In Scandinavia, this has been the summer of Koran burnings – scores of them. Opponents of Islam, and of the steady Islamization of Western Europe, have chosen this means of protest – which is usually carried out in public squares, or in front of mosques or important government buildings, in some of the region’s larger cities – to register their hostility to the totalitarian ideology spelled out in Islam’s holiest book. Some of these Koran burners are ethnic Scandinaivans who have felt their countries and cultures slipping gradually away from them for years; others are freedom-loving immigrants from the Muslim world who are alarmed to see the countries to which they escaped looking more and more like the countries from which they fled.
These burnings have occasioned extensive (and often intense) domestic debate and discussion, not to mention displays of outrage by Muslims around the world, who have called for these burnings to be outlawed and for the perpetrators to be punished. Iran has called Danish and Swedish diplomats in on the carpet to castigate them, and Iraq has expelled Sweden’s ambassador. Instead of asking how the rulers of such ghastly rubbish heaps can dare to treat free Western nations in such a manner, both Denmark and Sweden have buckled under the pressure. Fearing that acts of Muslim terrorism may well be around the corner if they don’t act to curb civil liberties, both countries’ governments have been moving toward criminalizing the burning of Korans. According to surveys taken during the last few months, such a ban would be supported by 57% of Danes, and 53% of Swedes, and 36% of Norwegians.
In Denmark, the change is all but made. In an August 25 statement referring to the Koran as the “Holy Koran,” the Danish government announced that it would ask parliament to pass a ban on Koran burning, with violations punishable by up to two years in prison. Presumably in order to make it at least somewhat less clear that this is an entirely cowardly act motivated by a fear of Islamic terrorism, the Danes decided that the law would forbid not just Koran burning but a whole range of blasphemous acts – in the words of the official statement, “the public mistreatment of religious objects.”
With this law, the Danish government wants, it says, “to send a signal to the world.” It certainly is doing that. It’s signaling to international bullies that Denmark can be pressured by threats of violence into restricting its citizens’ freedoms. Danish intelligence, reported the BBC, “has warned that the latest incidents have intensified the terrorist threat.” Let’s parse this one. If the Danish government hadn’t let armies of Muslims into the country in the first place, there wouldn’t be a terrorist threat; so if a small, rather pathetic, and frankly desperate protest against decades of reckless mass immigration “intensifies” that threat, that’s on the politicians who created this mess in the first place.
Peter Hummelgaard, Denmark’s justice minister, defended the ban on Koran burning by saying that such actions “serve no other purpose than creating division and hatred.” In case Hummelgaard hasn’t noticed, there already is plenty of division and hatred in his country – especially in Copenhagen, where certain neighborhoods have become (more or less) Islamic enclaves. And that division and hatred aren’t caused by Koran burning but by, ahem, the contents of the Koran, which is an instruction manual in division and hatred. Hummelgaard has also opined that “there are more civilized ways to express one’s views than burning things.” In a similar vein, Denmark’s deputy prime minister, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, has said: “It is a cornerstone of our democracy that you have the right to express yourself. You also have to behave properly.” Note to both of these stalwart gents: it is not for governments to tell free people what it means to be “civilized” or to “behave properly.” Besides, if they and their ilk cared so much about everybody being “civilized” and “proper,” why did they invite armies of backward savages to become their “new counttymen”?
You may wonder what is meant by “the public mistreatment of religious objects.” What it means, for one thing, is that you wouldn’t have to go to the extent of burning a Koran to get arrested; you’d only have to be observed handling it with something less than pious respect – for example, stepping on it or dropping it in a mud puddle. Would dog-earing a page count? I suppose that would be for a court to decide. Hummelgaard has suggested that other abuses of the Koran, such as wrapping it in a rainbow flag to protest the Islamic death penalty for homosexual acts, might also be punishable under the law. What fascinating jurisprudence we can look forward to.
Another question: what would count, or not count, as “religious objects”? Apparently objects like crucifixes and prayer beads will be protected, but not items of clothing, such as yarmulkes or hijabs. Government officials have stressed repeatedly that strong and lively criticism of religion would still be permitted. But it certainly seems as if certain ways of criticizing religion would be verboten. I’m no fan of Andreas Serrano’s repulsive 1987 photograph Piss Christ – which, to quote Wikipedia, “depicts a small plastic crucifix submerged in a small glass tank of the artist’s urine,” and which gained notoriety when it won an art prize sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts – but I do wonder whether the proposed Danish law artists would permit artists to use symbols of any religion in the way Serrano did.
There are, after all, many different kinds of artworks that involve what might be considered “the public mistreatment of religious objects.” What, for example, about the mass crucifixion scene at the end of the movie Monty Python’s Life of Brian? Or the play The Book of Mormon? Or the “Inquisition” dance number in Mel Brooks’s History of the World Part I? How is it fair, moreover, that while a Danish citizen could be imprisoned for two years for setting fire to – or just slightly banging up – a Koran, a devout Muslim would be entirely free to burn a copy of the Danish Constitution, to blow his nose on some pages from the Federalist Papers, or to rip up a copy of Magna Carta. No, these aren’t religious documents, strictly speaking, but some of us hold them far more sacred than we do the Koran.
Anine Kierulf is a jurist, an associate professor at the University of Oslo, and the author of a recent book on freedom of expression. In an early August op-ed, she acknowledged that some of the Koran-burners are less than appealing characters, which can make their actions seem undesirable. But what if the Koran burners were, say, a same-sex Indonesian couple who, in accordance with Koranic dictates, had been publicly whipped in the streets of Jakarta for being gay? What if a Koran was set aflame by a girl who’d been tortured by ISIS to within an inch of her life? Would people with such grievances against the religion of peace really be taken into custody by Danish police and sentenced to prison in a Danish courtroom?
For every Anine Kierulf, to be sure, there is a Carsten Jensen. He’s a celebrated Danish writer and political columnist who, In his own recent op-ed, described Koran-burners as “the heirs of Nazism” and accused them of “inciting violence.” One wonders whether Jensen has ever actually read the Koran, which makes Mein Kampf look like Eat, Pray, Love and which, from beginning to end, is one long call for bloodthirsty jihad against the infidel. Jensen distinguished Koran-burning from the drawing of Muhammed cartoons, which he says should be permitted – even though outraged Muslims who are out to silence all Western criticism of Islam make no distinction whatsoever between the two actions.
Jensen quoted Steen Schaumburg-Müller, a professor of law who’d defended the legality of Koran-burning on the grounds that it’s not just an action but also a means of communicating an opinion and hence protected. Jensen disagreed: “Is it therefore also a form of expression if I force an opponent down from a rostrum?” Only someone who’d already bought into the Islamic claim that a copy of the Koran is uniquely sacred would compare damaging it to physically assaulting a human being. In any event, Jensen made one thing clear: he considers the governments of Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Finland, and Italy to be “far-right,” and he’s more scared of a “far-right” takeover of all of Europe than he is of its ongoing Islamization. Cockeyed though his views may be, the fact is that he speaks, by and large, for Scandinavia’s bien pensant cultural elite – which goes a long way toward explaining how these countries got into the mess they’re in now.
As noted, Danes, according to surveys, have been more gung-ho about a ban on Koran burning than their cousins in Sweden and Norway. A couple of points about those poll figures. First, in Sweden, and probably in all three countries, the figures break down dramatically, if not very surprisingly, by sex: while 63% of Swedish women want a ban on Koran burning, only 42% of men do. Second, while the level of support for a ban has increased in Denmark and Sweden as Muslim pressure has mounted, it’s actually decreased In Norway. I’m not terribly surprised that Norwegians seem to cherish their freedom at least a bit more than Danes or Swedes do, but it’s hard not to be reminded that things looked very different sixteen years ago, when the Danish government, in the face of international Muslim outrage over Muhammed cartoons, stood up for the Danish newspaper that had published them, even as the Norwegian government squeezed a groveling apology out of an editor who’d reprinted them. But then the Norwegian people had no say in that craven action.
And what of Sweden? Swedish officials have yet to propose a law against Koran burning, but many of them are champing at the bit to do so. They’ve explored their options: Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, says that a law like Denmark’s would probably require a constitutional amendment; Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer has suggested a change in the public order law; on August 30, Magdalena Andersson of the Social Democrats announced that her party wanted to look into the question of whether Koran-burning could be banned on the grounds that it’s offensive or, alternatively, that it amounts to harassment of a group. She confessed her admiration for Denmark in this regard: how wonderful, she felt, that its government had managed so quickly to formulate legislation restricting the people’s freedom of expression!
It’s not looking good, then, for what Americans would call First Amendment rights in Sweden. The lack of self-awareness on the part of these people is reflected in Krissterson’s recent lament that his country ever allowed “dangerous people” to enter its territory – by which he meant not the devout Muslims who are crowding out the natives but the handful of freedom-lovers from Islamic countries who don’t want to see sharia law in Scandinavia. Kristerrson has also said that the Koran burnings pose Sweden’s most serious national-security challenge since World War II. And we all remember how Sweden dealt with the challenge posed by World War II: it kowtowed shamelessly to Hitler, turning itself into a veritable vassal state without putting the Nazis to the trouble of invading and occupying it, as they had Norway and Denmark. Now as then, it’s looking as if Sweden will take the easy course of bending the knee to totalitarians.
Yes, these plans to restrict freedom of expression in Scandinavia have their prominent opponents. Apropos of the proposed Danish law, Mette Thiesen of the Danish People’s Party has said that it would be “hideous and shameful” to “allow ourselves to be ruled by Muslim mørkemænd” – mørkemænd being a terrific Danish word (the Norwegian equivalent is mørkemenn) to describe an enemy of Enlightenment values and freedom of thought. Jimmie Åkesson, head of the Sweden Democrats – who have gained more and more support in recent years because of their opposition to mass Islamic immigration – said that banning Koran burning would be “cowardly.” Nonetheless, it looks as if it will happen. And it will be simply one more step down the road that the countries of Scandinavia, and the West generally, have been stumbling down for almost two generations now.