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More Denmark Backstory

by Ben P Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 08:39:58 PM EST

I take this from a letter a reader in Denmark sent Juan Cole, which seems to parallel the story as I have been piecing it together. Two important points stand out. Basically, what happened was a couple of radical imams went on a "tour" of the Middle East last autumn with the original cartoons as well as a series of considerably more offensive ones, which led to the whipping up  of hysteria in the Middle East, largely on the false notion that some of the cartoons included things like Mohammed sodomizing someone and the like. Also, the cartoons were published in a climate of anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiment that has existed and been building in Denmark over the past several years, although Jyllens-Posten has not been involved in this campaign.

Anyway, here are some of the reader's comments:

Your point that the Saudi gov't or parts of it have not been responsible for the inflammation is correct. However, the source you draw on is ignorant or ignoring the local political and social situation in Denmark. That and the activity of a few Imams here who represent a very small percentage of the Muslim population of 180,000 are essential to understanding what the Danes are now experiencing as practically a 911 event.

The Venstre party of Mr. Fogh-Rasmussen is about as far right as you can get in Danish politics. The only party to the right of them represented in the Folketing is the Danske Folkeparti, run by Pia Kjærsgaard. The DF has quite a few seats and although not in the gov't it's support is absolutely necessary for Fogh's gov't. The DF is a right-wing populist party, which split off from the even more right Fremskridts (Progress) party some 10-15 years. Pia is a damn talented politician, sort of a Maggie Thatcher type. She and her party have been hammering away in particular using (and increasing) the tensions between the "Danes", the "new-Danes" and "second-generation immigrants" (these are of course all code words -- if I refer to myself as a "new-Dane" or my sin as a "second-generation", people find it funny -- has something to do with the fact that I don't have brownish or dark skin, I guess... ).

The Jyllandsposten is a right-wing paper -- but it's the two tabloids, BT and Ekstra Bladet, who along with the help of Pia K's DF who been stoking the fires of racial/ethnic tension. There among the Danes a perceived anxiety and mistrust because of murders, "honor" murders, general criminality, gang rapes, arranged marriages, female circumcision, sending youngsters to madrasses and so on. The fact is, of course is that entire Muslim community, to a certain degree, is getting tarred with the same brush because of a few.

So indeed, the cartoons were published and could easily have been interpreted by Denmark's minority Muslim population as racist, given this climate, even if Jyllens-Posten's decision was not meant in this way. Given the climate, however, it is not surprising that many took the cartoons to be racist. However, this is not what caused the recent global "uprising." The reader continues.

There are approx. 180,000 Muslims in Denmark. A very small number, from congregations composing 2-3% have been very visible the past couple of years -- in particular a handful of imams, two of which I should name, Abu Laban and Mohammad Fouad Albarazi have been very visible. What can I say of them? Sort of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell wannabes, I guess. Anyway they sent delegations to the Middleeast -- and misrepresented the character of the drawings. Supposedly, Mohammed was shown in sexual encounters of some sort, and was shown with a pigs nose, among other things. Also, people in the M.E. were told that the Koran was being burned. (To be fair, there was some talk of it when the Danebrog (the Danish flag) was burned -- but nothing came of it.

The Danebrog differs from most flags in that it was not designed -- it fell down from heaven in Estland in 1219!

Also, to be fair, the Imams I mention don't know Danish, some of this group, not even English. On the other hand, this is also a source of irritation and tension -- how are they supposed to guide people on how to live as good Muslims in Denmark when they know little of our culture here?

Denmark should consider trying these imams for a criminal offense if they are citizens. And if they arae not citizens, they should be deported. This "tour" seems to be in-line with some of the things that have been occuring in Britain, with radical imams preaching in favor of terrorism and in favor of subverting British society. However, there are important non-radical Muslim voices who have unfortunately been drowned out:

One of the parliament members here, Nasar Kharder, has made quite a stink about Abu Laban saying one thing to the Danish media and the complete opposite to Arab media. A concrete case is that he thought the boycott wrong (to the Danish media) but to the Arab press, that it was good and that he was very happy about it . . .

Nasar Kharder is from the "Radikal Venstre" (Venstre means "Left", but it is usually translated as "Liberal"). The RV party is one that pretty much defines the center in Danish politics and has been in many governments over the years -- both to the right and to the left of center. They are not in the government at the moment, which for the past 5 years has been Konservativ / Venstre (with the support of the DF, as I mentioned before. The RV has made a point of attracting "people of other ethnic background" (code for people with Arab/Muslim/ origins into their party work -- both on the national as well as the local level.

Nasar Kharder was born in Damascus of Palestinian parents. The tabloids are making a big deal over threats being made against him and the fact that he is (again) under police protection. He's long made a lot of effort to activate the moderate Muslims in Denmark. '

If there is a good guy  in this story, it strikes me that Kharder is the one. I think it is incumbent upon us to provide any support we can to voices such as his who all to easily get drowned out when issue polarizes like this one.

Ben, for the umpteenth time, it's Jyllands-Posten not Jyllens-Posten. Jylland is the southern peninsula where the paper is based.

Otherwise, the letter gets is basically right; although one may argue back and forth about the real level of "anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiment" in Denmark. There is probably more anti-Islam sentiment in the US, for example, but the muslims there are better integrated. Then again, they have often stronger roots in the country and many live in "ghettos" like Dearborn, Michigan.

Also, it is of course debatable whether 180,000 is a "very small number" in a population of 5,4 million. At least it's not perceived as such when they are mostly concentrated in the cities.

The Danish national identity is ethnically "thicker" than for instance the Norwegian. Although Danes fondly accuse us of excessive nationalism, our nationalism is arguably more vested in symbols like the National Day and the flag. If you avail yourself of these and speak the language well, you're largely there. The Danish identity is more tied to an elaborate urbane/hedonistic culture, complete with a characteristic joviality, which is harder to emulate. Also, there is a certain xenophobia that might stem from the Danish experience of losing just about every war they have ever taken part in. This gives a fertile soil for operators like Pia Kjærsgård, a kind of female Jürg Haider, or at best, Haider light. But enough of this.

The radical imams have been busted for over a week. I can add that they also reportedly led their contacts to think that Jyllands-Posten is owned or controlled by Vogh Rasmussen.

As I said in another comment, these people are as much a problem as anyone. They genuinely abhor the country in which they reside and make no bones about it, while often taking advantage of the language barrier to hide their condemnations of the ethnic majority. But try to convey such nuance to the PC-mongering US leftist blogosphere these days. No, it's all about the racist Danes, bigots every one.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:38:59 PM EST
As I said, those imams are the key perpetrators here. Still, recognizing culpability and the larger problem of radical Islam does not eliminate the fact of the People's Party.

My point being is this. What is the solution in the long run? Is Islam indeed incompatible with liberalism? Should Islamic immigrants be repatriated? Should Islamic immigration be stopped? Why are there lots of radical Muslims in Europe and not in the US? Why aren't these Muslims better integrated? Do you build a wall around Europe?

I'm not asking these questions to get a rise, either. One needs to seriously address the longterm implications of what this crisis means. Acknowledging and defending free speech - which I agree is of central importance -  does not answer any of the above questions, though. This is part of my problem with the people who see the issue only in free speech terms - because they only acknowledge the short term question. What is to be done in the long term? About the existence of radical Islam? About the large differences more generally between the "west" and the Islamic world?

Because whether I or you like it or not, this controversy has revealed a major rift between two world views.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 11:49:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As to opinion about Muslims, the US actually has a more favorable view than many European publics (from July 14, 2005 Pew poll):

Percentage viewing Muslims as either positive or somewhat positive in various Western countries:

US: 57%
Canada: 60%
Great Britain: 72%
France: 64%

No here's the drop off:

Germany: 40%
Spain: 46%
Netherlands: 45%
Poland: 46%

I'd imagine the Danish numbers would be similar to those of Germany and the Netherlands.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 12:06:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a word of caution though.

I think the "trend" for Germany is right. But the particularly low numbers in this poll (done in spring 2005) might be related to a whole bunch of honour killings during that time in Germany.

According to a "Die Zeit" article (in German), there were five honour killings in Berlin alone during the four months before that article was published. The one most widely published (and making it number 6) was the murder of "Hatun Sürücu" in February 2005.

That shocked a lot of Germans. Especially after reading in newspapers that a school principal had overheard three pupils of Turkish origin justifying the murder afterwards by saying that she had lived like a "German".

In the aftermath of that murder, the media for the first time wrote about honour killings, forced marriages and so on. Leaving a lot of Germans with a distinctly uneasy feeling.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 12:22:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 01:23:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes it is.  Jutland is just the German name for the same peninsula.

Bitsofnews.com Giving you the latest bits.
by Gjermund E Jansen (gjans1@hotmail.com) on Thu Feb 9th, 2006 at 03:23:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Fri Feb 10th, 2006 at 10:40:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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