February 4, 2006
A Danish perspective on the "Cartoon Crisis"By Martin Ostergaard
Denmark is a small country that has always tried to keep an objective and fair spirit in international conflicts, even when taking sides, not shying away from criticizing allies when it is due. In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, this was done by sending out the Corvette Olfert Fischer in a strictly support—only role; The operation was aptly named "FARAWAY", and started a new era in Danish defense politics.
This trend recently culminated in Danish troops being stationed in Iraq during the 2003 invasion by the coalition forces. As a result of this objectivity and sense of fairness, Denmark has not been a major target of criticism by any nation or terrorist group. Until now.
The Danes were once described as a people who "wear a silk glove over an iron fist." While we tread lightly and try not to offend anyone, any direct attack on our way of life is met with much opposition from civilians and officials alike.
A unique political climate has been cultured in Denmark, based around both democracy and the right to free speech, but also founded in the belief that all people should be as equal as possible, even financially. This has created a one—of—a—kind blend between classical liberal and socialist values, which has served Denmark well for most of the last century.
With the need for a larger work force during the 1970's, Denmark invited immigrant workers to move into the country. This worked well and the (mainly Turkish) workers integrated well into Danish society. Following this positive experience for both sides, many immigrants and refugees came here during the next 3 decades, mainly from the areas around the Middle East. Today a substantial portion of Danish society is made up of these people and their descendants, and a cultural saturation limit seems to have been reached.
With national tension mounting because of a steadily growing cultural schism between multi—generation Danes and more recent residents with a Muslim background, rovocations and more extreme political views have become harder to ignore.
Several isolated incidents have provoked a less tolerant public attitude toward the growing Muslim community. Most notably, a series of gang rapes, by young Muslim men against young women of both Danish and Middle Eastern descent, but also unrest in the second largest Danish city, Aarhus, directly prior to and during the recent riots in France.
The Aarhus violence resulted in several local businesses being vandalized, and the local police being warned to stay away from the young men's turf.
There is no doubt in many Danish people's minds, that some kind of clash is inevitable, and the growing frequency of troubling events breaking out seem to support this notion. This is mostly evident in the youngest immigrant population; Statistics from the Copenhagen Police Department show that 82% of youths under the age of 18 appearing before a judge are from immigrant families.
In September 2005, Jyllands Posten decided to publish 12 caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed, as a response to criticism of depictions of the Prophet in a book about his life. Several of the artists presented in that book did not want their names published along with it, for fear of retribution. The thinking behind Jyllands Posten's bold move, was to show support for the artists and to make a statement about free speech.
Since then a small delegation of Muslim religious leaders who reside in Denmark have been on a tour of various Muslim states in order to bring attention to this fairly straightforward case. Unfortunately they did not stop at the facts.
Disinformation was fabricated in order to characterize the Danish population and government as fiercely anti—Muslim. Several new drawings were added likening Muhammed to a pig, as well as statements to the effect that Danish citizens were under the impression that the Prophet was a violent pedophile.
Suddenly a display of free speech had turned into blasphemous slander, which naturally enraged all of the Muslim world. Throughout all of this, several of the religious leaders responsible for the disinformation, had been feeding sweet words of reason to the Danish press with one hand and more disinformation to the Arab press with the other.
This has further outraged the Danish population, and with it, most of Europe, invoking many newspapers to print the caricatures or versions of them in protest. Even Muslim residents in Denmark felt like targets of unfair attention for what a small handful of men had done. In general most Danes seem to take comfort in the fact that news media and private citizens of other countries sympathize with us in this situation.
As of yesterday, February 3rd 2006, Abu Laban, one of the imams in the infamous disinformation delegation, spoke out in his weekly prayer meeting to hundreds of Muslims and representatives of the press, about calming the waters and working in unison to reach a mutually beneficial goal. A statement that is bound to be met with skepticism, considering his track record. Only time will truly tell if this turnaround is as sincere as the words indicated. In the meantime the Danish government will be looking into deportation and/or denial of reentrance for some of the imams in the delegation. Also further restrictions on immigration are possible within the near future.
Finally, rumors of new terrorist attacks being planned are reaching the news, and in light of recent events, many Danes have more than a passing fear that these will be brought against us. Paradoxically we are oddly distanced from the possibility at the same time, since this kind of threat has never before been a serious consideration.
It seems the gloves will be coming off.
Martin Ostergaard resides in Denmark.