- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2006

In just the latest sign of how Europe has been paralyzed by weakness in dealing with Islamists, a senior European official has proposed the idea of a charter that would commit journalists to exercising “prudence” (read self-censorship) in covering Islam and other faiths.

Franco Frattini, the European Union commissioner for freedom and security, said Wednesday that such a charter might be necessary because there exists a “very real problem” of trying to reconcile “two fundamental freedoms: the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion.” According to Mr. Frattini, because some newspapers had been “imprudent” enough to run cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, millions of European Muslims feel “humiliated.” He has devised a solution: making Muslims feel better by getting the press to learn to “self-regulate” its problematic tendency toward free expression.

In an interview with the London Daily Telegraph, Mr. Frattini, a former foreign minister of Italy, said he wanted to move ahead with what he said would be a voluntary code of conduct for the media, to be drawn up by European press outlets with the assistance of the European Commission. Mr. Frattini said the code would not be enforceable by EU institutions. Instead, the commission would act as “political facilitator” as journalists and editors drew up their own charter — in other words, standards for censoring themselves in order to appease Islamists.

By any measure, Mr. Frattini’s rhetoric is nothing more than an Orwellian attempt to pretend that moral cowardice is actually social responsibility. Permitting a governmental entity like the European Commission to act as a political facilitator guiding journalists on matters of “prudence” or context should be anathema to all people in free societies. The real goal of this proposal and others like it is to appease violent terrorists who have seized upon the publication of the Muhammad cartoons as a pretext to riot or — as apparently was the case with the Iranian and Syrian governments — to encourage others to do so.

After a furor of justified criticism, Mr. Frattini tried to backtrack, saying he had never suggested imposing of a code of conduct on the press. But his shameful performance at a Thursday press conference in Brussels served as a perfect illustration of how the subjugation non-Muslims in Muslim lands has infected liberal elites in the West. In front of reporters, Mr. Frattini listened as Mohamed Ahmed Sherif, chairman of the World Islamic Call Society, blamed the Muhammad cartoons for fueling extremism, said Muhammad was being depicted as a “terrorist” and rejected the premise that Muslim leaders should be attempting to calm the situation. As Mr. Sherif spoke, Mr. Frattini “repeatedly nodded and mumbled ‘yes’ in front of cameras and microphones,” according to a reporter for the Web site euobserver.com.

Unfortunately, this episode is a metaphor for European policy toward militant Islam. That must change, because there can be no compromise with Islamist efforts to intimidate and muzzle a free press.

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