In this article, Michael Prüller comments on the overreactions and bizarre turns in the current debate with regard to Islam in many European countries, and especially in Austria. He highlights one “worrying trend,” whereby criminal law seems to be increasingly emerging as an instrument for immigration and culture politics. In turn, this trend has opened the door for three possible developments which may have serious consequences for freedom, rule of law and actual European values.
The first development is the establishment of a new state religion: the “European way of life,” exemplified by the Austrian justice minister’s desire to oppose “general behavior which attempts to impose upon someone a lifestyle that is not consistent with our society.” Secondly, in order to uphold and maintain this “European way of life” the state is given ever more opportunity to punish its citizens. An example for this can be seen in the current debate concerning the burqa in France, where Saudi Arabia-style legal penalities with regard to clothing is now being suggested with the goal of upholding fundamental European values. Finally, under the beguiling influence of stricter penalties against troublemakers, the plaintive nature of those who might potentially be disturbed is strengthened. In other words, more groups will wish to be brought under the protection of the state and its criminal law.
This has been seen in the recent broadening of Paragraph 283 in Austrian criminal law, which used to protect only religious and ethnic groups from hate speech, and which now will include hate speech based on any criteria, from sexual orientation to age, and from skin color to gender. This extension of state legal protection to a larger number of groups should not, however, be a restriction to free speech. Freedom and rule of law are things which can be clearly defined, while national identity and “European values” can change with each person and with each day. Thus it follows that they should not qualify as the basis for any legal framework that hopes to attain some degree of clarity.
Die Presse (German)