Now There's a Law That's Sure To Reduce Ethnic and Religious Tensions:

BBC reports:An Arab organisation [the Arab European League] is to be put on trial in the Netherlands over its publication of a cartoon deemed offensive to Jews, prosecutors say....

Dutch prosecutors said the AEL cartoon was "discriminatory" and "offensive to Jews as a group ... because it offends Jews on the basis of their race and/or religion".

The cartoon shows two men standing near a pile of bones at "Auswitch" (sic). One says "I don't think they're Jews".

The other replies: "We have to get to the six million somehow."

A spokeswoman for the prosecuting authority said the group could be fined up to 4,700 euros (£4,100), though in theory a prison sentence was also possible....

Naturally, the AEL is complaining about how this is supposedly inconsistent with the Dutch prosecutors' decision not to prosecute Geert Wilders for making the movie Fitna, which initially included the Mohammed cartoons. And the complaint seems plausible: Though one could distinguish Holocaust denial cartoons from the Mohammed cartoons on the theory that the former convey false historical statements of fact and the latter convey moral judgments or evaluative opinions, that doesn't seem to be a distinction that the quoted law draws, or that most general "hate speech" laws draw.

But beyond this, even if subtle distinctions can be drawn, at least a nation like the U.S. can respond to those who demand censorship of the Mohammed cartoons with a simple principle: We protect religiously and racially offensive ideas and images because that's what our constitutional law demands, and Jews, Christians, and Muslims all have to deal with that. But once one starts to draw subtle distinctions about which racially and religiously offensive ideas and images are sufficiently "hate speech" or sufficiently "offensive to ... a group" and "discriminatory," one sows more racial and religious discord than one avoids: Groups either fall into censorship envy, or resent the legal system and other groups more for the freedom that those others are seen as possessing.

It seems to me quite clear that many ideas can be quite harmful. That includes many racially or religiously bigoted ideas, but also advocacy of Communist revolution, most other advocacy of violence, historical conspiracy theories, and a wide range of other ideas. The particular harm caused by each such statement can be hard to identify. But much harmful behavior, such as the 9/11 attacks, race riots, and many other crimes would not have taken place without speech that made such behavior seem permissible and even laudable to the criminals. Some crimes, such as crimes of rage or sexual jealousy or greed might happen largely independently of ideological advocacy, and likely happened even before language evolved; but ideological crimes have ideological advocacy as an important cause.

I support protection for such ideas, though, because it seems to me that trying to suppress them through the force of law on balance tends to be more harmful than helpful. That's partly because the government is likely to abuse such suppressive powers, by suppressing the valuable speech as well as the harmful. But beyond that, attempts at such suppression -- which will rarely be particularly effective in any event, especially given modern technology -- are likely to arouse many of the same hostilities that the suppression is aimed at abating. This sort of prosecution strikes me as an excellent example of that phenomenon.

Thanks to First Amendment Law Prof Blog for the pointer.


Criticizing Islam and Mohammed Is a Crime in Finland:

From Helsingin Sanomat:

Jussi Halla-aho, an independent member of the Helsinki City Council elected to the council on the True Finns ticket, ... [was] convicted ... of violating the sanctity of religion ... [and] fined ... EUR 330.

Soon after the sentence was passed, Halla-aho ... repeated the view that got him fined. “In my opinion Islam really is a religion that sanctifies paedophilia, and the Prophet Muhammad is a paedophile”, Halla-aho wrote. He wrote similar ideas in his blog in June last year. He said that he reached his conclusion as the result of a logical chain of thought, noting that the Prophet had a spouse who was underage.

In the view of the court Halla-aho’s arguments were not sincere, even though they appeared logical. The court also stated that logic has no significance when religious questions are involved. According to the court, Halla-aho had no intention of holding a proper discussion on negative aspects of the Islamic faith, but to desecrate the sacred values of the religion under the guise of freedom of speech. According to the court, the statement has a tendency to feed religious intolerance.

Halla-aho was also charged over another statement he made in the same blog article, according to which robbing passers-by and scrounging on taxpayers’ money might be a genetic characteristic of Somalis. In the view of Deputy Prosecutor-General Jorma Kalske, this constituted incitement against an ethnic group, but the court acquitted Halla-aho on the charge. The court found that Halla-aho was simply trying to use satire to criticise authorities for not reacting to a newspaper editorial, which suggested that killing people was a “national, and possibly downright genetic special characteristic” of the Finnish people. The court concluded that Halla-aho was seeking to indicate that immigrants can enjoy better protection from officials than the native population....

Halla-aho says he plans to appeal; the prosecution says it's considering appealing as well. This site claims to reprint an English translation of the post based on which Halla-aho was convicted; this site, which appears to be Halla-Aho's, is said to contain the Finnish original; what is said to be an interview an English translation of an interview with Halla-aho is here.

If anyone can point me to an English translation of the court's opinion, I'd be very much obliged; likewise, if any Finnish speakers can confirm the accuracy of the relevant parts of the translation, or provide their own, that would be excellent. Many thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer. No word on whether the councilman's supporters chanted "Halla-aho Akbar" in his defense.

UPDATE: Just to make it clear, I strongly oppose laws suppressing such speech, for the reasons that I've discussed often and at length in other contexts (such as my commentary on the Mohammed cartoons, and on calls for an emerging international law norm of suppressing anti-religious speech). They would surely be unconstitutional in the U.S., and I think that other democracies shouldn't enact them, either.


Fine for Displaying Israeli Flag in a Spontaneous Counterdemonstration at an Anti-Israel Demonstration:

The Jerusalem Post reports, apparently relying on this German-language source:

A local district court in the West German city of Bochum fined a student 300 Euros on Wednesday for displaying an Israel flag at a demonstration organized by Muslim organizations against the IDF Operation Cast Lead in January. According to Der Westen, a regional paper in Bochum, the public prosecutor termed the Israeli flag as "provoking" within a special situation....

According to Der Westen, the local district court judge deemed the protest of the five activists expressing solidarity with Israel as a "dangerous situation."

A spokesman for the district court, Volker Talarowski, told the Post that there was a "violation of the right to assembly" and the court's decision was issued "independent of a political motivation." Talarowski added that the pro-Israel demonstrators failed to register their protest 48 hours before the event.

Yet the student, who is appealing the fine, said a special regulation permits "spontaneous" demonstrations without a pre-registration. In response to a hardcore anti-Israeli demonstration in Bochum attended by 1,600 protesters on January 17, the student, along with four pro-Israeli activists, displayed a banner stating "Against anti-Semitism and fascism: Solidarity with Israel" as well as the Israel flag....

I'd much appreciate any translation of the source, or correction or amplification of the Jerusalem Post article, from people who know German. Naturally, if anyone can find the court decision, and the relevant regulations, I'd also much appreciate seeing those. Thanks to Avi Bell for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Fine for Displaying Israeli Flag in a Spontaneous Counterdemonstration at an Anti-Israel Demonstration:
  2. Criticizing Islam and Mohammed Is a Crime in Finland:
  3. Now There's a Law That's Sure To Reduce Ethnic and Religious Tensions: