Europe's fight over free speech flares up again
BERLIN - Bans on an anti-Islam video. Forbidding protests against it. Arrests for blasphemy. The ongoing furor over a video and cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Mohammed has reignited old dilemmas over free speech in Europe, with calls for stricter blasphemy laws, bans on protests and debates over how much free speech to allow.
"I don't think we can get into the situation in which any minority sect, any religion, is allowed to demarcate the things that other people are allowed to say," said Ben Tonra, who specializes in European relations at Dublin University in Ireland. "For me personally, the primacy has got to be given to free speech."
But not all agree with this in Europe, which has a history of curtailing speech the government deems offensive or disruptive. Governments here do not have constitutions that enshrine the rights of individuals to express themselves, and are looking for ways to legally prevent their citizens from criticizing Islam however crudely.
Russia, which recently jailed a rock band for singing a song against President Vladimir Putin, ordered the video The Innocence of Muslims banned. And Putin announced he is pushing for an anti-blasphemy law on "insulting religions and people's religious sentiment."
The German government is considering whether to find a way to prevent a group from showing the video to the public. France has banned other mocking images of Mohammed and it continues to face protests over a French magazine publishing provocative cartoons of Mohammed.
Unlike the United States, free speech is limited in Europe with numerous statutes that ban hate speech, blasphemy, Holocaust denial and even phrases deemed insults to bureaucrats and police officers.
When Germany's far right political party, Pro Deutschland, announced it planned to screen the video The Innocence of Muslims politicians responded by trying to tighten 140-year-old blasphemy laws. After all, Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims and its embassy in Sudan was set on fire last month by men egged on by Islamist leaders. (continue reading...)