Ah, Denmark, once famous for free speech, now on the cutting edge of re-instituting prosecutions for blasphemy.
“Blasphemy.” Etymologically, the word means “speaking evil,” but to our enlightened ears it has a quaint ring to it. I mean, when was the last time you heard about someone being prosecuted for blasphemy? How old-fashioned.
In Denmark, the last time a person was prosecuted for blasphemy was in 1971, when two people were hauled up before a judge for a song making fun of Christianity. They were acquitted. To find someone actually convicted of blasphemy (the statute against it in Denmark goes back to 1866) you have to go back to 1946, when a chap went to a party dressed as a priest and pretended to baptize a doll.
The current tort, it is almost superfluous to say, does not involve Christianity but — yes! You guessed it — the Religion of Peace, aka Islam, the religion that has so often demonstrated its pacific nature in recent years, for example back in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published some cartoons making fun of Mohammad. Result: adherents of this most benign religion rioted around the world, burned various Danish embassies, and left a trail of murder and mayhem that left some 200 people dead.
This time, an as-yet-unnamed person (his name will not be released unless he is convicted) posted a video of himself burning a Koran to a Facebook page called “Yes to Freedom — No to Islam.” A caption to the video (since removed) reads: “Consider your neighbor, it stinks when it burns.”
What will happen? The case was brought by a regional prosecutor, but had to be approved by Denmark’s attorney general. If convicted, the Koran-burning fellow could face up to four months in prison and a fine.
It is a strange situation. Ever since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the West has been increasingly successful in consigning religious violence to the dustbin of history.
How strange, then, to find ourselves in the opening decades of the 21st century once again conjuring with demands for the reimposition of laws against blasphemy.
As I noted recently in The New Criterion, such deployments of blasphemy laws are part of a larger movement to abridge free speech. Like the House of the Lord, I noted, it is a movement that has many mansions.
Some are frankly religious, or at least theocratic, in origin, as in the tireless campaigns undertaken to promulgate laws against blasphemy by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The OIC represents fifty-six Muslim countries and the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations and other organs of transnational progressivism.
Other interdictions against “blasphemy” are of a more secular, but no less dogmatic, character, as in the strictures against so-called “hate speech” on campus and anywhere else that political correctness triumphs.
The chief instrument for the enforcement of conformity — at the end of the day, it is even more potent than the constant threat of terror — is language, the perfection and dissemination of what George Orwell called Newspeak: that insidious pseudo-language that aims to curtail rather than liberate thought and feeling.
Orwell wrote in 1984:
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism, i.e., the existing regime], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.
It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all … a heretical thought … should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.
This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.
Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
[I]n Newspeak the expression of unorthodox opinions, above a very low level, was well-nigh impossible.
Orwell intended 1984 as a warning, an admonition. Our academic social justice warriors, supposing they are even aware of Orwell’s work, would seem to regard it as a plan of action, and what is unfolding in Denmark today shows that the problem is not merely academic.