Muhammad caricatures (1)
Freedom of suppression
(1) Freedom of Suppression
(2) But there is a context !
(3) We must learn to see our own cultural blindness
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Jyllands-Posten's drawings are
caricatures with a tendency. They associate the Prophet
with terrorism, criminality and repression of women. None
of them could possibly serve dialogue, mutual
understanding or much needed public education between
Danes and the Muslims anywhere. They are ill-willed.
The intensity of the negative
reaction may be surprising. But seen in the context of
our contemporary, globalizing world, their publication
was both thoughtless and purposeless. It reveals a
mind-boggling deficit in general education and good
Danish government has lost it
Worse, the Danish government
understood neither the affair nor the need for early
damage-limitation. Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen turned
down appeals for dialogue, following an established
pattern also in relation to Denmark's policy on Iraq and
immigration issues: by definition we make no mistakes and
have nothing to learn from anyone.
If the government had understood
the world and our times, it could have emphasized
Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the caricatures but
used the opportunity to strongly distance itself from
such counterproductive, offending activity.
The Prime Minister's and the
Foreign Minister's press conference in the afternoon of
February 7th amounted to little but yet another bout of
self-praise without the slightest hints at regret,
apology or reconciliation. The Prime Minister's emphasis
that he has the full support of George W. Bush - made in
a speech to the Muslim world - reveals that he has
understood deplorably little of that world.
this is freedom of suppression, not freedom of
One must welcome that
Jyllands-Posten's editor-in-chief has apologised for the
fact that they have provoked and offended so many; he
says they were not meant to (January 30, 2006). He
maintains that they were published as part of an "ongoing
debate on freedom of expression that we cherish so
highly." Fine and good - but how utterly blind
The freedom of expression argument
is phoney. That the free press exists is, at best, a
qualified truth. The way Western mainstream media treat
some contemporary issues, such as their government's
participation in wars, is only one of several examples of
self-censorship and propaganda in the service of power
rather than truth and freedom of opinion formation.
Freedom of the press has always also implied the freedom
to neglect and marginalise - for instance the larger
truth about how and why billions of people keep on living
in poverty. And it has meant a systematic orientation to
government policies rather than civil society.
Second, freedom of expression
implies responsibility. It doesn't equal a right to
humiliate, offend, demonise, defame or slander. Personal
maturity as well as cultured behaviour is also about
exercising sound judgment and knowing what to say and not
to say when - and why. Journalists can still exercise
respect, be polite, show empathy and be decent in their
dealings with fellow human beings, can't they?
Third, anyone who has travelled
outside her or his own culture knows that freedom of
expression, together with other so-called universally
accepted norms, must be interpreted in a context. No
culture or society wants to have foreigners'
interpretations imposed upon them. The generalised
Westerner - the teacher of the world, never the learner -
would strongly decline to have Muslim or Hindu
interpretations of those norms imposed on her or his
and institutionalised racism
I am a Danish citizen who has lived
33 years in Sweden. For shorter periods I have worked in
Somalia, the Balkans, Japan, Burundi and elsewhere. What
has happened the last decade or so in Denmark eludes me
both as a Dane and as scholar. I am afraid, indeed
frightened, when I ponder the consequences of what I
would call Western self-glorifying civilizational
dominance and institutionalised racism. So pervasive and
so "natural" has it become since the end of the old Cold
War that neither the Danes nor other Westerners in
general seem to see it. With the war on terrorism we are
already well into a new Cold War. For no good reason
except the human folly that stems from the combination of
cultural arrogance, absence of self-criticism and
Not for a second do I believe that
the Muhammad caricatures or the freedom of the press
argument is anything but the last straw in a series of
cultural blind humiliations of non-Westerners. They build
on centuries of humiliation and insensitivity of the
"other". We have become culturally blind and project our
own dark features upon others.
So lacking in empathy has Danish
politics become that the Danish Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Mr. Stig Moeller, repeatedly uses only one word:
Unacceptable! - but not about his own government's
immigration policies or its participation in genocide and
mass murder on the Iraqi people but - yes of course -
about the reactions throughout the Muslim world.
Increasingly these hours and days, commentators present
Denmark as a victim and the Muslim reactions as
exaggerated and staged.
Few Danes and few Danish media seem
willing to raise the broader contextual questions and ask
whether Denmark's policies - Iraq, immigration,
Islamophobia - could be the basic cause of all this.
see my country as a rogue state and I don't blame
Let's assume that the Danes and
their politicians still have manners and human maturity.
If so, they would recognise that now is the time for
modesty, self-reflection, apologies and reconciliation. A
civilisation that has none of it is decaying and, in the
process, also dangerous for itself and others. It becomes
a rogue civilisation.
These days I fear that Western
culture increasingly comes across as lacking both
empathy, open debate and the courage to say, We are
sorry! My native country is now a rogue state in the eyes
of millions of fellow human beings. Whether or not this
is a fair judgment of Denmark is not the issue. The issue
is that present Danish politics is a prime reason that
those millions hold that image.
We could well be witnessing the
beginning of a drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.
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