The Norwegian press is commemorating the anniversary of the Mohammad cartoon debacle, with a lot of self-righteous pontificating about freedom of speech, etc. I write self-righteous because it would appear that most newspaper editors feel that "freedom of speech" means that they have the right to print whatever they want without being criticized or condemned. To criticize speech in Norway is - absurdly - an assault on the speech.
For most Norwegians, I suspect freedom of speech means "anything that I don't find annoying, offensive, or disagreeable."
You'd be hard pressed to find a more principled proponent of free speech than me. I think Nazis, racists, homophobes, antisemites, Holocaust deniers, and other despicable characters have every right to air their contemptuous convictions. I don't think it's an absolute right - it shouldn't be derived from people being hurt, and it shouldn't incite crime, for example. But if people want to let everyone know how just vile they are, I don't think a law should stop them, though hopefully decency might, in some cases.
The Mohammad cartoons were bad art. Some were indeed racist, and most have been offensive.
But wouldn't the world have been a better place if reputable newspapers didn't print them for that reason. Instead - as it turned out - they printed them just to show that they wouldn't be intimidated by threats of violence. Which, of course, opened them to the criticism that they did it to offend Moslems.
Back to the op-ed piece in Aftenposten. Knut Olav Åmås, the opinion editor in this paper, is full of contradictions. He quotes Ronald Dworkin's article in the New York Review of books, The Right to Ridicule, in which Dworkin writes: "So in a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended."
One wonders whether Åmås and his colleagues in Aftenposten exempt themselves from this principle, because they obviously don't think that Israelis, Jews, or anyone else has any right to question their motives or the quality of their work.
Quoting Sir Jonathan Sacks, Raanan Gissin, said that a "tsunami of antisemitism" is sweeping Norway, and this Ãmås thought was an example of Jews hysterically invoking victimhood. After the synagogue in Oslo was shot at, in spite of it being one of the most protected buildings in Oslo. Of course, Miryam Shomrat, Jo Benkow, and others have primarily directed their criticism against the Norwegian press and particularly Aftenposten, where is is the same Åmås published Gaarder's piece.
One might think Åmås is confused about key moral distinctions, but more likely he is overcome with a superiority complex, a sense that his office and person are above criticism, that freedom of speech is something he can claim for himself but can't accept from others. He is also probably a coward, knowing that offending Jews and Israelis is safe. The worst that's going to happen is that angry pieces like this appear on the Internet (since Aftenposten would never print them).
I find Aftenposten's editorial line and its news reporting highly offensive. I am not suggesting that Aftenposten be shut down or its editors jailed, fined, or otherwise punished. But nobody should hold back from criticizing them.