February 12, 2006

Slow motion sinking

Top thing I've been meaning to blog.
Thank you Jon Stewart for putting this all into perspective for me.
You watch the cars crash in slow motion, with fascination and a sinking feeling in your stomach.
I can't see how anyone involved has done anything right.
1. Jyllands-Posten and the Danish character. Basically Danes see it as part of their duty as humans to say what they think and do what they please. They are honest and blunt and you know where you stand with them. When the editor of the paper 'The Jutland Mail' heard that they couldn't get an illustrator to draw Mohammed for a children's book because everyone was scared, he took it as a double dog dare. The Danes are naive. Its a small country, land of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales, world's oldest monarchy and world's oldest flag. And like the rest of Scandinavia they have put their backs and their wallets into helping the third world, and being the good world citizens that they are it is double dog galling to find their flag being used as a welcome mat on the steps of mosques around the world. In order to see what the editor is not seeing, think of the United Kingdom which has a long proud tradition of a free press, the bane of politicians to left and right. The British newspapers all refuse to print the pictures! Good for them. Freedom of the press is a right, but sound judgment is a responsibility. One guy wrote into the Swedish paper saying that when he was a boy his grandma told him that it may be fun to throw rocks at a hornets nest, but its also stupid. The pictures were printed a half year ago and I knew at the time that they were going to mean trouble.
2. About three months ago the ambassadors of 12 Arab nations requested an audience with the Prime Minister of Denmark and he refused, saying that they didn't have anything to talk about. He is standing on the principle that the newspapers are free to do as they please and so he has no authority over or responsibility for what they print. But why couldn't he have just taken an hour out of his busy schedule and sat down with these gentlemen, served coffee and Danishes (or those Danish butter cookies with the crunchy sugar crystals sprinkled on top, they're even better), and explained this? And perhaps commented that personally he found the pictures insulting? That is the reason people pay taxes, very high taxes, in Denmark: to get a government that does something. For a politician, meeting with politicians should be like breathing air. The effect was to add insult to injury-- no, I mean to add insult to insult, insults to people who in many cases have little else than their honor. Due to omission by Anders Fogh Rasmussen the affair became a double dog insult to the Imams of Denmark.
3. One of the leading Imams of Copenhagen, Abu Laban, sent delegations throughout the Muslim world to explain to the leaders of these countries the state of affairs in Denmark and Western Europe. A scholar living in Egypt noticed a funny thing about the newspaper articles that started appearing: they all contained the same mistruths, for example not only were they drawing cartoons of the prophet, the Danes were also preparing a censored version of the Koran, etc. The delegations carried copies of the cartoons and copies of other pictures to show to the Muslim leaders. One of the other pictures was of a man with a beard wearing a pig snout mask and pig ears, and the delegations said this was an example of how Muslims were being insulted. (It turned out that this was a picture of a Frenchman taking part in his village's annual pig festival.)
4. It is obvious that the governments of every Muslim nation want to be on the right side of this issue, and outdo each other in their outrage. In these countries there is often no such thing as a free press, and so the people do not understand why it is not possible for the Prime Minister of Denmark to take responsibility.
5. Denmark has a coalition government and one of the parties is the xenophobic Danish People's Party, lead by Pia Kaersgaard. This week her column on the party website is titled 'Seeds from weeds: The enemy within has pushed Denmark into an uncontrollable situation.' (The weeds are the Muslim immigrants, in her view). The government relies on this party to stay in power and so they have been able to push through a lot of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant reforms in the last three years. And so there is understandable frustration on the part of Muslims living in Denmark that adds fuel to the fire.
6. People have been attacking my country and burning its flag for longer than I've been around, but all of this is new to Danes. Its a small country and they must feel very exposed. It has meant a lot to the people I've talked to that many leaders have stepped forward to express their support-- Spain, UK, US, NATO, etc. This is a time when friendships count. And so it has not helped one bit that the only thing that the Swedish prime minister had to say was, 'That isn't how I would have handled it.'


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