Sweden: is "so-called straightforwardness” more dangerous than the death of free speech?

The Death of Free Speech in Sweden

Posted By Bruce Bawer On March 22, 2012  In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 38 Comments

Earlier this month, under the headline “Words are not innocent,” the Swedish newspaper Dagbladet ran an opinion piece by its cultural editor, Kaj Schueler, which was, essentially, an attack on Sweden’s newly minted Free Press Society.  It was one of several such attacks directed at the organization in recent weeks by members of Sweden’s mainstream media, all of which made essentially the same arguments as Schueler – who, early in his article, summed up his position as follows: “According to the Free Press Society, we no longer have real freedom of speech in Sweden.  They are wrong – we have it.  But since words are not innocent, there are limits to free speech.”

As the rest of Schueler’s article made clear, he wasn’t referring here to the kind of reasonable “limits” on free speech that prohibit, for example, direct incitement to violence and murder.  No, he was talking about much broader and vaguer and more pernicious “limits” – the kind that ban, for example, “offensive” statements, or, more specifically, statements that certain groups of people might object to as “offensive.”

Which groups?  Well, groups like the Muslims who are an increasingly formidable presence in Sweden, notably in the southern city of Malmö, where their presence has caused an increasing amount of what may euphemistically be described as social friction.  Thanks to a rising tide of anti-Semitic activity by Muslim youth, for example, more and more Jews are abandoning Malmö for other parts of Sweden or for Israel.  Schueler sought to blame Malmö’s problems not on Muslims (needless to say) but on (of all people) the Danes.

His argument?  Malmö, owing to its geographic proximity to Denmark, has been influenced not only by Danish music, drama, film, literature, and cuisine, but also by political ideas that, in Schueler’s view, have poisoned Denmark and threaten to poison Sweden, too.  Among these ideas: “biker-gang culture, hatred for immigrants, and so-called straightforwardness.”

Ah yes, the poison of straightforwardness!  Ask any honest broker who is familiar with the looming disaster that is now Malmö and they will not mention “biker-gang culture.”  They will, if they are candid enough, tell you about the proliferation in Malmö of other types of gangs with another type of “culture.”  They will not talk about “hatred for immigrants” but about immigrants from the Muslim world who, with increasing audacity and arrogance,  have made very clear their contempt for the West, for democracy, for sexual equality, for Christianity and Judaism, for freedom of speech and religion, for gays, and for the traditional culture and social values of the country in which they live.  But no, Schueler was not about to enter that territory.

“In Denmark as in Sweden,” lectured Schueler, “it is sometimes argued that there are only certain things that should be said, thought, and debated when it comes to topics like feminism, Islam, immigrants, cultural differences, crime, and multiculturalism.  If you do not take a politically correct stance on these questions, it is said, you are excluded from the media.”  Schueler put this in such a way as to seem to be suggesting that such claims are ludicrous – that accusations of censoriousness on the part of the Swedish media are false – even though the whole point of his article was, in fact, to defend this censoriousness as the only appropriate posture for responsible journalists to take.

Which brings us back to the Free Press Society, which was founded precisely in response to this insidious pattern of censoriousness.  The group is modeled on the Danish organization of the same name, established in Copenhagen in 2004 by Lars Hedegaard, who, as Schueler was quick to inform his readers, has “expressed strong anti-Muslim views” and “has been convicted of racist statements in accordance with the Danish equivalent of the law on incitement to racial hatred.”  The truth of the matter is that Hedegaard’s “crime” was stating objective facts about Islamic belief and practice, including the religion’s deplorable treatment of women – and stating them, moreover, in a private conversation in his own home.  Schueler wrote as if Hedegaard’s conviction on such charges proves that he is a disreputable character, when in fact what it proves is that, when it comes to freedom of speech, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark.

There was more.  Hedegaard, it seems, gave a talk at the opening of Malmö’s Free Press Society, and Schueler quoted a remark apparently made by him on that occasion in which he acknowledged the centrality to Islam of the commandment to bring the whole world under Islamic domination.  Schueler made no comment about Hedegaard’s remark – which was a simple statement of fact – presumably because Schueler was confident that for his readers, as for him, the remark itself constituted transparent proof of Hedegaard’s dangerous extremism.

Schueler’s conclusion: the Free Press Society in Malmö, like its original in Copenhagen, “is not about defending freedom of expression or freedom of the press,” but is rather about defending “extremist” opinions of “certain groups and phenomena,” namely “Muslims, multiculturalism, and feminism,” and is thus, ultimately, about spreading and intensifying bigotry.  “In Sweden, as in Denmark,” proclaimed Schueler, “freedom of speech and of the press has its limits. Laws…have been enacted to prevent racist and extremist persecution of Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, and other minorities. Unfortunately, this has been necessary, for words are neither neutral nor innocent.”

And so ended his article.  This, mind you, from a newspaper editor.  Needless to say, the notion that Muslims in the West are the subjects of “extremist persecution” is a cornerstone of politically correct thinking in Europe, as it is in North America.  But while journalists like Schueler, in addition to propagating this falsehood, may be willing to admit, as he does, that Jews and gays in Europe are the objects of widespread abuse, they prefer to avoid the ticklish fact that the perpetrators of this abuse are overwhelmingly Muslim.  Nor do they particularly wish to discuss such topics as the subordination of women under Islam or the very real – and systematic, widespread, and brutal – persecution of Christians and Jews in Muslim countries.  It is the right to address such truths with candor and courage that the Free Press Society exists to protect.

On March 17, Free Press Society founder Ingrid Carlqvist penned a highly apposite reply to Schueler, noting that if he doesn’t recognize “that free speech is threatened in Sweden” it “is because he, like nearly all other Swedish journalists, has completely failed to perform his duty.”  She quoted the late historian Knut Carlqvist (apparently no relation): “The Swedish media have never realized that their job is to keep an eye on the state and power. They think their job is to educate the people” – in other words, to echo the political establishment’s line and do their best to ensure, day by day, that the Swedish people toe that line.

The Free Press Society exists, Ingrid Carlqvist explained, to resist that lockstep tendency – “to highlight and publicize the many issues to which Sweden’s mainstream media respond with silence.”  She asked why Schueler and other Swedish journalists “are so fearful of me and the Free Press Society? Because I know their agenda inside out. With over thirty years’ experience in Swedish newsrooms, I know exactly what kind of talk goes on among my colleagues.”  She pointed out that Schueler and other critics of her group could have “respond[ed] to us with substance”; instead, by engaging in the usual name-calling, labeling the Free Press Society as a bunch of racists, Nazis, and Islamophobes, Schueler and his ilk have simply demonstrated that everything the group says about the Swedish media’s modus operandi is absolutely correct.

The Swedish media’s demonization of the Free Press Society has already, alas, proven effective: as Carlkvist noted, her organization had to cancel an event on the topic “Gender Studies at the Universities: Science or Madness?” because a witch hunt on Twitter had resulted in cancellations by two of the three scheduled presenters.  (One of them blogged that he had withdrawn from the event after discovering that the Free Press Society stands for “xenophobic values that I do not share and do not want to be associated with.”)

Carlkvist ended her piece with a grim but incontrovertible affirmation: there is no free speech in Sweden.  “A country where journalists serve the power structure and see it as their most important responsibility to ‘educate people’ is in desperate need of a Free Press Society.  When people have forgotten that it was the silence and fear of not thinking like everyone else that brought the Nazis to power in Germany, then we are in trouble.”  Indeed.  If any country needs a Free Press Society, it’s Sweden.  Best of luck to Carlkvist and her gutsy colleagues.  They’ll need it.