Mon Jan 30th, 2006 at 12:13:09 PM EST
Nasty comments on Muslims in Denmark's debate on immigrants, a book about Muhammad the prophet for children and a lack of fingerspitz gefühl, has resulted in a boycott of Danish products taking hold in several Middle Eastern countries.
Last year the Danish writer Kaare Bluitgen was putting the last touches on a book about the prophet Muhammad aimed at children. In spite of the prohibition on portraying the prophet in Islam, Bluitgen decided that he would like his book to be illustrated. In the wake of the murder on Theo van Gogh, and an attack on a professor in history at the University of Copenhagen, Bluitgen felt that it was wisest to keep the illustrators anonymous because of fear of reprisals from fundamentalists.
Danish newspaper "Jyllandsposten" picks up the story about Bluitgens choice to keep the names of the illustrators secret, and to demonstrate that Denmark has freedom of speech, the newspaper commissions 12 cartoonists to make a series of satirical drawings of the prophet Muhammad. The cartoons appear in print September 30 2006. They are immediately met with outrage from Muslims in Denmark and even gets noticed outside Denmark.
On the 19th of October ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries requests a meeting with the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, hoping to get an official condemnation of the newspapers publication of the drawings. Rather than meeting with the ambassadors to explain the principles of a free press and free speech, the prime minister refuses to meet with the ambassadors at all.
Throughout November and December a delegation of Muslims from Denmark travels all around the Middle East, to raise protests against Denmark and Jyllandsposten. They are successful in spreading the message, and the December 17 angry demonstrators take to the streets in Pakistan, outraged at Denmark.
2 days later, in an unprecedented move, 22 former Danish ambassadors to countries in the Muslim world publishes an open letter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, criticizing his decision to refuse the suggested meeting with the Muslim ambassadors, and expressing their worry about the extremely rough and nasty tone in the Danish debate on immigration.
Around the end of 2005 the foreign ministers from the members of the Arabian League issues an official statement criticizing the Danish government for its handling of the case. The Danish foreign minister phones the league to explain the views of the Danish government, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen attempts to ease the tensions by addressing the tone of the immigration debate in his New Years Speech, which is immediately translated into Arabic, but this seems to have little or no effect, as the religious outrage towards Denmark just continues to grow.
At the 10th of January the Christian Norwegian newspaper "Magazinet" decides to publish the 12 drawings, with permission from Jyllandsposten, and suddenly Norway is targeted by the Muslim protests as well. 16 days later Norway issues an apology for the drawings, while the Danish government continues to refuse such a step. The same day, a boycott of Danish products starts in Saudi Arabia. Danish companies starts to feel the boycott right away. Arla, a Danish dairy products company, claims losses of more than a million Euros a day.
Since then Libya has closed its embassy in Denmark, the ambassador from Saudi Arabia has been called home to discuss the drawings, as has the ambassador of Kuwait, the Syrian government states that it is "shocked" by the character of the drawings, and in the Middle Eastern streets angry protesters burns the Danish flag.
Today, a EU office in Gaza has been stormed by armed and angry Palestinians, who closed down the office to protest the Danish drawings. In Saudi Arabia two Arla employees was attacked. Al-Aqsa has claimed responsibility for the action in Gaza, and demands that all Danish and Norwegian citizens must leave Gaza within 72 hours.
Also on the internet Islamic groups take action, as the website of Jyllandsposten together with the sites of other Danish newspapers, are hit by various forms of hacker attacks. These attacks even target Danish weblogs such as www.uriasposten.net/ (down at the moment due to a denial of service attack following a defacing).
Meanwhile in Denmark polls show that the population is firmly behind the governments policy of making no excuses for what a newspaper in Denmark decides to print, while Danish companies, with Arla as the most prominent, begs the government to intervene and drop the principles to save the Danish export to the Middle East.