Gregorius Nekschot: “Ladies and Gentlemen, once you trade your freedom for peace, you are doomed.”
Ladies and Gentlemen
In the Netherlands, satire is an old tradition. This tradition began seven centuries ago, in the thirteenth century, with the epic poem Reynaerd ‘the Fox’. The poem Reynaerd ‘the Fox’ ridiculed nobility and clergy – the highest civil and religious authorities of that era. The author must have been a wise man, he managed to keep his identity a secret. Monty Python’s movie Life of Brian pokes fun at Christianity.
The movie stirred up anger and controversy in 1979. Nevertheless, the movie could be watched almost everywhere. The makers, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin received neither death sentences nor did the Public Prosecutor lift them from their beds and put them behind bars.
These two fairly random examples illustrate that in Western Europe, religion – in the cases mentioned Christianity – has been ridiculed for ages. First this was done anonymously or under pseudonym, later openly. In Western culture, rationalism, science, humanism and democracy, in a lengthy and painful process, created the separation between Church and State. Freedom of Speech became a constitutional right in many countries. Thus, ridiculing Christianity, without fear of losing one’s life, has been possible for quite some time.
When large numbers of migrants with a different cultural and religious background came to Western Europe, things fundamentally changed. Poorly educated – and without exception raised under dictatorial regimes – a lot of immigrants with an Islamic background cannot agree to our separation between religion and politics, no matter how self-evident this separation appears to us.
Monty Python makes fun of Jesus in Life of Brian. A comparable movie about the life of Mohammed – the founder of Islam – is out of the question. The dreadful fate of film director Theo van Gogh says it all. The horrible and sadistic manner in which Theo van Gogh was ritually slaughtered by a fanatical Muslim meant a return to the Dark Ages for the Netherlands as far as the freedom of speech is concerned. Anyone who has the urge to say something about Islam has to do so most carefully.
On May the 13th of the year 2008, however, the cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot was dragged out of his house by ten civil servants and thrown into jail. Moreover, his home was searched and his computer, mobile telephone, agenda and sketchbooks were confiscated. Cartoons that allegedly discriminated against ethnic minorities and against Muslims caused captivity and a far-reaching infringement of his privacy. Such is the state of affairs in the Netherlands, a country which until recently, was seen as broad-minded, ‘free-thinking’, and enjoying a satirical tradition of more than seven centuries.
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