"It is therefore discriminatory to equate Islam with Islamist terrorism and undifferentiated to attribute violence from Islamist fundamentalists and terrorists to Islam," the Swiss Press Council (SPC) assessed in a November 13, 2013, opinion. The SPC thereby condemned an admittedly shoddy March 29, 2013, Basler Zeitung (BZ) article with a value judgment having troubling implications for free speech concerning Islam.
Entitled in German "Every Five Minutes a Christian is Murdered," the article made the increasingly recognized argument that Christianity is the most persecuted religion worldwide. Similarly increasingly recognized is the article's identification of "Islamic extremism" as Christianity's greatest current threat. For sources, the article referenced, among others, Christian aid organizations like Open Doors.
"Not an extremist, but doctrine" in some 200 Koran verses and 1,800 hadith call for the conversion or death of nonbelievers, the article stated. Christians and Jews as "dhimmi" under Islam are only "second-class citizens" with limited religious freedom. The article concluded that
whoever says this is all accidents, only snapshots, is mistaken....Islam, however peaceful it can appear, has in its most radical manifestation another face. A hateful grimace, which knows no mercy, which has only one thing in view: world domination.
"The majority of Muslims," the article conceded, are peaceful. Yet was this not also so in the Third Reich? Was it not also there the few, who controlled the many...It is a dangerous error to believe that the majority of Muslims are peaceful because of Islam; they are peaceful despite Islam.
In response, the Union of Islamic Organizations in Zurich (Vereinigung der islamischen Organisationen in Zürich or VIOZ) issued a May 24, 2013, complaint to the SPC. Against descriptions of Islam as aggressive and authoritarian, VIOZ cited the "merciful" Koran's verses 6:35, 6:107, 16:9, and 16:93 as evidence of Islamic tolerance. Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan and "great Islamic centers like Al Azhar in Egypt," meanwhile, had taken a "clear position" against "Islamists" described in the article. Indeed, "there is no notable declaration of an Islamic university that approves of the killing of innocents or terrorism."
The article's undocumented reference to 200 Koran verses and 1,800 hadith, VIOZ meanwhile criticized, actually came from a similarly undocumented comment (#27) to a blog entry at Michael Mannheimer's website. Originally appearing in the article, VIOZ added, were quotations from the "sociologist and Islam critic" Mannheimer, even though Mannheimer is actually the "known rightwing populist" Karl-Michael Merkle. VIOZ and an April 3, 2013, BZ correction removing two "Mannheimer" quotations from the original article both noted that Merkle currently faces German hate speech charges for his condemnation of Islam (see here and here). Along with Merkle's contributions, the BZ article was a "complete journalistic plagiarism" of internet sites, as extensively documented at the website of the German journalist Hardy Prothmann cited by VIOZ.
VIOZ noted as well Prothmann's inability to find an original source for the article's supposed quotation of German feminist Alice Schwarzer condemning the Koran as "just as racist as Hitler's Mein Kampf" and worthy of banning. Schwarzer herself stated in a 2010 university lecture that she had only compared Islamic laws such as stoning for adultery to Mein Kampf, not the Koran. The article similarly referenced a Christian gruesomely murdered with a cross rammed through her mouth while bound to a bed, yet Prothmann could only find such an image at Merkle-Mannheimer's website. Yet as the Swiss journalist Martin Hitz has discovered along with others, including the anti-Islamist Gates of Vienna website, this image comes from the Canadian horror film Inner Depravity.
Given these facts, SPC's nonbinding judgment rightly criticized BZ for transgressing various SPC standards concerning, for example, transparency with respect to the article's sources and information. Problematic is SPC's judgment with respect to Paragraph 8 of the SPC "Declaration of the Duties and Rights of a Journalist." This prohibits "any allusion" to characteristics such as religion "that could be discriminatory in character," a measure banning "generalizations" but not "criticism of single persons." Hereby BZ's presentation of violent "Islamism" as "nothing other than the natural consequence" of Islam was an "evidently discriminating assertion" and "grave" violation of Paragraph 8.
SPC has thus questionably asserted that Islam's essential essence is benign. Yet numerous Koran verses reference religious warfare such as 2:190-93, 4:74, 8:12, 8:39, 8:60, 9:5, 9:29, 9:111, 9:123, and 47:4. Whether 200 or not, they contradict VIOZ's assertion that in the Koran "no person has power over another in questions of belief." Traditional Islamic norms mandating death for apostasy and blasphemy are also well-established, irrespective of supporting hadiths' number. In their July 1999 terrorism definition, meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation's 57 predominately Muslim states (including "Palestine") exclude "armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony." This exclusion is predictable given the 2013 justification for terrorism as jihad made by a leading Islamic law professor at Al Azhar University, Sunni Islam's preeminent authority in Cairo, Egypt.
Ideas like Islam demand the strictest of scrutiny, irrespective of followers' individual feelings. After all, Friedrich Hayek's classic treatise The Road to Serfdom contended that socialism was inherently totalitarian, no matter how well-intended. The SPC, however, has called such principles of intellectual rigor into question with its condemnation of BZ's "discrimination" against inanimate Islamic religious belief. Future critical commentators may rue this development long after BZ's eminently forgettable article has faded into obscurity.
This article was sponsored by the Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.