TAG | Denmark
Cross-posted on the Corner.
The New York Times (my emphasis added):
A 42-year-old man who burned a Quran and posted a video of it on Facebook has been charged with blasphemy in Denmark, a striking decision by prosecutors in a country that is largely secular but has grappled with the role of Islam in public life…
The decision to charge the Quran burner was made by a regional prosecutor in Viborg, on the Jutland peninsula, and had to be approved by the country’s attorney general.
The blasphemy law has been invoked only a handful of times since its creation in 1866, most recently in 1971, when two people broadcast a song mocking Christianity and stirred a debate over female sexuality. They were acquitted. No one has been convicted of the crime since 1946, when a man dressed himself up as a priest and mock-baptized a doll at a masquerade ball.
In the current case, the suspect, who was not identified by the authorities but called himself John Salvesen on Facebook, uploaded video footage of a Quran being burned in his backyard. In the 4-minute, 15-second clip, the clicking sounds of a lighter are heard before flames engulf the large leather-bound book.
The video was posted on Dec. 27, 2015, to a Facebook group called “Yes to Freedom — No to Islam.” Above the video, shared 415 times, were the words: “Consider your neighbor, it stinks when it burns.” One commenter wrote: “If I had the Quran I’d also burn it, that’s the only thing it’s good for. Gives a bit of heat.”
The man’s Facebook page was full of messages critical of Islam, refugees and women. In one post, he even wrote, “I hate children.”
Not the most likable of individuals, it seems, but that, in this context, is neither here nor there. A decade or so ago, shortly after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the Mohammed cartoons, I wrote an article examining the reaction elsewhere in Europe to Denmark’s defense of free speech:
Denmark, and its tradition of free speech, has been left to twist in the wind, trashed, abused, and betrayed. An article published in Jyllands-Posten (yes, them again) on Friday revealed clear frustration over the way that the country is being treated. It’s in Danish only, but one phrase (“Ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed er ytringsfrihed. Der er intet men.”) stands out, and it deserves to be translated and repeated again, and again, and again: “Free speech is free speech is free speech. There is no but.”
That was then.
After the Charlie-Hebdo massacre all but one of Denmark’s major newspapers published some of the French magazine’s edgier cartoons. The one that did not was Jyllands-Posten, citing security concerns, a decision, the newspaper explained, showed that “violence works”.
Back to The New York Times (again, my emphasis added):
Jacob Mchangama, director of Justitia, a Danish civil liberties group, called the decision to file charges the latest sign of a declining respect for free speech in Europe. “It’s a sad development but one that mirrors developments elsewhere,” he said.
Mr. Mchangama said he thought the prosecutor was motivated by a desire to fend off the threat of terrorist attacks. “Danish authorities are afraid that the Quran burning could spark a new crisis, and if they say that they’ve actually charged this person, this is a way to appease or at least avoid such a crisis,” he said.
The Times writes brightly that ‘only’ five EU countries have blasphemy laws on the books (not nothing, I reckon, in a union of 28), but fails to note how European authorities in a number of other member-states have sometimes used ‘hate crimes’ legislation as a de facto blasphemy law. Lest we forget: Free speech is not a #EuropeanValue .
Oh yes, according to the Koran-burner’s defence lawyer, in 1997 a Danish artist burned a copy of the Bible on a news show by a state broadcaster. There was no prosecution.
And there wouldn’t be now I reckon, which is how it should be. But the fact that there wouldn’t is simultaneously a double standard, patronizing (Muslim sensitivities apparently need special protection) and, yet again, a recognition that violence works.
So, usually, does intimidation by the state. According to the Times, “a trial has been scheduled for June. If convicted, the defendant faces up to four months in prison or a fine.” But a conviction and any penalty are not really the point. The process itself, with its expense, anxiety and more, is both punishment and a message that the authorities want to send out to any Dane thinking of expressing the wrong sort of thoughts about Islam in the wrong way.
Meanwhile, Trine Bramsen, a member of Parliament and a spokeswoman of the Social Democrats (the leading party of Denmark’s center-left) has, the Times reports, defended the blasphemy law:
“I struggle to see how that we’ll achieve a stronger society, or how we’ll enrich the public debate, if the burning of holy books was permitted”.
So what? Burning the Koran may add nothing (or less than nothing) to the debate, but the idea that controversial expressions of opinion can only be permitted if they are in the interests of a “stronger society” (whatever that is) or “enrich the public debate” (whoever decides that) is entirely at odds with the idea of truly free speech.
And so, needless to say, are blasphemy laws.
Nick Cohen, writing in The Spectator:
Firoozeh Bazrafkan is frightened of nothing. Five foot tall, 31 years old, and so thin you think a puff of wind could blow her away, she still has the courage to be a truly radical artist and challenge those who might hurt her. She fights for women’s rights and intellectual freedom, and her background means her fight has to be directed against radical Islam. As a Danish citizen, she saw journalists go into hiding and mobs attack her country’s embassies just because Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Muhammad that were so tame you could hardly call them ‘satirical’. Bazrafkan is also the daughter of an Iranian family, and the Islamic Republic’s subjugation of women revolts her.
When I met her, she was enduring a crash course in politically correct Europe’s many hypocrisies. White Danes reported her to the police for writing that Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters, and adding for good measure that the ‘Koran is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined’.
You could say that her remarks were offensive. You could say that the inattentive reader might just take them to mean that all Muslim men abuse and murder their daughters. But if every remark that someone might find offensive or misinterpret were banned, the human race would fall silent.
Liberal principles once held that the Danish state should only punish Bazrafkan if her words provoked violence. As it was, the court asked for no proof of actual incitement. (There was none to be had.) Instead, it acted as if criticism of religion — a system of beliefs which individuals should be free to choose and others should be free to criticise — was identical to racial prejudice, which all thinking people condemn because no one can choose his or her ethnicity.
The white ‘liberal’ judges therefore ruled that the Iranian-born artist was a ‘racist’ and gave her a criminal record for condemning honour killings and clerical misogyny…
And the story gets worse. Read the whole thing.
Here’s a story from the London Times on how the Britain’s libel laws may be used to do their bit in stamping down free speech:
UP TO 95,000 descendants of the prophet Muhammad are planning to bring a libel action in Britain over “blasphemous” cartoons of the founder of Islam, even though they were published in the Danish press.
The defamation case is being prepared by Faisal Yamani, a Saudi lawyer acting for the descendants, who live in the Middle East, north Africa and as far afield as Australia.
Mark Stephens, a British lawyer who has seen a “pre-action” letter sent by Yamani to 10 Danish newspapers, said it “specifically says” he will launch proceedings in London.
Yamani is expected to justify the action by claiming that the cartoons, including one of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, were accessible in Britain on the internet…
…Stephens said the descendants could argue that the cartoons — which first appeared in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in 2005, sparking violent protests around the world — were a direct slur on them.
“Direct descendants of the prophet have a particular place within Muslim society . . . By effectively criticising and making fun of the prophet you are, by implication, holding them up to scandal, contempt and public ridicule,” he said. “So it may be that they will suffer some kind of damage among their own community. The question is, is that defamatory in English law?”
Well, this story (via The Daily Telegraph) is depressing:
A Danish newspaper on Friday became the first in the country to apologise for offending Muslims by printing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb-shaped turban, rekindling a heated debate about free speech. Politiken said its apology was part of a settlement with a Saudi lawyer representing eight Muslim groups in the Middle East and Australia…Politiken was among several Danish newspapers that reprinted the cartoon in 2008 after police uncovered an alleged plot to kill its creator, Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.
In a statement, Politiken said it “recognises and deplores” that Muslims were offended by the caricature. “We apologise to anyone who was offended by our decision to reprint the cartoon drawing,” it said. Toeger Seidenfaden, the paper’s editor, told The Associated Press that the paper was apologising for the offence caused by the cartoon – not the decision to reprint it.