Western civilization today: Orwell or Voltaire?

Will our civilization, the noblest and mightiest mankind has ever seen, uphold the heritage of Jefferson and Locke, Milton and Voltaire, the unfettered contest for truth? 

Or are we headed for something out of Orwell, where certain words and ideas are banned in ostensible service of the common good?

This was the haunting question when free-speech defenders from three countries teamed up to oppose thought control and advocate genuinely open dialogue in the public square, last week at a 58-nation conference in Warsaw, Poland. 

I joined the delegation on behalf of our citizens’ group, Americans for America, along with colleagues from a policy institute in Washington, a foundation in Denver, a think tank in Austria, and a grassroots group in Denmark. 

The seven of us were with hundreds of civil-society activists and government representatives at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, a forum on human rights held annually by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

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What I observed there bore out the dark irony friends had warned me about – OSCE’s proud legacy as a champion of human freedom, a product of the 1975 Helsinki Accords that helped the West defeat Soviet totalitarianism, risks morphing into an instrument of Orwellian repression in the guise of policing hate speech.

Our group took on the thought nannies during three days of the two-week conference, September 13-15, when plenary sessions were addressing such benign-seeming topics as equal rights, fundamental freedoms, tolerance, and non-discrimination. 

Working from an “annotated agenda” that framed issues for discussion, each session started with brief introductory talks echoing the approved leftist group-think. A moderator with the same mindset then yielded the floor for two-minute interventions, fifty per session, by delegates who had signed up to speak – a steady stream of Muslim grievance claimants, their cultural-Marxist allies, and bland bureaucrats eager to be politically correct by validating them.

Contradictions to the prevailing narrative were asserted by just a few intervenors, with the only coordinated effort coming from our little band – Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff of Vienna as delegation chair, along with Chris Hull and Clare Lopez of the Center for Security Policy, Denmark’s Henrik Raeder Clausen, Debra Anderson of Act for Minnesota, David Petteys of the Sea Jay Foundation, and myself.

Here are three interventions that I read into the official record, which OSCE will post online in full, with our recommendations being added to – and notably diversifying – the overall range of conference attendees’ recommendations to member governments. 

Strikingly, after both the first and third presentations, I was politely chided by the moderator – with nothing ironical in her tone – for disregarding the OSCE standards on tolerance and non-discrimination! Evidently those standards rule out honest disagreement about the meaning of the very concepts invoked. So much for open dialogue. 



Presented at Plenary Session on Freedom of Thought

By John Andrews, Americans for America

Thursday 9/14/17

My organization, a national civic education project, came to this all-European conference on human rights hoping to encounter the noble spirit of Voltaire. Remember him?

As one of modern Europe’s free-thinking founders, it was Voltaire who famously proclaimed, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

To our disappointment, in the sessions yesterday and today, as well as in the official Annotated Agenda, we find implicit or even explicit endorsement of the exact opposite.

On the part of more and more European governments, the message is: “I disagree with what you say, and I will jail you or fine you for daring to say it.”

On the part of at least one global belief system, Islamic blasphemy and apostasy law, the message is more shocking still: “I disagree with what you say, and I will kill you for daring to say it.”

This is no exaggeration.  Ask the cartoonist in Denmark, or the filmmaker in Holland, or Pamela Geller in Texas, or the Charlie Hebdo jihad victims in Paris.

I refer the delegates to the Annotated Agenda for this very session, where two false equations are made which militate against clear thinking and effective action.

On page 13 at the end of the second paragraph, the agenda lumps together hate crimes and threats, on the one hand, with hate speech and insults on the other hand, as if all were part of a single inseparable pathology.  Not so!

Insults? When did everyday name-calling and hurt feelings come to warrant the same concern as the wanton violence manifested in, say, the vehicular homicides by fanatics in London or Nice or now Charlottesville?

The implication here is that lawmakers should criminalize thoughts, ideas, attitudes, and emotions in the name of human rights.  That’s not tolerance, it’s a monstrous soul-destroying regime of tyranny such as Orwell predicted in 1984 and Animal Farm. Voltaire rolls in his grave.

Another intellectually dishonest equation occurs in the third paragraph on page 13, which refers in identical terms to violence against Jews, violence against Christians, and violence against Muslims.

While it’s true that all three manifestation are equally barbaric and unacceptable, there is one key difference that the agenda does not mention:

** Two of those worldwide belief systems, Judaism and Christianity, teach against unprovoked bloodlust towards your neighbor.

** Whereas the third, Islam and Islam alone, theologically calls for such violence aimed at subjugating or exterminating followers of the other two.

OSCE cannot possibly achieve its worthy goal of protecting human rights – the most fundamental of which is the right to life itself, the right not to be murdered – if it turns a blind eye to this crucial distinction.

Accordingly, Americans for America recommends that OSCE unflinchingly acknowledge this hard and bitter truth, calling on all its Muslim affiliates to both denounce religiously motivated violence and renounce the underlying religious texts mandating bloodshed.

And secondly, Americans for America recommends that OSCE align itself forthrightly and firmly against any legislation that would criminalize words, thoughts, and feelings under the color of so-called “hate speech” laws.

Watch video of this talk, concluding with moderator's reprimand



Presented at Plenary Session on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

By John Andrews, Americans for America

Thursday 9/14/17

Madame Moderator, as other speakers have pointed out, we face a persistent problem in these Human Dimension sessions with terms that are pejorative, yet remain undefined. The issue would not be significant except for the fact that undefined words are sometimes used to make national policy or craft legislation.

One such word is “discrimination”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes this among its definitions of “discrimination”: “The act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually.” This is clearly the process referred to in phrases such as “racial discrimination” and “religious discrimination”.

However, there are other instances of discrimination that are considered acceptable. Take, for example, the sign on a door in a retail business that reads: “Employees Only”. The sign clearly discriminates against non-employees, yet it is entirely unobjectionable. No one would consider filing an anti-discrimination lawsuit on the basis of it.

Catholic Poland isn't buying EU's soft despotism, MP Robert Winnicki (right) told us at a Parliament luncheon. Delegation chairman Wolff is at left.

Catholic Poland isn't buying EU's soft despotism, MP Robert Winnicki (right) told us at a Parliament luncheon. Delegation chairman Wolff is at left.

What, then, are the criteria for “good” discrimination and “bad” discrimination?

Discrimination against gays is considered unacceptable, yet discrimination against members of the Identitaire movement, neo-Nazis, or racial supremacists is considered acceptable, or even mandatory.

As long as there is no clear, unambiguous official standard for separating unacceptable discrimination from acceptable discrimination, Americans for America recommends that the word “discrimination” be omitted from official OSCE documents.

Watch video of this talk



Presented at Plenary Session on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination

By John Andrews, Americans for America

Friday 9/15/17

(1) The annotated agenda for this session asks what more can be done to identify and protect the victims of hate crimes.

We recommend that OSCE include in its definition of such crimes the brutality against women within patriarchal family structures where honor killings, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation claim a spurious religious exemption from fundamental norms of human dignity.

(2) The agenda asks how civil society can help with the disaggregation of hate crime data according to specific bias motivation.

Americans for America again recommends, as we did at yesterday’s session, that OSCE take a lesson from George Orwell and call things by their right names. 

A self-proclaimed jihadi attack like the Fort Hood massacre is not “workplace violence.” The Jews gunned down by Muslims in a Paris restaurant were not just “a bunch of guys in a deli,” as Barack Obama shamefully called them.

Religion must never be used as a mask for political subversion and violent revolution.  As Justice Robert Jackson, the Nuremburg prosecutor, reminded us, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

(3) Finally, the agenda asks what challenges confront civil society groups working to combat hate crimes.  Two grave challenges are debasement of the language itself and muzzling of viewpoints or voices deemed politically incorrect.

We therefore recommend that OSCE condemn such Marxist front organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center, which uses “hate” as an all-purpose devil term to silence legitimate dissent and intimidate truth-tellers – often including law-abiding, scrupulously nonviolent Christians, resulting in their social and economic ostracism.

SPLC, which began as a hate watchdog, has regrettably become itself a hate purveyor.  It should be recognized as such by all who support genuine free speech in a truly free society – the goal of Americans for America.

Read and watch OSCE presentations by other members of our team

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