Remember back in 2006 when a Dutch newspaper published a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb that was about to explode? Neither the cartoonist nor the newspaper were investigted for inciting hatred under Denmark's restrictive hate-speech laws, and two years later when police discovered a plot to kill the artist, the newspaper went ahead and reprinted the cartoons in an homage to free speech and "gesture of solidarity" with the cartoonist.
And remember 'Fitna,' the rabidly anti-Islamic cinematic nightmare by Dutch lawmaker and right-wing radicalist Geert Wilders - the guy who called Islam a Nazi religion and the Quran an instrument of fascism? The prosecutor declined to open an investigation until a public outcry (and court order) forced him to reconsider whether Wilders violated laws against inciting religious hatred. Charges were filed but ultimately dropped when the prosecutor concluded that Wilder directed his rants toward Muhammad alone, but not to Muslims as a group. (whatever.)
But now prosecutors are charging the Dutch affiliate of the Arab-European League with inciting hatred in a cartoon that suggests that the holocaust was a hoax. Immediately after the cartoon appeared on the group's website in August, the prosecutor gave them two weeks to take it down, or face criminal charges. The AEL complied initially, but reposted the cartoon once charges against Wilders were dropped.
A spokesperson for the AEL said the cartoon was not meant to incite hatred and did not reflect its actual views about the holocaust. Their goal, apparently, was to highlight the prosecutor's double-standard, and the 'incomprehensible' decision to threaten prosecution against AEL while dropping charges against Wilders. Neither of the cartoons, he said, should lead to prosecution.
Still, prosecutors are forging ahead with charges that carry a year long prison sentence and $6700 fine. The justification: although the Muhammad cartoons "can be offensive . . . the Holocaust cartoon crosses the line."
It's hard to get your mind around the level of hatred wrapped up in these events. But leaving aside the arguments for or against hate-speech laws generally, one does have to wonder what measure prosecutors are using to distinguish cartoons that are merely 'offensive' from ones that will land you in jail.
-Kathleen A. Bergin