Free speech in Europe: mixed rules
Cartoon debate has spurred charges from Muslims that a double standard is at work.
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Even Britain has sought to push through a law recently to outlaw inciting religious hatred, to give religious groups like Muslims and Christians the same rights as racial groups. But the legislation was watered down over concerns about the implications for free speech.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, several recent prosecutions would appear to indicate a diminishing tolerance for invective. In perhaps the most high-profile case of its kind, a Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was found guilty Tuesday of fomenting racial hatred and inciting followers to kill non-Muslims. He reserved particular vitriol for Jews.
Meanwhile, police are studying banners brandished at Friday's protest with slogans like, "Be prepared for the real Holocaust"; "Kill the one who insults the Prophet"; "Behead those who insult Islam"; and "Europe you will pay, your 9/11 is on the way." One man, a convicted drug dealer on parole who attended the rally dressed as a suicide bomber, was rearrested on Tuesday.
Other European cases hint at the preoccupations of individual jurisdictions. In France, where anti-Semitism remains taboo, a comedian named Dieudonne has been effectively sidelined for his anti-Jewish rants. Newspapers must even be careful not to equate the actions of Jews everywhere with the state of Israel following a recent case that punished the dailyLe Monde.
Roy says a form of self-censorship is in practice in France. "No mainstream newspaper would ever publish an interview with Dieudonne," he says. "He has been sidelined because he is supposed to be anti-Semitic."
French Muslims have questioned whether the outcome would have been the same if Dieudonne had aimed his humor at Muslims.
In Austria, a case of Holocaust denial charges is being prepared against British historian David Irving, based on two speeches he made in the country in 1989. He could face 10 years in jail if convicted. In Germany, antihate legislation that took effect last year has been used to rein in Muslim preachers who call for terrorist attacks or propagate hate.
In Turkey, the preoccupation is more nationalistic, as the recently dropped case against novelist Orhan Pamuk - for "insulting Turkish identity" in remarks to a Swiss newspaper about the killings of Armenians in the early 20th century - shows.
In Sweden, meanwhile, the most prominent case has involved a clergyman accused of inciting hatred against homosexuals. But in Britain, remarks by a Muslim leader that homosexuality was "not acceptable" have not resulted in criminal charges.
It is not always Muslims who are in the dock. Prosecutors are preparing a case against leaders of the right-wing extremist British National Party on race-hate charges linked to speeches in which one branded Islam a "wicked" faith, after they were cleared of two other charges last month.
And in Italy, a leading author, Oriana Fallaci, faces trial this year over charges that she slandered Muslims in her book "The Strength of Reason."
Those who find themselves on the wrong side of Muslim anger may also risk greater censure than those who challenge Christian precepts. Writer Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade because of a fatwa, or religious edict, imposed on him for publishing "The Satanic Verses." Though it was equally iconoclastic, there was no such response when Dan Brown published "The Da Vinci Code," seen by many as offensive to the Catholic church.