A Danish appeals court recently upheld the conviction under a Danish hate speech law of an Iranian-Danish woman for her remarks condemnatory of Islam. Coming amidst the controversial statements by another Dane of Muslim background, this conviction raises troubling questions about who may say what about Islam.
The artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan ran afoul of Danish authorities with a blog entry printed in a December 2011 issue of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper of 2005 Danish Muhammad caricature notoriety. Bazrafkan expressed being "very convinced that Muslim men around the world rape, abuse and kill their daughters." Such abuse resulted "according to my understanding as a Danish-Iranian" from a "defective and inhumane culture—if you can even call it a culture at all." Bazrafkan deemed Islam a "defective and inhumane religion whose textbook, the Koran, is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined."
As explained in an interview, Bazrafkan had appropriated the text with light personal editing from the free speech activist Lars Kragh Andersen. Bazrafkan acted in solidarity with Andersen after his conviction under Section 266b of the Danish Penal Code (in Danish here) for the same posting at the news website 180Grader. As one English translation reads, Section 266b punishes any public "pronouncement or other communication by which a group of persons are threatened, insulted or denigrated due to their race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation."
Bazrafkan's motive was "to show Lars support because, as a Danish Iranian, I know what a big problem Islamic regimes are." "Islamic codes give men the rights to do whatever they want to women and children," something called "disgusting" by Bazrafkan, and "also prevent people in Iran from discussing and saying what they want." Bazrafkan sought an "artistic manifesto to show that we cannot say what we want and we cannot criticize Islamic regimes." Accordingly, Bazrafkan's website includes a video showing a casually-clothed Bazrafkan jump roping on top of an Ayatollah Khomeini photo (other Bazrafkan criticisms of Islam and Iran are available here and here).
Denmark's Western High Court on September 16, 2013, convicted her on prosecutorial appeal from successful district court defense. From a panel of three judges and jurors each, five found Bazrafkan guilty of presenting "statements in which a group of people are mocked and degraded because of their belief." The reviewing court sentenced Bazrafkan to a 5,000 Kroner fine or five days in prison, a decision she intends to appeal to the Danish Supreme Court before going to prison in lieu of paying the fine.
Opposing the decision, Bazrafkan noted that she did not say that "ALL Muslim men committed horrible acts," but merely offered a "critique of religion," something Section 266b "shouldn't be used to protect." The Iranian-born former Muslim Bazrafkan had also previously criticized Judaism and Christianity, but was more concerned with her repressed relatives in Iran. Bazrafkan claimed for people the right "to write whatever they want," even "if it's stupid or well formulated…so long as they don't threaten other people." Police dismissed a person who threatened to dismember and feed to his dogs Bazrafkan, meanwhile, as unserious.
Bazrafkan's intellectual arguments were unavailing in part because, as Jesper Langballe stated during his December 3, 2010, district court "confession," Section 266b's "sole criterion of culpability…is whether someone feels offended…not whether what I have said is true or false." Like Bazrafkan, the Danish parliamentarian Langballe suffered a conviction for condemning Islamic norms justifying abuses of women. Indeed, Danish country reports to the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency (see here and here) describe Section 266b as applicable to anyone who "makes a statement or imparts other information" with the stipulated offensive nature. Danish journalist Lars Hedegaard, meanwhile, narrowly escaped a Section 266b conviction in 2012 after the Danish Supreme Court determined that he had no intention of publicly disseminating his condemnation of Muslim male treatment of females.
Concurrent with Bazrafkan's legal difficulties, Yahya Hassan, an 18-year-old Palestinian-Danish poet, has attributed high criminality rates among Danish youths with migrant Muslim backgrounds to poor Muslim parenting. Hassan, who entered an institution at age 13 after several years of juvenile delinquency, complained of watching "our fathers passively rot on the couch with the remote in their hands, living off state benefits, accompanied by a disillusioned mother who never put her foot down." Muslim youth "who became criminals and bums…weren't let down by the system, but by our parents." Although Hassan has not faced any Section 266b prosecutions, numerous graphic death threats have appeared at the Facebook page of a television show in which he appeared.
With European societies becoming increasingly heterogeneous, Islamic beliefs and behaviors criticized by Bazrafkan and Hassan demand discussion in an open forum free from legal retribution. Serious policy issues concerning Islam in free societies will simply not disappear due to a politically correct mandated silence. Laws like Section 266b are accordingly not just a threat to liberty, but to security as well.
This article was sponsored by The Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.