Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sweden censors cartoons

The Swedish government has shut down the website of the far-right Sweden Democrats party newspaper, SD-Kuriren, after it began a competition to find more Mohammed cartoons. Now, the Sweden Democrats are racist, xenophobic arseholes who are deliberately trying to offend and provoke a response so as to smear Muslims as violent - but even people like them deserve freedom of speech, and freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom to offend. The "freedom" to say only that which does not offend anyone is no freedom at all.

This is a bad day for Sweden, and I'm disappointed to see a western democracy take such a step.


Look, in principle you are of course right. But it is no different than the police interfering with people's right to freely assemble where there's a risk of violence breaking out, eh at a party that's threatening to get out of control.
Adults can expect adult freedoms so long as they're prepared to behave as adults ie to self-regulate. Absent that and society begins to break down and you're left with no society capable of supporting human rights. The point is - human rights don't exist in a vacuum, they exist only so long as the society itself has sufficient cohesiveness to hang together.
The history of humanity is basically tribal, but for brief moments it transcends that when people agree that their common welfare is important enough they will place limits their individual self-expression (say their personal greed, or historical self of injustice or whatever) in some manner so that a greater common good can be accomodated.
The law is the most obvious manifestation of this, but there's also all the social courtesies that are unwritten. But it's a marginally-stable setup at the best of times.
OK, if people are determined to how far it'll stretch, then sooner or later the veneer of society breaks and people revert to tribalism. So the Swedish government is going to have a crack at interrupting the lemming-like rush toward the cliff. I wish they didn't have to, but appeals to individual's self-restraint have obviously failed.
Where is the line between hate-speech and actions designed to foment hatred? Do we have to wait until it's been crossed by a huge margin to take action?
Y'know, on balance, and with reservations, I say good on 'em - they're trying to hold together a very unstable balance.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 11:37:00 AM

Look, in principle Huskynut is of course right. We shouldn't seek to antagonise people who we disagree with, we should be polite and reasonable and restrain our angry impulses because we all have to live together.

The trouble is with Huskynut's metaphor. Here's an alternative one:

I used to live opposite four members of a (bad) rock band who used to regularly practice at home. Occasionally they would overstep the bounds of good manners by playing too loud or too late, thereby 'offending' us old farts who wanted to sleep at least some of the night. At this point we would go over and reason with them, which usually resulted in the racket being turned down. If they had been breaking a law I could have called the police in and could reasonably have expected them to stop the party. If, on the other hand, I had threatened to burn their house down unless they shut up then they could reasonably have expected the police to call on me. Confiscating the lads' instruments as a fire risk would not be reasonable!

Negotiating win/win outcomes certainly require showing empathy and understanding of the other person's position. It also requires an assertive defence of your own bottom lines. If the far right nutters of the Swedish Democrats have not broken the law, or threatened to break the law, they should have been left alone.

Its more than disappointing Idiot, its deeply worrying.


Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 12:25:00 PM

Point taken Jarvis, and I have to agree.. when one of the open democracies in the world begins restricting freedom of speech, then yes, it's worrying all right.

I guess I was really responding to I/S's criticism of the actions of the Swedish government, and trying to point out where they may be coming from.
The thing is, I think by and large (myself included), kiwis are remarkeably politically naiive. We live in a pimple in the Pacific with no land borders, no federal system, no strategic wealth or importance. We have a short history, pretty simple domestic ethnic relationships. The farthest right our political spectrum extends is the Act party..! The local National Front is treated as a bad joke, and there is no noticeable political legacy of lingering resentment from WW2, nor previous centuries (with the exception of issues between the Crown and Maori, which we appear to be making a serious effort to address). We have a domestic treaty with Australia, but are not players in anything like the political and ethnic complexity of Europe.
In such a climate, and unless I/S is completely up with the nuances of the Swedish political climate (which, btw I don't rule out as he obviously does a prodigous amount of reading) I just think it's incredibly easy to be judgemental while failing to understand the big picture. Which seems to be one of central themes of the cartoon issue itself.
Turning to your metaphor, the biggest difference is one of intent. Your neighbours presumably intended to have a party, not to deliberately keep you awake all night. The Swedish Democrats, having seen what happened across the border, presumably intended to stoke the fires of dissention. We make allowance for intent in law (murder vs manslaughter), and it's reasonable for the Swedish govt to make a distinction based on intent (with awareness of likely possible outcomes of acting and not acting) also.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 02:27:00 PM

IMO, too much of the local debate on this issue is abstracted from the actual political situation in Denmark/Europe, in particular, the rise of xenophobia against Muslim immigrants, the lurch in support for far right parties, and the links to the ongoing war over control of resources in the middle east. The people who are using vilification of Muslims to test the boundaries of free speech are a threat to a liberal, democratic society. There is a difference between liberty and license to incite.

These links give a glimpse of the charged atmosphere in which the cartoons were published:'s_Party

(Apologies if this is a repeat post - my first attempt got lunched)

Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 03:31:00 PM


the problem with your approach is that it leaves you trying to guess the mind of people who you fundimentally disagree with (and therefore do not think in the same way as).

A simple rule is never to assume evil or mallace when there is another possible explination.

I would say their objective is probably to asert free speach - ie it is not that they want to start a fight - it is just that they care nearly as much as you do if there is a fight (they may buy into the idea that there already is a fight going on).

One might, in desperate times, decide that at times one should eliminate critisism of jews or jesus or mohammad or conversely promotion of socialism or fascism because it is a sensitive time but such a decision should be taken VERY seriously with the realization that if you open that door one day it will probably you who is not allowed to say what you think because someone else might get upset.

Posted by Genius : 2/11/2006 06:07:00 PM

I'm not sure about the significance of intent here Huskynut. To me its something of a red herring. Whether my ex-neighbours made a racket through sheer exuberance or for more sinister motives, surely the key issue is whether they broke the law.

Also, your example of murder/manslaughter covers two nuances of the same illegal activity: killing someone. Publishing bad taste cartoons is not generally against the law in western liberal democracies, no matter what the intent behind them.

In this case, it may be the Swedish Government that acted illegally. In doing so they may, in the eyes of many, have made an odious little party of xenophobes look like free-speech heroes.


Posted by Anonymous : 2/11/2006 06:43:00 PM

For once, I hope the right-wing nutters come out on top (there's Jarvis' concern re xenophobes becoming free speech heroes vindicated). Europe's already hypocritical enough when it comes to freedom of speech - allowing this mess to push them further into hypocrisy would be a very bad idea. Hopefully the Swedish courts will give the govt a hammering over it.

This debate may be abstract to NZers but it's certainly not to Europeans. The rise of xenophobia towards Moslem immigrants is an inevitable consequence of large-scale immigration by people who come from a culture not only completely different, but assertively opposed to the host culture. It's a point not lost on Moslem countries - Kuwait simply doesn't allow immigration. From their point of view, it would be foolish to import large numbers of foreigners who'd start demanding foreign stuff and wrecking Kuwait's indigenous culture. Well, duh-uh. Expect similar ideas to get an increasing constituency in Europe.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 2/12/2006 05:13:00 AM


You're saying that Muslims represent non-consentual chaos. They have no will of their own and can't help but crash like a wave on anyone who has different views. You can't legislate the natural world, all rights must be defined by it or break.

But Islam is not a force of nature, it's a force of man's will. If these men choose to initiate violence on our freedom we don't give in, we fight to keep it.

You, and the Sweedish powers that be, are making a surrender of freedom to force. And you're wrong, it's not force that provides your 'sufficient cohesiveness' for society. It's liberty. You're speaking for Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is dead.

Posted by Rick : 2/12/2006 12:59:00 PM

The more that Western Governments and the Western press capitulate with regards to these cartoons and the 'sensitivities' involved, the more of a gift it is to the European right. Sweden has just handed a right wing group a 'heroes' tag by censoring them. This is hugely counter-productive...

Posted by Anonymous : 2/12/2006 01:15:00 PM

Interesting view on the wider topic here from British Muslim academic Dr Mona Siddiqui:

"The Muslim intellectual tradition has gone through centuries of reinterpreting what it means by terms such as blasphemy, heresy and freedom of expression. Historical and political factors have been key principles in shaping and reshaping value systems. So much of popular discourse is stripped of all this great thinking that we have nothing to work with other than emotion and rhetoric. To use the Prophet and his sayings as an excuse for churning out more venom is inexcusable. It’s a contemptible twist of freedom of speech, the red herring in the middle of this current controversy. Last week, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw tried to do “the right thing” by saying that if cartoons were made of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, “there would be similar outrage”. What he was really doing was something our government has been doing for far too long: appeasing Muslim anger. In Britain, humour has for a long time included divinity and prophecy as suitable subjects – nothing is exempt. Does this mean that Christians don’t get hurt or offended? Of course they do, but they also realise that this is the price you pay for living in a post-Enlightenment democratic society where faith, like any other belief or philosophy, is a legitimate target for criticism and even derision."

Whole article at:


Posted by Anonymous : 2/12/2006 06:42:00 PM