The violence over cartoons satirizing the prophet Muhammad has
highlighted often inconsistent rules in Europe governing free
speech, tolerance, and the boundaries of public expression.
Muslims in particular charge that hate-speech laws are
implemented unfairly. Many countries, they say, do not abide anti-
Semitic outbursts, but will tolerate cartoons that to many Muslims
are deeply offensive.
"Most of Europe would not dare mock the Holocaust, and rightly
so," says Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain.
"Newspaper editors exercise good judgment every day when it comes to
printing material so as not to cause offense, so why not on this
In a bid to redress grievances, the French Council of Muslims has
said it is considering taking France Soir, which reprinted the
cartoons, to court for provocation. Last year, the Catholic church
won a court injunction to ban a fashion ad based on the Last Supper.
The judge said the ad was "a gratuitous ... act of intrusion on
people's innermost beliefs."
"This is what Muslims want - to be treated the same as other
faiths," says Olivier Roy, an eminent scholar of Islamic affairs at
the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris.
Roger Koeppel, editor in chief at German newspaper Die Welt,
which published the cartoons last week, says that European societies
have a right to make their own choices. "Every society has the right
to have taboos, the things they don't talk about," he says. Mr.
Koeppel says the cartoons were not published to annoy but to
question a growing tendency for press self-censorship in delicate
At times, he says, it may appear there is a double standard.
"Evenhandedness cannot be a goal," he says. "It has to be clear that
the majority culture rules and the minority culture has to accept
the rules. If the rules are not acceptable, no one is forced to live
The general response from European politicians has been to frown
on those who reproduced images first aired last fall in Denmark's
Jyllands-Posten newspaper, while insisting that editors were within
their legal rights to do so. Governments have refrained from
apologizing to the Islamic community because they say publication is
a matter for editors, not politicians. Muslim opinion, however, has
not been appeased by this response.
"Muslims are complaining that they are not protected by the law
as the other faiths are supposed to be," says Mr. Roy.
But if there are hints of double standards in the European
approach, there are also suggestions of that in some Middle Eastern
nations, which have exploded in fury at the cartoons but which are
also liable to tolerate anti-Jewish sentiments. An Iranian newspaper
has announced a plan to solicit cartoons about the Holocaust in
response to the European position.
Europe is warier than the US
When it comes to hate crime and defamation laws, there is no
homogenous approach in Europe. Britain, for example, has long had a
more tolerant approach to free speech than countries like Germany,
France, and Austria, where Holocaust denial is a crime. "It's a
mixed bag, a patchwork of practices and experiences in Europe," says
Agnes Callamard, director of Article 19, a global freedom-of-
expression campaign group. "It's very difficult to pretend there is
a common position on hate speech."
But Europe is generally warier of free speech than is the US,
with its First Amendment. Laws against inciting hatred and violence
have sprung up in countries such as France, the Netherlands,
Germany, and Denmark, resulting in criminal cases, convictions, and,
in the case of foreigners, expulsions. …