The Cost of Free Speech

Diogenes walked through the streets during daylight hours while carrying a lit lamp. When asked why, he answered, “I am looking for an honest man.” His criterion was not based on the theoretical or sophistic arguments of his contemporaries. Diogenes valued simple action over eloquent words. Sometimes though, there is a synthesis when speech becomes the action. As you read this, hiding in different parts of Europe are Lars Hedegaard and Mehmet Sahin. You may not know their names, and certainly they do not know yours, but through their honest and fearless words they are fighting the eternal battle of good versus evil in your name. They are by the standards of Diogenes, or any other, “honest men” and because they are, each is in hiding from would-be Islamic assassins.

Hedegaard and Sahin could not be less similar. Hedegaard, 70, was born and raised in Denmark and is of Danish stock. He is a journalist, and the founder of the International Free Press Society and the Danish Free Press Society. A vocal critic of the restraints on free speech imposed by an increasingly politically correct Europe, Hedegaard has been a lightning rod on the issue, both vilified for his inflammatory language and praised for his courageous exercise of his right to free speech despite sanctions and threats.

He is most famously a fierce critic of the impact of Islam in Denmark and throughout Europe. In 2011 he was convicted of the crime of hate speech under the Danish Penal Code for his critical remarks against Islam. He appealed the verdict and in 2012 the Danish Supreme Court unanimously overturned the decision 7-0. Despite this acquittal, or perhaps because of it, there have been threats on his life. This past February an unknown assassin, whom Hedegaard describes as Arab or Pakistani posing as a postman, attempted to shoot Hedegaard in the head in front of his home. The attack failed, the assailant escaped, and Hedegaard has been in hiding ever since.

Mehmet Sahin is a Turkish immigrant to Holland and, in sharp distinction to the great number of Muslim immigrants to the tolerant European nations, he has embraced Western values regarding worship, speech and democracy. He is a doctoral student and a volunteer youth worker who tries to reeducate Turkish youngsters in Arnhem, a major city in the eastern part of the Netherlands. On February 17, 2013, he interviewed 6 Turkish youths on Dutch media. The clip of the interview which has garnered attention focuses on the teenagers sharing their views on Jews, the Holocaust, and Hitler. The teenagers praised Hitler, condemned Jews as evil, and revealed that despite not knowing any Jews, to call someone a “Jew” was the ultimate insult. They claimed that this perception is not unique to Muslims and that the native Dutch share this view.

Apparently this is the case, as the interview, broadcast on a major station, was initially ignored by the Dutch media. In response to their vulgar racism and undisguised anti-Semitism, Sahin hung his head in despair and disbelief and called the group “pathetic.” When Sahin challenged them, saying that within a year he would change their perception of Jews, they laughed in response. The video is sad in so many ways: the anti-Semitism of the youths; their ignorance; that despite the evident frustration and pain Sahin experiences, he is committed to the group. The saddest thing of all is that it appears he will not have that opportunity; he and his family are in hiding as a consequence of the numerous death threats he has received.

Hedegaard and Sahin are not the only critics of Islamic culture from their respective countries who have been targeted for assassination by outraged Muslims. Kurt Westergaard, who in 2005 drew the controversial cartoons of the founder of Islam for the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and was almost killed in response, is still in hiding. Muslim author, activist, filmmaker, and former Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali has herself been in hiding in the past from the numerous death threats she has received in response to her outspoken condemnation of Islam and its treatment of women in a film that she produced with Theo Van Gogh. Van Gogh did not fare as well: He chose not to go into hiding from the death threats and was murdered in broad daylight on a street in Amsterdam in November of 2004. If, as the saying goes, honesty is the best policy it seems it should come with a life insurance policy as well.

History has not lacked for bleak periods where the voice of good was barely audible. Sometimes this was because the voice was rare; other times it was because the many voices of good were competing against the din of evil, and the problem is that while reason speaks, evil often yells. I suspect today we live in the latter times, making it hard to discern the courageous voice of the clarion call of good from many corners. It is an assault on society when reason and virtue are chased from these corners into hiding. Despite Lars Hedegaard and Mehmet Sahin merging into the shadows to escape would-be Islamic assassins, their voices and values are not in hiding with them. It gives hope knowing that there are those out there for whom Diogenes would be searching.


Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at

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