Norway: Norway Criminalizes Blasphemy

The Norwegian parliament has amended the Penal Code to criminalize blasphemy in the wake of the republication of Danish cartoons that lampooned Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) by a Norwegian magazine, Christian and Muslim leaders in Norway said on Tuesday, February 14. “Law 150-A, which has been approved by parliament, criminalizes blasphemy and clearly prohibits despising others or lampooning religions in any form of expression, including the use of photographs,” Norway’s Deputy Archbishop Oliva Howika told reporters after a meeting in Doha with Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. Howika was among a Norwegian delegation that also included the chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in Norway, Mohamed Hamdan. “Under the new law, the crime of blasphemy will be punished either by a fine or imprisonment,” Howika said, promising Qaradawi to fax him a copy of the law after being published in the country’s official gazette. Hamdan regretted the burning of the Norwegian embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus, but said the government had blamed the magazine for the violent reaction. “The Norwegian government made it clear more than one time that it would not condone blasphemy,” he said. Last September, Denmark’s mass circulation daily Jyllands-Posten ran 12 cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). One of the photos showed the prophet as wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women. Many European newspapers, including the Norwegian Magazinet, reprinted the drawings, triggering an outcry across the Muslim world and calls to boycott Danish products and Norwegian products. Any image of the Prophet — let alone biting caricatures — is considered blasphemous under Islam.? The editor of the Norwegian magazine at issue apologized to Muslims on February 10, for publishing the cartoons. Vebjoern Selbekk, who initially defended his January 10 publication of the cartoons in his magazine as an expression of press freedom, appeared before TV cameras shaking hands after his apology with Muslim leaders. Apology Accepted The delegation distributed copies of the magazine’s apology note to the Muslim minority after the meeting with the prominent Muslim scholar as well as an apology translated into Arabic from the minister of labor. “We accepted the apology in principle,” Qaradawi said. “We do appreciate the Norwegian stance which is different from that taken [initially] by Denmark. The Norwegian prime minister has condemned the cartoons at the very outset.” The Danish newspaper has apologized for offending Muslims, although not for printing the drawings. Four months after the publication, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Monday, February 13, met with a Muslim group to discuss the fallout from the cartoons crisis. He initially refused to meet ambassadors of Muslim countries to contain the crisis under the pretext of free speech. “Muslims want all people to live in peace, cooperation and love. We don’t call for strife. All people are created by God, so there was no need for this strife,” Qaradawi told reporters.. “We were deeply hurt by the cartoons. The Danish newspaper could have defused the crisis by offering an immediate apology to the Muslims. Had it apologized, the issue would have been resolved,” he said. He pointed out that there is a difference between “freedom of expression” and freedom of insulting” “Freedom of expression is all about expressing an opinion. In the cartoons case, there is no opinion counter-opinion,” he said. Qaradawi called anew on the United Nations to adopt a resolution banning blasphemy to head off similar incidents in the future. He also urged the European Union to criminalize blasphemy against any religion, including pagan religions. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is pressing for a ban on religious intolerance to be part of the bedrock of a planned new United Nations human rights body. According to the text of an OIC proposal, the new UN body should state clearly that the “defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression” and that states, organizations and the media have a “responsibility in promoting tolerance and respect for religious and cultural values.”

Newspapers Challenge Muslims Over Cartoons Of Mohammed

By David Rennie in Brussels Newspapers across Europe yesterday defended what one editor called the “right to blasphemy” by printing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that have provoked fury in the Arab world. A slow-burning row over the cartoons, originally published in Jyllands-Posten in September, exploded after they were denounced by a senior Saudi Arabian cleric last week. Protests have included street demonstrations, flag burnings, death threats, bomb scares and a crippling consumer boycott of Danish goods by businesses in several Gulf states. That anger spread across Europe after the cartoons were published yesterday in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Syria became the latest nation to withdraw its ambassador from Copenhagen, after Saudi Arabia and Libya. In France the front page of the France-Soir tabloid carried the headline “Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God” and a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian divinities floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper re-ran the Danish drawings. “The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden,” it said. “But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures.” France has western Europe’s largest Muslim community, with an estimated five million people. Mohammed Bechari, the president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because the pictures were “hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims”. The drawings were originally commissioned by Jyllands-Posten from Danish artists after an author could not find an illustrator to depict Mohammed in a biography of the Prophet. The Danish cartoonists submitted a range of images, all banned by Islam, which strictly forbids depictions of the Prophet to avoid encouraging idolatry. One depicts a grinning, knife-wielding Mohammed flanked by two veiled women. Another, which appeared on the front page of Die Welt in Germany, and in La Stampa in Italy, shows the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban, topped by a hissing fuse. The Spanish newspaper ABC used a photograph of the original Danish newspaper, with its 12 cartoons. Die Welt also ran an editorial regretting a decision by the Danish newspaper to apologise for the upset caused. The Jyllands Posten has not apologised but its editor, Carsten Juste, said he would not have printed them “had we known that it would lead to boycotts and Danish lives being endangered”. Die Welt described the “right to blasphemy” as a key freedom of an open society. Roger K_ppel, the editor of Die Welt, said his main motive for running the cartoon had been the “news value of the story”. But he stood by the decision. “In our culture, we have a tradition that even our most holy things can be subjected to satire or criticism. Muslims have to understand that in our culture, the representation of a holy man has another meaning.” The Left-wing Berliner Zeitung daily printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy, but said Denmark should accept the boycott of its goods as the price to pay for freedoms of speech. “If we really want to protect our values, then we should respect this call for boycott and just accept the sacrifices they will incur.” Armed militants in the Palestinian territories this week warned Danish, Norwegian and Swedish citizens to leave the Gaza Strip and West Bank or risk being killed.

Parliament Keeps Faith With Blasphemy Law

AMSTERDAM – The Dutch parliament has rejected a bid to scrap the prohibition on blasphemy. The motion was drawn up by MP Lousewies van der Laan of the small government party D66 last week. The move was a response to an announcement by Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner that he planned to strengthen the blasphemy law. Initially Van der Laan’s motion seemed to have majority support. Only Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s Christian Democrats and two small religious parties opposed it.