(The following post was originally posted on http://www.carlteglund.blogspot.com February 10 2006)
In a free society one has to have the opportunity to publish cartoons that satirically depicting anything and anybody. It is a consequence of our freedom of speech which is based on the human legal rights. To negotiate and neglect them would be absurd, especially if it is because of considerable pressure from regimes which do not care about democracy. Nevertheless, it seems that this is what some people are actually proposing. But we have to make it clear to all that the bases of democracy are something that we cannot and will not compromise with.
On the other hand there is an extremely unpleasant part of this discussion that goes under the name of “cultural relativism”. Basically, it is about that we in the western sphere of the world cannot have any opinions on another culture without considering deeply with its history and culture. Very often, this respect and tactfulness is not being reciprocated and the same people that were advocators of respect earlier explains to us that it is really our own fault. They do not make a scandal out of honor killings and terrorism, like as women oppression and nuclear spreading, but obviously do not care much about freedom of speech. And sometimes you run into people that really claim that incest is not a problem among aborigines in Australia because it is not anything disgrace or bad in their culture.
The opposite of cultural relativism, according to the followers of cultural relativism, is the “cultural imperialism”. That is what they accusing the US for. A follower of the cultural imperialistic school wants to spread the principles of the western civilization like freedom, democracy, a market economy and human legal rights. If that is the case, I am a true cultural imperialist, even if I feel a little bit uncomfortable with the word “imperialist”. Obviously, I believe in the principle that every man and woman has exactly equal rights irrespective of where in the world they live or to which religion they belong to. To me, cultures and religions do not matter as much as individual human beings.
And a free society tolerates all diversities of cultures and religious beliefs, as long as these special interest organizations of the society are being built upon voluntariness. Consequently, in this society all these organizations will face critics and foes. Some will paint and publish this kind of papers and others will think that these cartoons are blasphemy. It becomes really unpleasant at the same time when the other group is trying to foist his/her values onto others and force them to restrict their own freedom. When this happens, individuals can be hurt and then we will have a great threat to our fundamental democratic rights.
As a matter of fact, it was not that long ago when it was unthinkable to express some opinions in Europe, not at least talking about religious matters. The struggle for democratic rights had to fight during a long time before we got our freedom. This freedom involve that people can do unpleasant things. It involves Nazi homepages on the internet and a Christian clergyman (Ake Green) who can say that homosexuality is a cancer tumor on society. Nothing in all these opinions is something I feel happy about or that I participate with, but just the thought of a prohibition feels even more unpleasant.
I would say that the freedom of speech has it borders, and that border is being crossed when it comes to threatening individuals or bunches of people. When something pass on to a threat it has to be settled in court, but it is absolutely obvious that caricatures of a religious figure won’t qualify for that. Even if I do not like what they have done to the holiest thing for Muslims I want to be able to insult things even in the future, knowing that this is my constitutional right. I could, as an example, challenge central parts of Christianity by insult Jesus as a religious leader or that he just had pupils being men. This is what the newspaper Chef has been doing recently. I could record a parody of Jesus’ life where I describe him as a confused terrorist and a really involuntary preacher, who in the end was whistling a cheerful song on the cross. Very much like in the movie “Monty Pythons Life of Brian”. Maybe I also want to claim that Jesus did not live in abstinence, but married, had sex with a pupil, Mary Magdalene and got kids. Here we have the Da Vinci code. Or I can be really provocative and dress Jesus in transsexual clothes and depict him as gay and then publish the paintings in Church. This exhibition was made by Ecce Homo here in Sweden. I have not been seeing any reactions on that. I have not seen any embassies and missions burned because of this. This is not because of that Christianity is a more civilized religion of any kind. Actually, people have been burned as witches, heretics and sinners in our part of the world as long as one can remember, but democracy prevailed.
It is also thanks to capitalism and that we in the western world are much richer, with a greater multitude and more possibilities for people to make their own dreams come true. This was just not possible for some hundred years ago. We tend to forget that, and that is a danger in itself.
So, please! Come on, give me a break. We have to be proud of our democracy. We have to defend it, especially when we feel disgusted by it. If we don’t, the things we take for granted will disappear.