Danish Pastry Cooking?

As the Quartet of would-be Mideast peacemakers meets in huddled session, and as Angela Merkel does some plain talking, another closely related issue is going the rounds today (and this, and this):

“In a demonstration on the West Bank, members of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened Danes in the area and told them to leave immediately, the Danish news agency Ritzau reported on Sunday. The demonstrators burned the Danish flag and called on the Palestinian authorities to cut diplomatic ties with Denmark, Ritzau said.”

“Libya has said it is closing its embassy in Denmark in protest against a series of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.”

“A roadside bomb targeted a joint Danish-Iraqi military patrol near the southern city of Basra on Monday — the first attack on Danish troops since protests against a Danish newspaper for publishing widely criticized caricatures of Islam’s prophet.”

Danish Blogger Claus Vistessen has the story as it is seen from inside Denmark:

Four months ago the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten posted 12 drawings of the muslim prophet depicting him as they saw him but with a clear provocative bordering to tactless zeal … the most notable drawing was one showing Muhammed, with a turban containing a large bomb.

The cartoons resulted in immediate protests and demonstrations from Muslims in Denmark, but to sum it all up; two very important things happened as a result of the drawings.
Continue reading here.

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About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

31 thoughts on “Danish Pastry Cooking?

  1. Can one mock Mohammed without mocking Islam? There is scant understanding in the Muslim World that what we in Europe find ludicrous, repulsive and a suitable subject for satire is not the deep spirituality of Islam but fundamentalist attitudes to religious dogma of any creed. To abandon the right to express that distaste is not a concession we should make, whatever respect is due to the sensibilities of religious minorities in our midst.

    We cannot grant any historical or mythological figure immunity from ridicule – our efforts should go towards protecting minority communities from malice and discrimination. Which leaves us with the problrm of coming to terms with a culture that has never thrown up a Jean Meslier.

  2. “How many caricatures has this paper published with, say, Jesus shooting at doctors coming out of an abortion clinic ?”

    This may be an appropriate comment on the editorial line of the periodical in question. But doesn’t it duck the real issue? Isn’t free speech about I may disagree with you, but I’ll defend, with my life if need be (which may not be entirely beyond the point here) your right to say it.

    Salman Rushdie may or may not have been ill-advised to write Satanic Verses, only he can decide that, but his having written the book all whole believe in democracy have an obligation to defend and protect him, don’t they?

  3. “Isn’t free speech about I may disagree with you, but I’ll defend, with my life if need be (which may not be entirely beyond the point here) your right to say it.”

    Of course as soon as I write this I have to recognise that this wasn’t the principal applied in the James Kirkup blasphemy case in the UK, and Scorcese and Mel Gibson have not had a completely problem-free time either. So I don’t disagree that we need a universal standard here. All or nothing.Maybe this case can help us reach towards that.

    Aids in Africa might be a much more cutting version of what you are insinuating Hans.

    Perhaps the equivalent image here would be one of Jesus turning his back on a funeral cortege in Africa. John’s point (see above) would be I imagine that you could conceivably find this type of image in a magazine with a title like “what it means to be a catholic today”.

    Of course, you even find Christian theologians who deny that God exists but still remain Christian. Hermeneutical interpretation of the Koran may not have reached quite this stage yet.

    Then again, remember my point that the Catalan journalist Io Forn is being referred by the Minister of Defence here in Spain to the Director of Public Prosecutions for ridiculing General Mena Aguado and his fellow would-be Golpistas by suggesting that their mothers were women of ill repute.

  4. Salman Rushdie may or may not have been ill-advised to write Satanic Verses, only he can decide that, but his having written the book all whole believe in democracy have an obligation to defend and protect him, don’t they?

    You would get a lot of entirely democratic votes banning his books. This is about free speech. This is the central problem. We are facing a democratic, but illiberal mass movement.

  5. I had written about just this type of incident on the thread about Victor Davis Hanson much critisized “open letter to Europe”. Hanson is a right wing nut, but he has a point about some “western values” that are worth defending. Lampooning of western symbols is expected and tolerated anywhere in the West (save bible-belt usa). In fact this type of outrage in the west is reserved for people like Hanson who are proud of western symbols. In the west, nothing is sacred…every other culture seems to take itself very seriously. Comments?

  6. How many caricatures has this paper published with, say, Jesus shooting at doctors coming out of an abortion clinic ?

    I have not seen that particular caricature…but is common for anti western caricatures in western and non-western papers (Guardian almost everyday) it barely elicts a yawn!

  7. Is Jesus Christ a western symbol? I hope not.

    The ability to mock yourself is a strength as it allows one to reform oneself.

  8. It’s a long tradition in Europe, mocking religious figures in caricatures Here’s one of the earliest examples. The fact that we’re not offended may be partly due to the fact that we no longer think of our cultural values as starting from some year zero.

  9. “It’s a long tradition in Europe…”
    When I was kid it happened that Ruedi said “my father is an asshole”. Then Walti said “yes, your father is an asshole” and all hell broke loose.

  10. LOL, Hans, point taken. But I also really don’t care what Walti thinks about my father (in heaven). If he insults my family, that’s rather different, of course.

  11. Well, as a couterpoint, I do know that a Catholic newspaper in Italy published a picture of Ariel Sharon bulldozing a manger in Bethlehem with a baby in it. The connections was fairly obvious.

    So it is pretty clear that cartoonists in Europe feel free to lampoon certain public figures. How many caricatures are there of the Pope in Italian newspapers?

    Still, free speech must be defended. Part of the development of free speech – a very important part – resulted directly from the tolerance for blasphemy.

  12. “The ability to mock yourself is a strength as it allows one to reform oneself.”

    Clearly this is not a virtue of the ones currently raging against Denmark. This does not mean we should not show respect, but the pivotal question is whether the Danish newspaper should have employed self-censorship and chosen not to bring the cartoons ? Perhaps they should have, I mean in a Danish context there are notable tensions between some muslims and some parts of the intellectual and political scene in Denmark. However, the fact that the cartoons actually were brought anyway is not something which can be excused let alone justify the curren reactions!

  13. Apologies issued….notihing is sacred in the west…except Islam of course! What does this mean for politics? Politcal Islam sacred?

  14. It actually started before the cartoons were published. A Danish author wanted to publish a book about the life of Muhammed, based on early Muslim writings. He wanted some illustrations but couldn’t find an artist that dared. The author had previously been critical of (some) Muslims in the area of Copenhagen where he lived, and rightfully so. He basically said that we shouldn’t accept Muslim kids calling Danish girls whores as had happened on numeruous occasions to his own kids. So he was critical but not hateful or defamatory. The Muhammed book would say some things about the prophet that are no longer considered “kosher”, so to speak, such as the fact that he conducted wars, cheated on peace agreements and married young girls.

    So he couldn’t find an artist.

    When that become known, Jyllandsposten wanted to see if it could get some caricatures of Muhammed. Both as a protest against self censorship — and because it is a newspaper for the part of the population who has — how shall I put it? — been less affected by modernity 😉

    In other words, more conservative, more Christian, and more provincial than the rest of Denmark.

    Turns out they were right: many Muslims are half-crazed freedom-fighting fanatics 🙁

  15. The 12 artists who drew those cartoons have received death threats and are in close contact with the PET (Police Intelligence Service) who have also told them how to avoid mail bombs etc.

    Meanwhile, some of the more fundamentalist Muslim organizations in Denmark went on a tour around the Middle East, armed with not just the real drawings but also a bunch of other drawings that some of them had received privately. Far worse drawings. And told everybody and his dog about the terribly prosecution of Muslims in Denmark, how these bad drawings were published (you know, those that weren’t) as part of a hate campaign — oh, and how the newspaper in question was state controlled and that the government planned the publication of a censured version of the Quran. At least one of the imams were captured on Arab TV doing this.

  16. What else? 11 ambassadors (not 10, Claus) demanded not only official apologies from the head of the government but a meeting in which they would be reassured that legal steps were being taken those responsible, in order to foment religious harmony, better integration and to improve Denmark’s relations with the Muslim world in general. The letter from them were full of veiled threats and demands.

  17. The vast majority of Danish Muslims are not this crazy, of course. Some of them got hurt by the drawings — but that’s how things are in a country with freedom of press.

    And by the way, even the head of the populist more-or-less-racist Danish People’s Party, Pia Kjærsgaard says openly that this is not something the great majority of Muslims should be held responsible for and that she hopes no one will stop buying in Muslim kiosks and greengrocers, for example.

    Almost all the uproar in Denmark has come from a small group of Muslims and some invisible friends they invented — yes, they invented non-existent Muslim organizations in Denmark which they claimed agreed with them. Nice people.

  18. “He basically said that we shouldn’t accept Muslim kids calling Danish girls whores as had happened on numeruous occasions to his own kids.”

    You know the Liverpool I gew up in could sometimes be a pretty rough place. It was not an uncommon event in a pub for someone sitting on the other side of the bar to say to you ‘who are you looking at mate?’. Now one reponse could be say ‘you’, stand up, and let all mayhem descend. As I grew up I think I realised that a far better strategy was to sup my pint without undue haste and leave discretely at the first opportunity. I now know that this process is called using ’emotional intelligence’ and that what distinguishes us (normally) from other higher primates is our ability to do so.

  19. Incidentally, for other reasons (see Spain hot labour post) I’m reading the Morocco times this morning. It seems the Moroccan Supreme Council of Ulemas has also condemned the drawings. (Incidentally, the article is in the religion and not the political section of the paper). What is interesting is the wording:

    Morocco condemned on Tuesday the publication of satirical cartoons on Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper, regretting it came to provoke Muslim’s feelings, said a release of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Ulemas.

    The council has also criticized the use of freedom of expression to attack millions of Muslims who reject the humiliation of any prophet, from Adam to Muhammad, including Moses and Jesus.

    The Council urged the wise and decision makers around the world to unite to protect freedom and all the ethical values that are threatened by hatred and irresponsible behaviors.

    The Council, which is presided over by King Mohammed VI, includes 15 members, heads of the thirty regional councils of Ulema, the Minister of Islamic affairs, and a secretary general.

    I mean I think we need to distinguish between those who take a Bazooka and shoot at Danish military somewhere, or attack Danish official property, and those who simply say “we have been offended by this”. The Vatican is known not to be too happy about the Da Vinci Code (eg).

    The whole article is worth a read:

    http://www.moroccotimes.com/Paper/article.asp?idr=2&id=12526

  20. Incidentally, I was just watching a TV face-to-face here about Hamas, between a representative of the Palestinian Authority and a local University Lecturer.

    Inevitably the question of the Danish cartoons came up. One thing struck me: the name Jesus didn’t come up. The PA rep directly compared the attitude of EU governments with similar charicatures of Moses.

    Christianity here seems to be an irrelevance. The issue being raised is to we treat Judaism and Islam differently?

    Would we have been so defensive of this paper had the charicatures been directed at Jewish religious symbols? Or would we have condemned it as being anti-semitic? The question isn’t the validity of the charicatures – we are after all talking about opinion and free speech, the question is whether such expression would be permitted.

    I think that should give all of us some food for thought.

  21. Basically all the sentiments that once were directed at Jews as “Anti-Semitism” are nowadays directed against Muslims. After all the “Anti-Semitism” is a propaganda word invented by the racist Anti-semites of the 19th century themselves. The runner-up choice that didn’t make it was “Anti-Orientalism”.

    It’s the legal, correct form of being a racist nowadays. Think of the Americans who take a sabbatical to murder and rape in Iraq, then go back to a normal life.

  22. I’m saddened to say this, but I’m starting to suspect what my mother used to tell me was right – not everyone can get along with each other. Western society has nothing but disdain for the “backwards” Muslims. The Islamic world rages against Western values. Europe has already had to pay a steep price for Muslim immigration – terrorist bombings, riots and political murders. Are we supposed to censor ourselves now as well? Its quite depressing, really.

  23. These caricatures have little resemblance to traditional antisemitic pieces. These were targeted at a social and cultural stereotype, not at a religion’s founder. So the question how the general public would react to a drawing which is unlikely to be published is hard to answer for sure. However, as the public has not reacted strongly to pictures showing central figures of christian mythology covered in excrements, I am confident that the general reaction would have been identical at the core and different in degree. Now you may say that strictly speaking there shouldn’t be a difference in degree, but this is an emotional reaction and a religion in whose names trains and subways are blown up is bound to cause a stronger reaction.

    As much as Europe has a common religion, it is the doctrine of individual rights. Free speech is in the core of these values. This means there can be no compromise in this matter. We have some limits on free speech, like the ban on the use of certain symbols. Personally I would abolish those limits, but there is a recognisable difference in banning some emotional symbols and banning discussion on the core issue. Freedom of Speech includes that you can say that a religion is a serious ill for mankind and the world would be better of if it had never prospered. This is acceptable only in a secular society and there’s no middle ground.

  24. Freedom of speech is one thing.

    Distinguishing between picking your own nose or somebody else’s is the other.

  25. What is your own nose? Danes may ridicule only Danes? Or Christians? We have this thing that is called religious freedom, which doesn’t grant any religion special priviledges.

  26. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4670370.stm

    Seems the cartoons have been reprinted by newspapers in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

    How shaming that (as far as I know) no British newspaper has dared to do likewise, as a rebuff to all those who fail to understand that, in the West, it is perfectly acceptable to treat any and all religious belief as backward superstition. Jews are free to believe and preach that they are the chosen people, Catholics are free to teach that the un-baptised child is damned, Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to knock on our doors to try to convert us and anyone is free to claim that all prophets are either deluded or liars, or even to point out what is particularly repulsive in a specific set of religious beliefs.

  27. Would we have been so defensive of this paper had the charicatures been directed at Jewish religious symbols? Or would we have condemned it as being anti-semitic? The question isn’t the validity of the charicatures – we are after all talking about opinion and free speech, the question is whether such expression would be permitted

    Bell the cartoonist for the MG regularly makes caricatures and lampoons elements of Judaism!

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