Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jyllandsposten in new Defence of Freedom of Expression

(The Danish Queen Margrethe II impersonated by actor Ulf Pilgaard in a summer cabaret)


Jyllandsposten Editorial on freedom of speech, March 5th: The Terms of Satire

If something is crystal clear after the enormous commotion caused by the publication of the 12 Mohammed cartoons it is the fact that freedom of expression is explosive. It has up to several smoking bombs in its turban.

We had by and large become accustomed to it being possible to say, draw and write anything, - without anyone taking it so seriously that they would react in violent ways. This has been turned upside down by the cartoons issue. Freedom of expression is being tested. The air has been cleared. So what next?

Well, we’re looking forward to the many summer cabarets. Several of these have already proclaimed that the Mohammed drawings will be the main story. Then the question is if the authors of the cabaret items will show restraint out of fear of retribution. Or if they dare walk out the line.

In today’s paper there’s an interview with stand up comedian Frank Hvam, where he philosophizes on the conditions of satire after the Mohammed issue. Luckily he does not believe there’ll be any restraint on satire, but there will be more reflection before the pen is made ready.

It was Frank Hvam who in the autumn said that he dared not pee on the Qu’ran, when appearing on an open TV screen. Smart restraint. Firstly, it would not be funny. Secondly, it would be bad taste. No matter, whether the target be the Qu’ran, the Bible or the Danish constitution.

But the writers’ guild, Danish Pen, will keep an eye on the future practising of freedom of expression. The chairman, journalist Anders Jerichow, told the newspaper on Friday that at the guild’s crisis meeting on Wednesday night there was agreement on two issues: Support the cartoonists who receive death threats. Two: Fight “hate speech” such as islamophobia and enmity to writers in Danish politics. I.e. an assessment of what freedom of expression can be used for.

This is a clear signal that Danish PEN defines freedom of expression as a right that only applies in case of the correct opinions. May we quietly remind everybody of Salman Rushdie’s definition of freedom of expression after the reactions to “The Satanic Verses”: “Without the right to insult, it (freedom of expression) stops existing.
(Editorial in Jyllandsposten march 5th)

These are Jyllandsposten's words in its editorial today. No repentance!! But a dogged insistence on keeping it up. Shall we hail this as a new step forward in the battle for human rights, - or is it a childish display of puberty: They may attack us, but we keep it up, as if nothing happened?

So, we're waiting to see what is going to happen this summer in the famous Danish summer cabarets: Will Mohammed be impersonated? - And how will the reaction be to that? Generally, the summer cabarets are characterised by a complete lack of respect for authority. Anything can be mocked, and has been mocked throughout the cabaret seasons. Ulf Pilgaard is so good an impersonator that people have asked: Who is impersonating whom? Is Ulf Pilgaard impersonating Queen Margrethe, or is Queen Margrethe impersonating Ulf Pilgaard? That is a mystery every time people go to summer cabaret.

But perhaps after the cartoons crisis, the writers and actors will show some restraint. Or even self-censorship? Not to the Queen, however. She is a cherished victim and will remain so. Perhaps it is a question of the right ambience? If there is an ambience of mutual acceptance, you can say things to each other without being hurt. That remains to be seen.

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