Agent Provocateur

It’s getting hard to keep up with developments surrounding “The Innocence of Muslims,” the YouTube video that ridicules the Prophet Muhammad and has sparked violent protests throughout the Muslim world. On Tuesday, Egypt announced that it had issued arrest warrants for several Americans connected with the film’s production and distribution, including Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who promoted the film. Jones was last in the news for putting the Quran “on trial” and threatening to burn it. Egypt’s action followed Germany’s announcement that it would forbid Jones, who has been invited to speak by far-right political parties, from entering the county. The Interior Ministry argues that allowing the “hate preacher” in the country would upset public order. So that’s another country the pastor must cross off his vacation list.

Then, yesterday, the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, entered the fray over the film, running a series of cartoons mocking the Prophet. The French government, which had asked Charlie Hebdo not to run the cartoons, responded by announcing that it would close embassies in twenty countries this Friday as a precaution. The Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabuis, said the cartoons were “a provocation,” and called on “all” people — by “all,” Fabius presumably had in mind particularly Charlie Hebdo‘s editor, Stephane Charbonnier — “to behave responsibly.”

For his part, Chabonnier is unrepentant. Already under police guard as a result of an earlier episode in which his magazine ran a caricature of the Prophet, Charbonnier says he sees a double standard developing in France, according to which it is considered acceptable to mock some religions but not others. “We have the impression that it’s officially allowed for Charlie Hebdo to attack the Catholic far-right but we cannot poke fun at fundamental Islamists,” he explained. It’s an interesting point that other commentators, including in the US, as making, too. Charbonnier should be calling his lawyer. Unlike the US, France has laws that ban speech that insults a group because of its religion. In 2006, in fact, Charlie Hebdo was prosecuted when the newspaper  reprinted some of the infamous cartoons of the Prophet that had appeared in a Danish newspaper. In that case, Charlie Hebdo was acquitted on the ground that the cartoons insulted terrorists, not Muslims generally. It wouldn’t be surprising if Charlie Hebdo faced prosecution again now.

Kahn on the Trial of Geert Wilders

In 2009, a Dutch court decided to prosecute right-wing politician Geert Wilders for hate speech. Wilders had made several highly critical comments about Islam and had produced a film, Fitna, that explored Islamist violence in a way that some people allege incites hatred against Muslims.  In June 2011, the court acquitted Wilders of all charges. Robert Kahn (St. Thomas – Minnesota)  has posted a piece, The Acquittal of Geert Wilders and Dutch Political Culture, that discusses Wilder’s case and its implications for multiculturalism. The abstract follows. — MLM

The June 23, 2011 acquittal of Geert Wilders has been viewed as a victory for freedom of speech over multiculturalism. While containing an element of truth, this framing has limitations. First, even as Wilders’ “triumphed” over multiculturalism he still cast himself as a champion of Dutch tolerance. Second, Wilders’ victory was a narrow one. The court, while acquitting, noted that Wilders went right to the line of permissible speech. Wilders acquittal does not necessarily portend an end of Dutch exceptionalism or its hate speech laws. Instead, the trial was noteworthy for (i) its obsession with the Nazi past, (ii) its debate over the rights and duties of a politician, and (iii) the conflict that arose between one of Wilders’ witnesses and an appeals court judge who in 2009 ordered the prosecutor to bring charges against Wilders.

Conference on Religious-Defamation Bans, Islamophobia, and the First Amendment (Nov. 4)

The Federalist Society’s International and National Security Law Practice Group is hosting an interesting-looking conference in Washington on November 4 on religious-defamation bans, Islamophobia, and the First Amendment. Speakers include Bruce Bawer, Naser Khader, Nina Shea, Paul Marshall, Paul Diamond, Jacob Mchangama, Mark Durie, Amjad M. Khan, David Forte, David Rivkin, and Samuel Tadros. A complete description is here. — MLM