February 06, 2006
JyllandsPosten's Muhammed cartoons

I wanted to comment on Jyllands-Posten's cartoons when they were first re-published in Norway in early January and the magazine editors were threathened with death by local fundamentalists. I was disturbed to see this in my home country, but kept my thoughts to myself in order to try to understand better what was happening.

The last weeks' developments have thoroughly disturbed me: A strong believer in the freedom of speech and having discussed the issue with a number of friends and colleagues, I still need to get my head around what's happening:

Implying no approval of the message in the cartoons; as a purely theoretical question: can we allow violent threats to suppress free speech? Can we accept that religious (or political) groups have the right to expect no criticism, and in turn to react violently when criticism has been published in a non-threatening way? Free speech is a basic value in most, if not all, Western societies, and the last weeks it has been under attack by brute force threats from both minority groups living in the same countries, as well as from far away lands (see images from recent demonstrations further down on this page).

The jury is still out on whether it's a smart thing to do for more papers to re-publish these cartoons and kindling the fire currently raging (literally, as a couple of embassies were torched over the weekend!), but for the right of newspapers to print what they want without receiving death threats - that is something worth defending:

A poem comes to mind:

When they came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

- Martin Niem÷ller (1892-1984)

Interpret as you feel like; (Michelle Malkin rewrites to: First, they came for the Cartoonists)...

Writes Paul Belien:

Meanwhile in Brussels a young Muslim immigrant published a poster depicting the Virgin Mary with naked breasts. Though the picture has drawn some protest from Catholics (though not from Western embassies, nor from the bishops), this artist need not fear being murdered in the street. On the contrary, he is being subsidised by the Ministry for Culture.

Read more here:

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Comments

Can we allow having a law that specifically outlaws blasphemy? The right of newspapers to print what they want without risking being prosecuted for breaking this law, now that would be something. I am not talking about Iran, but about Norway. Yes, Norway, which has such a law (ž142 of the penal code). And even though it has not been in use for decades, there also has been no serious attempt repealing it. It was, in fact, mentioned by our Prime Minister yesterday...

Posted by: Eirik on February 6, 2006 09:02 PM

Eirik, it's true - I'm aware of the blasphemy legislation. While this was once used against films like 'The Life of Brian' (Monty Python) in the old days - this film and other religious satire are now widely accepted and not banned.

I think the law would more apply against inciting religous hatred (ultra-right-wing political parties / neo-nazis come to mind) - not against day-to-day cartoonry.

Anyway - the key to my argument is that we should not let small extremist groups wipe out important freedoms our peoples and our presses have earned through centuries of hard work.

Posted by: Anders on February 7, 2006 01:06 PM

I totally agree about the extremists on both sides, my point was that freedom of expression is a difficult subject - and this is reflected in the fact that we have anti-blasphemy legislation in Norway. Almost everyone has a limit to what they are willing to accept. Take the case of pornography, where we recently had a Supreme court decision in Norway that angered a lot of Christians (they find common ground with the Muslims in this, BTW). Or a man like David Irving, the revisionist (many would say neo-Nazi) historian who is currently being prosecuted in Austria for views that he claims he doesn't even hold anymore.

Although the extremist groups in the Middle East represent a clear and present danger at the moment, there are people here in the West that in my view are more dangerous in the long run. The ever-increasing influence of the religious right in the US is an example. See this, for instance: http://www.theinquirer.net/?article=29502

Posted by: Eirik on February 7, 2006 01:53 PM

Eirik: true. Also posted about it here:
http://www.jacobsen.no/anders/blog/archives/2006/02/06/intelligent_design_now_also_at_nasa.html

Posted by: Anders on February 7, 2006 08:01 PM
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