This week’s news of offensive cartoons in Europe is nothing new, although the party doing the complaining should take a long look at itself in the mirror.
In recent years, countries such as Denmark and France have received international attention for the publication of cartoons that have insulted or mocked the Prophet of Islam. The incidents have triggered outrage and violence around the world, and particularly in a number of Muslim-majority countries.
In the wake of such incidents, European leaders and politicians have been in the forefront of taking the Muslim world to task for having a thin skin, falling back on the argument that “it’s just a case of free speech.”
But as anyone who follows the issue knows, hypocrisy has been rife throughout a series of crises over inflammatory cartoons, as a news item this week made clear. The German-born Queen Silvia of Sweden has filed a complaint against four publications that last year printed photos of a satirical artwork depicting her trying to scrub a Nazi swastika off the floor.
Meanwhile, Sweden is also set to see another freedom of expression controversy erupt, as an artist from the country has vowed to press ahead with displaying a new set of insulting paintings of the Prophet Mohammad later this year.
The simple truth is that some Scandinavian countries, along with Spain and the Netherlands, have something called lese majeste laws on the books. The legislation permits the prosecution of people for libeling certain figures, such as royalty. These countries, along with every place in the world where legislators are busy talking about the need to outlaw “hate speech,” should realize the huge double standard they are employing. There are laws on the books in some places that make it a crime to deny the Holocaust, and the advocates of free speech when it comes to the Muslim world should recognize the utter hypocrisy they practice when they lecture people about words and images that offend adherents of a given religion.
In fact, there is no such thing as free speech, as any American lawyer will tell you, citing the old notion of “you can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”
Words may have deadly consequences in the real world, and for half a century, westerners, mainly in Europe, have delighted in mocking and insulting Islam and its Prophet. Their lectures to the outraged would be founded on more solid ground if they were to wipe off the books all of the legislation that protects their national symbols, such as royalty, and cancel as well the laws that make it a crime to deny certain historical events. After all, it’s just a case of free speech, isn’t it?