Flemming Rose: Free Speech and Radical Islam
Flemming Rose ist der Kulturredakteur der dänischen Tageszeitung “Jyllands-Posten”, er war verantwortlich für den Abdruck der Mohammed-Karikaturen am 3o.9.2005.
Der folgende Text erscheint heute im Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120303586375870157.html
At a lunch last year celebrating his 25th anniversary with
Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard told an anecdote. During World War II
Pablo Picasso met a German officer in southern France, and they got
into a conversation. When the German officer figured out whom he was talking
to he said:
“Oh, you are the one who created Guernica?” referring to the famous
painting of the German bombing of a Basque town by that name in 1937.
Picasso paused for a second, and replied, “No, it wasn’t me, it was
For the past three months Mr. Westergaard and his wife have been on the
run. Mr. Westergaard did the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons
published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005—the one depicting the
prophet with a bomb in his turban. The cartoon was a satirical comment
on the fact that some Muslims are committing terrorist acts in the name
of Islam and the prophet. Tragically, Mr. Westergaard’s fate has proven
the point of his cartoon: In the early hours of Tuesday morning Danish
police arrested three men who allegedly had been plotting to kill him.
In the past few days 17 Danish newspapers have published Mr.
Westergaard’s cartoon, which is as truthful as Picasso’s painting. My
colleagues at Jyllands-Posten and I understand that the cartoon may be
offensive to some people, but sometimes the truth can be very
As George Orwell put it in the suppressed preface to “Animal Farm”: “If
liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do
not want to hear.”
Sadly, the plot to kill Mr. Westergaard is not an isolated story, but
part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe
and around the world. Consider the following recent events:
In Oslo a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings, showing the head
of the prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body, by the Swedish artist Lars
Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007.
In Holland the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show
photos by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera of gay men wearing the
masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali; Ms. Hera has received
several death threats and is in hiding. In Belarus an editor has been
sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some
of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt bloggers are in jail
after having “insulted Islam.” In Afghanistan the 23-year-old Sayed
Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed
“blasphemous” material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in
India the Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having
been threatened by people who don’t like her books.
Every one of the above cases speaks to the same problem: a global battle
for the right to free speech. The cases are different, and you can’t
compare the legal systems in Egypt and Norway, but the justifications
for censorship and self-censorship are similar in different parts of the
world: Religious feelings and taboos need to be treated with a kind of
sensibility and respect that other feelings and ideas cannot command.
This position boils down to a simple rule: If you respect my taboo, I’ll
respect yours. That was the rule of the game during the Cold War until
people like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov and other
dissenting voices behind the Iron Curtain insisted on another rule: It
is not cultures, religions or political systems that enjoy rights.
Human beings enjoy rights, and certain principles like the ones embedded in
the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights are universal.
Unfortunately, misplaced sensitivity is being used by tyrants and
fanatics to justify murder and silence criticism. Right now the
Organization of Islamic Countries is conducting a successful campaign
at the United Nations to rewrite international human-rights standards to
curtail the right to free speech. Last year the U.N. Human Rights
Council adopted a resolution against “defamation of religion,” calling
on governments around the world to clamp down on cartoonists, writers,
journalists, artists and dissidents who dare to speak up.
In the West there is a lack of clarity on these issues. People suggest
that Salman Rushdie, Theo van Gogh, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen
and Kurt Westergaard bear a certain amount of responsibility for their
fate. They don’t understand that by doing so they tacitly endorse attacks on
dissenting voices in parts of the world where no one can protect them.
We need a global movement to fight blasphemy and other insult laws, and
the European Union should lead the way by removing them. Europe should
make it clear that democracies will protect their citizens if they say
something that triggers threats and intimidation.