Our Danish correspondent TB has translated an article from last Saturday’s Berlingske Tidende about the meaning of free speech in Denmark.
It’s amazing what First Amendment purists the Danes are, considering that they don’t even have a First Amendment. They could certainly teach some Americans — Sen. John McCain and about half the Supreme Court come to mind — a thing or two about what free speech really means.
TB’s explanatory notes appear in square brackets in the translation below:
Thor P.: The Mohammed drawings were much needed
On Sunday Folketinget [the Danish Parliament] in a huge event celebrates the fact that 2,000 people have been granted Danish citizenship this year. Among other things there will be a speech by the chairman of Folketinget Thor Pedersen, who praises the Mohammed drawings for putting a spotlight on freedom of speech.
The Mohammed drawings were nothing less than a most-needed eye-opener, Folketinget’s chairman Thor Pedersen (V) [V stands for Venstre, the ruling party] thinks, who compares the drawings with the old days, when someone stated that the earth was not flat: A needed provocation, the chairman thinks, who does not want to hear any “buts” when talking about freedom of speech.
“It is not illegal to be impolite. It can be unwise at some times, but it is not illegal. Demonstrations can make people feel indignant, but it might actually contribute to the process of a better understanding of life if one says what he means. It was the same when someone once said that the earth was not flat. It turned out that it was good that someone said that the earth was not flat,” says Thor Pedersen.
His message comes as Folketinget celebrates the big day of citizenship in Christiansborg. Last year 2,000 individuals were granted citizenship, and today 600 of them turn up to listen to Thor Pedersen’s speech.
His message is that along with citizenship you have to fight for the fundamental values in Denmark — and here Thor Pedersen points specifically to freedom of speech. And that is needed as long as the Danes take freedom of speech as a given.
The chairman does not understand why anyone in Denmark had problems with the controversial movie about the Quran made by Wilders.
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“People can choose not to watch the Wilders movie; that is their choice. It is very simple. There are a lot of things I think are rubbish, so I do not watch them. And I do not search for them either. People should be allowed to see what they want to see, and then you can just choose not to watch what you do not want to look at,” Thor Pedersen says.
It came as a surprise for Thor Pedersen that some Danes did not perceive freedom of speech as an absolute during the Mohammed-crisis, and instead added a “but” at the end of the statement “we have freedom of speech.”
“Either you have freedom of speech or you have not.. It is not a goal in itself to insult other people’s feelings, but that is not the same as saying people cannot speak out freely. If one can only say what other people enjoy hearing then you do not have freedom,” Thor Pedersen says.
Therefore he thinks that there are no limitations on freedom of speech other that what is described in the constitution.
Because freedom of speech is also valid when other people feel provoked by the statements and thoughts that someone comes forward with.
New Danes to be celebrated
And to those groups who say “but”, the message is:
“There are religious forces, and here I do not only think of Islam, but also on other religions, who do not like it when people say what is on their minds. There are also political forces who do not like it when people say what they think. And there is only one thing to say: When you have freedom of speech, then people can say what they want about religious matters as well as political,” Thor Pedersen says, and thinks that the day of citizenship is an important day.
“A lot of our new citizens have lived in a society where saying what is on your mind is outright illegal. But they have now chosen that [the right to say what you mean] and therefore it is very important to celebrate the newest Danish citizens,” Thor Pedersen says.