TCS Daily


Beware of the Fogh

By Val MacQueen - December 16, 2005 12:00 AM

Recently, when a Danish author complained that he couldn't find anyone to illustrate his book on the Muslim prophet, Mohammed, the cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten invited cartoonists to submit artwork for publication. Twelve responded, and, true to his word, editor Flemming Rose ran their cartoons in the newspaper.

As we know, depictions of Mohammed are forbidden by Islam. Muslim immigrants to Denmark made outraged representations to an unrepentant Rose, claiming that the newspaper had deliberately provoked and insulted Muslims. "This type of democracy is worthless for Muslims," Imam Raed Hlayhel wrote in a statement. "Muslims will never accept this kind of humiliation. The article has insulted every Muslim in the world. We demand an apology!" (A year earlier, Hlayhel had said in a Friday sermon that the way Danish women dress invites rape.)

Representations to the doughty Rose having failed to raise not only an apology, but an eyebrow, accredited ambassadors to Denmark from 10 Islamic countries (and Turkey, which is officially secular) piled in, demanding a meeting with the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Anyone in the least familiar with the Danes -- especially living in the country, as ambassadors are wont to do -- would have known that this would not work.

Demonstrating a dispiriting level of ignorance, the ambassadors appeared to think the chief executive in a democracy is the boss of newspaper editors and they were going over Rose's head by requesting the meeting. Imagine their surprise, therefore, when Rasmussen calmly declined to receive them, saying with the good humor and steeliness of purpose typical of Danes, "As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press -- nor do I want such a power. ... Some people say that the press needs to be constructive, and sometimes I also think that'd be nice. But who's to say what's constructive? That's an unfair demand to make. The press needs to be critical -- I need to bear that as prime minister, and religions must do so as well."

Later in October, death threats forced the Jyllands-Posten to hire guards to protect its employees. "We have taken a few necessary measures in the situation, as some people seem to have taken offence," said the newspaper's editor-in-chief in a radio broadcast.

A demonstration in Copenhagen by "as many as 5,000 Muslims" having failed to provoke a change of heart, in December, Danish Muslims announced they were sending "delegations" to a number of Islamic countries to meet with "senior officials and prominent scholars" although with what end in view they didn't say. A spokesman named Abu Laban stated, "We have fled our countries because we were denied freedom of expression so no one should play this tune with us. This is not a case of freedom of expression."

Meanwhile, cultural editor Flemming Rose denied that the purpose of publishing the cartoons had been to provoke Muslims. It was simply a reaction to the rising number of situations where artists and writers censured themselves out of fear of radical Islamists. "Religious feelings cannot demand special treatment in a secular society," he said. "In a democracy, one must, from time to time, accept criticism or becoming a laughingstock."

In November, the Turkish prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, boycotted a joint press conference with Rasmussen in Copenhagen. He was in the Danish capital as the first stop on a tour of EU countries to discuss Turkey's plea to join the EU. Rasmussen continued with the press conference without Erdogan, observing, "There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression."

In December, with depressing predictability, this domestic Danish issue came to the attention of the UN.

Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, not finding enough to occupy her with infractions of human rights in some of the more notorious thugocracies of the world, has found it in her heart to apologize to Muslims on behalf of the Danish government. According to the AP, Arbour wrote a letter to the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference noting: "I understand your attitude to the images that appeared in the newspaper. I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others. This kind of thing is unacceptable." The Organization of the Islamic Conference had stated that it needs the UN "to help control this encroachment on Islam so the situation won't get out of control." Two UN experts on religious freedom and "racism and xenophobia" are now investigating the outrage.

It gets even better. According to New Kerala.com, an Indian online newspaper, the excitable Kashmiris, high up in the Himalayas, closed their shops and declared a general strike protesting what they regard as an outrage by Denmark. A spokesman for the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front said, "By resorting to such acts, they have given enough evidence that they are against Islam."

Prime Minister Rasmussen, meanwhile, who has said all along that the correct place to settle grievances is a court of law, holds steady.

It's reassuring to know that the Danes are Vikings still.

Val MacQueen is a TCS contributing writer.

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5 Comments

Good article, but not all the story
Thank you for the article.

As a Dane I would like to give a few more inputs to the story as I see it. There are several issues compiled in the events.

Personally I dislike the provocation by the newspaper simply because it is a provocation for the sake of provocation. I do not like that. They have a right to do it, but that does not mean they are right to do it. The newspaper obviously cannot make that distinction.

But I must say that the prime ministers refusal to discuss this issue with ambassadors and others is the only appropriate response.

Lastly I must emphasise that the Muslim community as a whole have behaved exemplary. They are sad and mad, but I have not heard any outcry for a change of legislation. En essence they used their freedom of speech against the newspaper.

The newspaper only received one threat and that from a non-muslim mentally disturbed boy.

PS
The Turkish prime minister boycotted the joint press conference because one of the journalists came from a media, legal in Denmark, accused of having ties with PKK, a Turkish terrorist organisation.

Re: Leclerc
Do you think "life of Brian" is a provocation? Do you think "life of Kemal" will ever be made? and if not, what does this tell you about the Muslims?

Chera

seems funny to me
Pictures of the Islamic prophet have not always been forbidden and in some groups it's okay. The basic idea comes straight from the shared text of Jews, Christian and Muslims. It has motivated the reformation in Europe in which many works of art depicting god were destroyed. This hard line Islamic teaching is some areas is no different from what is being preached in many hardliner Christian churches. In today's climate a Muslim killing someone for insulting his god is more topical then a Christian killing a homo or a abortionist, or saying that women are asking for. Go on have a quick search see if you can't find pastors saying “women are asking for it” or that women should dress modestly. Why is it that when a fire banded mufti says it make front page but when a pastor say’s the conjuration nods in agreement.

When your words sound wrong in another mans mouth.....

Q&A
"Do you think "life of Brian" is a provocation?" No!
"Do you think "life of Kemal" will ever be made?" Dont know and dont care!
"and if not, what does this tell you about the Muslims?" Nothing!

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