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The Muhammad Caricatures (2)
But there is a context!


PressInfo # 233

 February 9, 2006


Jan Oberg, TFF director

Muhammad (1) Freedom of Suppression

Muhammad (2) But there is a context !

Muhammad (3) We must learn to see our own cultural blindness

Denne artikel på dansk

Denna artikel på svenska

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 and stability.

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 of?

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.


The 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 Defence.

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 economy.


Denmark 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 anti-Semitism.

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.

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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 changed.

And Denmark now does have bad will in the world.


Denmark 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 world.

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 world citizens.

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.

Forsoning nu (Reconciliation now)

Another Denmark

And here you find a statement from Arab and Muslim youth to further reconciliation from their side
We are sorry, Norway and Denmark


Muhammad Series 1 Number 2 Number 3



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