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Free-Speech Hypocrisy in Europe

A Danish art exhibit attacks public figures who ‘insult’ but not those who issue death threats in response

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From left: Pia Kjaersgaard (co-founder of Danish People’s Party), Anders Fogh Rasmussen (former Danish prime minister), and Siv Jensen (leader of the Norwegian Progress Party). (Charlottenborg)

There are few people in the world who have sacrificed more for the principle of free speech than the staff of Jyllands Posten, the most popular newspaper in Denmark. Since the paper published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on Sept. 30, 2005—sparking riots in Muslim countries, violent attacks on Danish embassies around the globe, and a worldwide debate about the extent of the West’s commitment to free speech—the Copenhagen bureau has been under constant threat. The downtown office is protected by a giant steel security gate strong enough to block an oncoming truck—a strange sight in a city where nobody seems to lock their doors.

Meantime, Kurt Westergaard, the Danish artist who drew the most famous of the cartoons (Muhammad with a bomb in his turban), lives under constant police protection. In 2008, three men were arrested for plotting to kill him, and two years later, an ax-wielding Somali man actually made it into Westergaard’s heavily fortified house before his guards came to the rescue. In June, a Danish court delivered a guilty verdict in the 2010 case of four Muslim men accused of plotting to storm the Jyllands Posten offices during an award ceremony with the intention to “kill as many as possible.”

While much of the world condemned the newspaper’s decision to run the cartoons, the vast majority of Danes did not think their government should have apologized. “In Denmark we do not apologize for having freedom of speech,” then-Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the time, a principled stand that came back to haunt him four years later when the government of Turkey protested his selection as NATO secretary general.

Yet one of the most important organs of the Danish cultural elite, the state-funded Danish Arts Council, has taken the opposite view of the citizens who subsidize it. A major art exhibit located just steps away from the heavily fortified Jyllands Posten offices at Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg, among the most prominent contemporary art museums in Europe, makes the case that it is the cartoonist Westergaard, his newspaper colleagues, the former prime minister, and other Western leaders who are the enemies of free expression—not those who continue to call for the murder of cartoonists and publishers.

Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech, created by the German artist Thomas Kilpper, premiered at last year’s Venice Biennale as part of the Danish pavilion. A recent Artforum review of the Copenhagen exhibit lauded it for “countering the asserted patriotism of the speakers depicted.” Though the Charlottenborg show just closed, a giant banner displaying some of the faces caricatured by Kilpper underscored with the words “GET RID OF ‘EM” is being displayed at Villa Romana in Florence, a residence and exhibition space for German artists, through Sept. 2.

The exhibit at Kunsthal Charlottenborg
The installation at Kunsthal Charlottenborg. (Charlottenborg)

The original piece consisted of a wooden platform—a “romantic gazebo,” as Kilpper called it—into whose floor he carved the faces of some 33 individuals. “All of them,” according to the exhibit’s promotional materials, “are people who Kilpper believes have been directly or indirectly responsible for promoting censorship, social exclusion or intolerance.”

Included among this parade of horribles, alongside Jyllands Posten culture editor Flemming Rose (who commissioned the cartoons), Rasmussen, and the pope, were a cast of right-wing European politicians: France’s National Front leader Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Thilo Sarrazin, the former member of the Executive Board of the German Federal Bank whose recent book about Muslim immigration, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Does Away With Itself), caused a massive controversy in Europe. Gallery-goers in both Venice and Copenhagen were encouraged to walk over their faces as if they were doormats.

The Copenhagen exhibition included the original wooden floorboards displayed in Venice, which were used as negatives for the creation of color fabric and paper prints that hung from the ceiling and affixed to the walls as portraits. “I started to collect images of figures I am opposed to politically, who, through their conservatism or narrow-mindedness, are excluding certain people from our society,” Kilpper said in an interview in a pamphlet accompanying the exhibit.

What’s most astonishing about this exhibit—even more than its state funding and its close proximity to Jyllands Posten—is that Kilpper attacked people who regularly exercise their right to free speech. “Denmark considers itself to be at the forefront of fighting for total emancipation, and for operating without censorship,” Kilpper says in the interview. “But it is important to ask if the right to speak freely equals the right to insult.” According to Kilpper’s bizarro-view of what constitutes free speech, “insulting” is verboten, but those threatening violence are just fine.

Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech encapsulates the divergent American and European attitudes to free speech, with the former tending to view it as an absolute and the latter as a relative value that must be weighed against the “right” not to be offended. But “the right to insult” has always been a part of the liberal European concept of free speech, something that Kilpper, with his insulting artwork, especially ought to understand. Yet in a short video documentary inside the exhibit, Kilpper pronounces the cartoons “not emancipatory but chauvinistic.” In fact, the real chauvinists of the Mohammed cartoons controversy were the Muslim extremists—many of whom lived half a world away and never saw the actual cartoons—who considered it their religious duty to burn down the embassies of a small European democracy because a newspaper in that country published pictures they deemed offensive. That one can open a paper in any Muslim country on any given day and find anti-Semitic cartoons more at home in the rancid pages of Der Sturmer (a state of affairs that does not cause Jews the world over to incite murder) is a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to faze Kilpper.

The poster hanging outside of the museum
The poster hanging outside of the museum (Charlottenborg)

In addition to presenting a morally inverted view of the cartoon scandal, Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech is a display of Kilpper’s dogmatic, and at times adolescent left-wing animus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hardly anyone’s idea of a right-wing extremist, comes under attack because “she supported the U.S.-British intervention in Iraq” and, get this, “welcomed the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden.” Though he has said that the purpose of his exhibit is to criticize the forces of reaction on the continent, Kilpper targets three non-European figures—and their inclusion is revealing in its own particular way.

The first to earn this dubious honor is U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, whom Kilpper seems to have selected not for any particularly odious quality that the bland bureaucrat possesses but because she is “responsible for the rising numbers of refused entries to the U.S. and for the more and more militarized wall to Mexico.”

The second non-European leader is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Kilpper erroneously claims, “is not in favor of an independent Palestinian State.” (Netanyahu announced his support for such a state in a speech at Bar Ilan University in 2009.) It is curious that, of all the people in the world he could have criticized for sowing “censorship, social exclusion or intolerance,” Kilpper includes the leader of the Jewish state.

Lest one suspect the German artist of harboring that darkest and deadliest of European impulses, he finishes off his non-European collection with the heretofore largely unknown figure of Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, a minor leader in the United Arab Emirates, who, in 2005, sacked the director of a provincial arts foundation for displaying a work that some conservative clerics had criticized. Al Qasimi’s presence here comes across as an afterthought, a pre-emptive bone thrown to those critics who would undoubtedly ask how an artist mounting an exhibition attacking the enemies of free speech could not have included a single member of a faith some of whose adherents riot and kill in response to “insults” against their religion.

Kilpper displays his ignorance in other, more obvious ways. In his description of Rose, the editor, he writes that the cartoons were published in 2006, not 2005. He castigates Napolitano because “she tolerated Joe Lieberman from the Republican Party.” Never mind that Lieberman is not, and never has been, a Republican. In his explanation of why the pope merits a place among this disreputable cast of characters, Kilpper cites Christopher Hitchens’ 2010 call for criminal charges to be brought against the Catholic leader for his alleged role in covering up priestly sex abuse.

As much as he was an enemy of the Catholic Church and the current pope in particular, Hitchens was an impassioned defender of free speech, a frequent and cheerful blasphemer of all religious traditions, who wrote and spoke frequently in defense of the Danish cartoons and repeatedly offered his home as a place of refuge for high-profile targets of Islamist death warrants like Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi-Ali. Indeed, I first met Rose, of Jyllands Posten, at Hitchens’ Washington apartment. I do not think I could be accused of unfairly channeling the dead when I venture that Hitchens would be rolling in his grave if he knew that his name were being used to promote such sinister dreck.

There is an irony in Kilpper displaying his work at the behest of a country whose intellectual and political leaders he considers guilty of “narrow-mindedness” and “censorship.” This artist can drag his showcase across the continent safe in the knowledge that all he’ll get in return are state-funded grants. Meantime, the cartoonists and editors across the street receive death threats.

***

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As a preliminary jab, before we congratulate Christians and Jews on not assaulting Muslim targets in response to cartoons, it’s a good idea to remember that Israeli and US soldiers don’t need cartoons as an excuse to kill Muslims. Compared to the entire US assault on Iraq, the arson against the Syrian Danish embassy looks like real civilization. When you have the monopoly on death-dealing, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for your victims to play by their own rules.

Denmark had troops in Iraq as of 2005 (When the cartoon riots took place) and is involved in Afghanistan as a NATO member. This fact may not have been lost on the rioters who could have taken the cartoons as insult added to injury.

Getting back to the issue of free speech, the writer already answered the question, would we defend anti-semitic cartoons on that basis: “That one can open a paper in any Muslim country on any given day and find anti-Semitic cartoons more at home in the rancid pages of Der Sturmer (a state of affairs that does not cause Jews the world over to incite murder) is a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to faze Kilpper.” Aside from the fact that inciting murder against Muslims would be redundant, why are the Danish cartoons free speech and not cartoons insulting to Jews? What makes these cartoons rancid and not the one of Muhammed with a turban-bomb?

    jacob_arnon says:

    “….it’s a good idea to remember that Israeli and US
    soldiers don’t need cartoons as an excuse to kill Muslims.”

    I was wondering when this merry andrew would show up.

    So US soldiers just love to kill Muslim, which is why they
    went into the Balkans to save them from extermination.

    So US soldiers love to kill Muslims which is why the helped
    the Muslims in North Africa depose Khadaffi.

    So Jews love to kill Muslims which is why there are over a
    million Muslims who are Israeli citizens.

    So Israelis love to kill Muslims which is why there are
    Muslims on the Israeli supreme court.

    More Muslims were killed by other Muslims than by non
    Muslims since at least WW2.

    In North Africa alone (Algeria, etc.0 a million Muslims have
    been murdered by their fellow Muslims.

    No matter merry Andrew has the freedom to post his mind even
    when what he posts is an utter fabrication.

      Guest says:

      Thousands of Muslems in the former Yugoslavia were not saved from your so-called “extermination” (I wonder where and from whom you took the term). Quiet the opposite: The USA stood by, took pictures and kept mim. In the meantime, they had made it possible for Muslems to fight a senseless war against all non-Muslems surrounding them , and this from so-called safe-havens instituted by the Europeans. They never wanted the Yugoslav Muslems to be safe; they wanted them to incur the wrath of the attacked. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

      The USA facilitated an impossible war by Muslems, leading them to their destruction and only cried foul when, finally, the time came to play Big Brother to poor backward Europe, with their salesmen show of sophisticated weaponry; what a joke, what a failure!

      Irak and Iran: same story. AFRICOM: same again. Now, your new Big Game in East Central and Far Asia, Same, same, shame.

      You in the US did not ever show any effort at peace-making, nor any free speech examples, but you love to show your ability to wage all-out war on whomever, wherever, whenever you choose. Serbs in particular were the target in Yugolslavia and you know it, because they knew and showed it clearly —if ever you opened your myopic eyes. Ditto for the others mentioned and incalculable more.

      The fabrication is al yours, Jacob; your passing by the OAS reign of terror in Algeria borders on the criminal. That’s the “mensch” you are.

      To help you out of your quandary, read Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way By Rebecca Solnit in TomDispatch. It will be a good mirror to study yourself. Until you have gained some insight in your and your (chosen?) country’s race-and religion-biases, don’t lecture us Europeans on war or free speech. We wrote the book on those, long before any white man set foot on your continent. And we kept on writing chapter after chapter as time progressed, and we with it.

      You’re but children, fugitives of out old and venerable world, stuck in the Spanish-model-empire from around 1500.

      You’ve really should catch up on half a millennium of our wisdom..

        jacob_arnon says:

        Vinz Van Neerven and Guest have posted the same comments
        three times under different names.

        This must be a first in posting ineptitude and hypocrisy.

        Firstly, merry Andrew accused the US wantonly killing Muslims:

        “it’s a good idea to remember that Israeli and US soldiers
        don’t need cartoons as an excuse to kill Muslims.”

        I responded by saying that the US saved Muslims from
        slaughter in among other places, Bosnia. Now a post posted multiple times under
        different names argues that because before the US acted thousands of Muslims
        had already been killed. Yes they had, but not by Americans. Moreover had the
        US not intervened who knows how many more Bosnisn Muslims would have been
        slaughtered.

        But to people like Vinz Van Neerven (this is what he calls
        himself in one post) and “guest” the name on the other two posts have decided
        that there is no difference between fialing to stop slaughter in time and deliberately
        murdering people is the same thing.

        You guys are worse than pathetic.

        As for the killings in Algeria during the time when France
        ruled there, that is ofncourse lamentable, but the US was not involved.

        Moreover, I was referring to the killings of nearly one
        million Algerians by other Algerians which took place in the 1990’s.

        In this latter conflict as in many other North African or
        Middle East conflicts it was Muslims killing Muslims. (For example, during the
        Iraq Iran war where millions died on both sides.)

        I wonder how many aliases Vinz Van Neerven will come up
        next.

        Please limit your vile attacks to single posts, “Andrew,” “Vinz
        Van Neerven,” “Guest,” and whatever
        other name you post under.

      Guest says:

      Jacob!

      Thousands of Muslems in the former Yugoslavia were not saved from your so-called “extermination” (I wonder where and from whom you took the term). Quiet the opposite: The USA stood by, took pictures and kept mim. In the meantime, they had made it possible for Muslems to fight a senseless war against all non-Muslems surrounding them , and this from so-called safe-havens instituted by the Europeans. They never wanted the Yugoslav Muslems to be safe; they wanted them to incur the wrath of the attacked. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

      The USA facilitated an impossible war by Yugoslav Muslems, leading them to their destruction. You only cried ‘foul ‘when, finally, the chance came to play Big Brother to “poor backward Europe”, with your salesmen-show of sophisticated weaponry; and what a joke, what a failure that turned out to be! You in the US did not ever show any effort at peace-making, nor any free speech examples, but you love to show your ability to wage all-out war on whomever, wherever, whenever you choose. Serbs in particular were the target in Yugolslavia and you know it, because they knew and showed it clearly —if ever you opened your myopic eyes.

      No, I will not let you off the hook yet. Irak and Iran: same story. AFRICOM: same again. Now, your new Big Game in East Central and Far Asia, Same, same, shame.

      The fabrication is al yours, Jacob and your passing by the French OAS reign of terror against Algerian Muslems borders on the criminal. Are you a “mensch”? Interrobang?!

      To help you out of your quandary, read “Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way” By Rebecca Solnit, in yesterday’s TomDispatch. It will be a good mirror. Study yourself. Until you have gained some insight in your and your (chosen?) country’s race-and religion-biases, don’t lecture us Europeans on war or free speech. We wrote the book on those long before any white man set foot on your continent, we had learned how to facilitate newcomers of all races and religions. And what did you do with the American Natives? Right.

      Europeans still write the book and we add chapter after chapter as time progresses and we progress with it. Read it! You really should catch up on half a millennium of our wisdom and you better do it fast. You’re but children, fugitives of out old and venerable world, stuck in the Spanish-model-empire from around 1500.

      Jacob! Hear the old call! Listen, and obey!

      Thousands of Muslems in the former Yugoslavia were not saved from your so-called “extermination” (I wonder where and from whom you took the term). Quiet the opposite happened: The USA stood by, took pictures of the mass graves but kept mum, biding its time. It had had made it possible for Muslems to fight a senseless war against all non-Muslems surrounding them from safe-havens Europe thried to enforce. Hah! The USA did not want the Yugoslav Muslems to be safe; they wanted them to incur the wrath of the attacked. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

      Yes, the USA facilitated an impossible war by Yugoslav Muslems, leading them to their destruction. You only cried ‘foul ‘when, finally, your moment came, your chance to play Big Brother to “poor backward Europe” with your salesmen-show of sophisticated weaponry. What a joke, what a failure that turned out to be! But hey, you billions of dollars worth of arms deals out of it, right?

      The US did not ever show any effort at peace-making, nor any free speech examples, but you love to show your ability to wage all-out war on whomever, wherever, whenever you choose. It’ shoot for your industry, right? Serbs in particular were the target in Yugolslavia and you know it, because they knew and showed it clearly —if ever you opened your myopic eyes. Oh no, you’re not off the hook yet. Irak and Iran: same story. AFRICOM: same again. Your new Big Game in East Central and Far Asia, same, same, shame.

      The fabrication is all yours, Ya’akov and your passing by the French OAS’s reign of terror against Algerian Muslems borders on the criminal. Are you a “mensch”? Interrobang !?

      To help you out of your quandary, read yesterday’s TomDispatch: “Men Explain Things to Me; Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way” by Rebecca Solnit, It will be a good mirror. Study yourself hard and long and be quiet until you have wrestled with the angle. Until so you have gained insight in yourself and your (chosen?) country’s race-and religion-biases, don’t lecture Europeans on war or free speech. We wrote the book on those, long before any white man set foot on your continent. We had long since learned how to facilitate-or-not aliens of all races and religions. But what did you do with the American Natives? Right. No questions asked, no lessons learned.

      Europeans still write this book, adding chapter after chapter as time progresses and we progress with it. Read it! You really should catch up on half a millennium of our wisdom and you better do it fast. You’re but children, fugitives of out old and venerable world, stuck in the Spanish-model-empire from around 1500.

Umish Katani says:

Europe is not the bastion of free speech and never will be. If it were, then this article would never have been written. But that being said, I give the Danes kudos to print and publish cartoons if true and not back down. Europeans by rule are cowards and will only support human rights if it is to their own advantage. I do not hold anything the european union states as truth. As for the moslems,….. if the shoe fits why complain. If you dont like the intonation and the message of the articles and cartoons then change the reason they are printed not the message they convey. Killing the publishers or threatening to kill them only reinforces the belief that moslems are terrorists and murderers and cannot handle critisism.. Islam is not monothematic nor without opinions. I suggest , though i doubt it will happen, be like a duck and move forward.

Talmudic Jews have continuously attacked the Gospel of Jesus Messiah, by encouraging blasphemous films & books to be printed. There are spiritual laws and even though Christendom did not live up to the high calling of Jesus, it was still strong enough to hold back the hordes of Islam. Now Hedonism has replaced Christendom & the demonic power of Islam is sweeping through Europe & America. Jews & Christians are responsible for this CANCER spreading all over the place.

God is not mocked; whatever a people sow, they reap! Look at Holland & Sweden! Young women are gang raped by Muslims & the Media fails to report it. Why?
This is Nazi Germany under a DIFFERENT guise! The Muslim & the Nazi have the same spirit!

There is a TERRIBLE judgment coming on the world!

    jacob_arnon says:

    This is insane, Leonardo.

    Talmudic Jews have no more to do with hedonism than real Christians have to do with anti-Semitism. Take a hint, bigot.

    Got it.

      Hershl says:

      Ignore this turd. He is a notorious anti-Semite who frequently posts here when he forgets to take his meds.

        jacob_arnon says:

        Hershl is dyspeptic.

        It makes him impossible for him to read dispassionately.

        Leonardo de la Paor says: “Talmudic Jews have continuously attacked the Gospel of Jesus Messiah, by encouraging blasphemous films & books to be printed.”

        I responded that: “Talmudic Jews have no more to do with hedonism than real Christians have to do with anti-Semitism.”

        And this “Hershl” guy calls me an antisemite. This is rich. I would guess that “Hershl” is Leonardo by another name. A bigot by any name would smell as rotten.

        Go take a hike Leonardo/Hershl.

          Beatrix17 says:

          I think Hershi was responding to Leonardo, not to Jacob.

          jacob_arnon says:

          In that case it was my mistake and I extend my apologies Hershl.

          Thanks for pointing it out, Beatrix.

    lovebutterfly66 says:

    You are right. And still, so many people ask for tolerance, when this cancer, Islam, is spreading so fast. Tolerance for what? so in 20 years time, our children and grandchildren will have to live like animals, totally dominated and controlled by a group of savage, ignorant, fanatic Muslims? who are hungry for power and thirsty for blood. And people who say that they have a neighbour or a Muslim friend who is very nice, oh please, don’t be so inocent (stupid) because those nice, good neighbours or friends, are not the ones who will rule the countries. The rulers will be the savage ones, the crazy fanatics, the ones hungry for power and blood. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. And they will kill us and will kill the good, nice, civilized Muslims as well. So, please, WAKE UP, OPEN YOUR EYES before is too late. We all have to kill this cancer and fast.

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Free-Speech Hypocrisy in Europe

A Danish art exhibit attacks public figures who ‘insult’ but not those who issue death threats in response