Mr. Igler appeared at the Stop Islamization of Nations event in New York last Tuesday. Below is the text of the speech he gave at the UN Plaza Millennium Hotel in New York City on September 11th (and on other occasions while in the USA).
How Freedom Dies
by George Igler
On being inaugurated the 34th president of these United States, the former General Eisenhower, uttered the following striking phrase:
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or timid.”
I repeat these words, in order to reflect on the no doubt livid and purple condemnation that will greet my presence here, back home; from people who will then return to their houses to sleep soundly in their beds.
As someone organizing the proactive defence of those prosecuted in the UK, for exercising free speech, I’ve already met some of the most internationally noteworthy victims of these kinds of prosecutions. But the unique privilege of addressing an audience of New Yorkers, on 9/11; coupled with the opportunity of meeting some of the speakers here, was simply a once in a lifetime chance.
You see, you don’t get to just call up Lars Vilks or Robert Spencer for a chat on the phone, and arrange a meet. I think you can guess why.
It is extraordinarily hard to meet such people: those who pay the price for all our freedoms, in the practical surrender of their safety, for every day of the rest of their lives. The critics forget, that under the lifelong threat of bloody murder you never sleep soundly again. Fitful, a part of you always listens for the creak of the floorboard outside your door.
Nevertheless, it will be said that I, “shared a platform”, look out for these words; as if we still lived in an age, where one can be publicly and professionally denounced for guilt by association. I hope that by the end of my remarks you will understand how we in Britain have ended up falling so far.
A philosophical defence of free speech
The first hallmark of any society that would call itself free is that no one gets to tell you what to think. The fact that this is presently often a question of controversy and debate, is a handy summation of the problem that we now face.
My endeavour, as the managing director of Discourse, the UK’s fledgling institute for free speech, is not a partisan one, but rather, philosophical in nature. The cause of real freedom is not, in a word, a fashionable one. We live in a geopolitical environment in which the philosophy of rights has evolved across the Western world.
Politicians today largely believe that the social contract between the government and the governed has changed. They see their fundamental duty as no longer being to protect our rights; but instead, socially and economically, to protect us from each other. Simply, they pat us on our heads, and say that the freedoms we once enjoyed, are ones we cannot handle anymore, because times have changed.
As the ships of our states head into black and stormy seas of economic uncertainty, our captains tell us we must cut down our most prised sails, and jettison our most precious cargos. Frankly, the more unremarkable our statesmen and women have become, the more pretentious and self-important they have revealed themselves to be.
Unlike most of the other speakers today, I simply do not care whether the person who thinks he can silence another’s right to speak freely; thinks he gets to do so because he wears a religious robe, or a judicial one. What matters to me is that either course rests this power in precisely the last and most dangerous place it could be located: the state. The framers of your constitution understood this. That in free nations people consented to be ruled in exchange for the protection of their liberties. Why did they know this so well?
Nearly 400 years ago, an Italian astronomer was on trial for his life by a court who knew that what he said was true. But they did not care. They cared more for the social consequences and awkward political reaction to having those truths made known. The truth he related had to be silenced at all costs. And the judges which sentenced him were motivated to do nothing more than what was best for their society as a whole.
Now too the hands that would take our liberty are chiefly, not malevolent nor fanatical, but instead possessed by those genuinely looking to create justice, fairness and equality. Little realising that there can be no justice, without truth. No fairness, without the ability to speak freely about repression. And no great wealth to distribute in the first place, without the powerhouse of innovation that is uniquely impossible without the keystone of our liberties: freedom of speech.
Yet the reaction to the trial of Galileo, led to a choice. One particular path in the road was chosen. One which led inevitably to the shimmering towers of steel and glass we see around us in your great city. The science, technology, engineering, and enterprise we enjoy; were all primarily enabled by the conclusion reached four centuries ago that no area of human intellectual enquiry or opinion should ever be off limits. That the light of truth, though it might at first hurt our eyes, nevertheless illuminated our world. We would follow the truth no matter where it led us.
And this choice, made in Europe and perfected in America, was the reason for the explosive flurry of human endeavour that followed. We call the fruits of that endeavour: modernity.
Our world forged this idea further, in the furnace of unspeakable hardship. Twice in the past hundred years we reached across the Atlantic to each other, and united in the cause of liberty, and a common vision that the greatest unit of human worth: was neither doctrine, nor property; neither a grouping, nor government; but simply: the individual. And that the greatest guarantor of respect was not command, but liberty, and the gentle courtesy that accompanied it when people esteemed each other through knowledge and reciprocity.
The dignity of the human person does not lend automatic credence to any opinion but, whether that opinion irks one or many, it does provide the entitlement to hold it. And it also means further, that no one is entitled to take this right away. How we’ve lost sight of this truth! This truth we once held to be self-evident.
Moreover, anyone who seeks to legislate speech with regard to theology, in a pluralist society, is far from being a progressive. They are instead demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the basic nature of religion. That to every faith, by definition, every other faith (or none) is a form of blasphemy. Thus only two future scenarios are possible: one in which all are subject to equal, free and open criticism; or another, in which a single creed (no matter what that might be) is permitted to forward its own objectives to the detriment of all others.
There is no more admirable human desire than the wish to create an inclusive society. But any logic that doesn’t realise that ideologies are by their very nature, exclusivist, is surely infantile. No community therefore, can ever pretend to promote diversity, unless it first begins by respecting diversity: of opinion.
It is not that anyone has the right to be offensive, it is that the state has no right to decide, because the road down which this leads is so chillingly dangerous. To you in the United States this is just a growing theoretical challenge; to us in Britain it is now a daily lived reality.
How freedom dies
I come to the United State with a story. A message. Delivered to many meetings and many groups of people. The message I bring: is how this freedom dies. The reason I bring it, is because our past is your future. I’m here to help you, and ask for your help in return.
Like George Orwell predicted, freedom dies not with howls of outrage but with cheers of approval. And jeers too for those who would object, as absurd relics of the past not fully cognisant of the fact that the present is so wondrous, that it no longer needs the anachronism, of being free.
When my parents came to Britain as political refugees they were struck by the oddity of many things. The weather. The cricket. The tea… with milk. But something that often gave them pause was particular turns of phrase. One was chiefly noteworthy, which in four little words encapsulated a millennium of pain and suffering and blood, spilt for a precious inheritance; expressed with the casual joviality that only the British can ever truly muster. Ask anyone on a train then, whether a seat was taken?
“It’s a free country.”
Would come the reply.
See a single person on Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, surrounded by hundreds baying condemnation, and an English policeman would appear and put themselves in front not to arrest a miscreant but to chide the crowd, with the words:
“It’s a free country.”
Many nights as a child I’d drift off to sleep hearing my father in the bathroom removing his false teeth, knowing that the last time he had seen his real ones was bloody on the floor of a Communist interrogation cell. And he was glad for it. Glad. Because every moment he could resist longer from signing his “confession” for crimes against the state, was a moment that put him further from the hangman’s noose.
But he would have been the first. The first. To condemn unequivocally, any attempt, by anyone to prevent some stupid teenager from wearing the symbols of the ideology that had tortured him, the hammers the sickles, while at the same time the fool no doubt railed against purveyors of, “hatred”, without any hint of irony.
Why? Because, it was a free country.
We haven’t said that phrase to each other in Britain, for what seems like a very long time. Now we imprison someone, every week. Not chide. Not censure. Imprison. For the crimes of? Well for intoxicated rants on the bus home. For being mentally impaired and offending, the dead, on Facebook. For saying forbidden words, on Twitter.
Liberal judges who tacitly furthered the cause that prison wouldn’t work for violent criminals, now enthusiastically send to prison those who break crimes of opinion; saying that they, “have no choice.”
How did this happen?
We have simply lost sight of the sacrifices made to give us the liberties we enjoy. And as I warned you, these steps are always only the beginning, once the state tastes this power, it cannot help itself. Be a Muslim opposed to the deployment of troops in what you see as the Ummah? In the dock you find yourself.
Be a woman who dares to plead “not guilty”, you will be denied the right to lodge your plea, and your children will be taken from you while you’re submitted to psychological assessment, in prison over Christmas, for daring to think that freedom to agree with the accepted doctrine of the media and the state, is not the same thing, as the freedom speech.
Or put up posters in your window, no doubt not dissimilar from the ones Ms Geller has put on buses across America? Well it’s a year in prison for you. Any right minded person, says the prosecutor, would surely agree. The transition from a country where you can say what you want to one where you can’t is to say the least an odd one.
And if you are thinking to yourself:
“Thank heavens that will never happen here, because of the First Amendment”?
Let me tell you something. You’ve just taken another step closer to guaranteeing that it will. Do you not think that we ourselves thought:
“No chance! Not in the country of Magna Carta, not in England, the land of the world’s original 1688, Bill of Rights”?
Complacency, Ladies and Gentlemen. In any system of government, freedoms exist only to the extent that the population actively — actively — refuses to relinquish them.
And our biggest cheerleaders in all this? Not politicians, nor activists, but our own press. How they have cheered when people were flung in jail, and how they now react with stunned outrage at the prospect of their own imminent constricting regulations. So they cry, “We have the right to a free press.” As if things, and not people, possessed rights!
Having gleefully normalized the role of the state as the referee of acceptable discourse, the press is now shocked to discover it will be subject to the precise same form of control on its own activities. Activities which are of course nothing more, than the communal expression of that human right.
To the UN’s shame
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the reputation of the United Nations which gave birth to it; an organisation that I was involved with so much, when younger, because I felt it represented the very best the human family had to offer; well they are now both in a threadbare and shameful state.
As a European I come from a continent whose earth has been soaked in the blood of millions. Those who survived the horrors of the last century were not gripped with a grim determination to do better, but stared at a pile of ashes, and yearned simply for there to be some good to come from all that appalling waste.
One of these chief goods, was supposed to be the United Nations.
But measures like the Istanbul Process do not spring from the same spirit in which these institutions were founded. Most disreputable of all, is the false equivalence of those who are pressing this agenda of legally enforced international silence, that they are merely seeking to prevent the kind of persecutions that marked our last hundred years.
When the wellspring of their efforts truly come from precisely that authoritarian place, that gave birth to those hatreds. Certainly not worthy in any place, like the United Nations, whose own charter states it as dedicated to promoting, “larger freedom”.
The OIC’s actions endanger not only liberty, but also the continued functioning of trans-national cooperation itself. It is still free nations that bankroll the UNO. Secretary General Ban should be mindful of the disenchantment at the League of Nations and its collapse, which historically led inevitably to the cataclysm that followed.
The fact that some people think they possess a unique and exclusive entitlement to not having their feelings hurt is surely not sufficient reason to tear apart the foundational fabric of an organisation which, though imperfect, has nevertheless managed to prevent the sort of intercontinental warfare that predated it?
And is there not something genuinely distasteful in the racism of lowered expectations, that indulges prejudice as forgivable?
Which elevates a moral structure in which it is not the person who is beheaded in a frenzied rage who is the victim, but rather the person who wields the knife? And thus blame is placed on those exercising opinions, for daring to bruise the egos of men who of course cannot be held responsible for being provoked.
Otherwise known, as the rapist’s creed.
Remembering 9/11, should mean remembering who we are
Well my freedom is not a token to be bargained with; or a chip to be exchanged by those who want to pander to prejudices in order to obtain election, or the temporary illusion of security; and neither are yours.
I was born with certain rights, they were taken from me without my consent. And I’ll be dammed if I’m going to let any child of mine be born without the birth-right that was handed to me.
I refuse. I refuse to have to one day look them in the eye, and try and explain that the great legacy of freedom was expunged, not as a result of a profound crisis, or war: but because of the fear that some people might get offended.
When those who thought themselves our betters, rather than doing their jobs and standing up for our freedoms, had decided instead that we didn’t get to have them anymore. If all men are created equal, as your constitution says, then nobody is immune from criticism.
And your politician’s job is not to pander to the interests of shady organisations like CAIR, whose function is to pretend that all Muslims are theologically driven automatons, but rather to protect people like Jessica Mokkdad, because your nation’s purpose Ladies and Gentlemen, is to protect those, who like it says on that great monument in your harbour, are simply “yearning to breathe free.”
When will you speak up America? When will you plan to stand and resist? When will you take the risk again of investing in freedom? Next year? The next five? Is the time not right, now. Do you imagine things plan on getting easier any time soon?
I know you are tired. We all are. Every generation has to fight for its freedom, and face a dark malevolent force, and overcome it. Rest assured though, and remember, this force in our age is not some ideology or faith, nor least of all the people who follow it.
It is the Mephistopheles whispering in our ears that we could have everything we wanted if only we compromised our most precious possessions. It is our own doubt, it is that lingering knot, that somehow we no longer deserve to be free.
My contempt is not for the religious who seek to do right to their transcendent. But rather to a class worldwide who are using this uncertainty to make your rights their power. This is the message too of the theocrats swamping the liberals in the Islamic world. And we owe it to our Muslim brothers and sister in the West to not allow the radicals in their own ranks to make this case without robustly and unashamedly pointing to an alternative.
As I recalled seeing the ashes of ground zero, on television that day, my revulsion gave way to a tiny flicker of hope. That the free world, which had already begun to lose its way, and no longer knew truly who it was, would rediscover the principles that had made it great.
But in the decade that has passed since 2001, the words: “Just be quiet and you will be okay” are no longer only Mohammed Atta’s to the passengers of Flight 11 on that fateful morning, but instead are now also: an accurate synopsis of an entire corpus of government, media and social outlook in countries that once called themselves free.
I only recently began to understand why this was, and how we have ended up how we are. I know how you feel, you feel like I do: cheated; that you did not receive the future you were promised. That the 21st century did not turn out to be an enduring global peace, with cars in the sky. And when we knew this, in our hearts. Was on this day.
What’s happened to freedom since, has only been possible because silently, many of us were willing to accept that we were somehow lesser men, not entitled to the same freedoms that our forebears entrusted to us. It’s time we realized this in our minds. The time has arrived for us to come out of shock.
The only difference, is that our forebears understood what we have forgotten. Why we have forgotten, is because so many have been pretending that a particular lie, is true. The idea that supporting freedom is potentially a subversive act.
I began my remarks by quoting from the inaugural address of a great Republican and will conclude with similar from a great Democrat. These words by John F. Kennedy, were said directly after perhaps the most famous sentence he ever uttered.
“Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”
These presidents, poles apart on the political spectrum, were within gaze of each other when the latter spoke these words. These great statesmen understood philosophically, what we have forgotten.
That the cause of freedom, Ladies and Gentlemen, is not a partisan issue.
Copyright © 2012 — The Discourse Institute