Stirring shit has consequences
Rotten judgment in the state of Denmark
The Danish paper that printed the cartoons wanted to stir up trouble -- and the government wanted a culture war. They got more than they bargained for.
By Jytte Klausen
Feb. 08, 2006 | .............The modern myth of "the little tolerant people," rooted in a group of Danes who risked their lives to save Jews from Nazi deportation in 1943, has died.
In the past five years, I have interviewed 300 Muslim leaders in Western Europe about their views and solutions for the integration of Islam. It has long been evident to me that religious toleration and reverence for human rights have been sorely lacking in Denmark. The debate now raging over the caricatures has tilted on the defense of free speech -- but a deep and unflinching commitment to free speech is not really the mission of the paper at the center of the maelstrom, nor of the present Danish government.
But don't let the blond wood deceive you. Jyllands-Posten is a conservative paper and it has always minded the religious and political sensitivities of its readership, the Lutheran farmers and the provincial middle class.
The Economist called the Danish cartoons a "schoolboy prank." That describes them pretty well, but I like a few of them nonetheless. .......................The rest are a predictable mix of self-righteous, unfunny commentary and depictions of shady-looking faces with big, bulbous noses and blood-dripping swords. They tab popular prejudices about Muslims as war-mongering and misogynistic blackbeards. They are the pebble that started a tsunami -- but they were never meant to be innocent.
The cartoons started out as a gag, the kind you do when the news is slow. Flemming Rose, the paper's culture editor, decided last summer that he was fed up with what he described as the spreading "self-censorship" on matters related to Islam, so he solicited cartoonists for drawings of "how they saw the Prophet." On Sept. 30, 12 cartoons were published under the headline "Mohammed's Face." ............................
This all would have been very well if the paper had a long tradition of standing up for fearless artistic expression. But it so happens that three years ago, Jyllands-Posten refused to publish cartoons portraying Jesus, on the grounds that they would offend readers. According to a report in the Guardian, which was provided with a letter from the cartoonist, Christoffer Zieler, the editor explained back then, "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them." When confronted with the old rejection letter, the editor, Jens Kaiser, said, "It is ridiculous to bring this forward now. It has nothing to do with the Mohammed cartoons." But why does it not? Can you offend Muslim readers but not Christian readers? "In the Muhammed drawings case, we asked the illustrators to do it. I did not ask for these cartoons," Kaiser said. "That's the difference."
And therein lies the truth. The paper wanted to instigate trouble, just not the kind of trouble it got. And in this mission it acted in concert with the Danish government. "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid," boasted the minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, in a speech at his party's annual meeting the week before Rose's cartoon editorial last fall. Mikkelsen is a 39-year-old political science graduate known for his hankering for the "culture war." He continued, "The Culture War has now been raging for some years. And I think we can conclude that the first round has been won." The next front, he said, is the war against the acceptance of Muslims norms and ways of thought. The Danish cultural heritage is a source of strength in an age of globalization and immigration. Cultural restoration, he argued, is the best antidote.
The Danish government has protested that Danish Muslims and the Islamic countries have conspired in a misinformation campaign regarding both the paper's motives and the law of the land. Among the examples of preposterous misinformation are that the paper is run by the government, and that the government can do anything to regulate what is said or not said. While radical Islamists have exaggerated and exploited these themes to incite violent protest, the painful reality is that there is some truth to them. The paper is related to the government, not by ownership but by political affinity and history. And Denmark is no paragon of free speech. Article 140 of the Criminal Code allows for a fine and up to four months of imprisonment for demeaning a "recognized religious community."
Mogens Glistrup, a tax protester turned xenophobe, was imprisoned for 20 days last year for a racist speech. He compared Turks to rabbits.
The Danish right has only recently been converted to the free speech principle, and has its own idea of how to use it. ..................
. Two of the party's members, Jesper Langballe and Soren Krarup, both pastors in the Lutheran National Church, have described Muslims as "a cancer on Danish society" in speeches in parliament.
Therefore the question is, if the Western press has a moral obligation -- and in countries with blasphemy laws, also a legal one -- to be equally respectful to Muslims and Christians? Some conservatives in this country are saying, as did the British ultra-conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, who thinks respect is a basic building bloc of society, "If we mock the religious taboos of Muslims we pour scorn on the icons of Christianity." Meanwhile, writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens screamed, "Offend them!"
But neither Europe's growing domestic problems with religious pluralism nor a Danish newspaper's clumsy provocation of local Muslims explain the unwanted international crisis we are suddenly faced with. Rather, the cartoons apparently provided a grand opportunity to extremists: for radical elements in Islamic countries rife with internal dissent, and for right-wing extremists in Denmark and Europe, to mobilize supporters from the disaffected. Among the victims are the moderate Muslims in Europe and worldwide, who now find themselves increasingly wounded in the crossfire between xenophobes and Islamists.
posted by Steve @ 11:23:00 AM