The US Presidential campaign is rocked by a cartoon on the cover of The New Yorker, but nobody is suggesting that the magazine should be pulled from the stands, or that Internet copies of it’s cover should be pulled from the Web. Pulling magazines from the stands, taking down websites or parts of websites, or arresting a cartoonist at his house with a small army of police officers – these are things we associate with such liberal democracies as Iran, Zimbabwe, or North Korea.
And with the Netherlands. The country of legalized prostitution, marijuana, gay marriages, and abortion, and generally relaxed morals has been cracking down on free speech recently, thanks to it’s governing coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and the small, strictly Protestant Christian Union party. The result of that coalition is a rather devilish concoction of Christian morals and Socialdemocratic belief in the ‘makeable society’ – basically a method of steering public opinion with careful propaganda and heavy-handed disapproval of dissenting voices.
Enter cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot – the pen name refers to a Chinese Communist execution method, the neck shot – who was arrested in his home by nine to twelve men (accounts differ) because some of his cartoons were judged to be insulting to Islam and ‘people of colour’. And, well, they are. I am sure they are. I myself find some of his work gross, bordering on racist, based on half-brained conspiracy theories about the multicultural society, and I wouldn’t buy a newspaper that prints them on a regular basis. But then, no paper hardly ever prints any of his work. And, as Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell puts it in this excellent write-up: Should [cartoonists] go too far? Of course we should.
Eventually, some of Nekschot’s stuff was pulled from his website – eight cartoons in total. And despite the international upheaval, with articles about Nekschot all over the western world, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin recently said that the attention for the case was “unjustified”. This is what liberal Holland has crumbled down to – a country where a small army of police officers raid a cartoonist’s house because of his drawings and a government which has nothing more to offer in reaction to that than a very, very, very thinly veiled attempt at downplaying the enormity of their blunder.
I can deal with the Muslim hunting that’s going on. It’s a passing fad and I believe it’s already losing ground. Nobody in their right mind honestly believes that the far right will ever be in a government coalition in the Netherlands. But this is of a different nature. These are mainstream parties and the Christian Democrats especially don’t look set to lose any ground at all over this. There’s every chance that they will be part of the next government as well. The trick is that the majority of the people simply do not care. Either they have never known what happened, or they have already forgotten, or they actually agree that the government should intervene when things go ‘too far’. They vote Christian Democrats mainly because they are not touched by all this. Things are good, aren’t they?
And that’s how it works. You cannot rob someone who’s awake. You have to wait until they are sound asleep, dreaming happy thoughts, and there’s no blogger loud enough to wake them. Panem et circences, it is still so true after all these centuries. Even in ‘liberal’ Holland.