Elsewhere on the net I'm currently embroiled in a discussion about religion. Usually I would stay far away from such a discussion - I'm a self-identified secular humanist with a strong agnostic bent and the only form of religious belief I find difficult to accept is a fundamentalist one (whether this be Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindi, Atheist or whatever) - but someone invoked the post-2005 variant upon Godwin's Law: the darn Muhammed cartoons (first published in Denmark, of course). I could not stay silent because people invoke the cartoons and the public reaction without knowing anything about the actual context. It still bothers me after all these years. So I've been toying with the good, old internet and dug out my old, old blog post (back from when I wrote really long, really smart blog posts). A lot has changed since I first posted it back in 2006. Some of the key players have died or changed allegiance. The world has moved on. I'm not longer living in Denmark and is (thankfully) no longer privy to what passes for political debate. But it makes for interesting reading, still.
I cannot vouch for any of the links to actually work anymore and looking back, it's very much rooted in early 2006. But, enjoy, if you are so inclined. I have also posted all the comments I received.
Five days after I first mentioned the troubles caused by a Danish newspaper printing cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad, I think it is time to relinquish my “Bookish is not a political weblog” stance. I have been looking at many blogs in the past few days - ranging from rabid right-wing bloggers to casual people who have come across the story in their local news media. And things are taken out of context. Since sixty-five percent of my readership is not from Denmark, I am giving you what it looks like from here. I’m giving you the context.
1. The newspaper is the moderate to right-wing broadsheet Jyllandsposten which is the most hostile Danish newspaper as far as immigrants, other religions and cultures are concerned. Fact? Yes, academic reports carried out in the late 1990s showed that JP printed the largest number of xenophobic comments, letters and editorials out of all broadsheets and tabloids in Denmark. While JP is respectable, it functions as a platform for several far-right commentators such as Søren Krarup and Jesper Langballe of The Danish People’s Party.
2. Prior to publishing the cartoons the paper contacted several historians and academics specialising in religion and Middle-East cultures. The newspaper was told that printing the cartoons would add fuel to fire: Denmark has a very polarised immigration debate and has in recent years seen several prominent politicians calling Muslims “war criminals”, “rapists” and “cancer tumours”. I wish I were making this up. Despite being warned of the possible consequences, JP printed the cartoons and subsequently feinted ignorance and surprise by the reactions.
3. Playing right into the hands of JP and its right-wing stance: the ongoing battle for political power within Danish-Muslim circles. Several imams have played up the hostility and sought to stir up trouble thus gaining political power themselves. Abu Laban has been the most vocal and was recently caught on camera telling Danish journalists one thing and Arab news media another.
4. The initial political response came from a prime minister whose government depend on the Danish People’s Party’s votes to stay in power. Mr Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s government has kept a very strict immigration line throughout his years in power (challenged by human rights watchers, incidentally). The prime minister refused to meet with ambassadors requesting a meeting to discuss the cartoons and did not offer any comments until the past week.
That is the context. This is my reading:
The cartoons were deliberatedly published to promote an outcry from the Muslim community - particularly the orthodox part of the community. The outcry was desirable for the newspaper in sofar as it would further a political agenda. What nobody had anticipated was that the outcry would spread outside Denmark and cause an international crisis. Various parties and groups have subsequently sought to exploit the situation to further their own interests. At the heart of the matter is that two hardline groups are facing each other, lines have been drawn and I have no idea how this is going to end. Personally I hope that, despite my misgivings, Mr Fogh Rasmussen will act as a responsible statesman and seek consensus with moderate Muslim groups and parts both here in Denmark and abroad. Hopefully he will also realise what dallying with political agendas as promoted by the Danish People’s Party means.
Now back to assembling my bookcase. Any questions or comments are welcome if you seek more information on what is essentially a domestic problem gone global.