Friday, July 20, 2007

Cartoon Followup

In response to this post on the latest twist in the Danish Cartoon controversy, Art Deco asks:

On what basis did the plaintiffs in France and Denmark initiate a suit against Jyllands Posten?

Unfortunately, I can't really answer that question in detail. In terms of the Danish lawsuit, the most detailed explanation I've come across is this March 30, 2006 article from CBC:

A group of 27 Muslim organizations has filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper that first published the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that led to protests around the world.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, two weeks after Denmark's top prosecutor declined to press criminal charges, saying the drawings that sparked a firestorm in the Muslim world did not violate laws against racism or blasphemy.

Michael Christiani Havemann, a lawyer representing the Muslim groups, said the lawsuit sought the equivalent of about $18,800 Cdn in damages from Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten newspaper, and culture editor Flemming Rose, who supervised the cartoon project.

"We're seeking judgment for both the text and the drawings, which were gratuitously defamatory and injurious," Havemann told the Associated Press.

The lawsuit in France was actually not directed against Jyllands Posten, but rather targeted Charlie Hebdo, a French magazine that republished the cartoons. A February 9, 2007 piece from the Christian Science Monitor provides some background:

Now, with feelings still slightly raw in Europe's neighborhoods, the cartoon case is echoing in a Paris court – over a satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, that reprinted the cartoons exactly a year ago. Charlie Hebdo's cover depicted the prophet covering his eyes, next to the line, "Mohammed overwhelmed by extremists," and thinking to himself, "It is hard to be worshiped by idiots."

In the heat of the moment two French Muslim groups filed suit, citing laws forbidding injury caused by religious slander that carry fines and a sentence.

The trial raises larger questions about how far Europe is or should be accommodating values claimed by the Muslim world. But in the current election season here it has turned into a hot platform for French candidates to espouse issues like free speech. Every leading candidate made an appearance, including front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, who wrote a note saying he'd rather have "an excess of [cartoon] caricatures, than an absence of caricatures."

Lawyers for the Muslims, including a legal aide to French President Jacques Chirac, say Charlie Hebdo ridiculed Islamic clerics, and incited hatred against all Muslims, as part of a "considered plan of provocation."

While both lawsuits were dismissed, the Monitor article points out a troubling trend:

Indeed, while French intellectuals may have adopted an absolute position against abridgement of free speech – Europe's actual approach to the issue has dramatically reversed in the past decade.

Ethnologist Jeanne Favret-Saada of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris and author of a forthcoming book on the Danish cartoons says, "We Europeans have completely changed positions on secular versus religious issues, and on freedom of expression. During the fatwa on [Salman] Rushdie in 1989 [for his book "The Satanic Verses"], there was unanimity on the question of free expression. It was not debated. But today part of the left has taken the view that the Danish paper was racist."


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