Denmark stood up against fundamentalists in the past. It must not give in now

Posted: Fri, 11th Aug 2023 by Jack Rivington

Denmark stood up against fundamentalists in the past. It must not give in now

It is now almost two decades since an organised campaign of lies, threats and violence attempted to force Danish society to abandon its right to freedom of expression and in its place install a particularly regressive version of Islamic blasphemy codes.

In late 2005, a number of Danish Muslim organisations, together with the authorities of several Muslim-majority countries, tried to bully the Danish government into interfering with the publication of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. The paper had printed a dozen cartoons of Muhammad as part of an editorial discussing criticism of Islam and self-censorship.

Eleven ambassadors from Muslim-majority countries requested that Denmark suppress the paper's right to operate freely and to pursue those responsible for the cartoons under the "law of the land". The prime minister declined, pointing out that it would be illegal for him to do so. Furthermore, he would not denounce the paper, and would not meet with the concerned diplomats to discuss the matter. For this, Denmark saw its embassies violated, citizens attacked, and economy sabotaged.

Today, Muslim fundamentalists are once again demanding that Denmark and its neighbour Sweden give up their democratic principles in order to placate their offended feelings. In recent weeks, copies of the Quran have been set alight at several protests in both nations, primarily by unsavoury characters from the far right-wing of Scandinavian politics, although on at least one occasion by an Iraqi asylum-seeker.

The choice to destroy, rather than contribute, written words is not accidental. Publishing an illustration of Muhammad makes the point that blasphemy codes apply only to those who choose to follow them. Any statement of principle to be found in the burning of a religious text is far weaker. Indeed, the act is inherently anti-intellectual and contemptuous of literature – in that regard exhibiting the same mindset as the hysterical Islamist mobs calling for retribution.

But focusing on the nature of the act is a mistake. The crucial point is that Denmark and Sweden should not modify their fundamental values according to the dictates of a gang of theocratic crooks.

Concerningly, both governments are considering doing exactly that. The Swedish judiciary has already had to prevent the government from encroaching on the rights of its citizens, and the Danish government is now joining them in seeking 'legal means' to prevent further protests.

Their desire to do so is not incomprehensible. Sweden has already seen its embassies besieged, diplomatic staff shot, and stern warnings of potential attacks issued by its security services. Attempts have also been made to isolate both internationally, with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – a collection of 57 nations that claims to "safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world" – condemning the burnings as "acts of aggression that spread hatred and contempt for religions and threaten global peace, security and harmony".

For this group, which includes some of the most vicious and repressive regimes on earth, to lecture others on human rights and the spreading of hatred is hypocrisy of the most shameless kind. Faced with such pressure, one would hope that the UK, EU and US might make some expression of solidarity with their democratic allies. Instead, they have each issued mealy-mouthed statements condemning the supposed acts of desecration.

European nations may think these efforts of appeasement will make them safer. They will not. Does anyone seriously believe that, were a ban on burning the Quran implemented, those voicing their displeasure would pack up and go home, now satisfied that their terms had been met and never to be seen again?

Of course not. It is not just the content of any freely expressed remarks or actions which religious fundamentalists are opposed to, but also, and more importantly, the principle that anyone should be able to speak about their faith opinions in a way they do not like.

No quarter should be given to this way of thinking. To act as an apologist when a Quran is burnt because it is 'hateful' is to validate violent intimidation as a means to bring about a political agenda.

It also encourages further thuggish behaviour of the kind perpetuated against Sweden in recent weeks. If concessions to such efforts at intimidation continue to be made, there will come a point at which the essential components of a free society will cease to function.

In 2005, the Danish authorities ultimately did not retreat from a defence of their values. To do so now would be a grave mistake. Fundamentalists say that any offence to their faith is 'intolerable'. We should make it clear: in a democracy, prioritising religious feelings above freedom of expression is intolerable.

Image: Protestors against Quran burning in Sweden outside the Sweden Embassy of London, January 2023. Credit: Loredana Sangiuliano, Shutterstock

Tags: Free speech