Adolf Hitler realized the importance of having a good press. In Nazi Germany with its press censorship, it was easy for Hitler to have a good press. However, during the 1930s the Nazis also tried to control the media in the neighboring European countries that Hitler was planning to invade. The Nazis bullied the democratically elected governments in these countries to censor everything that resembled what today might be called “Naziphobia” — criticism of Nazism.
Interestingly, the bullied governments gave in to the Nazi intimidation rather than back the few courageous individuals who spoke out against totalitarianism. In the late 1930s, SS Gen. Karl Gebhardt (a medical doctor who was hanged after the war for conducting “experiments” on humans) frequently paid visits to his friend, King Leopold III of Belgium, to complain about “German-unfriendly remarks” in the Belgian press. King Leopold asked Paul-Henri Spaak, Belgium’s leading politician at the time, to forbid “anti-German” references in the Belgian media and ban non-Belgian papers that were critical of Hitler and his regime.
Spaak, who after the war became one of the founding fathers of the European Union, urged his colleagues in the government “to consider the possible consequences of the press campaigns against Germany.” The ministers were also under pressure from Viscount Davignon, the Belgian ambassador to Berlin, who looked upon them as “cowards” because they did not “dare to impose censorship.” Belgium gave in to the Nazi demands and banned “anti-German and unpatriotic publications,” including foreign papers such as the British Daily Express.
Belgium’s submission to the Nazi demands, however, did not prevent Hitler from invading the country in May 1940. The only result of the Belgian authorities’ appeasement policies was that many ordinary Belgians, at the behest of their own government, had not been able to read articles critical of Hitler. After the war, guess who blamed the young men who had fallen for the Nazi propaganda and volunteered to fight on the Eastern Front? Spaak and his ilk.
Today, we are witnessing a similar phenomenon. Islamist extremists want a good press. They do not tolerate criticism. Even cartoons are deemed offensive. They warn those who criticize them “to consider the possible consequences.”
In 2004, Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim apostate, and filmmaker Theo van Gogh together made the 10-minute movie “Submission” about the treatment of women in Islamic cultures. “Islam” is the Arabic word for “submission.” Following the release of “Submission,” Mr. van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim fanatic. Since that murder, European television channels, “considering the possible consequences,” have refused to broadcast his movie. Miss Hirsi Ali felt compelled to leave the Netherlands after her neighbors won a court case to evict her from her apartment, because, due to death threats from Islamists, her presence there endangered the lives of people living next to her.
Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who used to belong to the same party as Miss Hirsi Ali, but who, like her, was pestered out for his “Islamophobia,” argues that Islam is similar to Nazism. To prove his point Mr. Wilders has made a 10-minute movie, called “Fitna” (the Arabic word for “ordeal”). Releasing the movie has become Mr. Wilders’ ordeal.
Whether or not Mr. Wilders is right about Islam is a matter of opinion. The way in which he is treated by the political establishment, however, is eerily reminiscent of the way in which democratic governments such as Belgium’s gave in to Nazi bullying in the 1930s.
Most European countries have introduced legislation that bans the promulgation of “Islamophobic” views. Mr. Wilders has been taken to court by opponents who claim that making a movie which is critical of Islam is in itself an offense. Without waiting for the verdict, which is expected later this week, the Dutch private and public television networks have all expressed their refusal to air “Fitna.”
When Mr. Wilders tried to book the Nieuwspoort press center in The Hague (partly owned by the Dutch authorities and partly by the press itself) to show his movie to the media, he was told that he would have to pay $600,000 for extra security measures.
The European Parliament, afraid that Mr. Wilders might use its premises (the aptly named Paul-Henri Spaak (!) building in Brussels) to show the film to the press, decreed that it is forbidden to show the “movie or caricatures on Islam by Mr. Wilders” in “any space in the European Parliament.” Network Solutions, the American Internet service provider where Mr. Wilders hosted a Web site to show his movie, closed down the site.
Like the Dutch authorities, they are all “considering the possible consequences” of offending extremist Muslims. If, however, the lessons of the past are anything to go by, the submission of the Western establishment to the demands of their enemies will not deter the latter from attacking the West.
Paul Belien is editor of the Brussels Journal and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute.