The Persecution of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a free speech activist who was charged last year in Austria with “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion” for asserting that “Mohammed had a thing for little girls.” In February of this year she was convicted, and will have to pay a fine of up to €480. Just recently, on December 20, 2011, her conviction was upheld by the higher court. If she refuses to pay the fine, she may spend a maximum of two months in jail. She grew up and lived in Muslim countries and experienced Islam first-hand.
FP: Ms. Sabaditsch-Wolff, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about your trial and where it stands now. But let us begin with a bit of background about yourself.
ESW: Thank you Jamie.
My father was posted at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran before the Iranian Revolution. I was also there, a child of seven, and I experienced the pre-revolutionary Iran, a beautiful country with friendly people, great food and even greater skiing. I attended the German school and generally enjoyed myself.
Then came the revolution and everything changed. There was religious fervor in the air, chanting, demonstrations featuring black-clad women. And one day in late 1978 my mother, my sister and I were forced to leave Tehran, and we joined the thousands of desperate men and women scrambling to get out of the country, the only difference being that we had a country to return to. I still remember all this as if it were yesterday.
I knew that this had to do with religion, with Islam. I knew what “Allahu akhbar” meant, just as I knew that our Iranian housemaid set fire to our house because she no longer seemed to like our Western ways much. (Although I was in the house at the time with my mother and sister, we survived the fire.)
My father returned to Austria just shortly before the war between Iran and Iraq broke out.
In the coming years my life would touch the Islamic world, sometimes more, sometimes less. My father was posted to Baghdad in late 1982, so we joined him for Christmas and New Year. I experienced life on the other side of the war, Saddam’s side. What I don’t remember is Islam, strange as it sounds. The Iraq of the early 1980s was a secular country, albeit a war-torn one. My mother had to “pack” food and other staples in her luggage so we could celebrate Christmas properly. I also remember attending Christmas mass in Baghdad.
After a few years of high school in Chicago, we returned to Vienna, where I graduated and became a ski instructor. In the summer of 1990 I spent three months at the Austrian Embassy in Kuwait, thereby returning to the Middle East for the first time since 1982/3. Memories flooded my brain, everything seemed so familiar. But then Saddam returned to my life: I was in Kuwait on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. I was unable to return to Austria until August 26, 1990, but that is another story.
In February 1997, I once again traveled to Kuwait, this time as a visa officer at the Austrian Embassy. During my nearly four years in Kuwait, I was able to experience the true Islam for the first time. Because I was older — in my mid-twenties — I reflected more strongly on what I saw and heard. I saw and heard a lot, and I also experienced a lot first-hand.
Two examples: First, Ramadan. The first one was sort of fun, a different experience, something new. The second one was a nuisance, especially after I heard reports of harassment, especially of the one against the Coptic husband of my colleague, who was chided for licking the stamps for the Christmas cards. Ramadan coincided with Christmas back in the late 1990s. And the third Ramadan forced me to rebel: I started eating salami sandwiches in the visa section, in plain sight of the fasting applicants. I got away with it because the Austrian Embassy is legally Austrian soil.
I started asking myself: what was the point of Ramadan? Our Jordanian translator, a devout Muslim and heavy smoker, suffered greatly during Ramadan, but he was unable, maybe even unwilling to quit during that month of abstention. I did not understand the purpose of his fasting and abstaining if nothing good came of it. This sentiment was furthered by newspaper articles about Ramadan and a Q&A. One question remains with me forever: “I accidentally swallowed a fly while riding my bicycle. Is my fast still acceptable or do I have make it up?” Unbelievable.
The second example concerns the relationship between Mohammed and Aisha, a relationship that earned me the conviction in court. Part of my job was to read the two English-language newspapers. I don’t remember what the article was about, but it must have been something about Mohammed’s marriage to Aisha and the subsequent consummation of the marriage. I clearly remember my shock. I got up from my desk and went to our translator, who was also my friend and confidant. “Hussein,” I said, “Is it true what I just read about Mohammed and Aisha? Did he really have sex with her when she was nine? But that, that, that’s…” Hussein looked at me sternly, “Do not ever talk about this again. Do not mention this again.” Now, he did not deny it. He just ordered me never to speak about this. Though I did not know about it at the time, he was actually enforcing Sharia law.
ESW: Simply put, I have now been made a victimless convict. On December 20, 2011, my conviction for denigration of a legally recognized religion was upheld by the higher court.
What was the reason for this conviction, you may ask. Well, during the course of my seminars, I mentioned the choking EU directive “Framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia,” and in order to illustrate my point I told the audience about a conversation I had with my sister and how she believed that one should find a different word for Mohammed’s actions with Aisha. I said, “How does one name what he did if not call it pedophilia?” And this sentence got me convicted, for I am allowed by law to say that Mohammed had sex with a young girl, but I may not qualify this behavior as this is deemed “excessive” and thus denigrating. The Austrian state has created a victimless crime, and a criminal without a single victim.
The trial is now officially over. There is only one way to appeal, and that is taking the matter to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. But– this will cost a lot of money and will take a lot time (6-8 years minimum).
FP: Ok so what is going to happen? Are you going to appeal, go to jail? Tell us what options you face and what you are going to do…
Read the rest at FrontPage Mag.
For previous posts on the “hate speech” prosecution of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, see Elisabeth’s Voice: The Archives.