DENMARK is one of the least religious countries in the world; a poll has found that barely one in five Danes considers faith to be a really important factor in daily life. Yet as of this week, it looks as though Denmark may be one of the very few countries in the Western world where a blasphemy law is in active use.
The country’s state prosecution service has emphatically defended its decision to bring blasphemy charges (and the suggestion of a fine, not a prison term) against a 42-year-old man who burned a copy of the Koran in his garden and then posted a video of the deed on an anti-Islamic Facebook group. “Such an act may be a violation of the blasphemy section of the Criminal Code which concerns public mockery or scorn with reference to a religion,” a prosecutor said.
What lies behind this decision? It’s easy to think of reasons why the authorities in any Western country would view the public burning of Islam’s holy text as something against the public interest, an act to be discouraged in any possible way. When Pastor Terry Jones, a Florida-based preacher, threatened to to stage a Koran-burning spectacular, he was told by bigwigs like the then defence secretary, Robert Gates, and David Petraeus, perhaps America’s best-known general, that such an act would put many lives, including those of American soldiers, in danger. But utimately it proved impossible to prevent the pastor from carrying out his incendiary acts, given that country’s robust tradition of freedom of religious and anti-religious expression.
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