Artist convicted of racism speaks out

Firoozeh Bazrafkan was found guilty of racism for her comments about Muslim men, but she argues that anti-racism legislation is stifling the critique of religion

Danish-Iranian artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan was handed a 5,000 kroner fine on Monday when the Western High Court found her guilty of racism.

She was charged by Aarhus Police of violating anti-racism legislation, section 266 b of the penal code, after publishing a blog entry in Jyllands-Posten newspaper in December 2011, in which she stated:

"I am very convinced that Muslim men around the world rape, abuse and kill their daughters. This is, according to my understanding as a Danish-Iranian, due to a defective and inhumane culture – if you can even call it a culture at all. But you can say, I think, that it is a defective and inhumane religion whose textbook, the Koran, is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined."

Bazrafkan had appropriated the text from an article published by free speech activist Lars Pedersen, who had also been charged and convicted of racism after publishing it on the online newspaper

READ MORE: Danish-Iranian artist convicted of racism

An artist with a critical focus on Iran’s Islamic regime and religion in general, Bazrafkan argues in an interview with The Copenhagen Post that Danish anti-racism legislation should not apply to the critique of religion.

What is your reaction following the High Court’s ruling?

I’m not sorry for writing the blog in the newspaper but I am disappointed and angry because I should have the right to write and say what I want. My blog in Jyllands-Posten newspaper didn’t threaten anyone, it was a criticism of Islamic codes.

Your text was very similar to what Lars Andersen wrote and which resulted in him being convicted under the racism paragraph. Why did you choose to write it?

I copied his text and made some personal additions, that I was a Danish-Iranian. I wrote it as an artistic manifesto to show that we cannot say what we want and we cannot criticise Islamic regimes. I wanted to show Lars support because, as a Danish Iranian, I know what a big problem Islamic regimes are in both Iran and the Middle East. These Islamic codes give men the rights to do whatever they want to women and children and I think it’s disgusting. They also prevent people in Iran from discussing and saying what they want. This is what I wanted to criticise.

Can you not see why the court found your blog to be offensive?

The court argued that what I wrote about Muslim men was condescending and a generalisation. But that’s unfair, because there are many Islamic codes that are being used by Islamic men to justify their actions against women and children.

It’s important to remember that I did not write that ALL Muslim men committed horrible acts and used Islamic codes to justify them, I wrote that Muslim men around the world can do these things because it is allowed according to these codes. It’s not the same thing. For example, Muslims around the world protested at the Mohammed cartoons, and doctors around the world misdiagnose patients, but not all Muslims protested, and not all doctors misdiagnose.

But there are other religious codes in the world that restrict people’s rights. Are you unfairly singling Islam out for critique?

I have also been critical of Judaism and Christianity but I was born in Iran as a Muslim. I have family members in Iran who don’t have the same democratic rights and freedom to express their anger as I do. I do my best to get the point out in my artwork and installations because I want to criticise the Iranian regime my way. If I want to be angry, I should have the right to be angry and call the Islamic regime anything I want. The state shouldn’t go in and take my rights.

My point is that I want to give men and women the rights to write whatever they want, I don’t care if it’s stupid or well formulated, people should just have the right to say what they want so long as they don’t threaten other people.

Have you been threatened?

One person said he wanted to chop me up and feed me to his dogs. I reported it to the police but they didn’t charge him because the threats weren’t threatening enough. I also know that there are websites where the Iranian secret police discuss wanting to kill me because I am an apostate.

Can you see any need for anti-racism legislation?

My text criticised Muslim men, which does not constitute a race. The text is a critique of religion and the anti-racism legislation should not have applied, it shouldn’t be used to protect religion. We should be able to discuss it.  My right to criticise religion is even protected by article 10 of the European Court for Human Rights, which protects my freedom of expression and I was disappointed the court did not protect this right.