Free Speech in Europe: Holocaust Cartoons and Tintin Edition

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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.

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  1. If you don’t take account of the historical context, you would have to put a warning on every book over 50 years old.

    Yes. And?

    1. and you cant do that

  2. But this is “good” censorship. You know, like the New York Times wants.

  3. Yet another example of how weak europe is. Wusses can’t handle a few words.

    Well, europe, here’s a few words for you: Grow the fuck up, man up, and quit being such a bunch of lazy pussies.

    1. That is a bit rich coming from a representative of the country that freaked out over Janet jackson’s nipple 🙂

      1. No one went to prison over Janet Jackson’s nip slip. Though it is a good opportunity to point out that we have our extensive civil liberties despite the large number of bible thumping nutjobs here.

  4. Yet another example of how weak europe is. Wusses can’t handle a few words.

    Well, europe, here’s a few words for you: Grow the fuck up, man up, and quit being such a bunch of lazy pussies.

  5. Here is the Wikipedia plot summary for TinTin on the Congo. It is just horrible. Read ahead only if you dare. It is not fit for even adult consumption.

    Tintin in the Congo begins with Tintin and Snowy departing from Antwerp on a ship bound for the Belgian Congo. Snowy has several accidents on board the ship, including an encounter with a stowaway, but eventually they arrive safe and well at Matadi. Here, they rent a Ford Model T and hire a guide named Coco. They set out into the depths of the Congo, where Tintin hunts numerous animals.

    Upon returning to Coco, Tintin finds that his car has been stolen by a man whom Snowy recognizes as the stowaway. They recover the car but the man escapes.

    Later on, Tintin, Snowy, and Coco find their way to a village. However, the man who stole the car joins forces with the village doctor, and unsuccessfully tries to dispose of Tintin several times. In his last attempt, the criminal (Tom) tries to hang Tintin above a river full of crocodiles so that they can eat him, but Tintin is rescued by a Belgian missionary.

    Tintin and Snowy are taken to a mission station where the ever-persistent Tom once again tries to get at Tintin, who resolves to end this, and in their final struggle, it is Tom that is eaten by crocodiles, though that was not what Tintin intended. Tintin finds a letter giving Tom instructions to kill him. The letter is signed A.C., which stands for Al Capone, who is operating a diamond smuggling ring in the Congo. Tintin reveals the operation, and the gang is captured.

    Finally, Tintin can get back to enjoying the Congolese wildlife. However, he and Snowy end up getting chased by a herd of buffalo. Before they are trampled, a plane swoops down and saves them. They are to be taken home in order to prepare for their next adventure, Tintin in America. The African people build totems to Tintin.

    1. Not sure if you have seen the illustrations, but they are some pretty awful caricatures of Africans. Not that that justifies any of this. Pretending bad things don’t exist is never a good approach.

      1. The Africans don’t seem to be bothered by it.

      2. A lot of comics pre-1960 have awful caricatures of Africans (or African-Americans). I don’t honestly think those were all drawn in the spirit of racism; I think for a while there that was just kind of how black people were drawn in comics. It wasn’t necessarily motivated by hate.

        I could be wrong, of course. Maybe most cartoonists pre-1960 were racists.

        1. There is more backstory to this. Tintin was originally serialized in La Vingtieme Siecle, a far-right pro-fascist Catholic newspaper in pre-war Belgium. Tintin in Africa has grossly racist depictions of Blacks, as well as unintentionally hilarious (to modern eyes) depictions of Tintin slaughtering masses of wildlife). The first Tintin story, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets”, was a rather crude anti-Communist tract. During the war, Herge continued to draw in occupied Belgium, and was considered something of a collaborator for a while afterward.

          Over time, though, Tintin left politics behind and made some of the best animated stories ever drawn.

  6. Man, if you can’t even get a groan out of an Auschwitz joke, hang up your pencil, you just ain’t cut out for cartooning.

    1. I couldn’t figure out what that cartoon was even supposed to mean.

  7. European censorship laws are utterly fucked up. One anecdote: I collect old stereoviews and 3-d photos, most of which I buy on eBay. From time to time there’s a guy in Germany who will offer to sell stereograph albums from Nazi Germany; apparently, in the 1930s the German government published and sold stereograph yearbooks on topics like “The Wehrmacht Campaign in Poland” or “The Rise of Our Glorious Fuhrer.” (I’d be interested in having these for my collection, maybe, if the seller dropped his price by about 75 percent.)

    But the seller always puts a bazillion caveats on his auctions: you may NOT bid on these unless you plan to use them for educational purposes only; you may NOT bid on these if you plant to use them for pro-Nazi propaganda, I think there’s actual legal paperwork crap you’d have to fill out if you lived in Germany and bought them … and, while the guy of course always shows some sample images on his auctions, he also uses Photoshop to hide any swastikas. So there will be, say, a stereo photo of a Hitler Youth rally, and every little blond boy is carrying a flag, and the middle of each flag is blotted out on the apparent assumption that merely LOOKING at a swastika will fill everyone with the uncontrollable urge to kill every non-blonde they see.

    1. From an American perspective that seems pretty silly. But, Americans are not 70 years removed from trying to conquer Europe and putting 13 million people in ovens. The Germans are understandably very paranoid about anything associated with Nazism. It cuts two ways of course. It helps them both keep Nazism from rising again and also pretend it never happened. The German psyche is pretty fucked up.

      1. Indeed, it requires a fucked-up psyche to believe the swastika has magical powers, so that it must be ‘shopped out of historic photos lest formerly tolerant and open-minded people suddenly shout “Let’s all go Jew-bashing!”

        1. It requires a fucked up psyche to go insane and put 13 million people in ovens. Not defending it. But just saying.

          1. Everyone complicit in putting people in ovens is either already dead, or mere minutes away from dying of old age.

            1. True. But their decedents are still fucked up. Most people are proud of their family and history. It is just human nature. But most of theirs is tainted. For example, my German girlfriend’s grandmother was a widow. Her husband died in the war. They were married for only two years and had one child. They were childhood sweethearts. In America that would be one of those stories that people love to tell and hear. In Germany it would be to, except that Grandpa was an SS Officer killed in the 1940 invasion of France.

              It is a small example. But Germans literally feel like they cannot ever be proud of their country or past. It makes them very paranoid about anything associated with Nazism. In a few generations they will get over it. And probably start putting people in ovens again.

              1. It is surprising to get that level of honesty from someone of German descent. I think every single German I’ve encountered in my day has ancestors that “harbored jews” or otherwise protested Nazism…. yeah, suuuurrrreeee….

              2. And American descendants of Confederates who died defending the righteousness of black slavery and white supremacy might well be ashamed of their ancestors’ vileness, but pretending there’s magic powers attached to images of the Confederate battle flag or old photos of cross-burnings is no way to deal with it.

                Furthermore, the modern German attempt to black out the evil parts of their own history results in modern neo-Nazis — who should be condemned as whiny bigoted assholes — enjoying “martyr for free speech” status instead. It even makes it easier, ironically, for Holocaust deniers to turn weak-minded people into converts: “If the Holocaust were true, the government wouldn’t need to outlaw anyone suggesting otherwise, would they? It’s just like when the Catholic Church outlawed any suggestion that the sun orbited the earth! Why did they outlaw it? Because they were trying to suppress the TROOOOOOOOTH!”

                1. I mean “Earth orbits the sun.” But y’all knew that.

                  1. Solist!

                2. The South is an interesting contrast. The US made peace at the end of the civil war by allowing the South to claim they fought a good fight and write the history. It was little easier because as bad as the South was, it wasn’t Nazism.

                  Germany hasn’t ever made such a deal about its past. And it hasn’t come to terms with the past.

                3. I would like to comment on your example (yes, I know it’s not your main point). The Catholic Church did NOT outlaw the suggestion that the Earth orbits the Sun ? nor did it attempt to do so. In fact, the Church protected Copernicus (who proposed heliocentrism in his treatise “The Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs” before Galileo did) from the Calvinists. As for Galileo, it was a complicated matter, but he wasn’t punished for proposing heliocentrism. The Church’s attitude toward the matter was best expressed by St. Baronius, who said, “The Bible exists to teach us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.”

                  1. The church did not ‘protect’ Copernicus, they just chose NOT to harm him (which they probably would have if they had but known how popular his ideas would become) The bottom line here is that you can’t pretend that you’re doing someone a favor by removing a threat which never should have been there in the first place, thats just called doing the right thing.

                    Also you’re right that they didn’t “officially” punish Galileo, they just slandered and harassed him, and drug his reputation through the mud before marching him through the ultimate mockery of justice… a Catholic inquisition.

                    Oh you’re right that his book wasn’t banned, but it was removed from circulation “pending revisions”. Not for OVER ONE HUNDRED YEARS was his original work available in its entirety.

                    1. You’re mistaken, Clay. First, Galileo was placed under house arrest in a beautiful apartment. Second, you do realize that he and the Pope had been friends, don’t you? Third, do you know that he was wrong in some of the things he proposed, things that he wanted the Church to accept wholesale? You should also know that many scientists at the time opposed Galileo probably more than any churchmen. The system that was accepted at the time was the Aristotelian one; it had been used for 1500 years and ships could be navigated by way of it. Many people believed that there was no reason to doubt its validity.

              3. Don’t mention the war!

      2. To be frank, you’re missing the point. Germans, like other Europeans, don’t just ban pro-Nazi speech. They ban politically incorrect speech in general ? even if it accords with truth. For example, in places like Germany, you can be punished for criticizing homosexual behavior or Islam as well. The reality is that it is not so much that they’re trying to purge Nazism as it is that they haven’t changed. They simply have transitioned from enforcing one lie to another.

  8. Europe is like a big, sticky turd that just won’t let go of the ass of Asia. I’m glad my ancestors had the wisdom to bail on that terrible peninsula, even though some of them fucked up and accidentally went to Canada first.

    1. Europe is great. It is Europeans, and specifically those involved in politics, that are the problem. Same way with Canada. I would love Canada if it wasn’t full of Canadians.

    2. There are really great aspects to Europe. You have to understand that most average native Europeans just ignore speech bullshit; they tend to be mildly but harmlessly racist towards non-white immigrants; and amongst themselves (or other “Westerners” like Americans), they will express non-PC thoughts and jokes.

      Most of the bullshit, much like in the US, comes from the chattering classes.

      1. Someday, when the world becomes a better place, a resurgent U.S. will make Europe into a theme park, thus memorializing the whole point of the place. Not a Disney-type theme park, just like it is today. Only without the politics and stuff.

        1. They kind of have. Paris is pretty much Disney Land for the educated classes.

          1. Yes, I’d like to go to Moveable Feast Land and Eternal City Land on my next trip. I hear the restaurants and characters are great!

  9. The African people build totems to Tintin.

    Well that part is true as linked by Moynihan.

    1. TinTin is actually cool pop art. I like the posters. And Africans don’t seem to have a problem with it. They have apparently outsourced their outrage to uptight white people.

      1. Africans have some very different views than might be expected. My brother went to Ghana. Instead of being disliked and distrusted, white people there are very respected and highly thought of. The average Ghanian believes that whites are more honest and ethical than blacks.

        I suspect that this is due to the fact that there are very few whites over there, and visitors (if they’re intelligent at all) will be on their best behavior – so the few whites they come into contact with appear to be really good people.

        1. I’m Ghana go to Ghana!

          1. Go to Bolivia instead.

        2. It’s probably due to better genetics!!!!

      2. One of those things that makes you realize that America is different even from other Anglosphere countries: I grew up on Tintin and Asterix, even though they were originally French, pretty much everyone in Aus/NZ/UK did; then I came to America and hardly anyone has heard of them.

  10. I’m definitely stopping by Chez Tintin for a beer next time I’m in the Congo.

  11. I don’t think Tintin is anywhere as racist as the Belgians were when they ruled the Congo.

    1. Hey they may have killed millions and cut off who knows how many million arms. But they banned Tintin. Doesn’t that make up for it?

  12. I think this is absurd. I just read the Ox-bow incident, a torrid read about justice, lynching and old west cowboys. Despite this being a message story and movie (starring Henry Fonda) the book contains graphic depictions of white people saying highly prejudice things about blacks, referring to them as “boy,” and using the N-word regularly. It is still a biting social commentary and a good read, as are most of the TinTin series. I think that unless a book is deliberately designed to inspire hatred and disrespect, that the general public should allow it to publish and just choose not to buy it if offended.

  13. Tolerance is not a one-way street folks. The last time books got banned for being racist and controversial, the Nazi’s warmed their hands on the bonfires of literature that – one could argue – would have been protected under the blood-paid free speech laws we enjoy today in some parts of the world. As a long-time Tintin fan, I don’t defend all of Herge’s attitudes at that time. Even Herge himself seems to have recognized this in himself and struggled with it. Who, regardless of their skin color or heritage, hasn’t? Why not tout the artist’s renunciation of his own ill-informed attitudes as he matured rather than teach kids that Hitler had the right idea all along? Talk about twisted.

  14. Someone finds Tintin in the Congo objectionable? Child’s play misanthropy.

  15. I don’t understand the Holocaust Cartoon. Not funny or offensive to me. Some one should make a cartoon about making fun of people who make cartoons and see what happens.

  16. Truth needs no laws to support it.
    Truth does not fear re-examination.
    Truth does not shun questions.
    Truth survives doubt.
    Throughout history, from Galileo to Zundel, only lies and liars have resorted to the courts to enforce adherence to dogma.
    If speech has limits, then it is not free.

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