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Danish Historian Prosecuted for Private Speech Against Muslim Honor Violence

by Meira Svirsky

In 2009, the Danish writer and historian Lars Hedegaard, spoke in private in his home about the treatment of women in Muslim some communities saying, “They rape their own children.”

When these words were made public, Hedegaard was charged in Denmark with the crime of hate speech, defined as “Publicly making statements that threaten, ridicule or hold in contempt a group due to race, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.

Hedegaard, left, was referring to a large body of factual evidence that shows that Muslim women are subjected to sexual and “honour” violence, including rape and incest, including an American study, which was done in 1993 at the behest of the North American Council for Muslim Women, which indicated that domestic violence -- which includes everything from beatings to incest -- against Muslim women and children occurred in 10 per cent of the Muslim population.

Hedegaard immediately issued a statement to the press, saying, “I have tried to explain that my statement: "They rape their own children" should not be understood to imply that every Muslim in the world behaves this way. It is akin to a statement such as: the Americans make good films. This does mean that all 300 million Americans are filmmakers or that all American films are good.”

The case went to trial in January, 2011.  Even though he was acquitted (the court ruled that his remarks were not intended for the public), he was tried again on the same charges three months later and found guilty. 

Hedegaard appealed his case to the Danish Supreme Court. The trial began last week. Below is an English translation of Hedegaard’s final word’s to the court:

Honourable Supreme Court,

My attorney has presented juridical arguments to the effect that I must be acquitted and I shall refrain from elaborating.

However, allow me to express my quiet bafflement that somebody can claim that it has been my intention to accuse every last Muslim father in the world of abusing his children – particularly in light of the fact that I have carefully explained that it was never my intention to disseminate such an absurd contention.

For precisely that reason, I would have welcomed an opportunity to review the statements I now stand accused of having uttered before they were placed on the Internet. If the interviewer had fulfilled this basic journalistic obligation, I would have demanded that my remarks be corrected so as to reflect my true opinions and the prosecutor could have saved the trouble of dragging me through the courts.

I am even more baffled at one of the claims about my person that has been circulated in connection with this case, namely that I am a racist. I have never been, I am not now and I shall never be a racist. On the contrary, all my life I have opposed racist attitudes, by which I mean hatred towards and denigrating speech about people due their descent, skin color or other so-called racial characteristics – in other words, antipathy against or ill treatment of people due to circumstances over which they have no control.

Islam is not a race and therefore criticism of Islam cannot be racism.

Islam, which lurks behind this entire case, has been described from a variety of viewpoints. Some say that it is a religion, others that is an all-encompassing ideology that contains a religion, still others emphasize its cultural norms, its culturally transmitted customs and practices. Some even maintain that Islam is so multifaceted that it is impossible to describe it.

But regardless of one’s approach, it must be clear that Islam is not a hereditary human attribute.

If our Western freedom means anything at all, we must insist that every grown-up person is responsible for his or her beliefs, opinions, culture, habits and actions.

We enjoy political freedom and we enjoy freedom of religion. This implies a largely unlimited right to disseminate one’s political persuasion and religious beliefs. That is as it should be. But the price we all have to pay for this freedom is that others have a right to criticise our politics, our religion and our culture.

Islamic spokesmen have the freedom to advocate their concept of society, which implies the introduction of a theocracy governed by god-given laws, i.e. sharia, the abolition of man-made laws and by implication freedom of expression and democracy. They are free to think that women are inferior to men as concerns their rights and their pursuit of happiness. They are even entitled to disseminate such opinions.

I cannot recall a single instance in this country where an Islamic spokesman has been prosecuted for saying that, or course, sharia will become the law of the land once the demographic and political realities make it possible. This despite the fact that we have several examples of, e.g., imams who have openly declared that the imposition of theocracy is a religious duty incumbent on all believers.

In return, these theocrats and sharia-advocates must accept the right of those who believe in democracy, free institutions and human equality to criticism Islam and to oppose its dissemination and the atavistic cultural norms practiced by some Muslims.

It is this right – I would even say duty – to describe, criticism and oppose a totalitarian ideology that I have tried to exercise to the best of my ability.

My speech and my writings have had no other purpose than to alert my fellow citizens to the danger inherent in the Islamic concept of the state and the law.

I have made no secret of the fact that I consider this fight for our liberties to be the most important political struggle of our time.

I would not be able to live with my guilty conscience if – out of fear of public condemnation and ridicule – I refrained from telling the truth as I see it.

And regardless of the outcome of this trial, I intend to continue my struggle for free speech and against totalitarian concepts of any stripe.