Free Speech Still Threatened in Europe

Scarcely two days into 2010, we’ve gotten a stark reminder of how free speech is still threatened by religious fanatics: Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the image of Mohammed depicted to the right, was attacked at home Friday night by a murderous, ax-wielding religious fanatic. Fortunately, neither Westergaard nor his 5-year-old granddaughter, who was with him at the time, were harmed. They escaped to a panic room built into the house for just this purpose and summoned police, who shot and wounded the attacker when he refused to surrender.

This isn’t the first time Westergaard’s life has been threatened by crazed Muslims. As I reported previously, he’s been the target of multiple death threats since the Mohammed cartoons were first published in 2005, and in 2008, three other men were arrested by Danish police and charged with plotting his murder.

In an October interview with the conservative National Post (which notes ruefully that Westergaard isn’t much of a fan of Christianity, either), the artist was unrepentant:

“As I see it, many of the immigrants who came to Denmark, they had nothing. We gave them everything – money, apartments, their own schools, free university, health care. In return, we asked one thing – respect for democratic values, including free speech. Do they agree? This is my simple test.”

The best way to defend this brave man is to ensure that he’s not the only target. There has been too much embarrassed silence and self-censorship over this affair in the halls of Western journalism. We need more images and drawings of Mohammed, not fewer, to show Muslim thugs that their religious laws have no power over us – and to ensure that they’ll have no single target, if they persist in the belief that they can avoid criticism by murdering all their critics. (Any Daylight Atheism readers have artistic talent?)

It’s not just lone fanatics, but governments that are getting in on the anti-free-speech game. Sadly, Ireland’s new blasphemy law, which criminalizes the publication of matter “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”, has just taken effect. (Atheism is not similarly protected from offense, in case you were wondering.)

However, we should count ourselves fortunate for having the smart freethinkers at Atheist Ireland – who promptly challenged this idiotic piece of medievalism by publishing 25 blasphemous quotes, against a wide variety of religions, as a way of testing the new law and exposing its foolishness. Will the government dare to prosecute them? Stay tuned!

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    I applaud the Irish atheists. We shouldn’t just sit back and let laws like this go unchallenged. Here’s hoping something good comes of this.

  • Sarah Braasch

    I wish every political cartoonist in the world would draw a cartoon of Mohammed, and I wish every newspaper in the world would publish these cartoons. What are they going to do? Kill everyone who insists on speaking his or her mind? If we don’t exercise our rights, we will lose our rights. I love the Irish atheists.

  • Kevin Morgan

    “I wish every political cartoonist in the world would draw a cartoon of Mohammed, and I wish every newspaper in the world would publish these cartoons. What are they going to do? Kill everyone who insists on speaking his or her mind?”

    Well actually, yes, that’s exactly what they will do, or at least, try to do.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Thanks for republishing the cartoon, Adam. I hadn’t seen it before.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m sure they would if they could, but they can’t, and that’s precisely the point. Like all acts of terrorism – and the attack on Westergaard is an act of terrorism in the original sense of the word – these Islamist fanatics hope to achieve aims that they can’t achieve through straightforward military force by instead creating an aura of fear and intimidation with a few highly visible acts of violence. They can’t possibly bomb or assassinate every newspaper publisher, author and journalist in the world, but they hope they can cow the rest of us into becoming too afraid to oppose them. Unfortunately, many media outlets are giving them exactly what they want. If the papers took a unanimous stand on free speech and all republished Westergaard’s cartoon and the others in response to violent acts like this one, the terrorists would soon see that they couldn’t get what they want through violence, and that would lead to fewer acts of terrorism in the long run.

    I also noticed something about the Irish law: it’s not up to the prosecutor’s discretion whether a speech act constitutes blasphemy or not. Instead, it expressly punishes only speech which “caus[es] outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. In other words, if I write an essay mocking Christianity but don’t get an outraged response from Christians, I’m not liable. In effect, this rewards the most unreasonable and fanatical sects with legal immunity from criticism, which is really the worst wording possible.

  • Archimedez

    I’m glad Westergaard and his granddaughter are safe, for now. It seems Islam cannot be defended on its own merits, which is why its most zealous defenders resort to threats, assassination attempts, or, when violence is not feasible, character assassination of the critics. [Or, in Islamic countries, harsh criminal prosecution and penalties for the alleged critic]. This is precisely in the tradition of Muhammad, who had critics and satirical poets executed. In addition, it seems that these jihadists have no sense of irony, and this one coming at one of those Danish cartoonists with an axe (and/or knives and/or a hammer)…life imitates the art which comments on life…

    This assassination attempt is an attempt to inhibit all expressions about Islam that are less than flattering.

    Re the Irish blasphemy law:
    “that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”

    Theoretically it would be possible for adherents of the major religions, such as Christianity and Islam, to get members of the other group endlessly prosecuted and thrown in jail for quoting from their religious texts, which are not merely offensive/insulting but which advocate actions that violate just about every major law in modern society (genocide, murder, rape, pedophilia, slavery, plundering, etc.). Somehow I don’t think this will happen. I think it is more likely that critics of religion are going to be on the receiving end of this medieval “law.”

    p.s. I like the edit feature.

  • prase

    Thanks for republishing the cartoon of Mohammed. Not that I haven’t seen it before, but it should be published again and again, always when some fanatic tries to use violence to promote his ideology.

    As for the Irish law, it is one of the worst examples of idiocy, and the atheists’ reaction is the only logical. I am looking forward to see how it will end. The European Court was ready to ban crosses in schools… Now they should act. Unfortunately, I am afraid that they will not.

    Edit: I like the edit feature, too. But 5 minute limit is a bit too short.

  • http://www.dailymotion.com/Insineratehymn Insineratehymn

    About 2 years ago, I drew a crude MS Paint picture of Mohammed in response to the muslim outrage toward the Danish cartoons. Here it is if you want to see it.

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    We need more images and drawings of Mohammed, not fewer, to show Muslim thugs that their religious laws have no power over us…

    I agree, which is why I was pissed off when Yale University Press opted to exclude the controversial cartoons from a book, The Cartoons That Shook The World, that was explicitly about those cartoons. WTF? That’s like trying to write a sex manual without identifying the pertinent body parts. Censoring ourselves because we are afraid of offending people is stupid; it cedes power to them that they haven’t earned.

  • Staceyjw

    Does anyone remember when the US Marine was reprimanded for using the Koran for target practice, and the muslims went NUTS over it? Inspired by this, I wanted to take mini-korans and shoot holes through them, and make them into keychains. Not a cartoon, but I’m not a cartoonist. Maybe I will quit being lazy and make them now, because of this recent attack.
    Western societies need to WAKE UP to the fact that some muslims will KILL over any offense to their religion, and they incite large groups with their violence. Instead of backing down, we need to fight them by using our freedoms to the fullest.
    Staceyjw

  • Eric

    Glad Westergaard’s OK.

    If I were President of the US I’d arrange for a US citizen to be arrested for blasphemy in Ireland and then I’d MAKE WAR ON IRELAND. Irish corporations and nationals would have their US bank accounts frozen. Wire transfers of money to Ireland would be forbidden. Travel to Ireland would be banned. Saint Patrick’s day would be renamed “Freedom Day”. Carrier groups would engage in “exercises” in international waters near Ireland.

  • monkeymind

    “As I see it, many of the immigrants who came to Denmark, they had nothing. We gave them everything – money, apartments, their own schools, free university, health care. In return, we asked one thing – respect for democratic values, including free speech. Do they agree? This is my simple test.”

    Doesn’t anyone see a problem or two with this quote?

  • CSN

    “Immigrant” does not equal “Islamic” and vice versa for one thing. Maybe in context it was a more relevant equivalence. Did they really give them “their own schools”?

  • http://www.croonersunlimited.com Jim Speiser

    Does anyone know where I can find the drawing of Mohammed getting a blow job? OK, I guess he’s not really getting fellated, but it sure looks like it. Some maiden is on her knees, I guess in worship or something, and it looks for all the world like he’s getting his pipe cleaned. If anyone knows where I can find it, I’d like to use it in my email signature. Then I would like the email address of the Imam in charge of Denmark…

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    Perhaps we should have a Blasphemous Mohammad Art Contest.

  • TEP

    You’ve got to admire Mohammed’s ability to create such a long-lasting cult of personality. Hitler was seen as a messiah figure for many, but for all the fanaticism of his following, only for a couple of decades did one have to fear being beaten up by the SA or being sent to a concentration camp by the SS for drawing cartoons criticising him. These days, ridiculing Hitler is commonplace, and nobody bats an eyelid when somebody does so. Compare that with Mohammed, who is still able to inspire riots and death squads determined to stifle all criticism whenever somebody says something mildly critical, over 1300 years after his death. Mohammed would have to go down as the most successful dictator in history, managing to create an apparatus of state terror that has managed to persist for so long after his physical demise. It really makes the SS, the KGB, Saddam’s Republican Guard, all look quite feeble in comparison.

  • Broggly

    I have an idea for a Muhammad comic. Muhammad and Aisha are in his tent. The Prophet has his head in his hands, exasperated. He’s saying “I just don’t understand why these satirists are so mean to me.” Aisha has an unsympathetic look on her face, as if to say “What a big baby”. The tent flap is open and in the background you can see a man being executed.

    TEP, think about how people felt about Jesus in the 1600s, 1700s and in some places even into the 1800s. The Divine Mister M has a few more centuries to go before he’s in the running for most stable personality cult.
    Of course you could argue the historicity of Jesus, or at least the extent of his influence on the faith. But that just shifts the focus to Paul, the founder of Christianity.

  • http://unreligiousright.blogspot.com/ UNRR

    This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/3/2010, at The Unreligious Right

  • Javaman

    To Jim Speiser:
    I have a better idea. How about we take this to the next level with an artistic rendering of Mohammad deflowering the Virgin Mary (hey, she may be one of the virgins a Muslim meets in their version of an Islamic paradise after death). Or, even better, how about Mohammad getting anally sodomized by Jesus in a gay version of an Islamic paradise?

    I can’t believe that after the huge Ireland Catholic school sex scandal involving Irish priests sexually abusing children for many years, they now pass a blasphemy law. I bet you the Irish Catholic church will hide behind this law to protect themselves from any future investigations or allegations of child sex.

  • TEP

    TEP, think about how people felt about Jesus in the 1600s, 1700s and in some places even into the 1800s. The Divine Mister M has a few more centuries to go before he’s in the running for most stable personality cult.
    Of course you could argue the historicity of Jesus, or at least the extent of his influence on the faith. But that just shifts the focus to Paul, the founder of Christianity.

    ______
    Jesus never managed to become a dictator, and the religions that came about as a result of him likely had very little to do with his actual teachings, and slowly materialised in an ad hoc manner long after his death. There’s little reason to believe that whatever figure or figures the many conflicting Jesus narratives were based on had any real plan or intent to start a new religion, or that he was anything more than your typical crackpot. In contrast, Mohammed ruled over a powerful empire, and carefully crafted a religion around himself in order to make people obey him. Mohammed’s personality cult was of his own doing, whereas Jesus was just some nutter who would have been completely forgotten by history, who by some crazy stroke of luck just happened to have some other people make a viable religion around him, albeit one that likely had little to do with who he actually was. The point being that Jesus was never the head of a regime for which violence in his name could be considered a continuation of; the same is not true for Mohammed, whose regime effectively persists to today.

  • http://theorangesashford.moonfruit.com Steve Bowen

    Or, even better, how about Mohammad getting anally sodomized by Jesus in a gay version of an Islamic paradise?

    This kind of assumes Jesus was a virgin.

    Actually I’m not sure any purpose is served by going for extremes. A gentle but persistant satire would probably serve us better, liberally sprinkled across all media so that there were no obvious targets for the nut jobs.

  • FuzzyDuck

    In many religions & depending on the level of rabid fanaticism of individuals involved, isn’t merely disavowing the existence of the deity a gross insult? Does that mean athiests are by their mere existance a blasphemy & subject to being fined under the law?

  • Scotlyn

    Ebonmuse:

    it’s not up to the prosecutor’s discretion whether a speech act constitutes blasphemy or not. Instead, it expressly punishes only speech which “caus[es] outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion”. In other words, if I write an essay mocking Christianity but don’t get an outraged response from Christians, I’m not liable.

    Incentivising outrage may be the most dangerous part of this law. Quoted here, Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland said:

    And it is dangerous because it incentives religious outrage, and because Islamic states led by Pakistan are already using the wording of this Irish law to promote new blasphemy laws at UN level.

    Another feature of the law is that it comes into force at the same time as the new European Arrest Warrant. So, for example, if the Danish cartoons were published in Ireland, any outraged person based in Ireland could ask to have the Danish publishers extradited to Ireland to face prosecution here.

    Some background – it was pointed out to the Irish government many years ago that the Irish Constitution mentions blasphemy, but that no government has legislated for it – therefore it was leaving it to common law (ie the courts) to decide how to implement the constitutional prohibition. The government had two choices – 1) a referendum to remove the reference to blasphemy in the constitution, or 2) make a law. They chose the second and made a balls of it. The aim of the campaign, of course, is not only to overturn the law, but to remove the reference to blasphemy from the Irish constitution.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    I want to draw Mohammed making out with Miss Piggy, but my tablet is still in the mail. Argh!

    I guess this will have to do for now.

    EDIT: This edit is to test my ability to edit. Success, I presume!
    DOUBLE-EDIT: Success, I confirm! Great job, Ebonmuse!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Another feature of the law is that it comes into force at the same time as the new European Arrest Warrant. So, for example, if the Danish cartoons were published in Ireland, any outraged person based in Ireland could ask to have the Danish publishers extradited to Ireland to face prosecution here.

    That’s a chilling thought, Scotlyn. (And I really like the term “incentivizing outrage” – an all too accurate description, unfortunately.) As an Irish citizen, do you see any prospect that this law will actually be enforced? Is this something the European Court of Human Rights might strike down?

  • Scotlyn

    Ebon, unfortunately, Ireland is the master of the “Irish solution to an Irish problem” – which often consists in pretending there is no problem … until it blows up in your face. I would say the authorities have no interest in actually using the law in any particular way, they just wanted to “solve” the original “constitutional” problem, and, as is often the case, did not given sufficient thought to the potential outcomes. One outcome I could see would be an intensification of religious conflict between fundamentalist Catholics and fundamentalist Muslims (who have not yet made themselves felt as a political force in Ireland, but who may find this an ideal weapon). Atheist Ireland is a small group, but contains people who have foreseen this and the other potential pitfalls already referred to, and are taking action accordingly, mainly, I think by appealing to the well-developed sense of the absurd, which is also deeply ingrained in Irish culture. Unfortunately the project for a secular Ireland may be set back if there is a religious (ie Muslim) threat to Catholicism, as one of the historical processes that wedded the Irish to their Catholicism were the Penal Laws which outlawed Mass, priesthood, churches, etc, and which held sway here for over a hundred years or more during British rule. I don’t yet know what the European Court of Human Rights might do, but there is a whole system of “exceptions” based on “culture,” which may remove this from their purview.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X