Suppressing Anti-Religious Speech -- an Emerging International Law Norm?
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Resolution 2005/3 ("Combating defamation of religions") states, among other things:
The Commission on Human Rights ... [u]rges States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination through political institutions and organizations of racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence ...
So harsh criticism of Scientology should be outlawed (unless somehow the government is empowered to decide that it's not a "real" religion). So would harsh criticism of Catholicism — which may well urge hostility to Catholic teachings and the Catholic hierarchy — on the grounds that it supposedly oppresses women or homosexuals. So would harsh criticism of militant Islam. Religious ideas and religious institutions, which are often among the most important and influential ideas and institutions, would thus be legally protected from strong condemnation, condemnation that in many instances (though of course people disagree on which instances) is entirely merited.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has recently publicly condemned a Danish newspaper that published a dozen drawings of Mohammed, some of which were pejorative and all of which were seen as blasphemous by many Muslims (since at least some strains of Islam prohibit depictions of Mohammed). 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?'" If this were just the UN using its own megaphone to express its views, that would be troubling enough. But against the backdrop of the 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.
This also reminds me of my posts from 2003 and 2005 on how emerging "international law" principles can erode the Bill of Rights; as Prof. Peter Spiro, one of the leading U.S. international law scholars wrote in one of the leading U.S. law reviews, the President and the Senate can, in the long run, "insinuat[e] international law" that would create "a partial displacement of constitutional hegemony" (for instance, with "an international norm against hate speech ... supply[ing] a basis for prohibiting [hate speech], the First Amendment notwithstanding"). "In the short term," international norms would and should be "relevan[t] ... in domestic constitutional interpretation." But "In the long run, it may point to the Constitution's more complete subordination."
And the article was both defending the notion that treaties should be able to trump constitutional rights — "If some constitutional norms are more appropriately set at the international level" (and he believes they are), "that should justify a treaty power that, in some cases, overcomes even the Bill of Rights" — and predicting that treaties will over time do so. Courts, he acknowledges, would try to "maintain the formal hegemony of the domestic constitution," but "this formal hegemony may disguise a loss of domestic constitutional autonomy over the long run." "Constitutional rights 'adjusted' by treaty norms are changed by them. The Constitution is read to conform with the treaty."
What's more, I've heard international law fans urge that U.S. constitutional decisionmaking should be informed not just by express statements in treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified, but also by international practice outside treaties, by statements in treaties that the U.S. hasn't signed or hasn't ratified, and by actions of international bodies established pursuant to treaties that the U.S. has ratified. What U.N. commissions say and do may thus ultimately affect not just international politics, but the constitutional rights of Danes, Americans, and anyone else who has a broader view of free speech than the U.N. seems to endorse. That's reason, I think, to pay close attention to how international institutions are trying to establish norms that demand suppression of free speech.
Thanks to The Brussels Journal and InstaPundit.com for pointers to the Denmark controversy, which I otherwise would have missed.
Bush Cabinet Member Condemns Anti-Christian Blasphemy, and Points to Laws Restricting Incitement to Hateful Expressions:
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.
U.S. State Department on the Cartoons Depicting Mohammed:
Washington on Friday condemned caricatures in European newspapers of the Prophet Mohammad, siding with Muslims who are outraged that the publications put press freedom over respect for religion. . . .
"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said in answer to a question. "We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
"We call for tolerance and respect for all communities for their religious beliefs and practices," he added. . . .
A longer version also includes this quote:
"Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
A Reason Online piece links to the shorter version, and condemns it as "a craven condemnation of an affair that is none of their business."
I'm glad to say, though, that the State Department response was a good deal more assertively pro-free-speech than the Reuters account suggests. I couldn't find the Kurtis Cooper statement, but here's the relevant excerpt from the Sean McCormack press briefing:
QUESTION: Yes? Can you say anything about a U.S. response or a U.S. reaction to this uproar in Europe over the Prophet Muhammad pictures? Do you have any reaction to it? Are you concerned that the violence is going to spread and make everything just --
MR. MCCORMACK: I haven't seen any — first of all, this is matter of fact. I haven't seen it. I have seen a lot of protests. I've seen a great deal of distress expressed by Muslims across the globe. The Muslims around the world have expressed the fact that they are outraged and that they take great offense at the images that were printed in the Danish newspaper, as well as in other newspapers around the world.
Our response is to say that while we certainly don't agree with, support, or in some cases, we condemn the views that are aired in public that are published in media organizations around the world, we, at the same time, defend the right of those individuals to express their views. For us, freedom of expression is at the core of our democracy and it is something that we have shed blood and treasure around the world to defend and we will continue to do so. That said, there are other aspects to democracy, our democracy — democracies around the world — and that is to promote understanding, to promote respect for minority rights, to try to appreciate the differences that may exist among us.
We believe, for example in our country, that people from different religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, national backgrounds add to our strength as a country. And it is important to recognize and appreciate those differences. And it is also important to protect the rights of individuals and the media to express a point of view concerning various subjects. So while we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may — like I said, we may not agree with those points of view, we may condemn those points of view but we respect and emphasize the importance that those individuals have the right to express those points of view.
For example — and on the particular cartoon that was published — I know the Prime Minister of Denmark has talked about his, I know that the newspaper that originally printed it has apologized, so they have addressed this particular issue. So we would urge all parties to exercise the maximum degree of understanding, the maximum degree of tolerance when they talk about this issue. And we would urge dialogue, not violence. And that also those that might take offense at these images that have been published, when they see similar views or images that could be perceived as anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic, that they speak out with equal vigor against those images.
QUESTION: That the Muslims speak out with equal vigor when they see — that's what you're asking?
MR. MCCORMACK: We would — we believe that it is an important principle that peoples around the world encourage dialogue, not violence; dialogue, not misunderstanding and that when you see an image that is offensive to another particular group, to speak out against that. Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief. We have to remember and respect the deeply held beliefs of those who have different beliefs from us. But it is important that we also support the rights of individuals to express their freely held views.
QUESTION: So basically you're just hoping that it doesn't — I'm sorry I misspoke when I said there was violence, I meant uproar. Your bottom line is that both sides have the right to do exactly as they're doing and you just hope it doesn't get worse?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I --
QUESTION: You just hope it doesn't escalate.
MR. MCCORMACK: I gave a pretty long answer, so --
QUESTION: You did. I'm trying to sum it up for you. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: A couple of years ago, I think it was a couple of years ago when, I think it was the Syrians and the Lebanese were introducing this documentary about the Jews — or it was the Egyptians — this Administration spoke out very strongly about that and called it offensive, said it was --
MR. MCCORMACK: I just said that the images were offensive; we found them offensive.
QUESTION: Well, no you said that you understand that the Muslims found them offensive, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm saying now, we find them offensive. And we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive.
QUESTION: One word is puzzling me in this, Sean, and that's the use of the word "unacceptable" and "not acceptable," exactly what that implies. I mean, it's not quite obvious that you find the images offensive. When you say "unacceptable," it applies some sort of action against the people who perpetrate those images.
MR. MCCORMACK: No. I think I made it very clear that our defense of freedom of expression and the ability of individuals and media organizations to engage in free expression is forthright and it is strong, you know. This is — our First Amendment rights, the freedom of expression, are some of the most strongly held and dearly held views that we have here in America. And certainly nothing that I said, I would hope, would imply any diminution of that support.
QUESTION: It's just the one word "unacceptable," I'm just wondering if that implied any action, you know. But it doesn't you say?
MR. MCCORMACK: No.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you caution America media against publishing those cartoons?
MR. MCCORMACK: That's for you and your editors to decide, and that's not for the government. We don't own the printing presses.
QUESTION: Sean, these cartoons first surfaced in late September and it's following this recent election with the Palestinian Authority. The EU mission was attacked or held, in effect, by Hamas yesterday near Gaza City. And the tact of some of these European newspapers, again, are to re-publish — these cartoons. Is the election mood — is this what is possibly fueling this and what is our media response to this, a la, what Katherine Hughes may or may not do versus international State Department and government media to the Muslim world, including Indonesia, Asia, and the Middle East?
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't think your colleagues really want me to repeat the long answer that I gave to Teri, so I'd refer you to that answer.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes, George.
QUESTION: Getting back to your next question, nobody doubts the right of newspapers, et cetera, to print such drawings as appeared in Europe, but is it the responsible thing to do — or is it — or would it be irresponsible to do what the European newspapers did because of the sensitivities involved?
MR. MCCORMACK: George, we, as a Government, have made our views known on the question of these images. We find them offensive. We understand why others may find them offensive. We have urged tolerance and understanding. That — all of that said, the media organizations are going to have to make their own decisions concerning what is printed, George. This is — it's not for the U.S. Government to dictate what is printed.
QUESTION: You're not dictating — everybody knows you can't order people not to --
MR. MCCORMACK: Right.
QUESTION: — print this or that, but you might have on your hands the same kind of problem that the Europeans find --
MR. MCCORMACK: You're right, you're right.
QUESTION: — now. So, I just thought that there might be a word or two saying — you know, that — you know, you should do your best not to incite people because this — you're dealing with deeply-held beliefs.
MR. MCCORMACK: You're right. You're right. You are dealing with deeply-held beliefs and certainly, we have talked about the importance of urging tolerance and appreciating differences and to respect the fact that many of — millions and millions of people around the world would find these images — these particular images offensive. But whether or not American media chooses to reproduce those images is a question for them, for them alone to answer, not for us.
Sounds to me like McCormack, at least, is repeatedly stressing that the cartoons ought to be protected from governmental punishment, but is simply exercising the government's right to speak out against them. Naturally, the Reuters story could only quote a small part of the comments, but it's unfortunate that the quoted excerpt seemed to understate the State Department's expressions of support for free speech.
European Reaction to anti-Semitic Cartoons:
Among the many ignorant things arising out of the Mohammed cartoon controversy is the claim emanating from many quarters in the Muslim world that if the target of the cartoons had been important to "the Jews," European governments would have cracked down on the individuals involved. There are many levels to this ignorance (e.g., those pushing this line can't seem to resist adding a little Holocaust denial into their spiels, and they of course completely ignore the many grossly offensive cartoons that appear in the Arab media), but here is one illustration. In 2003, an English newspaper published the following cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child:
The cartoon invoked two of the most heinous and longstanding themes in European anti-Semitism: Jews lusting after the blood of non-Jewish children, and Jews as demonic beasts (the cartoon being based on the Goya painting below[the Goya painting is of Saturn devouring one of his children, but Saturn is portrayed as looking like a demon, and alluding to that painting in depicting Sharon brought to many minds the "Jew as demon" theme present for centuries in European art])
The cartoonist may not have been aware of how his cartoon picked up on anti-Semitic iconography. But he soon found out, and was completely unapologetic about it. And how did the the rest of the British press react? Well, the UK's Political Cartoon Society awarded it first prize in its annual competition for best cartoon, with full knowledge of the anti-Semitic subtext. The UK government failed to arrest the author, the newspaper, or the director of the Cartoon Society, or even denounce them. So much for the mythical power of "the Jews."
UPDATE: Nevertheless, I agree with Andrew Sullivan that the Europeans "would be in a stronger position to defend press freedom if they practised it more often," though I'm not sure I agree with all of his specific examples. And Sullivan links to a Gateway Pundit post that suggests that some of the furor is a result of additional, much more offensive cartoons inventing by the Danish Muslim group that is stirring the controversy.
Sorry I can't Join the "Buy Danish" Campaign
but I still remember that in 2002, in response to Israel (finally) taking decisive military action against a wave of terrorist suicide-murders, the Danish General Workers Union canceled an order from an Israeli company, and announced that "we call for the hundreds of thousands of members of the union to refrain from buying products manufactured in Israel." So forgive me if my heart doesn't bleed for the Danish workers whose jobs are at risk from another branch of Islamic extremism. Two wrongs don't make a right, and I certainly don't wish the Danes any harm; I just don't feel any urgent need to go out of my way to help them.
The Boston Globe on Speech Offensive to Different Religious Groups:
Here's today's Boston Globe editorial on the Mohammed cartoons controversy:
Freedom expression is not the only value at issue in the conflict provoked by a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons satirizing Islam's founding prophet, Mohammed. The billowing controversy is being swept along by intolerance, ignorance, and parochialism. The refusal of each camp to recognize and respect the otherness of the other brings closer a calamitous clash of cultures pitting Islam against the West.
No devotee of democratic pluralism should accept any infringement on freedom of the press. But the original decision of the Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, to solicit and publish a dozen cartoons of the Muslim prophet was less a blow against censorship than what The Economist called a schoolboy prank. . . .
Other European papers reprinted the cartoons in a reflex of solidarity. Journalists in free societies have a healthy impulse to assert their hard-won right to insult powerful forces in society. Freedom of the press need not be weakened, however, when it is infused with restraint. This should not be restraint rooted in fear of angering a government, a political movement, or an advertiser. As with the current consensus against publishing racist or violence-inciting material, newspapers ought to refrain from publishing offensive caricatures of Mohammed in the name of the ultimate Enlightenment value: tolerance.
Just as the demand from Muslim countries for European governments to punish papers that printed the cartoons shows a misunderstanding of free societies, publishing the cartoons reflects an obtuse refusal to accept the profound meaning for a billion Muslims of Islam's prohibition against any pictorial representation of the prophet. Depicting Mohammed wearing a turban in the form of a bomb with a sputtering fuse is no less hurtful to most Muslims than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance. . . .
There's actually much that I agree with here; that one is and should be legally free to say something doesn't mean that it's right to say it. And while religious ideas, like all ideas, should be open to vigorous debate, needless emotional provocation generally doesn't much advance the debate.
This editorial, though, led me to try to search for what the Boston Globe had said about past controversies involving high-profile speech that was offensive to other religious groups. I searched in particular for editorials referring to the controversies surrounding Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ" and the Brooklyn Museum's display of the Virgin Mary
covered in feces that was made up in part of feces and of cutouts of bare buttocks from magazines. I may have missed some — if I have, please let me know — but here are the ones I found. Nov. 3, 1999:
This week, US District Judge Nina Gershon sent New York's Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a message he should heed: Stop trampling on the Brooklyn Museum's First Amendment rights.
Giuliani is furious about an exhibit, "Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection." He called the art "sick," withheld operating funds, and started eviction proceedings against the museum. One object of his anger is a painting of a black Virgin Mary spotted with elephant dung. The mayor said: "You don't have a right to a government subsidy to desecrate someone else's religion." It's a passionate argument, but it ignores the facts and the law. None of the $2 million for the "Sensation" exhibit came from New York City. Serious allegations have been raised about the museum's fund-raising for the exhibit, but that is a separate issue. The city's contract with the museum calls for the city to pay for maintenance without, as the court says, "stating any conditions regarding the content of the museum's artworks."
Most damning is the court's finding that the city is violating the museum's First Amendment rights. Gershon quoted many cases, including the Supreme Court's 1989 ruling in Texas v. Johnson protecting flag-burning. "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."
But what about the 1998 Supreme Court ruling letting the National Endowment for the Arts use "general standards of decency" in its considerations? Gershon noted that this ruling was on awarding grants, not withdrawing operating funds. And the Supreme Court upheld these grant considerations as long as they did not permit "viewpoint discrimination."
Gershon issued a preliminary injunction ordering the city to stop withholding funds, end eviction proceedings, and refrain from retaliation or tampering with the museum's board. Too bad a judge has to remind Giuliani of his duty to do no harm to one of his city's great cultural institutions.
July 17, 1990:
The National Endowment for the Arts is a federal agency created 25 years ago to function as a friend and patron of the arts. It was never intended that the NEA should serve as a moral arbiter of the projects it considers funding.
But that role has been thrust upon the NEA by Congress, following the outcry of Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and a band of conservative congressmen and critics over the exhibitions of work by photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano.
Last week, the NEA issued new guidelines that attempt to define obscenity, in response to a directive from the General Accounting Office. Helms had asked the GAO to investigate whether the arts agency was implementing restrictive language added last fall to its appropriation.
Grant recipients now are required to furnish "a written justification of the project" and an explanation of how it complies with the obscenity language in the NEA's appropriation legislation. Already, some prospective recipients have refused to sign such a pledge.
Critics of the pledge-signing requirement argue that imposing such guidelines has an intimidating effect and is tantamount to censorship.
Liam Rector, executive director of Associated Writing Program in Norfolk, is right when he notes that "the place where obscenity needs to be determined is in the courts — not in Congress and not by the NEA."
The New School for Social Research in New York and Bella Lewitsky, a California choreographer, have filed separate suits in federal courts, challenging the constitutionality of the congressional restriction on the agency's grants.
Congress should grant the National Endowment for the Arts the five-year extension it is seeking and allow it to go about its business without restrictions that hamper the agency and discourage artistic expression.
May 20, 1990:
In its 25-year history, the National Endowment for the Arts has become an invaluable friend and patron of the arts, funding an impressive array of institutions and activities. Now the hysteria generated by a small group of myopic arch-conservatives, led by Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, threatens the NEA's freedom.
Strong pressures are building on Capitol Hill to place limits on the way the NEA awards grants because of the misperception that it supports obscene or sacrilegious art. Supporters of the NEA are divided on whether to seek a one-year or five-year NEA reauthorization.
It would be unreasonable to expect unanimity of support for the many projects the NEA has funded over the years, given the subjectivity of creative expression. The NEA has been criticized often, and some have charged it with elitism.
However, until last year it had never been charged with underwriting smut, as it was when it financed a restrospective of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and made an award to photographer Andres Serrano. The art of these two men has been used unfairly by Helms and an organization called the American Family Association as a device to discredit the NEA, overlooking the important work the NEA has accomplished in fostering the arts.
Where does the public stand on federal aid for the arts? A survey conducted for People For The American Way indicates that Americans strongly support the NEA's role as a promoter and distributor of arts funding and do not wish to see the methods for granting arts awards changed.
Congress should approve another five-year reauthorization for the National Endowment for the Arts and allow it to continue making its cultural contribution to the nation — without any legislative restraints.
On their own, also eminently plausible arguments; I agree with parts of them and disagree with other parts, but they are certainly quite defensible.
Yet where in those editorials are the admonitions about the need for "respect" of religious groups? The condemnations of the juxtaposition of bodily excretions with religious figures as "schoolboy prank[s]"? The denunciations of the art as undermining the "ultimate Enlightenment value" of "tolerance"? The condemnations of the artists, and of those NEA and museum decisionmakers who used their discretion to judge the work artistically excellent, as "obtuse"? And, of course, the suggestion that the works are "no less hurtful to most [Christians] than Nazi caricatures of Jews or Ku Klux Klan caricatures of blacks are to those victims of intolerance"?
Why the difference?
UPDET: Reader Matt Lister pointed out that the Virgin Mary painting was not "covered in feces," as I wrongly reported above, but contained elephant dung as part of the display, and also contained what seemed to be cutouts of naked buttocks from magazines. I've revised the post accordingly; I don't think the details affect the overall analysis, but I'm pleased to be able to correct them.
The Catholic Church and Free Expression:
The Church (I'm not speaking of individual Catholics, just the church hierarchy, or at least its authoritative voices), still seems not to have accepted free expression about religion, or for that matter religious freedom. Here's a Reuters report:
The Vatican on Saturday condemned the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad which have outraged the Muslim world, saying freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person's religion.
"The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion," the Vatican said.
"Any form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation," it said in a statement issued in response to media demands for the Church's opinion.
The seat of the Roman Catholic Church said it deplored violent reactions to the cartoons. "Real or verbal intolerance, from wherever it comes, whether as an action or a reaction, is always a serious threat to peace." . . .
The Vatican said the institutions of a country should not be held responsible for the actions of a newspaper, but said governments "could and should intervene according to (their) national legislation".
This is not just an admonition about what's right, decent, productive, or in good taste -- rather, it's a claim that the law ought to have a relatively free hand in restricting speech that "offend[s] religious feelings of the faithful," which apparently includes some unstated amount of "excessive criticism or derision of others" that "denotes a lack of human sensitivity." May we still publish the works of Martin Luther? How about of Christopher Hitchens? The Last Temptation of Christ? The religious works of the Jehovah's Witnesses? A historical film in which some actor plays Mohammed? How about linking to the cartoons themselves (as I've done before)? Seeing the cartoons is , yet surely some who believe that any depiction of Mohammed is blasphemy can be offended even by a republication that's aimed at exploring the controversy.
This is not a marginal issue; it is at the core of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. Under the position the Vatican sets forth, large zones of religious debate, political debate, and art would be outlawed.
I realize this is just a press account; I've searched for an English-language version of the Vatican statement itself, but couldn't find it. I would love to learn that this is all just a misquote; if that's so, please do let me know. But if the account is accurate, it speaks pretty badly of the Church.
Thanks to Tim Cavanaugh at Reason's Hit & Run for the pointer.
"Not an Issue of Free Speech," says the Council on American-Islamic Relations:
CAIR's statement ont he matter "reiterate[s] the Muslim community’s strong belief that the controversy is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement."
"Not an issue of free speech." Newspapers' rights to publish cartoons, some of which simply portray a religious figure (albeit in a way that many adherents of the religion find blasphemous) and others of which link the religious figure to violence as a way of making a political statement about the violence practiced in the religion's name, is "not an issue of free speech." I certainly hope that CAIR's views of what constitutes "free speech" don't make much headway, though I'm sorry to say that others and still more others — who are fortunately not in America — seem to agree with them.
CAIR does "condemn all violent actions by those who are protesting the cartoons." I'm glad that CAIR doesn't belong to the camp that believes in street violence as a means of suppressing political and religious expression it finds offensive. I'm not glad that it belongs to the camp that believes in governmental suppression — fines? prison? — of political and religious expression it finds offensive.
CAIR describes itself as "America's largest Muslim civil liberties group." Too bad that its view of civil liberties is so cramped as to fail to recognize the liberty of speech involved here.
UPDATE: Some commenters asked me to clarify why I see the CAIR statement is a call for legal punishment, and not just for denunciation. Sure; "incitement" is a classic example of speech that's constitutionally unprotected, and thus punishable even in the U.S. It's also a classic example of punishable speech in international discussions of the matter. When someone says that a "controversy" about the publication of certain materials "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over hate speech and incitement," it seems to me that it's saying that the materials aren't protected as free speech, but punishable as incitement. Likewise, many people have urged a creation of a new "hate speech" exception to First Amendment protection (and I've seen plenty of casual statements, though generally not by First Amendment lawyers, that assume that such an exception exists); that is likewise consistent with my interpretation.
If someone had said that a controversy about some statements "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over libel," or "obscenity," or "fighting words," we'd easily recognize, I think, that the person is urging that the speech be punishable (since libel, obscenity, and fighting words are the names of categories of punishable speech). The same applies when people say that a controversy about cartoons "is not an issue of free speech, but is instead based on concerns over . . . incitement." In fact, this speech does not fall within the recognized First Amendment incitement exception, but I take the reference to "incitement" to be a call for treating the speech as constitutionally unprotected.
I Demand a Fatwa:
Several seemingly reputable press accounts (NPR, New York Times, and The Observer (U.K.)) report that, when the 12 Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed were distributed in many Muslim countries, they were distributed alongside three other cartoons that were much more offensive. One of the extra cartoons showed Mohammed as a pedophile demon, another showing him with a pig snout, and a third apparently showing a praying Muslim being sexually mounted by a dog. The accounts report that the cartoons were in a packet distributed by some radical Danish Muslim imams, who are apparently not saying where they got the cartoons.
Now the first two cartoons, if they purport to be depictions of Mohammed, would presumably be at least as blasphemous as the original ones (if not more so). What's more, anyone who distributed them as the work of the Danish cartoonists, knowing that this wasn't so, is guilty of bearing false witness against others — potentially in a way that threatens others' lives. I take it that Islam takes a dim view of that.
Is there an attempt to bring this heinous blasphemer to Islamic justice? To punish him for his sins against Allah and his fellow man? If there is, please let me know about this.
More on Danes Boycotting, and Being Boycotted:
[Circa 2002-2003] many Palestinian groups, left-wing political parties (such as the Socialist People’s Party, the Unity List and the Communist Party) and NGOs (such as the International Forum and the Anti-fascist Association), together with trade unions, launched a nation-wide campaign to boycott Israel. The boycott, which includes farm produce and manufactured goods, as well as cultural and scientific exchanges, is specifically aimed at the preferential trade agreement between the EU and Israel. Despite a huge propaganda campaign the boycott has not had a great impact in Denmark.
As part of this campaign, attempts were made to boycott a friendly football match between Denmark and Israel on 17 April. When, nevertheless, 30,000 people showed up, violent demonstrations ensued outside the stadium and about 150 demonstrators were arrested.
By contrast, the "right-wing" Danish People's Party "demonstrated its support for Israel by defying an anti-Israel boycott and serving Israeli produce at its annual convention in October." I suppose Denmark can take limited pride in the fact that neighboring Norway's attitude toward Israel is even worse. But a country in which a boycott of Israel can thrive, if not necessarily succeed, because a large chunk of the public was angry at Israel for retaliating against Islamist violence in 2002 is one that is, in a sense, getting a reality check when it gets boycotted. Denmark is actually in a relatively favorable position--it is being boycotted for having freedom of speech; Israel is attacked for merely existing on "Muslim" land (i.e., Israel).
And while on the subject of the Mohammed cartoons, with regard to Islamist claims that Danes would never dare say anything offensive about the Holocaust:
Although most writers were careful to avoid comments that might be construed as antisemitic [in opposing male circumsion], Finn Nielsen, in Jyllands Posten[!--same newspaper that printed the Mohammed pictures], stated, for instance, that the practice of circumcision was "barbarian," but that there was no hope of abolishing it since any criticism led to "a chorus crying 'Holocaust!'"
And regarding Jews more generally: "Under the headline 'The World’s Strongest Lobby,' a man called Kjeld Poulsen wrote in Jyllands Posten[!] on 8 March  that no American president with an anti-Israel position could be elected because Jews 'control a very large percentage of the American press as well as… radio and television.'"
The Three Extra Cartoons May Be Forgeries.--
In an earlier post Eugene Volokh demands a fatwa against anyone bearing false witness in the Danish cartoon flap. As detailed below and elsewhere, at least one of the supposed "cartoons" is a hoax.
Gateway Pundit points out that the Danish clerics who spread the 15 Muhammed cartoons have been awfully evasive about where they got the three extra cartoons that had never been published by Jyllands-Posten or media in any country, at least before the dispute arose:
The first of the three additional pictures, which are of poor quality, shows Muhammad as a pedophile demon.
The second shows Muhammed with a pig snout.
The third depicts a praying Muslim being raped by a dog.
BBC World also aired a story showing one of the three non-published images, on 2006-01-30, and wrongly claimed it had been published in Jyllands-Posten.
On the tour, the group claimed to represent 21 different Muslim organisations in Denmark, although many of these groups have disclaimed any connection.
Akhmad Akkari, spokesman of the Danish Muslim organisations which organised the tour, explained that the three drawings had been added to "give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims."
Akkari claimed he does not know the origin of the three pictures. He said they had been sent anonymously to Danish Muslims. However, when Ekstra Bladet asked if it could talk to these Muslims, Akkari refused to reveal their identity. These images had however never been published in Jyllands-Posten.
The second extra "cartoon," supposedly showing Muhammed with a pig snout is a crude forgery, not even a picture of Muhammed at all. As NeanderNews revealed (tip to Powerline), it is:
a photo of Jacques Barrot, a pig squealing contestant at the French Pig-Squealing Championships in Trie-sur-Baise’s annual festival. NeanderNews discovered this photo, taken by Bob Edme of AP, posted on an August 15, 2005 AP story seen here on MSNBC’s website.
The photo of Barrot in a pig snout appears merely to have been photoshopped with a black and white screen to make it appear to be a cartoon.
Original AP photo (click to enlarge):
Fake "cartoon" (click to enlarge):
I wish there were some way of holding the perpetrators of this fraud responsible. Did the Danish clerics organize the fraud themselves, or were they duped? And how clear were they during their tour that the three most offensive cartoons had never been published?
He Said "Jehovah"!
The Philadelphia Inquirer's story about the cartoon controversy included the cartoon of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. The story noted,
This cartoon and others have inflamed many Muslims since they were first published as a group in a Danish newspaper last year and reprinted in Norway last month. Islam teaches that any portrayal of Muhammad is sacrilegious. Some Muslims accept respectful representations but object to the cartoons' portrayal of Muhammad as a terrorist or as a caricature of Muslims or Arabs.
The Inquirer intends no disrespect to the religious beliefs of any of its readers. But when a use of religious imagery that many find offensive becomes a major news story, we believe it is important for readers to be able to judge the content of the image for themselves, as with the 1987 photograph by Andres Serrano of a crucifix in urine. On that basis we reprint this cartoon.
This strikes me as quite right: People need to see the cartoons to really understand what the controversy is about. Nonetheless, the Inquirer was then picketed, and an "umbrella group for mosques in the Delaware Valley" is "calling for a boycott of The Inquirer until it issues a public apology to its Muslim readers."
Now here's my question: As I understand it, many Muslim critics of the cartoons are themselves distributing (and presumably reproducing) the cartoons, precisely because they believe it is important for Muslims to really understand what the controversy is about. Are they too committing blasphemy? Should they too face boycotts and protests?
One possible response is that actually expressing sentiments as if you endorse them (even if you're just presenting them as a bunch of works that you've commissioned, which is something of an endorsement) is different from quoting material. This might explain why some people would be upset by the original publication, but not by publications that reprint the cartoons to illustrate the controversy. Yet this would mean that the Inquirer's position is proper, just as the position of those Muslims who quote it in order to show other Muslims how they're supposedly being abused is proper.
Another possible response is that even if you quote the cartoons as part of a sincere attempt to report the news, that's still offensive and still blasphemy. Yet I take it this would cover republication in Muslim countries aimed at informing Muslims as well as republication in the U.S. aimed at informing Americans.
Another possibility is that some Muslims think such quotation of the cartoon is OK when done to inflame Muslim sensibilities, but not when done to inform non-Muslim readers. Yet that seems to be a position that's hard to defend, and I see no obligation (even a good manners obligation) for American papers to accede to it.
A commenter (Porkchop) raises a great point:
Republication of the cartoons boils down to this: Depicting Mohammed in violation of Muslim tenets strikes a blow at the very heart of Islamic beliefs, and and such sacrilegious desecration of their beliefs is so offensive and hurtful that it simply should not be allowed, even under the guise of "free speech."
Personally, I don't buy into that, but here's a question for discussion: Isn't this the same argument advanced in the United States by those who want a constitutional amendment (and implementing federal and state statutes) to ban the burning or other desecration of the flag of the United States? Can one support the right to publish the cartoons and also support a flag-burning amendment? If so, how does one distinguish between the two?
One can naturally come up with some distinctions — among other things, banning all depictions of Mohammed burdens a wider range of speech (e.g., pretty much any film biography of Mohammed) than banning flagburning would — but I think that on balance these distinctions are unpersuasive. If you want to credibly say to Muslims that they have to tolerate offense to their sacred symbols, you have to tolerate offense to your own sacred symbols, too.
Conversely, as I've argued before, allowing flagburning bans seems likely to help stimulate what I call "censorship envy": If my neighbor gets to ban symbols he dislikes, why shouldn’t I get to do the same? This kind of misplaced desire for equality of repression is a powerful psychological force.
One risk, then, is that banning the desecration of one symbol will help lead to bans on desecration of the other — allowing flagburning bans will change swing voters' views about freedom of offensive speech, or will trigger their concerns about equality, and will lead to bans on desecration of religious symbols.
Of course, it's quite possible that this slippage will be resisted — that even if there's not much of a good logical distinction between flagburning bans and bans on insults to religious symbols and figures, American politics will lead to the adoption of the former but rejection of the latter. But that itself, I think, will be harmful: Right now, when American Muslims are deeply offended by pejorative depictions of Mohammed, we can tell them: "Yes, you must endure this speech that you find so offensive, but others must endure offensive speech, too. Many Americans are deeply offended by flagburning, much as you are deeply offended by depictions of Mohammed, but the Constitution says we all have to live with being offended: We must fight the speech we hate through argument, not through suppression."
But what would we say when flagburning is banned but other offensive symbols are allowed? "We in the majority get to suppress symbols we're offended by, but you in the minority don't"? "Our offense at flagburning is reasonable but your offense at depictions of Mohammed with a bomb in his turban is not"? If you were a Muslim citizen of America, would you be persuaded by these arguments? Would you feel better about America because of them?
The First Amendment was drafted and interpreted by people who intimately understood cultural, religious, and political conflict, and who knew how calls for censorship could launch the most bitter of culture wars. The First Amendment is a truce: "I won't suppress your ideas, and you won't suppress mine." And a ban on flagburning would undermine this truce.
A New Cartoon of Mohammed Printed in French Paper:
BareKnucklePolitics quotes Reuters:
A French satirical weekly reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday and published one of its own on its front page, further angering Muslim groups which say the caricatures are blasphemous.
French Muslim organizations tried to prevent Charlie Hebdo reprinting the 12 cartoons, which were first published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, but a court rejected their suit on Tuesday on a technicality. . . .
The new cartoon was on the front page, "depicting the Prophet Mohammad burying his face in his hands and saying: 'It's hard to be loved by fools.'"