Here's the e-mail from the official
I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in a leading American newspaper has caused upset among Christians. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offense by Christians, because they depict Jesus Christ in a sacrilegious context. Christianity is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Christianity has the right to be respected. Let it be clear that the American government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin.
Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of American society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.
Pretty appalling, no? Though the official makes a passing nod towards freedom of expression, surely the last sentence -- backed by the recent American trend towards restricting speech that's hostile to certain groups -- strongly suggests that the Administration is willing to suppress allegedly blasphemous speech.
Whoops, sorry, one important detail. This isn't the American government suggesting the possibility of suppressing speech that Christians find blasphemous; it's the Norwegian government suggesting the possibility of suppressing speech that Muslims find blasphemous, against the backdrop of a European trend towards restricting speech that's hostile to certain groups. Here's the BrusselsJournal report, which quotes (in translation) a Norwegian newspaper:
The left-wing government in Norway apologizes to Muslims worldwide for the publication of twelve Muhammad cartoons [see them here] in the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet. Oslo sent out instructions to all the Norwegian embassies on how to respond to queries about the cartoons. Unlike the Danish government, the Norwegian government is not concerned about safeguarding the right to freedom of expression. Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, a leading member of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Workers’ Party, wrote the following e-mail to the Norwegian embassies:
I am sorry that the publication of a few cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet has caused unrest among Muslims. I fully understand that these drawings are seen to give offence by Muslims worldwide. Islam is a spiritual reference point for a large part of the world. Your faith has the right to be respected by us.
The cartoons in the Christian paper Magazinet are not constructive in building the bridges which are necessary between people with different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Instead they contribute to suspicion and unnecessary conflict.
Let it be clear that the Norwegian government condemns every expression or act which expresses contempt for people on the basis of their religion or ethnic origin. Norway has always supported the fight of the UN against religious intolerance and racism, and believes that this fight is important in order to avoid suspicion and conflict. Tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue are the basis values of Norwegian society and of our foreign policy.
Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of Norwegian society. This includes tolerance for opinions that not everyone shares. At the same time our laws and our international obligations enforce restrictions for incitement to hatred or hateful expressions.
I've blogged more about this issue here; as I mentioned there, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has also recently publicly condemned a Danish newspaper for publishing the drawings. Arbour said that she "deplore[d] any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people's religion," and "appointed to UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter." The High Commissioner's office has "asked Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for "an official explanation," including asking "the Rasmussen government to respond to the question, 'Do the caricatures insult or discredit?'" As I argued, against the backdrop of the Commissioner for Human Rights' resolutions urging governments to legally suppress "xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to ... hostility," the call is even worse.
In any case, this puts me in mind of the quote attributed to French socialist Jean-Francois Revel, that the "dark night of fascism was forever descending upon America, but it touched ground only in Europe." Likewise, it seems to me, for the supposed suppression of dissent that people have been seeing, largely as mirage rather than reality, in modern America.
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- The Twelve Mohammed Cartoons, in Detail:...
- U.S. State Department on the Cartoons Depicting Mohammed:
- Bush Cabinet Member Condemns Anti-Christian Blasphemy, and Points to Laws Restricting Incitement to Hateful Expressions:
- Suppressing Anti-Religious Speech -- an Emerging International Law Norm?