One recurring argument that I’ve seen from Muslims who want the cartoons legally suppressed is that European laws prohibit other kinds of speech offensive to other groups — for instance, Holocaust denial, which is often restricted chiefly because it’s seen as implicitly or explicitly anti-Semitic — and that Muslims should get the same treatment. In practice, those laws don’t get used that often, and European speech is actually more free than the laws would suggest. Nonetheless, the laws’ presence does make possible the argument I describe; and I suspect it does make many Muslims feel even more aggrieved than they would be by the cartoons themselves, since they are also now aggrieved by what they see as discriminatorily enforced laws.
Consider, just as one example among many, Norwegian Penal Code secs. 135 & 135a (noted here; thanks to Rebecca Davidson for pointing to that article, and to Jill Fukunaga of the UCLA Law Library for finding the English text of the code sections):
§ 135. Any person who endangers the general peace by publicly insulting or provoking hatred of the Constitution or any public authority or by publicly stirring up one part of the population against another, or who is accessory thereto, shall be liable to fines or to detention or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.
§ 135 a. Any person shall be liable to fines or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years who by any utterance or other communication made publicly or otherwise disseminated among the public threatens, insults, or subjects to hatred, persecution or contempt any person or group of persons because of their creed, race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The same applies to any such offensive conduct towards a person or a group because of their homosexual bent, life-style, or inclination.
The same penalty shall apply to any person who incites or is otherwise accessory to any act mentioned in the first paragraph.
These belong to the family of restrictions on “hate speech” and “incitement to hostility” that Europeans (and some Americans) sometimes praise as a model “reasonable” alternative to America’s speech protections. But look how broad they are: If you “endanger the general peace” by “publicly stirring up one part of the population against another,” you can go to prison. If you disseminate a communication that “insult[s]” “any group of persons because of their creed,” you can go to prison.
Of course publication of the cartoons would be covered. My providing a link to the cartoons (which I’ve done in many of my previous posts, since providing such a link is in my view necessary to helping people understand the controversy) would be a crime under Norwegian law: I would be an accessory to a communication that insults some Muslims because of their creed. And of course many Muslims would feel entitled to have this law enforced to protect their sensibilities.
Many Muslims are surely offended enough by the cartoons on their own; but at least in America we can tell them to join the club — American Christians have no legal protection from anti-Christian speech, American Jews have none from anti-Semitic speech, blacks have none from racist speech, Americans generally have none from anti-American speech. What can Norwegians tell them, other than (1) “Sorry, the laws don’t protect you,” (2) “OK, we’ll enforce the laws to suppress this speech that insults you,” or (3) “These are bad laws, we’re glad that they’ve rarely been used, we’re sorry they were ever enacted, and we are going to repeal them right away” (my preferred suggestion, though not one likely to be implemented, and one that would still be understandably offensive to many Muslims, since the laws’ repeal would have been triggered by speech that’s offensive to Muslims)?