Humour Conference: It Takes Children, Drunkards and Death-defying Artists to Get the Truth.
13. September 2010 – A correspondent
There is a price to be paid if you want to describe the world as you see it. Every speaker at the Free Press Society’s conference on Humour, Satire and Free Speech, that took place in Copenhagen on 9/11 2010, could testify to that.
In connection with the event, one of the speakers, Mark Steyn (picture above), received the Free Press Society’s journalistic prize, the Sappho Award.
The little boy in the fairy tale
There once was a little boy who had neither learned to lie to himself nor to others. Nor had he understood the importance of saying what everyone around him wanted to hear. When Hans Christian Andersen let the boy remark that the mighty emperor had no clothes, it had great consequences. Not for the boy but for the emperor and his subjects, who had let themselves and each other believe that the emperor’s new clothes were the most beautiful they had ever seen. The little boy, on the other hand, became a hero and the grown-ups had to be ashamed of their lack of courage to articulate the self-evident.
Have we learned anything?
One is tempted to ask if we have learned anything from Hans Christian Andersen’s old fairy tale. Are there people walking the streets and alleys today postulating things in clear contravention of reality?
Very much so, said the Canadian author and commentator Mark Steyn. Nobody is allowed to cast doubt on the notion of a heavenly multicultural society. For it is paradise, say the emperor and all of his men. Is everything therefore as it used to be?
Not at all, answered Mark Steyn. The difference between the fairy tale and our time is that today the crowd would have attacked the little boy. In today’s world he is no longer a hero but an evil person whose unbecoming (and perhaps soon illegal) observations have punctured the dream of The Good and The Beautiful. Many will use the worst taunts of the language about him while others will sue him. Some will feel so offended by his words and his very existence that they will try to kill him.
America alone in the world
That is Mark Steyn’s diagnosis of Western Civilisation anno 2010. And that the man knows what he is talking about became clear to everyone on this anniversary of the murderous attack in New York and elsewhere on 9/11 nine years ago. The same might be said of the other participants in this international conference –the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, the Norwegian-Pakistani comedienne Shabana Rehman, the Danish-Iranian actor, comedian and commentator Farshad Kholghi and the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekshot.
Every one of these artists, comedians and critics had played the role of the little boy in Andersen’s tale. And they had all paid the price. Had anyone been in doubt, it sufficed to look around in the hall, where several officers from the Danish Security Police were posted.
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It is the title of the book that gave Mark Steyn his international breakthrough. It describes a Europe that in the absolute autumn of its life can neither maintain itself demographically nor culturally and is therefore threatened by rapid Islamization.
Based as it is on dry facts and thorough research, the book has had a major influence on the discourse on Islam and multicultural society.
One by one the lights go out
Steyn’s message in Copenhagen was far from uplifting.
Paraphrasing the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Grey’s comment on the outbreak of World War 1, Steyn remarked: ”One by one the lights go out in Europe because those who have created the multicultural societies will not defend them.”
He went on to say that authors, comedians and everyone else that does not believe in a multicultural utopia are being persecuted and witch-hunted into silence. The Canadian authorities have even tried –in the best totalitarian tradition – to criminalize Mark Steyn’s jokes. Even his “tone” has been subjected to legal scrutiny.
Though the title of Steyn’s book refers to an America that finds itself increasingly isolated in its defence of Western values, things are far from ideal on the other side of the Atlantic.
Steyn noted that Obama has never criticized honour killings or other outrages taking place in the Muslim world. But if Westerners commit the slightest transgression – as is now the case with the mad priest in Florida who wanted to burn the Koran – he immediately feels called upon to issue an official condemnation. That is a disgrace, said Steyn, who could only express his contempt for Western governments that think Islam should be exempted from criticism.
Always a bit worried on Fridays
Among the governments that in Steyn’s words compete to be “Islam’s most obedient ‘prison-bitch’” is the one in Sweden. That blue-yellow nation was horrified when one of its own sons drew the Muslim prophet as a dog.
Quite a few Muslims – among them a goodly number organized in the al-Qaeda network – were so infuriated that they issued a fatwa against Lars Vilks. Two amateur terrorists from Sweden subsequently tried to implement it. Luckily they were so disorganized that they managed to pour petrol over themselves and only succeeded in setting themselves and a corner of the artist’s house on fire.
“Those of us with a fatwa are always a bit uneasy on Friday nights – that’s when it always happens,” remarked Lars Vilks as he was showing samples of his work.
The Mullah lifter from Norway
The rest of the panel left no doubt that it can have great consequences to say something that the imams don’t like.
The Norwegian-Pakistani comedienne Shabana Rehman has committed quite a number of transgressions in that regard. Not only is she a comedienne, she is also a woman – which is out of line with the recommendations of the sharia. On top of that she is world famous for being the one who lifted the notorious mullah Krekar in a nightclub in Oslo.
“He stood there and said that he was no threat to anyone. But there was fear in the room. Everybody was afraid of this man as he stood there before them. To alleviate this fear I went up to him, bowed down and lifted him quite a distance up in the air,” explained Shabana Rehman as the audience doubled over with laughter at the pictures from that fateful day in Oslo.
Tough to be a comedienne
Since that night in Oslo, a lot has happened in the life of this young and seemingly utterly fearless comedienne. Threats have come in a steady stream, mostly by mail but also over the phone. Shots have been fired at the Rehman family’s restaurant in the middle of the Norwegian capital.
“It is tough to be a female comedian in Norway,” said a grinning Shabana Rehman. “There is always somebody who wants to kill you.”
Not that these tough working conditions has made her consider a normal nine-to-five job. The mullah lift had the intended consequence – people laughed at the man as he lost touch with the ground, and gone was a lot of the fear that had been gripping the room. As a follow-up Shabana Rehman declared her own Jihad of Comedy against Islamists and their like.
”We need to laugh at those people and comedy is the way to go,” remarked Shabana Rehman to the audience’s applause.
Wery wery moderate extremist
This sentiment was fully shared by Danish-Iranian Farshad Kholghi. Not only in words but also in action. With his background as an actor and writer he gave a rousing parody of Mohammad al-Whatever, President of an organization called “Wery Wery Moderate Extremists”.
Disguised as a fire-breathing imam he poured scorn and curses over Denmark and all it stands for. The fun is impossible to do justice in words. Suffice it to say that rarely have people laughed this hard at any previous event organized by the Free Press Society.
The burka-man from Holland
The tone was more subdued when the Dutch cartoonist who goes under the pseudonym of Gregorius Nekshot entered the podium. His irreverent drawings poking fun at everything from Christianity and Islam to various secular ideologies have made him a man under threat. For that reason Nekschot appeared in a burka so as not to reveal his identity. As he made clear, he has ample reason to fear Muslim rage and reprisals if he were to show his face.
Muslims are not the only ones who in recent years have tried to make his life miserable. Almost three years ago he was arrested by Dutch police on suspicion of having offended against the country’s anti-discrimination laws. After a while he was released but it is yet to be determined whether his cartoons are offensive enough to warrant a trial.
License to kill
”A trial may be long and exhausting,” said Nekschot. “And if I am forced to appear in court without a veil, that will give every religious fanatic a ‘license to kill’”. As Nekschot explained, free speech in Holland has been changed into a sort of Russian roulette, whose outcome it is impossible to predict.
“In Holland freedom of speech has been subjugated to freedom of religion. With the support of the multicultural establishment religious people have the right to do whatever they think their religion demands of them. Critics of a multicultural utopia on the other hand have no rights. But as an artist I cannot accept these limitations. For me self-censorship is not an option,” said Gregorius Nekschot, who had brought his own bodyguard to the meeting and who hurriedly left the hall after his speech.