Paging Mr. Nottroth, Mr. Wim Nottroth…

September 5, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I think the JPGB post I’m most proud of is my nomination of Wim Nottroth for the Al Copeland award. I was deeply honored, of course, to have my nominee go on to win “the Al.” But I was even more honored to help more people learn about Nottroth and what he did for all of us.

Readers interested in similar threats to liberty may have been following the case now pending in Germany, where a rabbi is under criminal investigation for the “offense” of circumcising children. For those who are interested, over on the new group blog I edit called Hang Together, I offer four lessons Americans can learn from the German circumcision case as we wrestle with our own struggles on religious freedom.

And “The Al” Goes to…

October 31, 2010

In keeping with our tradition on JPGB, Halloween is the time to announce the winner of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  “The Al” is meant to honor a person who has made a significant contribution to improving the human condition.

The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.”

Last year’s winner was Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag, beating out Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralp Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

This year the nominees were The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

These are all worthy nominees.  They all meet the minimum requirements in that none of them threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  And they all have done something to significantly improve the human condition.  But I think we can rule out The Most Interesting Man because I’m not comfortable with the idea of giving the award to a fictional person.  I also think we can rule out Herbert Dow because I’m not sure that he did anything beyond what almost all entrepreneurs have to do — overcome the government-assisted cartels of existing businesses to prevent the entry of new competitors.

Stan Honey’s yellow first down line is an amazing improvement for watching football on TV, but what about those who see the game in the stadium?  I keep expecting there to be a yellow line on the field, which decreases my pleasure from watching the game in person.  As soon as Stan Honey figures out how to install yellow lights to form lines in the turf, I’ll be sure to give him The Al, but until then he will have to be satisfied with a nomination.

Marion Donovan and Victor Mills greatly improved my life and the life of countless million with the invention of the disposable diaper.  I should mention that in addition to their greater convenience, better function, and lower cost, disposable diapers may even be better for the environment.

All of this makes for a compelling case to award The Al to Donovan and Mills.  But there is an even more compelling case to give The Al to Wim Nottroth.  All of the consumer items that improve our lives, whether spicy chicken, roller-bags, or disposable diapers, depend on the existence of liberty for people to choose how they live, including what they make, what they buy, and what they believe.  If the forces of tyranny that Wim Nottroth resisted prevail, we will eventually lose the liberty to enjoy these other benefits.

The tyranny Nottroth directly resisted was the kowtowing of Western governments to radical Muslims who found it offensive to say “Thou Shall not Kill” in the aftermath of the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fascist who disliked a film made by van Gogh criticizing Islam. If we allow these restrictions on free speech we are surrendering our liberty bit by bit.

The only way we lose our liberty completely is if we surrender it to the new wave of fascists.  Contrary to the gloomy claims of defeatists during the Cold War and today, freedom is not at a disadvantage in a struggle with tyranny.  Freedom does not make us weaker; it makes us much stronger.  Freedom makes us richer, which gives us the material advantages to defeat the enemies of freedom.  Freedom improves the quality of our information and decision-making.  Under tyranny everyone distorts information to fit the wishes of the tyrants for fear of punishment.  And no one scrutinizes the quality of decision-making.  The competitive market of ideas and the freedom to critique decisions improves the their quality in free societies.

As long as we maintain our appreciation for freedom and our desire to struggle for it, both at home and abroad, we are sure to win.  The problem is that it is all too easy forget how wonderful our freedom is relative to the tyranny that exists in many other places.  And it is an even greater danger for us to tire of having to struggle to preserve it, both at home and abroad.  That struggle never ends.  When the challenge from Nazis faded, the threat from the Soviets rose, and when that crumbled the danger has come from radical Islam.  And when we defeat them, as I am confident we eventually will, some other threat will take its place.

There will always be people who prefer to tell other people how to live — what you can say, what you can buy, what you can sell, with whom you can sleep, and what you can think.  In fact, there is nothing natural about freedom.  It’s natural to want your own freedom, but it is equally natural to want to tell everyone else what to do.  Respecting other people’s freedom is something that is acquired and sustained, not something with which we are born.

Clearly some government officials in The Netherlands as well as in other places in the free world are failing to teach and sustain the love of freedom.  They tire of the struggle to preserve freedom and look for compromises with tyrants.  Wim Nottroth resisted his government’s unacceptable surrender to tyranny.  He reminded us how free speech is worth fighting for, even in the face of murderous thugs and their lackey government enablers.  For that he has significantly improved the human condition and is most worthy of this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.

“No, I’m Not Going to Stand Somewhere Else.”

October 14, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Molly, if you’re reading this – you still have a choice. You can try to run away from what you know you’re called to do, but Victor Laszlo is right: like Rick Blaine, you’re trying to run away from yourself, and you will never succeed. Or you can rejoin the fight from wherever you are now; the Internet makes it possible to do your part to save the world from any computer station, anywhere.

In case you missed the news, Molly Norris, the cartoonist who came up with the idea for Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, was admonished by the FBI that she needed to erase her identity and go into hiding, and she has done so. As Mark Steyn and others have observed, it appears that the United States law enforcement apparatus is now, effectively, working for the other side. Terrorizing people into abandoning their freedoms is precisely what the enemy is trying to accomplish. Now the FBI is helping them.

This is not the same thing as doing this for a witness in a criminal trial. You send mob informants into hiding because for them, hiding is what they need to do in order to fight the enemy. You can’t testify against the mob if the mob can kill you before you get to the stand. And if they get to you after you take the stand, the next informant won’t testify.

But for people like Norris, not hiding is what they need to do to fight the enemy. If mob informants go into hiding, we win. If Molly Norris goes into hiding, the enemy wins.

Earlier this year, when Norris cancelled her proposed Everybody Draw Mohammed Day out of fear for her life, I expressed my disappointment and she showed up in the comments to ask where all the people who were supposed to be protecting her had gone. It was a very just question! And she was thinking only of politicians and intellectuals, not the police. Who knew, then, that even the police would turn against her?

Yet we can’t give up. We can’t become cowards just becasue the FBI has done so. We are still human beings, and there is no escape from responsibility.

That’s why, in the tradition of Fasi Zaka, I’m proud to nominate Wim Nottroth for this year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

The Gates of Vienna blog recounts the story:

Back in the fall of 2004, just after Theo Van Gogh was murdered, an artist named Chris Ripke painted a mural on a Rotterdam street with the text: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. A scriptural quote, but universally accepted, one would think, and not at all controversial.

Needless to say, local Muslims complained, and the municipality ordered city workers to remove the mural. A video reporter [for a local TV station] named Wim Nottroth stood in front of the mural in an attempt to prevent its removal, but he was arrested by police.

The authorities also ordered all news videos of the operation destroyed, but at least one survived and was uncovered by the diligent detective work of Vlad Tepes.

The mural was on private property. The owner of the property had approved the mural. No laws were violated. But the police destroyed the mural and confiscated all videos of their crime (or so they thought) and erased them.

Four months later, it was revealed that an imam from the mosque that demanded the destruction of the mural was connected to terrorist organizations and inciting his followers to violence. He was deported for being in the country illegally.

Nottroth had been sent to the scene in his capacity as a journalist. His job was to film the police destroying the mural. But as the moment of destruction approached, Nottroth realized that although he was a journalist, he was a human being first. And nobody else was going to do what needed to be done by somebody.

So he went and stood in front of the mural. And he stood there until the police arrested him.

The translation from the Dutch is awkward in some places, but it’s impossible not to hear the courage and integrity behind the awkwardness: “We all do agree to that, don’t we? Thou shalt not kill, we all agree to, isn’t it?…If this goes away there will be more misery than there would be if you leave it.” He couldn’t have been more eloquent if he’d quoted Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration or Milton’s Aeropagetica.

This exchange encapsulates a lot in a short space:

Nottroth: It should be possible here in a democratic…

Policeman: You rather go stand there.

Nottroth: Well then, I will remain standing here.

Darn straight.

Each and every one of us must be ready to say that at any time, when our duty as human beings calls upon us. For reminding the world that standing for freedom, even against your own government when necessary, is every person’s responsibility, I nominate Wim Nottroth for the 2010 Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.


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