Demonstrators are planning to greet an Austrian speaker who was convicted in her home country of hate speech as she visits Lawrence Tuesday at the invitation of the Douglas County Republican Party.
Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff will speak on “When Migrants Arrive, Free Speech Departs” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Victory Bible Church, 1942 Massachusetts St.
Sabaditsch-Wolff became a cause celebre among Europe's right-wing "Counter Jihad movement" when she ran afoul of Austrian law while expressing her opinions on Islam and Muslims. Online accounts by Sabaditsch-Wolff and those opposed to her message — such as the liberal anti-conspiracy blog dialougeinternational.com — agree her legal troubles began when a magazine reporter recorded comments she made at events hosted by the Freedom Party of Austria. At the events, she said the rape of children was dictated in Islam, stemming from its founder Muhammad’s marriage to a 9-year-old girl. She also said Muslims were conducting a secret jihad that was spreading throughout Europe through immigration and high birth rates.
Sabaditsch-Wolff was first charged under Austrian law with “incitement of hatred” for the comments. She was acquitted of that charge but was convicted and fined 450 euros in 2011 for “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion.”
In a speech posted online that Sabaditsch-Wolff made in April 2016 in Dallas, she said the Middle Eastern migrants arriving the past few years in Europe were not refugees seeking asylum from Syria and other war-torn countries but were coming from nations “where there is no war to flee.” They were “overwhelmingly young Muslim men, of fighting age” and part of a hegira, or migration to “infidel lands to advance the cause of Islam,” which she said went “hand in hand with jihad.” The effort was being aided by media manipulation portraying the migrants as refugees through “Dead Baby Porn,” she said in the speech.
Douglas County Republican Party Chairman Kathleen Ammel said Sabaditsch-Wolff was invited to speak not because the local party endorsed her positions but because the Austrian brought an interesting perspective based on personal experience on the consequences of Middle Eastern immigration. It's important to hear all views in an era when people were shutting down the opinions of others and denigrating people for having different points of view, she said. It's also important to remind people of the importance of the First Amendment rights Americans enjoy and how they could be eroded if not protected, she said.
“I understand she has quite a history, speaking against Sharia law, talking against Islam and against Muslim immigration to Europe,” she said. “I think she has a firsthand experiences. It’s important to have that out there.”
As for the viewpoints in Sabaditsch-Wolff's speeches, Ammel said she thought the media played up the sensational or controversial aspects of stories to draw viewers. She also said Sharia laws were a potential threat in the United States, but that the American Laws for American Courts legislation Gov. Sam Brownback signed in 2012 gave Kansans some protection.
“I don’t discount it as a threat,” she said. “It could be as far as it is in contradiction to our views in the United States.”
Lawrence resident Christine Smith, who manages the “progressive calendar” website, dovedrop8.wixsite.com, said she was puzzled why the local leadership of a major political party would invite such a "fringe" figure to speak in Lawrence.
Referring to Sabaditsch-Wolff as a “professional hate-monger,” Smith said the speaker was particularly inappropriate for a university town like Lawrence with its large number of students from Muslim countries.
“I don’t understand it,” she said. “She’s from Europe and she’s been to the Middle East several times. You’d think she would have some information, but nothing she says is part of my reality or my knowledge of the Middle East or my experience with my Muslim neighbors. Middle Eastern foreign students are such a wonderful asset to Lawrence. Fear seems to be part of this. They want people to be afraid.”
Smith said she was inviting Lawrence residents to join in a demonstration starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Victory Bible Church. She concedes Austrian hate speech laws are different from the First Amendment guarantees Americans enjoy, but said it should be remembered that such laws were rooted in that county’s direct experience with fascism and the bigotry that fed it.
It was not the intent of the demonstration to prevent Sabaditsch-Wolff from speaking or to disrupt her speech, but to show Muslims in the community that Sabaditsch-Wolff's views do not represent those of the community.
“Bring an anti-hate sign or ‘love your neighbor’ one,” she said. “We’re not going to obstruct anyone from going in or anything. We’ll go away when she starts speaking.”
Smith said she didn’t know how many people would show up, but noted an early February show of support for those affected by President Donald Trump’s travel ban. That event was organized by the University of Kansas Islamic Center and had to be moved to South Park to accommodate the crowd.
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