I’ve written previously about Lars Hedegaard of the Danish Free Press Society, my host in Copenhagen in 2010. Lars was charged, acquitted, re-charged, convicted and fined 5,000 kroner for remarks about Islam made during a conversation in his own home. He appealed to the Danish Supreme Court, and late on Friday they struck down his conviction 7–0.
But the relevant provision of Danish law remains in place, and Lars can never get back the years of his time that this disgusting prosecution consumed. Restraints on free speech and individual liberty in the name of identity-group rights are now routine in much of the Western world. If it weren’t for the First Amendment, the American Left would do as the Euroleft does on freedom of expression. At America’s wretchedly conformist college campuses they already do.
And for every Lars Hedegaard willing to push things all the way to the Supreme Court, the broader lesson of his “victory” is that the average Dane understands the price of raising certain subjects is too high. As I put it in my rollicking foreword to Geert Wilders’ lively new book, for every contrarian spirit such as Lars, “there are a thousand other public figures who get the message” — best just to steer clear, keep your head down.
Sharing the stage with Lars and me in Copenhagen was a Dutch cartoonist called Nekschot. In 2008, he was arrested, tossed in jail for 30 hours, and had his computers confiscated — all because of a complaint by a Dutch imam who publicly celebrated the murder of Theo van Gogh and demanded the same fate for Geert Wilders. The Dutch state doesn’t mind imams inciting the murder of individual citizens, but it tied Nekschot up in court for two years. Last Christmas, he decided he’d had enough.
I talked about free-speech issues in an interview with Canada’s National Post this weekend, just ahead of my Tuesday night appearance in Toronto. In response, an allegedly major talk-radio guy in the city sneered, “Can we get over the idea that it’s dangerous to be Mark Steyn.“
Well, it’s dangerous to be Lars Hedegaard, or Lars Vilks, or Geert Wilders or Ayaan Hirsi Ali – while there’s surely nothing safer than peddling “dangerous” “edgy” cobwebbed multiculti pieties and knowing that, whatever words you utter, there will never come a day when you’ll be called on to bet your house and your savings and perhaps your life on them. In some of the oldest free societies on the planet, a few guys like Lars Hedegaard are doing the heavy lifting for all of us, and paying a very high price.