Last week, a Danish district court ruled that what a Danish citizen had written on Facebook in November 2013 violated the Danish criminal code.
In response to a debate about the local activities of a radical Islamic organization, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which works for the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate, he wrote: "The ideology of Islam is as loathsome, disgusting, oppressive and as misanthropic as Nazism. The massive immigration of Islamists into Denmark is the most devastating thing to happen to Danish society in recent history."
According to § 266b of Denmark's criminal code, it is prohibited and punishable by fine or prison publicly to threaten, insult or demean a group of persons because of their race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, faith or sexual orientation.
The man was fined 1600 Danish kroner (approximately $240), which makes it unlikely that he will be allowed to appeal the sentence: the fine is so small that an appeal to the Higher Court requires special permission.
The Danish district court found that the man's statements about Islam were "generalizing statements" that were "insulting and demeaning towards adherents of Islam."
The district court reached this conclusion despite the defendant's testimony, according to which he specifically wrote "the ideology of Islam" in order to make a distinction between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islam. The defendant explained that, "'Islamist' is a normal term for extremist groups, who commit crimes against humanity and do the most terrible things, whereas Islam is a peaceful religion."
The district court decided to disregard "the defendant's explanation that a distinction should be made between the ideology of Islam and the religion of Islam".
The court reasoned that
"the statements that the defendant has made should be seen in the societal and historical context of the fall of 2013, and in this context the court sees the statements about 'the ideology of Islam' as pertaining to Islam generally and not only the extreme part of Islam. In this regard, the court has furthermore emphasized that the quoted statements were written on 29 November 2013 at 17.13 and that at 17.27 on the same day -- as pointed out by the defense -- the defendant wrote in the same [Facebook] thread that "Islam wishes to abuse democracy in order to get rid of democracy."
For the incredulous reader, it should be pointed out that the court presumably meant that in 2013, Islamism as an ideology had not manifested itself through terrorism in Denmark and Europe in the same way as it has today, a few years later. This is, of course, nonsense, as pointed out by the defendant's lawyer, Karoly Nemeth: "I believe the court is expressing a lack of historical understanding. The ideology of Islam has existed for over 1,000 years," he said.
According to this court decision, then, pointing out the totalitarian and cruel aspects of Islam itself is now a criminal offense, considered "insulting and demeaning" to Muslims in Denmark and therefore constituting "racism." In effect, this means that the court is conflating what might possibly constitute blasphemy with racism. Despite this decision being wrong in every single aspect, the court did, however, get one thing right: It refused to distinguish between Islam as an ideology and Islam as religion. The prosecutor, Bente Schnack, said it did not make a difference whether the defendant spoke of the ideology or the religion of Islam. "It is pretty difficult to tell the difference," she said.
While the court's decision was widely criticized in Denmark, two leading professors of Danish criminal law agreed with it. One professor, Gorm Toftegaard Nielsen, said that, "§ 266b is about subjecting a group of people to hatred by threatening, insulting or demeaning them. When you group Islamists with Nazis, then it is not a compliment."
The following question, of course, inevitably arises: Since when is public debate supposed to be restricted to complimenting each other?
The professor continued: "When he [the defendant] says 'the massive immigration of Islamists,' it can easily be interpreted as meaning that those people are as immoral as Nazis... It is not nice to compare those two groups. But that is what he does indirectly and that amounts to subjecting a group to hatred."
What the Danish district court did was what the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation has long sought: the establishment of Islamic "blasphemy laws," making criticism of a religion a criminal offence. The UN Human Rights Commission's Resolution 16/18 does exactly that, although it is non-binding -- except presumably for the countries that want it to be. Infractions, as in Denmark now, are punishable by law. The UNHRC Resolution, originally known as "Defamation of Islam," was changed in later versions -- it would seem for broader marketability -- to "Defamation of Religions."
Conversely, in October 2014, when Mohamed Al Khaled Samha, a Danish imam from the Odense mosque, called Jews "the offspring of apes and pigs," he was officially reported to the police, and local Danish police began an investigation of the imam with a view to charging him for breaching § 266b, but as far as Gatestone Institute has been able to ascertain, no legal charges were ever filed against him. (Incidentally, this imam was among the group of imams who traveled to the Middle East presumably to stir up anti-Danish sentiment in the aftermath of Jyllands-Posten newspaper's printing of the Mohammed cartoons). In his sermon, Samha also said, ""Palestine has been and will remain the land of Islam. It is the land of the great battle, in which the Muslims will fight the Jews, and the trees and the stones will say: 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah! There is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.'"
In July 2014 another Danish imam, Abu Bilal Ismail, from the Grimshøj mosque, prayed for the death of Jews at a sermon in a Berlin mosque. "Oh Allah, destroy the Zionist Jews. They are no challenge for you. Count them and kill them to the very last one. Don't spare a single one of them," Ismail said. This, too, was officially reported to the Danish police, who never acted against that imam, either.
Instead, it was German authorities who criminally charged him. In December 2015, he was sentenced to a €10,000 fine for inciting hatred against Jews as well as non-Jewish groups in Germany. The Berlin court found that Ismail targeted "Jews with hatred, as well as all other non-Muslim groups living in Germany."
The German court also said that the Lebanese-born cleric had shown deep contempt for the United States and Europe in his sermon, and that his assault on European civilization and Zionists had met the definition of incitement. The verdict said that Ismail considered Jews as "criminals who kill prophets and children, and Jews are worse than wild beasts in the world of the jungle," and that "Allah should kill Jews." Since Ismail had already been convicted in Germany, and a person cannot be punished twice for the same criminal act, the Danish police decided not to press charges.
In another, ironic, development regarding the use of § 266b of the Danish penal code, the state Prosecutor decided that Hajj Saeed, who incited against Jews in the Masjid Al-Faru mosque in Copenhagen, on February 13, 2015 -- the very same sermon, in fact, that the terrorist Omar Abdel Hamid El-Husseini attended the day before he murdered Dan Uzan at the Copenhagen synagogue -- will not be prosecuted for his statements. In his sermon, Saeed said that the Western "infidel" civilization has led non-Muslims "to an abyss of deprivation and corruption and has reduced them from being human to being at the level of animals". He incited Muslims to wage war against Jews:
"Our prophet Muhammad had Jewish neighbors in Medina. Did he talk about closer ties, harmony and dialogue with them -- in the same way as the UN and those who call for reconciliation between what is true and what is false? Or did he tell them to worship Allah? When they broke their promise and did not accept his calling, well, you know what he did to them... He declared war against the Jews."
Danish police investigated the imam and recommended that the state prosecutor indict him under the same provision of the penal code, § 266b, for inciting hatred and threatening a particular group of people because of their ethnicity -- in this instance because they were Jews. The state Prosecutor, for reasons that are unknown at this point, evidently thought otherwise.
Ironically, the mosque in question, Masjid Al-Faru, is connected with Hizb-ut-Tahrir; and the imam, Hajj Saeed, is considered to be one of the organization's "rising stars" in Denmark.
In 2002, in fairness, the spokesman at the time for Hizb ut-Tahrir, Fadi Abdullatif, was sentenced for violating § 266b, when his organization handed out flyers against Jews with the words, "And kill them, wherever you may find them and banish them from where they banished you."
Members of the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir demand a worldwide Islamic Caliphate during a demonstration in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2006. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons/Epo)
After the February 2015 terrorist attacks in Copenhagen against the synagogue, where Dan Uzan was murdered, and the Krudttønden café, where film director Finn Nørgaard was murdered, Hizb ut-Tahrir told Muslims not to condemn the terrorist attacks, but instead "put things in their right context."
In Denmark, apparently, it is a crime to criticize Islam and "Islamists," but calling Jews the "offspring of apes and pigs" and inciting their murder in a packed mosque (and calling non-Muslims in general "animals") can be done with impunity.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.