wolff: The main position of Pax Europa was that it rejects strongly the notion that criticism of religion, i.e., Islam, constitutes Islamophobia. In addition, Pax Europa does not acknowledge the validity of the premises based on “racism.” Arguments using “racism” employ invalid premises that are empirically untested and have no scientific basis. Pax Europa firmly believes that it cannot be the state’s responsibility to regulate citizen’s opinions and in particular that speaking documentable truth must never be punishable under the law.
Gordon: What was the purpose of the two-day supplementary session that ended November 11th?
Wolff: November 11th focused on prevention of racism, xenophobia and hate crimes through educational and awareness raising initiatives. That in itself was already worrisome to us because if you try to change people’s opinions through educational and awareness raising initiatives the line between education and indoctrination is a very thin one. Even though I raised this topic during the conference itself, I did not get any response. In the agenda one can read that “awareness raising initiatives on racism [and] xenophobia, aim to bring positive and sustainable change to society by promoting universally respected values.” We immediately raised the issue during the plenary session: “what are those values? What are we talking about? Which human rights are we talking about? What is the definition of human rights in the OSCE language?” It was interesting to note that no such definition was given. Pax Europa recommended that the OSCE support the abolition of all hate speech and blasphemy laws in participating states as these laws are not compatible with a free society. Both during the conference on October 28th as well as the one on November 10th and 11th, the necessity for tightening of hate speech and hate crimes laws was stressed. In the opinions of myself and my colleagues who attended the meeting this is indeed a very troublesome development. We believe that the hate crime laws are in place. We have plenty of laws. They just need to be enforced.
Gordon: Did the same groups of NGO’s and the OIC attend that session as well?
Wolff: No, there were different NGOs and OIC members that attended the November 10th and 11th meetings. It was actually very interesting to note that there were very few NGO’s on the list of participants. Either the topic is getting tiresome for the NGO’s or people are just not interested that much anymore. However, this did have a positive impact on us, the counter Jihad groups, because we were able to intervene and speak loudly and more more often.
Gordon: What positions did you represent on behalf of Pax Europa at the supplementary session?
Wolff: Well as usual I asked for clarifications of the term, “extremist speech,” and I also wanted to know who decides what constitutes hate speech.
Gordon: Is the OSCE Islamophobia Document a furtherance of the Council of Europe Religious Intolerance Guidelines adopted in 2008?
Wolff: The answer here is “oh definitely.” The OSCE Document is a practical application of the Council of Europe guidelines. It goes from general to primary and secondary education. Let me give you an example. According to the Council of Europe documents, school textbooks should not present distorted interpretations of religious and cultural history. Now as usual I have two questions. First of all, what happens with the teaching of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683? Number 2, who decides what is considered “distorted” and according to whom? Another example, “stereotypes that present Islamists contradicting fundamental European values must be avoided.” As usual I have two more questions. First, what about the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, vis a vis the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights and Islam? Is the Cairo Declaration perhaps contradictory to fundamental European values and what European values are we talking about? Can we have a definition of these European values? Number 2, what about the responsibility of states to look into the teachings of Islam and its obvious hatred of the “other”? Is this compatible with the Human Dimension of the OSCE? I’m not sure I will get answers to these questions. Nevertheless, I think these questions are absolutely crucial in any dialogue that we want to have.
Gordon: What is the agenda behind the OIC presence at these OSCE meetings?
Wolff: The OIC is demanding that OSCE implement Shariah law violating the right to free speech. This comes as a result of OIC guidelines to insure cooperation with the relevant government and non government organizations in order to counter Islamophobia, which is extremely worrying. Remember that Islamophobia is a concept that has no legal definition. This is, in effect, an extraterritorial call to submit to Shariah law. Now one wonders how the OSCE with its commitment to human rights can actually follow a call to submit to Shariah law? Hopefully one of these days there will be politicians, Secretaries General and others who will understand the dangers that lie in this call to submit to Shariah law.
Gordon: The U.S. State Department is holding meetings in mid-December on Religious Tolerance with the OIC and EU based on the July, 2011 Ankara Declaration. Many in the U.S. are concerned that this could be a prelude to adoption of OIC Blasphemy guidelines. Given your experience and monitoring of these OSCE developments, should we be concerned and why?
Wolff: I can only tell you that you should be extremely concerned especially in view of the fact that blasphemy laws are being discussed. Now one wonders how these laws can be compatible with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on the right to freedom of speech. It’s very concerning that the U.S. Government would even meet with Muslim nations to discuss religious tolerance. One would expect that Secretary Clinton, her office or her advisors, would have looked into the teachings of the Qur’an. Has Mrs. Clinton even read the Qur’an cover to cover? However, looking at the agenda for this meeting I can only surmise that she has not read the Qur’an. In addition, a State Department Official, according to Fox News, said that the meeting is meant to combat intolerance while being fully consistent with freedom of expression. I don’t think that this will be possible. I think the State Department is trying to square a circle. Shariah law can never be consistent with freedom of expression. If one looks into the doctrine, if one reads The Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual on Islamic Sacred Law, one realizes immediately that there is no freedom of expression under Shariah law. Secretary Clinton has also said that nations should not criminalize speech. Why is she allowing the OIC to even discuss that in your country? Look what happened to me here in Austria. I had to stand trial because what I said was deemed criminal. I think we should start talking to our elected officials. I am very concerned about these changes and believe that hate speech laws should be abolished. There should be universal freedom of expression. One should be allowed to say whatever one wants with very few exceptions. Calls to kill people, calls to violence should be unacceptable. Must be unacceptable. Must be punished. I would also like to remind the readers that criticism of a religion must never be considered hate speech, must never be considered blasphemous, and must never be forbidden under the law. Because otherwise we are losing our freedom of speech and we all know that without freedom of speech there is no democracy. Freedom of speech and conscience is what forms, what shapes our democracy. I am very sorry to say that as Austria has submitted to Shariah law and its provisions, we can no longer be considered a democracy. The OIC in my opinion can try to silence people like me, people critical of Islam as much as they want to, however, I will never be silenced. I will continue to speak out and I will continue to say that I am deeply concerned about the teachings of Islam.
Gordon: Elisabeth thank you for bringing us up to date on OIC activities at the recent OSCE meetings in Vienna concerning Islamophobia. We wish you the best of luck on your December 20th appeal of the lower court decision to be heard in Vienna. We will likely participate in the live blogging of that appeal.
Wolff: Thank you for this important interview and for the support of the NER on defending free speech in both America and here in the EU.