“Freedom of expression is always the freedom to allow those opinions which are diametrically opposed to our own, or it is not freedom of expression.”
Last Tuesday’s decision by the Vienna court did not go unremarked by the Austrian press. And not all coverage and opinion was politically correct: the following take by Christian Ortner on the Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff case is incisive and refreshingly candid.
Many thanks to JLH for the translation from Die Presse:
Why Does the Vienna Criminal Court Care About Mohammed’s Sex Life?
by Christian Ortner
With courage and determination, the Egyptians have finally fought for and won the right to express their opinion free of state repression. In Austria, we have not come that far.
For hundreds of years the Islamic world had sighed for this moment. Millions of pious Muslims had to linger in awful uncertainty. Even the cleverest scholars could never agree on a universally agreed solution. But on Monday of this week, it was at that point.
The verdict of the Criminal Court in Vienna has finally settled the hotly disputed question of whether the Prophet Mohammed slept with his wife Aisha when she was at the tender age of nine, as many sources maintain. And so a Viennese judge, until now comparatively unknown among Koran experts, has decided as — so to speak — the highest authority on the faith from Morocco to Indonesia, that in any case there was no instance of pedophilia in the House of Mohammed. And therefore sentenced the defendant to 120 per diem payments for her public claim that the Prophet “liked to get it on with children.” Because the charge that Mohammed committed child abuse was “factually completely unjustified.” Ergo, “denigration of a religion” — end of lesson.
Quite aside from the weird presumption of wishing to clarify in the Viennese court a circa 1500-year-old Arabic bedroom tale — such a verdict (and the law on which is its based) is more suited to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Iran than an allegedly liberal and secular constitutional state. To be convicted for quoting analogously what is an article of faith in a great part of the Islamic world, seems more like the verdict of a sharia court than a verdict “in the name of the Republic.”
Perhaps in the future, we should concern ourselves not only with the question of whether there will be freedom of expression in Egypt, but also how we here in Austria can achieve this freedom of expression, without having to occupy Stephansplatz for days on end to accomplish it. To be clear: laws that offer heightened protection of only one group of religious communities from too robust criticism are really not compatible with the principle of freedom of expression.
The relevant § 188 of the criminal code protrudes into the 21st century from pre-modern times like the laws of the Habsburgs or the ban on denigrating the parliament. Such a norm of conduct is not in tune with the times. In a secular state, consideration of the possible religious feelings of one’s fellow human beings is a question of respect and honor which requires no regulation by the state.
As chance would have it, at almost the same time as the Viennese verdict, “Valley of the Wolves” was running in the cinemas — a Turkish macho epic with heavily anti-Semitic tendencies. The Jewish community justifiably complained about this vicious film. Nonetheless, the consequence of that cannot be that such a film is forbidden by decree of the grand vizier.
Freedom of expression is always the freedom to allow those opinions which are diametrically opposed to our own, or it is not freedom of expression. If we allow judges to rule on which opinions may be represented and which may not, then we should be less fearful of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood than of our own understanding of freedom.
Previous posts about the hate speech case against Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff: