Everyone knows at this point about the German judge who filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for her remark that she was glad Osama bin Laden was dead. A great deal has been made of what she said and whether it’s appropriate to be “glad” that bin Laden was killed. But what concerns me is that a German judge thought what she did was criminal.
The situation here is actually worse than it looks. It would be bad enough if the problem were only that a bunch of Germans through it was inappropriate to cheer over bin Laden’s death. That’s the least of our worries. I had the same thought myself; but I don’t propose doing anything about it other than expressing my opinion.
The real problem is that the German judge’s complaint against Merkel, while calling it “tacky and undignified” for her to be “glad” about bin Laden’s death, invoked Germany’s criminal code specifically by claiming that Merkel was “rewarding and approving of a crime” in her statement about it.
Rewarding a crime is one thing – although it is first necessary for a competent authority to determine that a crime has occurred. No such determination has been made in the case of the slaying of bin Laden. Rewarding a crime in a material sense may, however, be sensibly deemed criminal.
But approving of a crime, in the terms implied by the judge’s complaint? – that is, expressing approval, as an unrelated third party, about its outcome? That’s a crime under the German criminal code, and the judge in question interprets it to cover what Merkel said about bin Laden’s killing.
If such a law could be enforced in the US, it would put half the faculty of our universities in prison. It would also apply to anyone who has ever said aloud that a revenge killing constituted justice. If you were glad Jack Ruby took out Lee Harvey Oswald, this law has you in its sights. Socialists and radical groups across the fruited plain could be rounded up and incarcerated for their practice of loudly approving the criminal acts committed by their favorite figures from radical history. Activists who campaign to decriminalize things – e.g., pot – and who express approval of those engaged in civil disobedience would run afoul of this law.
Even if the killing of bin Laden had been judged a crime by a competent authority, the idea that approving his killing is a criminal act, as opposed to merely an impolitic one, represents an unbridgeable divide between the American concept of freedom and whatever it is they’ve got going in Germany these days.
Germans should be free to attack Merkel as vociferously as seems good to them, for the political nature of her comments. More power to them. Rant and rave. Call her names. Take whacks at her and her party through the political process. Elect someone else. All fair game in the melee of politics.
But criminalizing speech in the manner indicated here is the exact opposite of protecting intellectual freedom. The whole point of intellectual freedom – freedom of thought, religion, speech, the press – is that we don’t all agree, from one case to another, on what constitutes crime or justice, much less on what is tacky or undignified. Criminalizing abstract, verbal disagreements over these things is characteristic of leftist utopias – but it is also one of the chief features shared by leftist utopias and Islamism.
There is no difference in principle between the idea that Merkel is made a criminal by approving of the killing of bin Laden, and the idea that speaking “disrespectfully” about Mohammed is punishable by imprisonment, forfeiture of property, or death.
Over the last few decades, prescient analysts – many of whom are themselves Europeans from the classical-liberal tradition – have warned that the trend of European law and jurisprudence is dangerous to intellectual freedom. Until a few years ago, those critics’ principal concern was the encroachment of Western-style “political correctness.” But increasingly, the reasons for invoking restrictive European laws have to do with public speech about Muslims or Islam. Laws like Germany’s, and judicial ideas like those of the judge who filed the complaint against Angela Merkel, are preparing Europeans, intellectually and morally, to take up life as dhimmis.