Muhammad Caricatures (2)
But there is a context!
(1) Freedom of Suppression
(2) But there is a context !
(3) We must learn to see our own cultural blindness
artikel på dansk
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The general media coverage in the
West focuses on the 12 caricatures of the Prophet in the
Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. This focus is too narrow in
both time and space; it makes the outrage in the Arab
"street" incomprehensible and exaggerated.
The Danish Television and other
media have now angled the affair in a particular
direction: Denmark and the Danish government is almost
innocent, Denmark has been misunderstood and is a victim
of mean propaganda; the reaction is unreasonable and the
protesters throughout the Muslim world are uneducated
mobsters while their moderate leaders actually understand
the situation and want co-operation, Danish export goods
We are told, so too on CNN, how
Denmark's diplomacy is working 24/7 to make it all good
again, George W. Bush supports Denmark and soon the case
will - it is implied - hopefully be forgotten and
business resume again.
Just a couple of question that
are left unasked: Why Denmark? Why now and what could the
"exaggerated" Muslim reaction be indicative
There was a time when Denmark,
together with other Nordic countries, were seen as model
societies by many around the world: humanitarian,
welcoming of and in solidarity with suffering people,
democratic, welfare-, gender- and equality-oriented and
with a strong commitment to international law and the
norms of the United Nations.
They had good will in the world.
Denmark that has changed so much
With the end of the Cold War and
the decay of the Social Democratic movement - you may say
that it was victorious unto death - a neo-liberal,
interventionist one-way-only policy took hold. Prime
Minister Fogh Rasmussen spearheaded what he called a
"cultural struggle" to make up with what the new
government perceived as earlier government's socialist
and pro-Soviet/anti-American leanings and the alleged
pro-Soviet "footnote" role of Denmark in NATO.
Next, it turned to gain control of
free research and destroyed a series of reasonably
independent institutes dealing with global affairs,
including the well-respected Copenhagen Peace Research
Institute. The board of its newly created Danish
Institute of International Studies is chaired by a former
Minister of Foreign Affairs; all its security and defence
research is financed by the Danish Ministry of
One may say that this
neo-liberal-conservative leadership of Denmark sought
systematically to eliminate opposition, relied upon the
populist Danish People's Party and took a revenge
inspired by both Bolshevism (integrated party and
state functions, centralised leadership and spin-doctor
propaganda), interventionism with a mission
civilisatrice - remember it had declared a cultural
revolution! - and fundamentalism in the sense of
negating constructive ideals such as unity in diversity
and classically liberal ideas of freedom.
Under the Social Democratic
leadership, Denmark participated in bombing Yugoslavia.
Without even an attempt at independent analysis, it stood
"shoulder to shoulder" with George Bush's war on terror
and the 7th of October destruction of Afghanistan.
With the Soviet Union long gone,
triumphalism reigned, no moderation needed. The other
side had been wrong, so - by definition - we are right.
The West and little Denmark with it would now rule the
world under U.S. leadership. Some of us were surprised to
learn that, according to opinion polls, a comfortable
majority of the Danes stood behind all of this, turned
their backs to the larger world and their faces to the
new consumerism made possible by the thriving Danish
at war in more than one way
The present government took Denmark
into the moral and political catastrophe called the war
on Iraq. The largest Danish corporation, A.P.
Møller-Mærsk is heavily involved in
war-related business, not the least in the war on Iraq.
Denmark has recently had its military industry generously
rewarded by huge contracts for the Ballistic Missile
Defence. Secretary Rumsfeld has decorated the Danish
Minister of Defence with a medal. Right after the
invasion of Iraq the Danish prime minister received an
honorary doctoral degree in the US.
In the eyes of quite a few around
the world, the Danish government comes across as a far
too loyal henchman of Washington, regrettably the
government most despised at the moment in the Muslim
world, if not the whole world. The friend of my enemy is
my enemy too, as the saying goes.
Finally, there is Denmark's drift
towards xenophobia in general and Islamophobia in
particular - the latter consisting of various mixtures of
elements such as the condemnation of the Islam and its
history as extremist, ignoring the moderate Muslim
majority, regarding Islam as a problem for the world,
treating conflicts involving Muslims as necessarily their
own fault, insisting that Muslims make changes to their
religion and society, believing that the Christian West
has a special right to bring reforms to Muslim society
and inciting war against Islam as a whole.
The way Denmark and other Western
countries have treated the Iraqi and Palestinian peoples
is based on one or more of these ingredients of
Islamophobia. Had anything similar been done to Jews, it
would immediately have been condemned as
These features of contemporary
Danish society need no elaboration here. Over the last
decades or so it has been a deliberate political
philosophy driven by, among others, the Danish People's
Party - top-down you may say - but it has also resonated
in considerable segments of the populace. Ever increasing
opportunities for material consumption combined with a
turning their backs on the larger world and with the
virtual demise of the social democratic influence may -
may - serve as central features in this development.
Thus, in the age of globalization
Denmark and the Danes appear surprisingly complacent and
self-oriented - self-asserting if not self-righteous.
Compared with the past, there is surprisingly little
debate about, say, world poverty or the Millennium Goals.
None of these Danish policies nor the military presence
in Iraq causes debate the way we witness in, say, the
U.S., the U.K., or Italy.
The Danish economy has developed
extremely well; for most Danes consumerism is the most
important or the only "ism" cherished. When they and
their parliamentarians think of the world they think the
European Union - 8% of the world's citizens. Like in the
United States, what is outside the Union is uncharted,
foreign and dangerous. The word solidarity - meaning a
commitment also to humanity outside Europe - has
virtually disappeared from the political discourse. The
famous Danish ability to "hygge sig" - to have a nice,
cosy time - has transformed itself into convenient
disregard for the larger world.
Innocent and with surprised,
Denmark now discusses "why they hate us" - not what has
happened in Denmark.
Information travel fast around the
world. People have noticed that Denmark has
And Denmark now does have
bad will in the world.
can still choose
To summarize, there is a
context to the Muhammad caricatures. If that context is
addressed, Denmark - its government and people - would
have to ask: What have we done wrong in the eyes of so
many during the last 10-15 years? That would open for
some kind of learning and long- term reconciliation with
the perceived enemies.
But if that context is ignored,
Denmark will react only with self-pity, feeling
misunderstood and sink deeper into it cultural
insensitivity and institutionalized lack of
self-criticism and empathy. This means more conflict in
Denmark and more conflict between Denmark and the Muslim
So far the Danish government and
the Danish media - yes, of course there are some
exceptions - have taken the latter, context-free, road.
It bodes ill. It provides no opening to healing. It will,
whether intended or not, enrage even more of our fellow
So, what offers hope in this
darkness? Well, that so many Danish citizens discuss the
issue like never before. And there are three websites
where they express their disagreement with their
government and act for peace. I hope millions in the
Muslim world will see it and dialogue with these -
constructive - Danes.
nu (Reconciliation now)
And here you find a statement from
Arab and Muslim youth to further reconciliation from
are sorry, Norway and Denmark
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