Repeal of Danish Blasphemy Law Risks Inciting Ire Among Islamist Fanatics

While the repeal of Denmark's "largely outdated" blasphemy law was hailed as a move cementing the country's profile as a bastion of freedom of speech, it is also feared to have severe security implications.

Muslims gesture as one holds a Quran, during a protest against the publication by a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, outside the City Hall, in Copenhagen, Denmark (File) - Sputnik International
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The reason is that some people could possibly perceive the abolition of the blasphemy law as a green light for anyone hoping to incite religious tension by setting fire to symbols of faith. The change in legislation has already resulted in a notorious case against a Danish Quran burner being thrown out of court. Before this landmark decision, anyone deriding, insulting or ridiculing other people's religious beliefs risked being fined or imprisoned for up to four months.

However, the blasphemy clause was applied somewhat arbitrarily, as the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, which kindled anti-Danish disturbances both within the Nordic country and in the Muslim world, failed to invoke a trial. Following the Mohammed cartoons controversy in 2005, Denmark made many enemies with Muslims, invoking more resentment than its less contentious Nordic neighbors.

According to the former chief of the Danish Intelligence Agency PET, Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen, repealing the controversial law could elevate the risk of a terrorist attack, making the small nation a target for jihadists.

"This is violating that which is most sacred to some people, like the Prophet Muhammad or burning the Quran. This can contribute to an increased terrorism threat," Hans Jørgen Bonnichsen told Danish Radio.

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In May, PET warned that the repeal of the blasphemy clause could have security-related consequences for Denmark, "possibly intensifying the risk to Denmark and Danish interests abroad."

However, Danish Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen argued that the terrorist threat to Denmark is already so high that it would be actually difficult to raise it further, unless a concrete terrorist attack was to occur.

Earlier this year, Denmark banned six foreigners it had branded "hate mongers" from entering the country, following the publication of a corresponding blacklist. Although five people on the list were Muslim preachers, it also featured the Evangelical Florida pastor Terry Jones, who gained notoriety for burning copies of the Quran.

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In neighboring Sweden, a similar incident involving drawings of the Prophet Muhammad made by artist Lars Vilks in 2007 led to an elevated terrorist threat, as well as numerous death threats and actual attacks against the cartoonist, who was forced to hire bodyguards for personal security. The threats the Swedish Security Service received prior the 2010 Stockholm bombings that left one person dead and two injured also made a reference to the cartoons. Incidentally, the Copenhagen shootings in 2015 were carried out against a pro-free speech event featuring Lars Vilks as a special guest.

"Terror has become a normal phenomenon in Europe. Which of course does not mean we will accept it. Anyway, it will not disappear in the near future. Daesh and other groups are waging a low-intensity war against the western world," Swedish columnist Wolfgang Hansson wrote in his opinion piece in Aftonbladet on the latest wave of terrorist attacks across Europe.

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