Wednesday, February 22, 2006

More European hypocrisy on free speech

Via Crooked Timber, another story of European hypocrisy on freedom of speech. Many commentators have talked about the effrontery of Muslims in demanding that expression be censored to conform to their religious sensibilities. The problem is that, in most European jurisdictions, speech can and is already limited to conform to the sensibilities of Christians. For example, in 1989 the film "Visions of Ecstasy" (a short porn movie about "the ecstatic and erotic visions of St Teresa of Avila") was banned in the UK on the grounds that it was blasphemous - i.e. offensive to Christians. The film's director appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that a blasphemy law contravened the guarantee of freedom of expression in the European Convention of Human Rights. He lost. Following a previous judgement, in which the court had

accepted that respect for the religious feelings of believers can move a State legitimately to restrict the publication of provocative portrayals of objects of religious veneration,

the court ruled that

[F]reedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society... however, the exercise of that freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities. Amongst them, in the context of religious beliefs, may legitimately be included a duty to avoid as far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration, gratuitously offensive to others and profanatory

This doesn't justify the death threats to cartoonists or the violent riots happening in various parts of the world, of course - but it does show that Muslims have a fair point in asking why their religious sensibilities don't count when other people's do. My answer of course would be that no-one's religious sensibilities should count; that legal protection of any religion from criticism, insult or "blasphemy" is a violation of the freedoms of religion, conscience, and expression which make an open and tolerant society possible. Unfortunately, most European nations (and, I must add, New Zealand) would rather be hypocrites.


This is an instance of a double standard, but I wonder how many such instances there are in Europe. This one dates back to 1989 and the Guardian mentions a few more. In principle there should be no such cases but it's not evidence of wide spread curtailment of freedom of expression.

But a significant section of liberal opinion found it necessary to tippy-toe around Mulsim sensibilities (what, because of Bush???), after years of open season on Christians, so the corner has been well and truely painted into.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/22/2006 10:25:00 AM

Neil: the laws are widespread, and upheld by Europe's highest judicial body. While there are few prosecutions (at least in the UK), the basic legal principle is accepted.

As for "tippy-toeing" around Muslim sensibilities, I'd suggest that not every newspaper editor in Europe is an arsehole, just as not every one here is.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/22/2006 10:40:00 AM

So, an archaic law seldomly applied. Technically a double standard - one which I agree should be removed - but the standard most often applied in Europe is pretty much the one CanWest is apllying to Southpark - Christianity is fair game. But they must be arseholes too according to you Idiot.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/22/2006 11:43:00 AM

Neil: you know that we have such a law here, right?

As for arseholes, that is pretty much my opinion of South Park's creators. Sometimes they're funny arseholes, and quite biting in their message - but most of the time now it seems they're just being gratuitous. As for C4, they're free to screen what they want, and people are free to form an opinion based on it. I suspect most Catholics will likewise think they're being gratuitous. But somehow, I don't think they're really C4's target market...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/22/2006 11:52:00 AM

Would you think the creators of Spitting Image to be "arseholes" as well. After all they attacked various political leaders in quite a cutting manner. I'm sure that many people had a deep respect for Maggie Thatcher, Ronald Reagan or Neil Kinnock.

Or are only theist ideologies above satirical attack?

Posted by Rich : 2/22/2006 11:58:00 AM

Rich: I'm quite happy to see people satirise and shit all over religion. My "problem" is more that I think that South Park jumped the shark long ago and stopped being as funny as it used to in general. Which is why I won't be watching it. But there's a vast difference between my personal tastes in TV and saying that people shouldn't be allowed to watch or screen it. unfortunately, too many people in this debate don't seem to be able to distinguish between the two.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/22/2006 12:25:00 PM

There's nothing amusing about a woman menstruating all over someone else, that these two people are Mary and the Pope is almost irrelevant, it's revolting either way.

I don't think C4 should screen it, I certainly won't be watching it, BUT neither do I think we should legally halt it because it is offensive specifically to Catholicism.

OTOH you might decide to censor it based purely on its overall lack of decency, but then we allow some pretty awful stuff onto our screens, so why should this be singled out?

Posted by Muerk : 2/22/2006 02:20:00 PM

Bodily functions are in fact funny, always have been, always will be. Poop, for instance.

South Park 9-14: Bloody Mary.

Stan's Dad gets drunk while the boys are at karate class, drives them home, gets caught, forced to go to AA. Turns out AA is really just a religious cult in disguise (12 step program = accept jesus and be saved).

Stan's Dad now believes he needs a miracle to stop drinking. Enter the statue of the Virgin Mary, crying tears of blood for the sins of the world (out her ass), soon confirmed as miraculous. Stans dad goes along with all the other sick folk to get some of the holy blood and is cured.

Pope arrives, and decalres that on closer examination it's not a miricle after all. "A chick bleeding out her vagina is no miricle. Chicks bleed out their vaginas all the time."

Stan's Dad tries to go back on the booze, but Stan talks him out of it, noting that with true discipline (as taught to Stan by his karate teacher) he can learn to drink responsably. The end.

Oh yea, something on TV tonight about throwing C4 up on a charge of blashemous libel here. Now that's funny.

Posted by tussock : 2/23/2006 02:52:00 AM

A charge of hypocrisy against an individual person tends to pretty satisfying. But it is a little more tricky to make a charge of hypocrisy against a country or even a continent. Customs and laws in many (every?) country are not the outcomes of pure consensus, but the results of unresolved disagreements, political and legal battles, compromises and fudges. Even if the individual actors were absolutely consistent, consistency of the results would be too much to expect. It doesn't really make much sense to accuse Europe rather than individual Europeans of hypocrisy - if that's what you're doing.

Having said that - I think you are on the right side here - e.g. freedom for seditious speech.

And finally, a comment on the Crooked Timber thread. I don't usually agree with Sebastian Holsclaw. But this time he ripped Chris Bertram to (figurative) bits.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/23/2006 07:53:00 AM