New cartoon mayhem in The Netherlands

In The Netherlands cartoon artist Gregorius Nekschot has been arrested following complaints by imam Abdul-Jabbar van de Ven that his work discriminates against, notably, Muslims and dark-skinned people. I really do not have the time right now to write a decent post about this and I am also waiting for more information, but Dutch weblog Polderpundit has dedicated a long post on this subject. Here is one quote to give you an idea about the gist of the controversy:

Personally we think most of Nekschot’s drawings (which we only discovered today) are rather tasteless, although some made us smile (wryly). In other words, we will not buy the book and we won’t subscribe to his newsletter. Period, that’s it. We certainly do not feel more negative or less positive about certain ethnic or religious minorities. Seeing a cartoon where Mohammed sodomizes Anne Frank makes us wish we hadn’t, but it doesn’t change our feelings about either. The only thing it incites us to do is, again, to abstain from buying Nekschot’s books. Maybe it makes others incite to buy it, good for them.

As for the “insulting” part, well, it’s hard to pretend Nekschot’s drawings are uncontroversial innocent works of art. It is imaginable that some people feel indeed insulted by some of the cartoons. In which case they would be wise not to look at them. Just as reactionary (or simply long-toed) christians did not watch “Life of Brian” or “The Last Temptation of Christ”. All these artworks can be considered insulting. But criminally insulting? The Western battle for freedom of expression is also the battle for the freedom of expression of ideas we do not like, including ideas we feel insulted by.

Subsidiary question: Are the imams who call non-muslim children “dogs”, who wish a tongue cancer onto Ayaan Hirsi Ali and all other kind of documented niceties, are these people insulting and inciting hatred? We cannot measure with two standards. The cases of both Nekschot and islamic extremists should be examined with the same zeal and integrity, and depending on the findings, they should be prosecuted or not, and then tried (or not) with identical impartiality.

The really worrying part comes next:

It is always tempting to think of hidden political agendas, and before you know it you are talking about conspiracy theories. As long as there is no more detailed information available, it would seem wise to stay prudent.

At the same time it is true that some high-profile members and cabinet ministers of Holland’s biggest political party, the CDA (christian centre), have been advocating censorship of the Fitna, a movie critical of islam, launched by Geert Wilders (founder of one of those populist parties). Has this antidemocratic attitude seeped down to lower levels? Were the police and the DA trying to please their political masters?

The latter quote I find particularly interesting because it goes way beyond freedom of speech. There is a strong sense of “Why are they allowed to do these things and we are not?” I have seen this cropping up several times before in internet discussions. Personally, I doubt if there is a political conspiracy behind the arrest, but Dutch politicians and society would do well to address what Polderpundit describes as “this antidemocratic attitude” and, more importantly, the perception, wrong or right, that some people get condemned for the very same things others seem to get away with.

Update: The link to Nekschot’s site went 404 following an official request from the Dutch Public Prosecutor. From the dozens of cartoons that were examined by the judiciary eight have been subjected to charges of discrimination and possibly even incitement to violence and hatred. All the other cartoons were deemed to be within the legal limits of freedom of speech and artistic expression.