Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Freedom of Speech as a Trump Card?

It may be a wise idea to join my dear friend Miha Movrin’s proposal to welcome the challenge of trying to come to the bottom of this, in his words, orchestrated hysterical reaction surrounding the publication of those very wicked (in the meaning of Cambridge dictionary definition "as immoral or bad for you, but in an attractive way") cartoons published by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September, 2005. Movrin rightly observes that the whole confusion has subsided in last weeks, and one may add that in fact it has not really vanished, but it only moved from the front pages of media to sub-consciousness of the European Identity. And it is to stay there forever regardless how apocalyptic that may sound. For one to ponder and discuss about this contraversy, one needs to have her/his feet on ground and not just dismiss the problem as Danish Prime Miniser Rasmussen did, by saying that the freedom of expression has a wide scope and the Danish governments has no means of influencing the press. When in fact nobody asked him to interfere with the freedom of press but merely to endevuour to live up Danish human rights obligations of respecting all religions and desisting from offending their devotees to prevent an escalation which would have serious and far-reaching consequences. Danish misunderstanding of the whole debate can be compared only to their desperate clinging to island of Greenland, which is still under their colonial jurisdiction, and to their appalling policies towards refugees.

This post is a continuation of debate started by two of the Matej Avbelj's posts (Freedom of Expression - a Case of Abuse? february 04, Dworkin on Cartoons and Holocaust Denial, posted on february 22 and subsequent comments), and Miha Movrin’s todays’ input on “Blues for Allah”, where he writes that “the reason is that European society simply does not understand the notion of offended religious sensibilities anymore.” The European misunderstandings and aloofness are core to debate on freedom of expression in our societies and thet also facilitate the growing fear of “Other” and the “others”, meaning everythings which is non-(west)european. This aloofness of the “old Europe” is also core to article of Fozia Lone, who writes that by publishing these blasphemous cartoons, Danish newspapers have not only offended religious sensibilities, but violated the laws of self-censorship also. The article may be reached at the following address:

Most of Western European societies face at this point of time major problems in grasping and accepting the fact, which one may nowadays trace down only in the history books. That fact rests on illusion that Europe remains a centre of world, which could be further from the truth. Western European high-societies warm-heartily reminisce the day where the world balance has been shaped differently as it is now. Let us illustrate this phenomena with self-explaining example.

It was a rainy day when in 1884 twenty-five countries met to agree a zero meridian (line is an imaginary straight line which runs from the North Pole to the South Pole) for the whole world. The conference agreed that the Prime Meridian of the World would be the one that ran through Airy's transit telescope at Greenwich. Most of the countries, which participated, were European. The comparison can be drawn to Berlin Congress in 1872 when major European powers agreed to draw artificial borders on the African continent without involving or allowing for any African delegation to attend at the congress.

The fact that Europe does not understand the notion of offended religious sensibilities anymore may be seen from the comments may be authors of the cartoons. When asked about the message of the drawing, the cartoonist later explained. The misunderstanding can not be more explicits.

"The cartoon is not about Islam as a whole, but the part that apparently can inspire violence, terrorism, death and destruction. And thereby the fundamentalist part of Islam. I wanted to point out that terrorists get their spiritual ammunition from Islam."

"There are interpretations of it [the drawing] that are incorrect. The general impression among Muslims is that it is about Islam as a whole. It is not. It is about certain fundamentalist aspects, that of course are not shared by everyone. But the fuel for the terrorists’ acts stem from interpretations of Islam. I think there is no escaping that. That does not mean that all Muslims are responsible for terror. It is about showing a connection, from where the spiritual fuel comes. There are some interpretations of Islam, according to which you become a martyr if you die for Islam, and you can therefore with a calm mind kill the infidels, and you will be rewarded in the beyond."

The comments are available at:

It is difficult not be critical of decision of editor of Jyllands-Posten to publish those sort of cartoons: when one does something that one know will create hatred and annoy people who are a indeed large ethnic and religious minority in Europe, it basically invates the kind of responses as they have bee seen througout worldwide in last monts. Also the European Copurt of Human Rights on every possible occasion reiterates the general principle “that the autonomous existence of religious communities is indispensable for pluralism in a democratic society” (Supreme Holy Council of the Muslim Community v. Bulgaria, Appl. No. 39023/97, Judgement, 16 December.). Indeed it was again in Danish Case Jersild v. Denmark, where the ECtHR court held that propagation of falsehoods or intolerance is to be generally prohibited.

Freedom of expression may not be used as a trump card for daily political struggles within the European societies, who have reluctantly and gradually come to accept that Muslim and other ethnic/religious minorities are not going to assimilate to the European way of living. Like it or not all mature societies can regonize that fact and ensure the respect of others and their rights and religious sentiments.


At 10:03 AM, Blogger Miha Movrin said...

Letnar thank you for further derivation of crucial aspects regarding this problem. In your final thesis you note that "freedom of expression may not be used as a trump card for daily political struggles within the European societies". This is very true, I would only add, that freedom of speech is in such cases also used as a mere pretext for cultural and social chauvinism.

However I'm not so sure as Jernej that European societies "have reluctantly and gradually come to accept that Muslim and other ethnic religious minorities are not going to assimilate to the European way of living." This problem can be viewed from another perspective. It is well known, that specifically European experience of cultural changes which derive from Enlightenment such as secularization or the growth of atomistic forms of self-identification, which both characterize modernity are not necessary part of other societies or other, non European "modernities." Not all societies (or even all parts of our society!) have to go through same range of cultural changes as in general secular Europe had gone.

As Michael Warner points out in his Letters of the Republic ever-continuing controversy, in ideal case, is not meant to be a quasi-civil war carried on by dialectical means. Its potentially divisive and destructive consequences are offset by the fact that it is a debate outside of power, a rational debate, striving without parti pris to define the common good. In my opinion this ideal model which somehow works (or doesn't work!) in political debate every day, will have to be applied to integration of Muslim and other religious minorities in European societies as well. Here I'm also relating to Christian minority in Europe. However, Muslims will have to except the rules of our constitutional orders but on the other hand, and this is what Karikaturenstreit is all about, Europe has to listen arguments of its religious citizens, arguments which are brought up in a rational discourse. So far this wasn't the case, since religion was simply excluded from public sphere.

At 3:20 PM, Blogger s.umek said...

I agree with Letnar that we can not just dismiss the problem as Danish Prime Minister, the problem is needed to be exposed.

First we have to accept that human rights are not the category that has its roots in law. The concept of law indicates that the law does not have any contents. Human rights are goods or better valuableness that has been existed long before society became aware of. Nowadays many African tribes are not aware of any legal documents or international conventions, but they know what human being and his fundamental rights are.

Europe is a threat for the whole world, because it is loosing feeling for holiness. How can Europe protect its citizens from its own ideology of secularism?
Who will protect European society from its own destruction?

It is time to "remodel" the concept of human rights. Maybe that concept holds out. However maybe this concept is just a part of a greatest concept; so called naturally law.

The concept of the human rights is referred only to human and has its consequences in relations between people.

What about the relationship between man and God?

The part of solution could be that every human right has its opposite: the duty.


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