Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Free speech is under attack in Belgium. Over the last five months, the Brussels Journal, a conservative blog, and its editor, journalist Paul Belien, have been falsely accused of posting racist comments, prompting condemnation from politicians and calls for prosecution. Complaints filed anonymously with the Belgian government’s watchdog for racism in cyberspace led to an official investigation, including police visits to the Belien residence.

In the wake of racially motivated shootings that left two dead in May, the Brussels Journal was blamed for fomenting racial hostility. What stories sparked official ire? Not surprisingly, the answer seems to be the blog’s stark assessment of the problems that large, unassimilated Muslim communities have created, as well as Mr. Belien’s attacks on the politically correct mindset that allowed Europe to slip into its current predicament.

Attempts to blame Mr. Belien for racial tension show how unwilling Belgian officials are to confront the real problems created by the communities of unassimilated Muslims — not to mention the possible homegrown Islamist threat that reared its head yet again this month in Britain.

Mr. Belien offered a valuable perspective of the Paris riots and the concocted outrage over the Mohammed cartoons, and he has established himself as a journalist willing to ruffle feathers with stories that the traditional media overlook. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that criticized the Belgian press for ignoring the king’s opposition to legislation legalizing abortion, which had just passed both houses of parliament, cost him his newspaper job in 1990.

Racism has no place in the much-needed discussion on the increasing number of Muslim immigrants in Europe, but neither do hypersensitivity or politically motivated allegations of racism — both of which are tactics to curtail the debate before it begins. And censorship has no place in a free society.

From what we’ve seen of the English version of the Brussels Journal, the accusations of racism are utterly baseless. Mr. Belien is guilty only of vigorously expressing his opinion, and in many cases it would benefit Belgium — and Europe as a whole — to heed the advice from the Brussels Journal rather than to criminalize it.

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