Spanish prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation to determine whether the secretary general of Vox, a fast-rising Spanish populist party, is guilty of hate speech for warning of an "Islamist invasion."
The criminal inquiry, based on a complaint from a Muslim activist group, appears aimed at silencing critical discussion of Islam ahead of national elections on April 28. More broadly, however, the case poses a potentially immeasurable threat to the exercise of free speech in Spain.
Prosecutors in Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain, said that they were investigating Javier Ortega Smith, the second-ranking leader of Vox, for an alleged hate crime after they received a complaint from a Muslim group called "Muslims Against Islamophobia" (Musulmanes Contra la Islamofobia).
At a rally in Valencia on September 16, 2018, Ortega Smith declared that Europe's "common enemy" is the "Islamist invasion":
"Spain is facing threats from internal and external enemies. The internal enemies are perfectly identifiable: the [Catalan] separatists, the friends of [Basque] terrorists, those who want to tear our nation apart....
"The external enemies want to tell us how to run our country.... Angela Merkel and her fellow travelers, George Soros, the immigration mafias, believe that they can tell us who can and cannot enter our country. They demand that our boats pluck so-called castaways out of the sea, transfer them to our ports and shower them with money. Who do they think we are? We say enough is enough....
"We will unite our voice with those of millions of Europeans who also are standing up. Those voices are saying, long live Germany, long live Switzerland, long live France, long live Great Britain. These Europeans understand the need to respect national sovereignty and national identity. They have no intention of being diluted into the magma of European multiculturalism.
"Together we will be stronger against the common enemy that has a very clear name. I will not stop saying it. Our common enemy, the enemy of Europe, the enemy of freedom, the enemy of progress, the enemy of democracy, the enemy of the family, the enemy of life, the enemy of the future is called the Islamist invasion.
"What is at stake is what we understand or know as civilization. It is under serious threat. We are not alone. More and more Europeans are standing up because they are suffering in their cities, on their streets and in their neighborhoods due to the application of Sharia law. They are not willing to have their cathedrals torn down and forcibly replaced with mosques.
"They are not willing to have their women cover their faces with a black cloth and be forced to walk ten steps behind — to be treated worse than camels. They are not willing to extinguish what we understand as civilization and a respect for rights and freedom."
The founder of Muslims Against Islamophobia, Ibrahim Miguel Ángel Pérez, said that Ortega Smith's comments are "completely untrue and undermine social peace and coexistence" by "encouraging the creation of an atmosphere of fear and rejection towards Muslim communities." Pérez, a Spanish convert to Islam, added:
"We believe that the content of the video, which is circulating on the Internet, is highly alarmist and could threaten coexistence and social peace, which is why we have decided to act, to determine if the content could be constitutive of an alleged hate crime."
Prosecutors must now determine whether Ortega Smith is guilty of a hate crime as described in Article 510.1 of the Criminal Code, which establishes prison sentences of between one to four years for those found guilty of "publicly fomenting, promoting or inciting, directly or indirectly, hate, hostility, discrimination or violence against a group [...] for racist, anti-Semitic or other motives associated with ideology, religion or beliefs."
Ortega Smith said that he would be "delighted" to explain to prosecutors what the "Islamist invasion" means, namely "the attempt to end freedoms, to end respect for family, life, women and democracy." If the prosecutor determines that there is some alleged crime, "there will be no problem to explain that Europe and Spain are facing an attempted Islamist invasion because of the Europeans themselves and their erroneous policies regarding national borders and their control," he added.
Vox, founded in December 2013 in response to the degeneration of Spanish conservatism, has been soaring in the polls — in large measure because it is filling a political vacuum created by the center-right Popular Party (PP), which in recent years has drifted leftward and is viewed by many Spanish voters as having abandoned its role as standard bearer of conservative values.
Often derided by Spain's political and media establishment as a "far right" party, Vox does not fit the traditional left-right paradigm. During regional elections in Andalusia in December 2018, for instance, Vox was catapulted into the Andalusian Parliament by voters from across the political spectrum: 45% of those who voted for Vox in 2018 backed the PP in 2015; another 15% of Vox voters previously supported the centrist party Citizens (Ciudadanos); and a whopping 15% of Vox voters previously opted for center-left and far-left parties.
Vox (based on the Latin word for voice) describes itself as is a socially conservative political project aimed at defending traditional Spanish values from the challenges posed by mass migration, multiculturalism and globalism. Vox's foundational mission statement affirms that the party is dedicated to constitutional democracy, free-market capitalism and the rule of law. In foreign policy, Vox is pro-Israel, pro-American and pro-NATO. Party leaders have called for Spain to double its defense spending to meet its commitments to the transatlantic alliance. In domestic policy, Vox's stated priority is to enact constitutional reforms aimed at preventing the territorial disintegration of Spain from threats by Basque nationalism and Catalan separatism.
Vox's growing appeal also rests on the fact that it is the only political party in Spain to fundamentally eschew political correctness. Vox leaders speak with a frankness and clarity of conviction long unheard of in multicultural Spain.
"We are neither a fascist party, nor the extreme right, nor do we eat children, nor are we totalitarians," Ortega Smith recently said in an interview with the Espejo Público television program. "We are the only party that is defending the constitution and democracy [against Catalan separatists]."
Vox could be described as "civilizationist," a term coined by historian Daniel Pipes to describe parties that "cherish Europe's and the West's traditional culture and want to defend it from assault by immigrants aided by the left." In an essay titled, "Europe's Civilizationist Parties," Pipes wrote:
"Civilizationalist parties are populist, anti-immigration, and anti-Islamization. Populist means nursing grievances against the system and a suspicion of an elite that ignores or denigrates those concerns....
"Civilizationist parties, led by Italy's League, are anti-immigration, seeking to control, reduce, and even reverse the immigration of recent decades, especially that of Muslims and Africans. These two groups stand out not because of prejudice ('Islamophobia' or racism) but due to their being the least assimilable of foreigners, an array of problems associated with them, such as not working and criminal activity, and a fear that they will impose their ways on Europe.
"Finally, the parties are anti-Islamization. As Europeans learn about Islamic law (the Shari'a), they increasingly focus on its role concerning women's issues, such as niqabs and burqas, polygamy, taharrush (sexual assault), honor killings, and female genital mutilation. Other concerns deal with Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims, including Christophobia and Judeophobia, jihadi violence, and the insistence that Islam enjoy a privileged status vis-à-vis other religions."
Since Vox's inception, party leaders have warned against creeping Islamization. In December 2014, for example, Vox President Santiago Abascal criticized the Spanish government's decision to approve a law that promotes Islam in Spanish public schools. In an essay entitled, "Trojan Horse," Abascal wrote that the government was conceding a "dangerous privilege" to Islam:
"The Spanish state is allowing the Muslim community to preach in schools and propose Mohammed as a role model.... This law, according to experts, has been drafted in its entirety by the heads of the Muslim community in Spain, with little review by the competent ministry. The law surprises by its markedly confessional character in each of its articles, and it develops a proselytizing vocation, covering with tolerance the most controversial aspects of a strict theocratic system. The controversial preaching of the imams in our mosques, often bordering on the criminal, is well known. And we all know about the lack of freedom, if not direct persecution, suffered by women and Christians in Islamic countries, while here they enjoy the generosity characteristic of freedom, democracy and reciprocity, of course, all of which they systematically deny....
"We already know that a part of the Western world is determined to commit suicide and many governments know that, to achieve this, they must destroy their own foundations. The beautiful multiculturalism of the progressive myth — reflected in nonsense such as the Alliance of Civilizations, or false notions of peaceful coexistence of the 'Three Cultures' in al-Andalus — is fed above all by the contempt for one's own culture. The best ally of intolerance is the relativism of those who have no principles.
"Today we have to face two fundamentalisms that, as we are seeing, are allies: Islamism and radical secularism. Every day they seem less opposed to each other and more complementary."
"It is somewhat curious that the Islamic Commission of Spain accuses me of trying to 'create permanent confusion' by identifying the political dimension of Islam with the religious dimension, when, precisely, the mixture of the religious and the political is so obviously constitutive of the Muslim world. It is worth remembering in this regard that, while our Christian civilization was built precisely on the separation of the civil and religious, you cannot say the same about yours....
"Of course, not all who profess Islam share the most extreme expressions of Islamist intolerance or support terrorism; but it is also true that the failure of multiculturalism is clearly visible throughout Europe. I reiterate that there are better and worse civilizations, a view that, I'm sure, you share. As I said, putting them all on the same level is just paving the way to barbarism.
"Finally: you refer the 'myth' of the invasion (I suppose that refers to the year 711), historical evidence that you seem to question in line with the darkest historical revisionism. We Spaniards, however, know very well that such a 'myth' is an unquestionable historical reality, for which we must thank the formation of a deep sense of national identity forged during the eight centuries of struggle for the recovery of the fatherland of our ancestors."
In an August 2017 interview, days after the jihadi attacks in Barcelona and nearby Cambrils, in which 14 people were killed and more than 130 injured, Abascal was asked if Spain is at war. He replied:
A: "We are in a global war. They have declared war. It's not a war between regular armies. It's a war that is distinct and very different from the wars we have known unto now. It is a global war against radical Islam."
Q: "Is Spain responsible? Are Spaniards responsible? Are Europeans responsible? Do we have to ask for forgiveness for something?"
A: "Those who have to ask for forgiveness are the politicians for their failure to protect us. The politicians are guilty for accepting the massive Islamic invasion, for failing to value the importance of borders, for providing migrants with economic assistance paid for by Spanish taxpayers."
Q: "Are we responsible for people who see no other option than to immolate themselves?"
A: "Are we responsible because they want to kill us?"
Q: "An MP from the far-left party Podemos said that we have to assume responsibility."
A: "We are not responsible. My children are not responsible. I am not going to accept that my children have to bow the knee to Mecca. I am not going to accept that my daughters are forced to wear a veil. If the far left like these guys, fine. If they like these jihadis, they should invite them into their homes and have them force their daughters to wear the veil. These politicians lack the courage to defend our borders and they lack the courage to defend Spaniards."
Q: "What about Islamophobia?"
A: "The danger is Islamophilia. I am tired of this constant preoccupation with Islamophobia. Muslims do not face persecution in Spain. I do not like that Muslims are incapable of making a distinction between religion and politics. I don't like the way they treat women. I don't like their concept of liberty. I don't like it. And to say this I'm called an Islamophobe. I can criticize a Communist and they don't call me a Communistphobe. If I criticize the separatists, they don't call me a Separatistphobe. But if I criticize a Muslim because I don't like their worldview, they call me Islamophobe. Why?"
In a radio interview in November 2018, Abascal commented on the growing popular support for Vox:
"I am very aware of the responsibility we are assuming. More and more people trust us. People are disappointed because the other parties have failed them. We have been able to connect with people who say in their homes the same things we say in public. This is the key to the great support we are getting. We know that people who come to our meetings do so not because of Vox, but because they are worried about their country and because we are not ashamed about talking about Spain.
"Vox is not ashamed to use words such as 'Reconquest.' To a large extent, the success we are reaping is because we have rescued words that seemed to be proscribed. From a historical perspective, the Reconquest is not a bad thing. On the contrary, we avoided Islamization and we live in freedom."
Meanwhile, Ibrahim Miguel Ángel Pérez, the man who reported Ortega Smith to Spanish prosecutors, says that he is dedicated to imprisoning those who, according to him, "profess the discourse of hatred against Islam." Pérez, who married a Moroccan woman before converting to Islam, is a member of the far-left party Podemos. He has bragged of his efforts to force the closure of the social media accounts of dozens of people who are critical of Islam.
A blogger named "Elentir" wrote about the significance of the hate crime allegations against Ortega Smith:
"For years the left has maintained a curious double discourse on religious matters: it promotes hatred of Christianity, calling it retrograde and macho, while it is friendly with Islam.
"With the same ease with which they accuse you of the crime of 'micro-machismo' if you compliment a woman, the left defends the use of the Islamic veil and does not dare to criticize the atrocious discrimination suffered by women in Muslim countries.
"While here in the West the left does everything possible to uproot our Christian heritage, the left considers it respectable that there are countries that have Islam as their official religion and that treat religious minorities as second-class citizens, or even subject them to persecution.
"Likewise, the left defends any gratuitous offense, even the most beastly ones, against Christians as 'freedom of expression.' At the same time, the mere criticism of Islam is branded as 'Islamophobia.'
"Note that Ortega spoke of 'Islamist,' an adjective used to refer to Islamic extremism.
"Apparently, now they do not just want us to stop all criticism of Islam: they do not want us to oppose the more extreme version either. On April 4, many media outlets reported that the Prosecutor's Office will investigate Ortega to verify if there is such a 'hate crime.'
"That is to say, that public resources will be used to investigate whether a person had the audacity to meddle with Islam.
"Is this still Spain or are we in Iran?
"It was to be expected that sooner or later some Muslims would try to transfer to Spain an environment of intolerance to any criticism of Islam such as that which exists in most Islamic countries.
"When a Muslim association tries to censor a critique of Islamism, the political and media left remains silent as a grave. It is more: yesterday the progressive media loaded their inks not against the denunciating association, but against the denounced politician.
"Every time that the Association of Christian Lawyers makes a denunciation against acts of Christianophobia, the leftist media speak of an 'ultra-Catholic group.' Yesterday, not one progressive used the term 'ultra-Islamic group' to describe an organization that is trying to impede the right to criticize Islamism.
"Rather, the news seemed designed to imply that the mere fact of being investigated by the Prosecutor's Office already makes Ortega guilty. No presumption of innocence, no freedom of expression or tolerance. When it comes to Islam, the left changes the relativist 'anything goes' for an authoritarian 'shut your mouth.'"
Meanwhile, popular support for Vox is higher than ever, according to the Center for Sociological Research (Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas, CIS), a Spanish public research institute. A recent poll found that Vox is projected to win around 12% of the vote in the upcoming national election on April 28. Vox would win between 29 and 37 seats in the next parliament, positioning the party as king-maker in any potential center-right coalition government.