On January 24, 2024, CEP hosted an online roundtable with leading experts on political violence and free speech to discuss the complex question of how democracies should respond to blasphemy terrorism.
In December, Denmark’s parliament passed a controversial law which prohibits the “inappropriate treatment” of religious texts, although the bill has been widely referred to as the “Quran law”, since it was introduced following incidents of public Quran burnings which thrust both Denmark and Sweden into the center of a global backlash – and once again into the crosshairs of jihadist terrorists.
Blasphemy violence has been a feature of the Western security landscape since at least the Rushdie affair of 1989. However, both Denmark and Sweden have felt the pressure emanating from blasphemy controversies in the past, Denmark following the 2005 Jyllands-Posten cartoons affair, and Sweden after the cartoonist Lars Vilks’ controversial depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. These incidents not only sparked years of terrorist threats against both countries, but immense diplomatic and economic pressure which has informed the latest Danish legislation.
As such blasphemy ‘affairs’ look sure to continue, how should liberal democracies respond to the inevitable threats and violence which accompany them? Is Denmark’s response a model for other states or should the French model be followed. The French government has always been unapologetic in its defense of liberté d’expression. The government maintained this position even after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in Paris in 2020 after he allegedly showed pictures of the Mohammad cartoons in a class on free speech, resulting in a short but intense online campaign against him led by parents and some of his pupils.
To explore these questions and more, CEP Advisor and author of a recent report on blasphemy, Liam Duffy, spoke with two U.S.-based Danish experts:
- Jytte Klausen, professor at Brandeis University and author of The Cartoons that Shook the World, the definitive account of the 2005 Jyllands-Posten affair, and more recently, Western Jihadism: A Thirty Year History
- Jacob Mchangama, the CEO of a human rights think tank, Justitia, Executive Director of the Future of Free Speech Project at Vanderbilt University and author of Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media