Monday, February 06, 2006

The Jyllands-Posten affair.

The whole Mohammed cartoon row in and outside of Denmark is quite alarming and depressing. I am gutted and disillusioned.

The angry muslim reaction feels like a stab in the back for those of us on the centre and left of Danish politics who have argued for tolerance. What can we now say, when the far-right tells us that muslims will never embrace the values of freedom and that immigration is undermining democracy?

In my view, the cartoons should be seen in the context of recent political history in Denmark. In the last 15 years the political debate has changed from tolerance of minorities to increased hostility, especially by the far right Danish People's Party which was founded in mid 90’s. The turning point, I believe, goes back to the Salman Rushdie affair in the late 1980’s. It was a shock for many Danes to see Danish muslims protesting against the freedom to publish The Satanic Verses. From then on the anti-immigrant voices in Danish politics were listened to by an increased section of society. The debate in Denmark has been fierce and has even intensified since the 2001 elections, which brought to power a Liberal-Conservative coalition supported by the Danish People's Party. Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons were, in this context, a protest against perceived censorship of those criticising islam.

I think Jyllands-Posten got it wrong, the public discourse in Denmark has up until now allowed criticism of all idiologies and religions. I also think that some of the pictures are offensive, even from a non-muslim point of view. Unfortunately, however, the cartoons have become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not just in the violence now being witnessed in the Middle East, but also in the voices of moderate muslim organisations in Europe and beyond who are calling for censorship.

I give up!


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