Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Denmark's Battle for Free Speech

Sunday's New York Times has a good piece on the Danish cartoon controversy:

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one in which he is shown wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, it expected a strong reaction in this country of 5.4 million people.

But the paper was unprepared for the global furor that ensued, including demonstrations in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, death threats against the artists, condemnation from 11 Muslim countries and a rebuke from the United Nations.



The article does a decent job of putting the controversy into the broader context of free speech in a Europe confronted by the rise of Islamist radicalism. In particular, it quotes Jyllands-Posten's cultural editor Flemming Rose on his decision to run the cartoons:

Mr. Rose, once a journalist in Iran, said he decided to commission the cartoons for Jyllands-Posten when he heard that Danish cartoonists were too scared of Muslim fundamentalists to illustrate a new children's biography of Muhammad.

Annoyed at the self-censorship he said had overtaken Europe since the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered last year by a Muslim radical for criticizing Islam's treatment of women, Mr. Rose said he decided to test Denmark's free speech norms.



As the Times article points out, the cartoons did indeed offend many Muslims, both in Denmark and elsewhere. They have every right to be offended, and to express their unhappiness with Jyllands-Posten for publishing the drawings. However, the reaction of some Muslims has gone beyond mere verbal condemnation.

A coalition of 11 Danish Muslim organizations recently made an unsuccessful bid to force prosecutors to bring charges of racism and blasphemy against the newspaper. Other Danish Muslims have visited a number of Islamic nations and falsely accused their home country of attacking Islam in an effort to force the Danish government to condemn Jyllands-Posten. In the words of one Danish imam, "(w)hen someone offends the prophet, it is not only just a local problem but affects Muslims worldwide".

This attitude is precisely the problem. The right of free expression is meaningless without the freedom to offend. Once certain topics or viewpoints become off-limits, then free speech ceases to be free. There is no shortage of Europeans willing to mock Christianity or compare Israel to Nazi Germany. Yet, thanks to the murder of Theo Van Gogh and fear of Muslim reactions, relatively few Europeans are willing to publicly criticize aspects of Islam. This creeping form of censorship very much threatens free speech in Europe, as the editors of Jyllands-Posten have noted in explaining their decision to run the cartoons.

Thankfully, the Danish government, while seeking to conciliate Muslim sensibilities, has refused to abandon its resolute defense of free speech or to apologize for the actions taken by a private newspaper in exercising that right. As the Times article notes, the same laws that protect Jyllands-Posten also enable "peaceful" Salafist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir to pursue their agenda of turning Denmark into an Islamist state governed by sharia.

This is as it should be. As I have noted previously, the way to protect free expression against the Islamists is not to deny them their rights, but rather to prevent them from denying the rights of others. Hopefully, Denmark will prove able to do this successfully.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This action is just an act of hate. This hate is exmaplify by the Danish Queen it self. She claimed that Islam poses a global threat and urged government to show no tolerance toward the Muslims in the north European country, reported the Telegraph on Friday, April 15. She was also feeling frightened from Muslim "extremists" who have dedicated their life only for religion, Reuters said.
What of nonsense is this? So anyone who dedicates their life to religion is an extremist terrorist?!
Then what about the Pope, priests, nuns, monks, ...etc?? They dedicate their lives to religion too.

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have clearly no idea what you are talking about. I don't know where you've read such nonsense, but the danish queen has never spoken that way about Muslims or Islam.
I would like to see any proof that she has ever made such a statement.
Get your facts right and not judge an entire country on wild rumors.

5:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite. Were she to make such a claim she'd be utterly destroyed in terms of public and political appeal.

She may as well have just abdicated. That's utter and total nonsense.

The acts that have followed are acts of hate, of utter nonsensical fanaticism and sheer stupidity. I find some of the retaliatory comments offensive ("We hope there will be another 7/7" - I am British). Were I the Danish government, I'd intern or deport these fools who protested politically in any way. Why not simply complain to the publisher? Why complain to the government? It's not up to them what the publishers put out.

3:30 PM  

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