Nick Cohen speaks at anti-Islam festival where former EDL leader is guest of honour

Passion for Freedom Festival
Lars Hedegaard accepts award for ‘Silent Conquest’ (left) and Nick Cohen with Firoozeh Bazrafkan (right)

Nick Cohen recently treated us to yet another of his “Left capitulates to Islamism” articles, this one in the Spectator. As is often the way with Cohen, he tried to evade accusations of Islamophobia by framing his arguments as an expression of admiration for a non-white opponent of Islam, in this case the Danish-Iranian artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan. He recounted:

When I met her, she was enduring a crash course in politically correct Europe’s many hypocrisies. White Danes reported her to the police for writing that Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters, and adding for good measure that the ‘Koran is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined’.

You could say that her remarks were offensive. You could say that the inattentive reader might just take them to mean that all Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters. But if every remark that someone might find offensive or misinterpret were banned, the human race would fall silent.

What Bazrafkan wrote, in a blog entry for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, was that she was “very convinced that Muslim men around the world rape, abuse and kill their daughters”. She claimed that this was “the result of a defective and inhumane culture – if you can even call it a culture at all … it is a defective and inhumane religion whose textbook, the Koran, is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined”.

As Bazrafkan explained, she did this as an act of solidarity with one Lars Kragh Andersen, who had been convicted of racism for writing that Muslim men raped and killed their daughters, and that this was the product of their defective culture and inhumane religion. Bazrafkan just repeated his words.

Andersen wrote his comments as his own act of solidarity with far-right politician Jesper Langballe, who was convicted on a racism charge over a letter he wrote in support of Lars Hedegaard, another white Islamophobe. Hedegaard was also charged under Denmark’s hate speech law for stating that “girls in Muslim families are raped by their uncles or their cousins or their father”, but was eventually acquitted on a technicality.

For Cohen, it would appear, these writings represent a legitimate expression of opinion and only the “politically correct” could challenge the right to make such statements.

It’s worth noting that Hedegaard, Langballe, Andersen and Bazrafkan were all charged under section 266(b) of Denmark’s penal code, which was introduced in 1939 to defend the Jewish community against incitement to hatred by Danish Nazis. Does Cohen think the introduction of that law was an act of political correctness too, and that in spreading antisemitic propaganda the far right of the 1930s were simply exercising their right to free speech? Or is he opposed to that law only when it’s used to defend Muslims?

Cohen met Bazrafkan in London earlier this month at the so-called Passion for Freedom Festival, the professed aim of which was to “protect freedom of speech of artists” – which at first sight seems an entirely admirable objective.

However, as anyone who’s kept up with developments in the Islamophobia industry will be aware, the defence of freedom of expression is often the progressive-sounding hook on which bigots hang their fear and hatred of Islam. And so it turned out here. To quote a statement (approvingly reproduced on the Islamophobic EuropeNews website) by festival director Marianna Fox:

“Politicians? They are all politically correct. Artists are the ones who are becoming more and more influential and speak their minds about human rights that are being ignored around the world. Ritual circumcision, honour killings, oppression of sexual minorities, all according to absurd laws such as Sharia, are happening here even in Europe. This festival is the platform where artists can take their stand.”

Cohen himself played an active part in the Passion for Freedom Festival. He appeared alongside Douglas Murray and Anne Marie Waters on 8 November at a panel discussion that followed a showing of the rabidly Islamophobic film Silent Conquest, which had just won an award at the festival. (The filmmaker was unable to appear, so the award was accepted on her behalf by Lars Hedegaard.)

It seems, however, that even Nick Cohen is beginning to have second thoughts about some of the company he’s keeping. Yesterday, on his Spectator blog, he confessed that he felt “uneasy” about the message presented in Silent Conquest and had become “more irritable” when the Passion for Freedom Festival organisers introduced former English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon (“Tommy Robinson”) as a special guest at the event where Cohen was speaking.

Cohen writes: “Robinson’s appearance after a film that had made Muslims seem both an homogenous bloc and a conquering army summed up everything that was going wrong with the Right’s reaction to militant Islam.”

Cohen takes exception to the film’s implication that the Muslim community as a whole represents a threat to western civilisation. But it’s difficult to see how the message promoted by Silent Conquest differs significantly in its impact from the views advocated by Firoozeh Bazrafkan and her friends. After all, if Muslims are adherents of a “defective and inhumane religion” that inspires men to rape and murder, doesn’t that necessarily imply that the west faces a general threat from Muslims?

Not that Cohen accepts an anti-racist critique of Silent Conquest anyway. Quoting the producers’ claim that their film “offers a frightening insight into the extent to which Europe, Canada and the United Nations have already succumbed to the restrictions of shariah blasphemy laws”, Cohen tells us that “the standard liberal dismissal of such statements as ‘racist’ is hopeless”.

If there is anything racist about Silent Conquest, Cohen argues, it is the film’s reliance on “dozens of white westerners” to convey its Islamophobic message. Although the film does in fact prominently feature both Nonie Darwish and Zuhdi Jasser, in Cohen’s opinion the producers should have made more use of those “liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims” who share their views on the threat posed by “militant Islam”. As Cohen himself is well aware, that’s a very convenient way to deflect charges of bigotry.