I’m puzzled by some of the reaction to the Jyllands-Posten affair. In free speech debates over the last few years I’ve often encountered so-called libertarians who argue that speech ought to be absolutely protected from state interference but that private individuals may legitimately do what they like when it comes to sacking people whose views they disagree with or boycotting products. That isn’t the way I see things, but it is hard to see how someone running that line can object to a private company sacking an editor for reprinting the cartoons or to Muslims boycotting Danish goods in protest. Of course, not everyone takes the view that the state should keep out of speech. Norman Geras, for example, recently linked (I can only assume approvingly) to a report of a court decision in France which condemned the publisher of Le Monde for “racist defamation” against the Jewish people, an article that goes on to condemn the Western media quite generally for anti-semitic representations of Israel, including in cartoons depicting Ariel Sharon and described the court decision as “a major landmark”. Yesterday Geras linked to a piece approving of France Soir’s action, his blog headine being France Soir takes a stand . I take it, then, that Geras would disapprove of any similar court decision against France Soir. No doubt those wishing to distinguish the cases would claim that cartoons of Sharon eating babies are racist but those depicting Muslims as ignorant towel-heads and suicide bombers are merely engaged in the legitimate criticism of ideas: the images may looke like they come from Julius Streicher but the motive comes from Voltaire … or something like that.
So what does Chris think, you ask? Well I was mildly heartened by the recent defeat of the UK government’s proposed law on religious hatred. Only mildly though, because it is obvious that racists in the West (such as the BNP in Britain) are using “Muslim” as a code under which to attack minorities in ways that don’t fall foul of laws against the promotion of racial hatred. When the assorted pundits and TV comedians who complained about government plans to outlaw satire begin to take that seriously, I’ll start to take them seriously. But I’d certainly support a law that could reliably catch the racists but spare the satirists, The Satanic Verses, Jerry Springer the Opera &c. That is, I think I’m in pretty much the same space as Daniel in comments to a post over at the excellent Blood and Treasure .