Science & Technology

Free Speech in Europe: Holocaust Cartoons and Tintin Edition


If you think that timorous Europe's contempt for freedom of expression is exclusively Islam-related, the Dutch would like to remind you that cartoons mocking the Holocaust also count as "hate speech" and as such, say the sensitivity police, their authors deserve prosecution

The Dutch public prosecutor has appealed against a court ruling acquitting a Muslim group of insulting Jews with a cartoon suggesting they invented the Holocaust, in a case testing the bounds of free speech.

The court ruled last month the cartoon published by the Arab European League (AEL) showed "bad taste" and was "exceptionally offensive," but it acquitted the group on charges it insulted Jews because of the context in which the cartoon was published.

In announcing its appeal, the public prosecutor said on Tuesday it was essential to determine whether the cartoon was "unnecessarily offensive," adding it was not certain whether the cartoon was designed as a contribution to the social debate.

Well, it appears to be contributing to the "social debate" surrounding freedom of speech, a debate in which the Dutch simply aren't interested in engaging. The cartoon in question, which has something to do with "Auswitch," is here. Just across the border in Germany, where the sale of Mein Kampf  is banned and display of Nazi is symbols is strictly verboten, critics of an anti-Jewish cartoon are pushing prosecutors to charge artist Walter Hermann with "incitement to hate." Thankfully, Cologne's chief prosecutor has thus far rejected entreaties to charge Hermann despite a "public uproar." In Rome, a man was recently sentenced to six months in jail (!) for compiling a list of Italian academics that he dubbed members of a "Jewish lobby."

In Belgium, the long dead comic book artist Hergé goes on trial today for his racist book Tintin in the Congo, first published in 1930. Hergé later repudiated the book, saying that he "was fed on the prejudices of the bourgeois society in which I moved," but the plaintiff, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, wants it banned from bookstores. Hergé's estate responds to the charges in Time:

Moulinsart, the organization that runs Hergé's estate, accepts that the book reflects colonial clichés but warns against moves to censor Tintin. "Obviously, if someone showed Tintin in the Congo to an editor now, it would not get published," says Moulinsart communications director Alain de Kuyssche. "But you can't judge Tintin or Hergé solely by today's standards and attitudes. If you don't take account of the historical context, you would have to put a warning on every book over 50 years old."

Some Tintin murals in the misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo here.