Danish free speech debate turns nasty

For decades a solid front of journalists, experts and politicians have backed Denmarks anti-racism legislation and agreed that any criticism of Islam and immigration is beyond the pale. Now they dont know what to do with an 18-year old poet of Palestinian descent who has said horrible things about Islam and Muslims that would have landed any non-Muslim before a judge.

Ever since the so-called Muhammed crisis of 2005-2006 following the daily Jyllands-Postens publication of the twelve Muhammed cartoons it has been evident that Denmark was one of the most interesting countries to follow for those committed to the protection of free speech.

But the battle over the limits of free speech has been going on for much longer. In 2010 blogger Morten Uhrskov Jensen writing in the daily Jyllands-Posten called attention to the fact that there had been no less than 27 convictions for so-called racism over the preceding 10 years and more have been added to the list since then. Among the most high-profile post-2010 convictions are those of former MP for the Danish Peoples Party Jesper Langballe and the Iranian born artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan.

The editor of Dispatch International and President of the Free Press Society Lars Hedegaard had to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court before he was acquitted of having intentionally maligned all male Muslims in the world.


The statute in question is Article 266b in the Danish penal code, which was passed into law in 1971. Commonly referred to as the racism clause, it states that evil speech directed against a group of people defined by race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation is punishable by a fine or up to two years in jail. For at statement to be punishable, it must have been made with the intent of public dissemination.

The latter is the only possible defense against being convicted. Whether the statement is true or false is immaterial. So if pygmies feel offended ­ or if others feel offended on their behalf by a statement that they are rather small, any reference to their average height would make no impact in a Danish court.


Interestingly, Article 266b was proposed by a Conservative minister of justice and even more interestingly, it was an MP for the Socialist Peoples Party, Poul Dam, who vehemently opposed this addition to the penal code. He pointed out that this was the first time the Nazi-inspired concept of race was introduced into Danish legislation. He didnt like the smell of it.

And the now deceased Mr. Dam probably wouldnt have liked the practical application of 266b. As it turns out, this new legal instrument has overwhelmingly been used to silence right-wing critics of Islam and the open-door immigration policies Danish governments have been following for the past 30 years. No Muslim has been convicted for saying that Danish women are whores or that such sharia practices as stoning and killing of apostates will be implemented when Muslims have become sufficiently powerful.

Recently, however, the r-word has come back to haunt those who were only too happy with it so long as they could use the race thing as a weapon to silence their political opponents with the servile assistance of left-leaning prosecutors and courts.


It all started to go horribly wrong with the September 16 conviction of Firoozeh Bazrafkan. She was fined 5000 kroner for writing that she was very convinced that to a large extent Muslim men both rape, brutalize and kill their daughters. She went on to note that the reason was a deficient, inhumane culture if it even is a culture and that the Koran is even more immoral, reprehensible and insane than the manuals of the two other world religions combined.

An obvious problem with this conviction is that Firoozeh Bazrafkan belongs to the same race as many of those she criticized.


In court Firoozeh Bazrafkan referred to Article 220 in the Iranian penal code permitting fathers and grandfathers to violate and even murder their children and grandchildren with impunity. She also called attention to the fact that an Iraqi man living in Denmark had written on Facebook that he wanted to rape her, cut her to pieces and feed her to the dogs without being prosecuted. This man is allowed to go free, while I am being convicted for calling attention to a problem. Its ridiculous and it violates my sense of justice. Im simply livid, said Firoozeh Bazrafkan after the verdict.

Many others were equally enraged and the conviction of the Danish-Iranian artist has in no way enhanced the reputation of Article 266b.



But worse was to come in October 2013, when the 18-year old Yahya Hassan, who has Palestinian origins, published a collection of poems at the prestigious Gyldendal publishing house. Among the catch lines were these: I piss on Allah and his messenger and on all of his no-good disciples. During a television show he went further: There is a generation of stupid immigrants [he used the derogatory and untranslatable term perker] who run around and wont accept the society theyre living in and who wont accept the Danes. God damn it Denmark is the land of the Danes. I simply cannot understand their mentality. If you dont feel comfortable in the country youre in, you should try to find another, said Yahya Hassan.

One of the problems for the staunch defenders of the racism clause is that in a matter of weeks, Yahya Hassans poems sold an unbelievable 60,000 copies in a country where any poet would be happy if 300-400 would pay for his stuff.


It didnt take long before a Muslim physically attacked Yahya Hassan and another concerned believer reported him for racism.

So far it appears that the public prosecutor is less than happy with having to drag the young poet into court. The consequences to the racism rhetoric that has sustained so much of the politically correct discourse in Denmark could well be devastating. One of the problems is that Hassans publisher, Gyldendal, is often described as one component of the iron triangle of political correctness in Denmark the others being the daily Politiken and public radio and television (Radio Denmark).


Uncomfortable questions regarding Article 266b are already being asked (Berlingske Nyhedsbureau, December 1, 2013 not online) and it can only get more uncomfortable if Yahya Hassan is charged.

I think it is both ridiculous and frightening if it is up to the courts to determine if Yahya Hassan has the right to use the word perker, says MP Simon Ammitzbøll from the centrist Liberal Alliance. Together with the Danish Peoples Party the LA has long advocated the abolition of 266b.

The Hassan case har also given Venstre (The Liberals), the biggest party in the center-right opposition, cause to reconsider its attitude to the racism clause.

I think there is reason to ponder if the racism article is up to date, says Kristian Jensen, a leading MP for Venstre.


So far 266b has been pretty much a one-way street an instrument that could be used against so-called populists, Islam critics and opponents of mass immigration from the third world.

But even Danish PEN which has been in the forefront of political correctness and hardly ever uttered a critical word about Islam of Muslim culture must have sensed that something had to be done to save 266b.

It has therefore reported the self-styled salafist imam Abu Ubay-illah to the police for having issued a fatwa declaring Yahya Hassan an enemy. PEN fears that this is an exhortation to the faithful to do the poet harm.


But even more fundamental and painful issues have now come to the surface.

In a front page article the daily Jyllands-Posten compared two statements:

One cannot trust Muslims by Dispatch International editor Lars Hedegaard (what Hedegaard actually said was that one cannot know if a Muslim speaks the truth because Islam gives him the right to conceal his true intentions).

Every inhabitant in the ghettoes is a cheat by Yahya Hassan (also a condensation of what the poet actually said).

Jyllands-Postens reporters go on to note that Lars Hedegaard barely survived an assassination attempt in February of this year and that Yahya Hassan was assaulted last week.

The paper quotes professor Frederik Stjernfelt from Aarhus University:  »Most people condemned the assassination attempt against Lars Hedegaard, but there were also those who went further and hinted that it was his own fault because he could have kept his mouth shut. Now Yahya Hassan has been attacked but nobody has asked him to shut up. Nor should they but there is a double standard when one critic is asked to shut up but not the other.

The two statements are alike, says Stjernfelt, but have been received very differently by the public and that is a democratic problem.


It would appear that Denmark has an even bigger democratic problem when Lars Hedegaard is dragged in front of a judge and Yahya Hassan is not. And and an even bigger problem still if the public prosecutor decides to charge Hassan.

A growing number of observers seem to realize that the socialist Poul Dam was right to warn the Danish parliament against incorporating the Nazi concept of race into Danish law.

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