Features Australia

Freedom of speech, but…

The killings in Copenhagen offer the perfect illustration of why you cannot appease on free speech

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

Was the Copenhagen gunman actually trying to highlight the absurdity of arguments against absolute freedom of speech? Probably not, but you have to hand it to him. His timing was impeccable.

Actually, his timing was too good. The whole situation is really beyond parody. If a satirist at Charlie Hebdo had dreamt it up, it would have been rejected by the editorial board as far too convenient and obvious for a cover cartoon.

You see, many in Europe and around the world are now starting to wonder whether their arm-linking, freedom-marching, #jesuischarlie-tweeting political leaders really do like free speech. To absolve themselves from having to repeal pernicious so-called ‘hate speech’ laws, politicians are once again reminding us that ‘freedom of speech has never been absolute’ and that ‘free speech has its limits.’ The trusty foot soldiers of ‘what about inciting violence?’ and ‘fire in a crowded theatre’ are being readied for yet another fight.

Meanwhile – and here is where the gunman’s timing is exemplary – at a panel discussion on Islam and free expression in the Krudttønden café in sleepy Denmark, Ukranian feminist Inna Shevchenko got up to speak on the limits to freedom of speech. The audio sounds like this:

I realize that every time we talk about [freedom of speech with] those people, they will [say] always, ‘yes it is freedom of speech, but…’ and the turning point is ‘but.’ Why do we still say ‘but’ when we…Pop, pop, pop…

And then she hid behind the stage, as automatic gunfire blasted away at the little coffee shop. Amazingly, after a few minutes, the lecture continued, there being not much else to do as the café was in lock-down, and as police cordoned off the building and the entire suburb. The rest of the conference must have been a fascinating, albeit sad (one participant was murdered), exercise. But the words that were left hanging as the gunfire began – ‘Why do we still say “but”?’ – ‘Freedom of speech, but…’ – neatly summarize the current problem, and provide a macabre object lesson for the West.


Sadly, it is a lesson that most Western leaders seem content to ignore, or feel forced to ignore. Surprising no one, Barak Obama has become the world’s leading Islamist apologist. With each new terror attack comes a new excuse from the White House. If it’s not ‘nothing to do with Islam,’ it’s that ‘Muslims are the real victims here.’ And when that denial became tiresome he tried the more realist approach of ‘yes, it’s Islam, but Christianity is just as bad,’ the Crusades being roughly equivalent to Isis and killing cartoonists.

Not to be outdone by mere temporal politicians, Pope Francis too, waded in on the Charlie Hebdo massacre: ‘One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith,’ he declared, the inference, of course, being that Islam cannot be blamed for the slightly off way it reacts to such egregious behavior. Pretending for a minute that Francis’s comments were the slightest bit sensible or helpful, who defines what is provocative? And are not some people more easily provoked than others? Muslims, let’s be honest, seem to have a low provocation threshold. Perhaps Argentinians do too – the Pope, in giving an example of the consequences of provocation, pointed to his aide and said, ‘If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal.’ But weird Vatican workplace violence aside, do he and his fellow apologists think that even serious, civil discussions (that are not intended to ‘insult,’ and certainly not to ‘make fun’) are just so provocative as to legitimately result in essentially the same acts of Quran-inspired violence? And what would they say about those provocative Jews who had the gall to go about their business being Jewish – and in their own synagogue, no less? Or the Sydney hostages who were, no doubt, making fun of Islam – insulting it, even – as they sipped their hot chocolates and selected Christmas boxes of Lindt balls for friends or family? The Pope was right to call them out as the provocateurs they are!

After spending all their energy defending Islamist violence on the basis of mistreatment at the hands of cartoonists, the Copenhagen attacks will present a problem for the Left. While Lars Vilks (whose cartoons sparked the so-called Lars Vilks Muhammad Drawings Controversy – look it up) was at the Krudttønden, it was a panel of speakers, not an art exhibition. There were none of his signature dog-in-a-turban pictures. No sodomy. No graphic suggestion that Islam was anything but the progressive, enlightened, and tranquil religion we are assured it is. This really was just a discussion, a debate. But it was more than enough to qualify participants for a spray of bullets courtesy of the Religion of Peace™.

This reality makes a mockery of the Australian government’s decision not to push for the removal of the offences of ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ in 18C. The stated reason for Tony Abbott breaking his clear promise was to appease Australian Muslims and to enable everyone to pull together as Team Australia. Never mind that Abbott has rightly said that ‘Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a free society;’ his failure to act, even in the wake of such gratuitous acts of Islamist terror as the Lindt Café siege and Charlie Hebdo, give Muslims and almost every other minority group a free pass when it comes to civil, societal participation.

Abbott’s cowardice is summed up in Shevchenko’s words before she was shot at. Why do we say ‘freedom of speech but…’?

Why indeed?

Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of society, but…

But, the Islamists have called Abbott’s bluff. To keep Australia safe from Muslim terrorists we have draconian laws to prevent them from being insulted or offended. And then they take hostages and shoot up cafés anyway.

Next time Abbott suggests ‘freedom of speech but…’ we must remind him of how that sentence was finished during the civilised discussion at the Krudttønden. Next time anyone parades their liberty-loving legitimacy with ‘freedom of speech but…’ we must remind them of how that sentence will always finish.

Pop, pop, pop.

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