Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More Punishment for Insulting Islam

At the risk of being called arrogant for daring to tell another country what they should and shouldn’t do (not that I really care, mind you – if it’s arrogant to insist that liberty be protected everywhere at all times, then I’m proudly arrogant), here’s yet another instance of our European allies throwing away free speech:

A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word “Koran” on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

The 61-year-old man, identified only as Manfred van H., was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service, a district court in the western German town of Luedinghausen ruled…

The maximum sentence for insulting religious beliefs under the German criminal code is three years in prison.

Was the man’s stunt juvenile and stupid? Absolutely. Was it criminal? Absolutely not. And anyone who would run screaming to the government to throw someone who did it in prison just needs to grow up. Join the real world, where you are going to be offended from time to time. You want to villify the guy as an idiot? Be my guest. I’ll join you. You want to throw him in prison? Then you’re a tyrant, plain and simple.

Comments

  1. #1 freak of nature
    February 23, 2006

    “Was it criminal? Absolutely not.”

    Uh, actually it is illegal to insult other’s religions in Germany, and it has been since they tried to exterminate one particular religion back in the 40s. Before you get your knickers in a bunch you should really read a bit of history.

    Agree with it or no, but at least get your facts straight.

  2. #2 Leni
    February 23, 2006

    What’s so ironic about all of this is that it would presumably be legal for a Muslim to give a scrap of toilet paper to a, say, a gay person with the word “Faggot” on it.

    More generally, if one is delivering insults in the name of one’s religion to non-religious people or entities- why then it’s free speech!

  3. #3 Mike
    February 23, 2006

    It is understood in the post that in Germany insulting religion is illigal. Otherwise the man couldn’t have been convicted. When saying that something is Absolutely not criminal it is taken as intrinsicaly. To insult a religion is not something that is worthy of criminal action regardless of whether or not there is a law against it, or a certain group of people tried to exterminate another one back in the forties. Evil will always exist and in ” the real world… you are going to be offended from time to time.” But that fact is no reason to take away ones freedom of speech. Moreover the Germans didn’t try to exterminate anything. The Nazi’s on the other hand did. European christains at one point tried to exterminate muslims in the crusades. But this historical evidence is likewise no excuse for european authorities to restrict of freedom.

    To imprison this man is tyranny.

  4. #4 Michael LoPrete
    February 23, 2006

    Uh, actually it is illegal to insult other’s religions in Germany, and it has been since they tried to exterminate one particular religion back in the 40s. Before you get your knickers in a bunch you should really read a bit of history.

    Maybe I read too much into it, but I thought Ed was pretty clear that he meant that it ought not be illegal.

  5. #5 Carel
    February 23, 2006

    It’s not so much arrogant to tell Germany what it should or shouldn’t do; it’s pointless. A democracy’s laws are reflections of its constituents, of its culture. As an American, I share your philosophy about speech, but our views are in the minority in Germany. Germany is most certainly not a tyranny; it merely differs a bit culturally.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2006

    freak of nature wrote:

    Uh, actually it is illegal to insult other’s religions in Germany, and it has been since they tried to exterminate one particular religion back in the 40s. Before you get your knickers in a bunch you should really read a bit of history.

    Obviously I meant that it shouldn’t be criminal. The fact that Germany makes it a crime doesn’t mean it should be a crime. I know the history perfectly well. It’s still wrong.

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2006

    Carel wrote:

    It’s not so much arrogant to tell Germany what it should or shouldn’t do; it’s pointless. A democracy’s laws are reflections of its constituents, of its culture. As an American, I share your philosophy about speech, but our views are in the minority in Germany. Germany is most certainly not a tyranny; it merely differs a bit culturally.

    I don’t care the slightest about democracy, I care about liberty. A law passed democratically can be every bit as tyrannical and oppressive of liberty as a law decreed by a king. Whether Germany is a tyranny in an overall sense is irrelevant to my argument; this law, which imprisons people for the expression of ideas, is tyrannical. And that is all that matters.

  8. #8 Roman Werpachowski
    February 23, 2006

    Was the man’s stunt juvenile and stupid? Absolutely. Was it criminal? Absolutely not. And anyone who would run screaming to the government to throw someone who did it in prison just needs to grow up. Join the real world, where you are going to be offended from time to time. You want to villify the guy as an idiot? Be my guest. I’ll join you.

    Will you? I don’t think so. Religion is being offended very often, but I don’t recall you taking a stand on that on this blog.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    February 23, 2006

    Roman wrote:

    Will you? I don’t think so. Religion is being offended very often, but I don’t recall you taking a stand on that on this blog.

    I don’t think religion being “offended” – meaning, of course, criticized – has anything to do with what I said. My objection to what this man did is that it was juvenile and stupid, not that it was offensive to someone’s religion. I will criticize those who do stupid and juvenile things. I won’t criticize legitimate opposition to any idea, religious or otherwise.

  10. #10 Seth
    February 24, 2006

    Carel wrote

    As an American, I share your philosophy about speech, but our views are in the minority in Germany. Germany is most certainly not a tyranny; it merely differs a bit culturally.

    Gosh, Carel, that is the most interesting take on the holocaust I’ve ever heard… it wasn’t tyranny, just a wee little difference in culture.

    And yes, you did just say that. If your only moral principle is “majority rules” than the majority rules, regardless of what it decides to do. And if you support the principle of unlimited majority rule, you support tyrannical acts by the majority over the minority, up to and including confining those minorities in camps and killing them.

    Now, if you think there are some principles that supercede majority rule, but that free speech isn’t one of them, you do not share Ed’s beliefs about freedom of speech. Rather than viewing it as a fundamental right, you view it as something that should exist for minorities only so long as the majority tolerates it. A mere legal convenience that can be legitimately stripped at any time.

    Which is fine, you can think that. But don’t pretend to believe in freedom of speech if that is what you think, because you don’t.

  11. #11 Roman Werpachowski
    February 24, 2006

    Seth,

    of course the idea that things have a scale, that some things are more important than others, is foreign to you?

  12. #12 Roman Werpachowski
    February 24, 2006

    My objection to what this man did is that it was juvenile and stupid, not that it was offensive to someone’s religion. I will criticize those who do stupid and juvenile things.

    I have yet to see you voluntarily criticizing some “juvenile and stupid” thing which was aimed at religion, without connection with some freedom of speech or similar thing. If this man wasn’t convicted by German court, you wouldn’t write “And in Germany some anti-Islam nut did a stupid and juvenile thing”, would you?

  13. #13 Gretchen
    February 24, 2006

    There are only so many juvenile and stupid things that can be commented on in a day, Roman. I think Ed picks the more pressing things relevant to his subject area and political philosophy. It’s surely juvenile and stupid to deny the Holocaust, but imprisoning someone for doing so is much more important, because it involves an actual threat to freedom.

    Goodess, can you imagine if Ed devoted his blog to discussing all of the juvenile and stupid things IN religion? He’d never get time to do anything else.

  14. #14 Seth
    February 24, 2006

    Roman Wrote:

    of course the idea that things have a scale, that some things are more important than others, is foreign to you?

    Well, no. I’m sorry, but what is your point?

  15. #15 Roman Werpachowski
    February 24, 2006

    My point is that comparing Irving case to Holocaust is really stupid, since it completely disregards proportions of things. Not to mention that it is insulting to Holocaust victims.

  16. #16 Ed Brayton
    February 24, 2006

    Roman wrote:

    I have yet to see you voluntarily criticizing some “juvenile and stupid” thing which was aimed at religion, without connection with some freedom of speech or similar thing. If this man wasn’t convicted by German court, you wouldn’t write “And in Germany some anti-Islam nut did a stupid and juvenile thing”, would you?

    As opposed to involuntarily criticizing something? Everything I write is voluntary. But of course, people do have their own priorities, their own issues that they care more passionately about and therefore focus more attention on. You might have noticed that liberty and governmental attempts to infringe upon it are a big deal to me and I write about them a lot. I consider that infinitely more important than someone making a juvenile and unjustified attack on religion, especially when that someone is just a random person and not someone with influence. That doesn’t mean I won’t criticize someone for an unwarranted attack on religion or for painting with too broad a brush. I’ve often criticized even major figures who are on my side in the evolution debate, particularly Richard Dawkins, for allowing their anti-religious fervor to taint their writings about science. Just a couple months ago, I hammered Dawkins for his ridiculous claim that someone could be “too smart” to be a theist, as though intelligence was exclusive to atheism and unheard of among theists.

  17. #17 Raging Bee
    February 24, 2006

    If this guy had stood in front of a mosque and thrown the TP at the mosque or at people (as I first thought when I saw this post), then it would make perfect sense to punish him for creating a disturbance, just as if he had been flashing passersby. Incitement and “fighting words” are not protected free speech. But since he appears merely to have mailed the stuff to people, then the action, while still juvenile and stupid, is less directly provocative. HOWEVER, since he mailed the offending material to places where he knew people would be offended, he may deserve some sort of punishment for such misuse of the mail service.

    What does German law say about obscene letters or phone calls in general? These aren’t quite the same as insulting public speech or writing, which people can more easily avoid. You have the right to voice your opinions in public or publicly-available forums, but not to call people in their homes and harass them.

  18. #18 Seth
    February 24, 2006

    Roman Wrote:

    My point is that comparing Irving case to Holocaust is really stupid, since it completely disregards proportions of things. Not to mention that it is insulting to Holocaust victims.

    Actually, I did not make said comparison. I suggest you read the second paragraph of my original comment for clarification on this point.

  19. #19 raj
    February 24, 2006

    I disagree that Manfred van H’s “stunt” was juvenile or stupid. Two things should be obvious. One, it was what in the US would be called “symbolic speech.”

    Two, it was obviously a reflection of rumors that, in the Guantanimo detention camps, the Koran had been flushed down the toilet.

    Symbolic speech is often used to express an opinion in such a way that could not be expressed by words alone. Speech–even (and particularly) symbolic speech–may offend, but it is intended to make a point. Much as the black armbands worn by high-schoolers to protest the Vietnam War made a point–in what to some was a highly offensive manner.

  20. #20 Roman Werpachowski
    February 24, 2006

    You have the right to voice your opinions in public or publicly-available forums, but not to call people in their homes and harass them.

    I think the right of expressing one’s ideas should be accompanied by the right of other people to not listen to them.

  21. #21 Gretchen
    February 24, 2006

    I think the right of expressing one’s ideas should be accompanied by the right of other people to not listen to them.

    It already is, to the extent that it can be.

  22. #22 Ed Brayton
    February 24, 2006

    Roman wrote:

    I think the right of expressing one’s ideas should be accompanied by the right of other people to not listen to them.

    It depends entirely on the context. If it’s your property, you can of course make someone leave if you don’t like their opinion. If you’re in a college course and the professor says something you don’t like, you don’t have a “right” not to listen to him. You have a right to drop the class, of course, but you don’t have a right to make him stop saying it. And if you’re in a public forum, your right to not listen to what someone else is saying only means you have a right to leave, not that you have the authority to shut them up.

  23. #23 Roman Werpachowski
    February 24, 2006

    I was referring to phone calls, anyway. Linking this to another thread, is college dorm a public forum? People don’t *live* in those.

  24. #24 Inoculated Mind
    February 25, 2006

    Now I get it… Some intelligent German atheist should realize that every religious person wiping their butts with blank toilet paper is insulting their religion!

  25. #25 David Wilson
    February 26, 2006

    In comment 17874 Roman Werpachowski wrote:

    what if the guy put a picture of a small kid being raped on his door? Would you still defend him?

    In comment 17878 Ed replied:

    Do you honestly think this is a difficult question? Of course that’s not okay. I can’t imagine I really need to explain the distinction between this and the sort of expression we’re discussing in this thread.

    I don’t think the distinction is quite so clear cut as this response suggests. Below I offer a scenario to illustrate why.

    Michael Leunig, one of Australia’s greatest cartoonists, once drew a cartoon titled “Ramming the Shears”, which featured on the cover of one of his published collections. Unfortunately the image at the URL just cited is not particularly clear, but the cartoon depicts one shearer about to bugger another with a pair of wool shears. Anyone unfamiliar with Australian culture and art history will undoubtedly find the cartoon completely mystifying. Its humour relies partly on a play on the words “Shearing the Rams”, the title of a painting which is reasonably well-known among ordinary Australians.

    Suppose however that the cartoon had been drawn in response to publicity about some scandalously inadequate handling by the Catholic Church of an instance of clerical paedophilia, and had a caricature of Pope John Paul II in place of the shearer holding the shears, and a drawing of a distressed child in place of the shearer bending over, with “Victims of clerical paedophilia” written across his shirt. Here we would have a depiction of the Pope in the act of anally raping a child with a pair of wool shears. Given the proposed context, however, would you still maintain that anyone publishing or possessing such a cartoon should be arrested?

    I should emphasise that I am not here contesting your views (which I share) on the unacceptability of child pornography or of censoring cartoons which lampoon religious beliefs. However, not everyone will want to draw lines which separate acceptable censorship (such as for child pornography, for instance) from the unacceptable in the same places. The point of the above scenario is to illustrate how difficult it can be to give a simple but accurate and comprehensive description of where those lines should be drawn.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    February 26, 2006

    David Wilson wrote:

    Suppose however that the cartoon had been drawn in response to publicity about some scandalously inadequate handling by the Catholic Church of an instance of clerical paedophilia, and had a caricature of Pope John Paul II in place of the shearer holding the shears, and a drawing of a distressed child in place of the shearer bending over, with “Victims of clerical paedophilia” written across his shirt. Here we would have a depiction of the Pope in the act of anally raping a child with a pair of wool shears. Given the proposed context, however, would you still maintain that anyone publishing or possessing such a cartoon should be arrested?

    Of course not, but again I think the distinction is pretty obvious and is two-fold. First, one is a cartoon and the other is a picture of an actual child being raped. Second, the cartoon is drawn to make a coherent political message, while the picture is not. No one was harmed in the making of the cartoon; someone was harmed in the making of the picture of a child being raped. Lastly, I would point out that the fact that there may be hypothetical situations where the call is more difficult, that certainly does not invalidate the basic principle I am working from.