Rita Karlsen, HRS
Existens, a program on Swedish public TV, has turned its attention to the subject of freedom of speech in connection with religious groups. The program asks whether we are putting limits on what we say or show out of consideration for religious groups. The host of the program notes that a few months ago, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet put away two pictures after prodding by government officials. Sweden was about to be visited by some EU ministers, and the government officials feared that the two pictures, each of which featured a swastika in one corner, might be perceived as offensive. But as Existens asks: is this “consideration” or is it “self-censorship”?
The program also takes us to the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, where the words ”Freedom of expression: where are the limits?” appear on a screen. The question is connected to an exhibition at the museum which includes Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Theo van Gogh’s film Submission. Or, to put it more correctly, parts of the film. For as it turns out, the museum’s exhibition directors have allowed an imam to look through the film and edit out the parts he found most offensive. Existens wonders whether this is an acceptable practice. Can an exhibit that is devoted to the subject of freedom of speech employ this kind of censorship? They have interviewed Hirsi Ali about the case, and she feels that the Nobel Museum is off track. She asks ironically whether anyone thinks that she would be allowed to edit a speech by the imam?
We now know where the limits of freedom of speech lie, writes Dilsa Demirbag-Sten in Expressen.se:
Totalitarian forces seldom represent the masses. They have most often usurped power through violence, oppression, and economic incentives. The mullahs in Iran are a current example. All this is self-evident as long as we are talking about the Catholic Church or the extreme Christian right in the U.S. Criticism of these is viewed as legitimate, and few Swedish cultural institutions would let a priest or pastor set limits on an exhibition. When criticism is directed against Islam, journalists, intellectuals and institutional officials begin to drivel on about offense, understanding, and the necessity to keep society quiet. There is reason to suspect that ignorance and cowardice lie concealed behind the platitudes. It is maintained time after time that one does not wish to offend a billion Muslims.
And it is unworthy that an exhibition about freedom of speech should censor itself.
Translated from the Norwegian by Bruce Bawer