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February 16, 2015

Freedom of Speech, censorship, Islam, how about the 2nd Amendment? [nc]

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Religion, Europe and Denmark
Shooting at cartoonists, again
Feb 15th 2015, 15:31 by B.C.

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Copenhagen cafe attacked by terrorist

THE terrorist shootings in Denmark are the latest skirmish in Europe’s ongoing contest between freedom of expression and radical Islamists, and as with January’s attacks in Paris, they targeted both the press and the Jewish community. On Saturday afternoon, one person was killed and three police officers wounded when a gunman opened fire on a free-speech debate at a Copenhagen cafe (pictured) hosted by a controversial Swedish cartoonist, Lars Vilks. Hours later, a Jewish man was killed and another two police were injured near a synagogue. Today, police said they had killed the presumed perpetrator of both attacks after he opened fire on them.

Denmark is where this battle, part physical and part moral, got started a decade ago, after a Danish newspaper’s publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad led to riots. This is unsurprising, since the country presents an extreme case of western Europe’s paradoxical religious order. Christianity is historically privileged but practised in a serious way by only a small minority. Islam is numerically small but followed more passionately, at least by a substantial minority of its adherents; Muslims are quite sharply divided over how to interpret their faith. Judaism is even smaller and feels increasingly vulnerable. A substantial share of the population is either completely indifferent, or mildly hostile, to religion in all forms.

Mr Vilks, who escaped yesterday’s assault unhurt, has been involved in the conflict for years. He received multiple death threats after publishing a sketch in 2007 that depicted Muhammad as a donkey. Scandinavia in general has been the object of Islamist ire ever since the start of the so-called Danish cartoons affair in September 2005, when the Copenhagen newspaper Jyllands-Posten carried 12 drawings of Islam’s prophet; they were then republished by a Norwegian newspaper.

The cartoons affair had some dramatic immediate effects. In early 2006, there were protests across the world, with up to 200 people reported killed. This wasn’t a spontaneous outburst of rage, but a well-orchestrated one. A delegation of Muslims from Denmark had toured the heartlands of their faith, drawing attention to the sketches. As boycotts of Danish products were proclaimed in many Islamic countries, the government called it the country’s gravest foreign-policy crisis since 1945. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (later, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC) condemned the drawings and redoubled its efforts to establish the principle that blasphemy should be barred by law. The Economist argued that Western leaders were doing a poor job of defending free speech.

Over the next few years, some mildly reassuring things happened. An alternative voice for Danish Islam emerged, the centre-right politician Naser Khader who condemned the anti-cartoon activists as an unrepresentative minority who were bent on making political capital. One of the most active anti-cartoon campaigners, Ahmed Akkari, had a change of heart and said he had become a believer in free speech. (It’s slightly worrying that he now finds Greenland a more comfortable place to live than Denmark.) Even the OIC, under American pressure, has soft-pedalled its efforts to persuade the UN to criminalise blasphemy.

This weekend’s events, coming hard on the heels of last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris, could reignite passions. But one of Denmark’s most passionate free-speech advocates, who happens to be of Muslim heritage himself, is adamant that now would be the worst possible time for politicians to slacken, even by careless use of language, their determination to protect liberty of expression.

Jacob Mchangama, a lawyer and founder of a human-rights think-tank called Justitia, told me it would be a disaster if his country were to grow faint-hearted in its defence of free speech. “There can be no truce in the struggle between secular democracy and extremism,” he says.

Above all, politicians should avoid the trap of saying or implying that violence was really the fault of provocateurs, or that religious insult was to be equated with physical injury. Giving in to that sort of relativism would be letting down those followers of Islam who were brave enough to stand up for free speech, and indulging in a sort of “bigotry of low expectations”, said Mr Mchangama, whose paternal forebears were Muslims from the Comoros Islands. A good point.
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