My Fatwa on Danish Cartoon Controversy

As Europe moves further away from the benign facade of multiculturalism to a more exclusivist position.  It seems to me that 21st century EU identity will be fashioned in opposition to the “muslim fanatic”, or more “objectively” those  who cant understand principles western civilization and ‘freedom of speech’.

What pisses me off in this game of secular righteousness (following the furor of Mohammad cartoons) is how the defense of free speech is being mobilized as a high moral principle when similar caricatures of other communities would be condemned for intolerance and/or even hate speech.  For example you will not find homophobic, anti-semitic, anti-black cartoons in mainstream newpapers in today’s Europe. Perhaps such caricatures might be prosecuted under hate speech laws in UK and Germany.

I am not interested in whether those who published these cartoons had the legal right to do so, of course they did… as they have the right to publish racist cartoons about other communities under freedom of speech. If these illustrators/ publishers are exercising free speech then why not the same rights for Holocaust revisionists, and conspiracy theorists. I am only using these examples to say that free speech is in fact not free but an exercise of power. It is largely a noble fiction, especially given how geo-political, corporate interests, and moral imperatives shape public discourse (…and good luck finding the figure of Iraqi casualties in American media or for that matter Pentagon Arm’s sales dictatorships throughout the world).

So why is the response to these blatantly racist cartoons so different in Europe? I think these images are acceptable because they fall within the legitimated face ‘cultural racism’ in today’s Europe. Nevermind, that these cartoons are also doing work for many other’s who are gaining from the already polarized situation among “civilizations”.

What do these hurtful images do when splashed all over Europe at a time when millions are seething with anger at the senseless war in Iraq, the stranglehold of dictators in their own countries, and very little hope of peace and stability in the long run. Of course these cartoons elicit outrage, anger, polarization, and further provocation.

This is where I find hallowed defense of high secular ideals repulsive, when they are done at the expense of history, in blindness to the contemporary brutality of an illegitimate war and peoples lived experiences. Aime Cesaire put it nicely when he remarked that the discourses of colonialism are always use the language of rights, of rights of man, equality and justice but its only when you look closer that you will see the trail of destruction, brutality and colonialism.

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3 Responses to “My Fatwa on Danish Cartoon Controversy”

  1. Thomas, a moderate Dane Says:

    I do not know how much you know about Danish culture or whether you are properly informed about this whole mess, so I would like to provide you with a few facts and argumented opinions instead of the lies, rumors, and prejudice that started the whole mess.

    There was absolutely no racist intent in printing the caricatures in the Danish newspaper. Whether it was right or wrong to publish the caricatures is not really the issue anymore as this was supposed to be an internal matter in Denmark; but a handful of fascist Imams changed that.

    In Denmark, sarcasm and ironi are absolutely normaly ways of communication and you will probably not find anyone as Godless as the Danes anywhere in the world. At the end of the Viking Age, we were forced to give up our original religion in order to prevent being crusaded into extinction. Our native religion was dynamically passed from generation to generation by word of mouth and it was very tolerant of other religions. We have never really forgotten this lax approach to religion and a mechanism to preserve ‘the original Danishness’ has always been to poke fun at all religions. It is the general opinion that if it does not help crying over spilled milk, then it is a lot better to laugh over it!

    This is Danish culture and if you are in Denmark then you will have to live with it no matter if you like it or not! Of course we cannot force you or anybody else in the world to see things the same way – and we do not want to!

    Humor is also a normal approach to discussing issues that would otherwise be uncomfortable or taboo. A few years ago there was a comedy (‘Festen’) about a 60 years birthday with complications. I think few other countries would bring up a discussion about incest through a comedy, but it did allow people to share their thoughts about this issue in a constructive way. Maybe that can be misunderstood outside Denmark, but what do I care? It is a Danish movie and it is meant for starting a discussion in Denmark!

    If you threaten a Dane, mockery and humor is more likely to be the response as it is seen as a better alternative to futile agressiveness. This was the case when we were forced to accept Christianity, this was the case when we were forced to accept Nazi occupation (we did have a very active resistance movement though), and it is the case when rabid Imams (who have been welcomed to our country as refugees or immigrants) starts yelling about how worthless and infidel the Danish society is. This is not just a vain excuse, the Imams who escalated the situation are members of an organization who has it as a declared goal to introduce Islamic rule of law in Denmark.

    As Denmark is a Democracy, we have to accept their rights to an opinion and can only ensure that they will be prosecuted every time they step over the line – such as calling for hatred or violence against somebody else which is forbidden by law. While it is relatively easy to ‘police’ the Neo-Nazis as they speak Danish, it is far more difficult to keep the crazy Imams in check when they preach hatred in Turkish or Arabic. In Denmark, there is no law against celebrating imagined superiority and how pure an Arian or Muslim one is as that would be a violation of the right to freedom of speech.

    Back to the issue. The whole situation started with a childrens’ book explaining Islam to Danish children, where the author could not find anybody to draw illustrations as they were afraid of the Muslim extremists in Denmark. Both Muslim extremism and Danish extremism (the Danish Peoples’ Party) have grown in the past 10-15 years as they are both fuelling eachother in an unfortunate spiral.

    The cartoonists were asked to depict Muhammed to show their generalizaton (that is the core concept of caricatures) of the radical Islam. That is why the caricatures were printed, in Denmark, to start a discussion about whether a small group of radical Muslims have the right to set the agenda in Danish society. As I said, whether it was right or wrong doesn’t really matter, especially not to anybody outside Denmark. Fact is that it did happen and it actually started a healthy debate in Denmark from they were printed last summer until the rabid Imams from Copenhagen and Aarhus went on a a Middle East trip trailing lies and misconceptions.

    After the caricatures were printed the rabid Imams exercised their democratic rights to have the case tested by the Danish courts to see if it can go to trial in court. Naturally, the Imams were refused to have the case tried in court as there was no laws being broken. According to the Danish way of life, you can ASK the courts to test a case if you feel offended or if you feel that wrongdoings have been committed against you. But contrary to the perception of the rabid Imams you cannot DEMAND a trial.

    As the Danish court system could not be cowed by the rabid Imams they figured that they needed heavier artillery. So in a ‘pure righteous ethical manner’ the rabid Imams committed what the courts may deem as treason against Denmark – just to have it their Way!

    Fact is that the rabid Imams were touring the Middle East and that A LOT of lies and/or misconceptions about the whole case followed in their trail.

    Fact is that the rabid Imams claimed to represent 250,000 Muslims in Denmark. Fact is that their fascist organization represents about 5-8% of the about 180-200,000 Muslims living in Denmark. How many of the Danish Muslims who felt greatly offended is a big question. My guess is that a majority of them understands the society they live in and that the intentions were NOT to spread hatred against their being in Denmark!

    Fact is that the rabid Imams lied or failed to correct the misconception that Jyllands-Posten is a government newspaper and a fascist newpaper. Whether it was intentional or not the courts will decide if the case goes to court.

    Fact is that the rabid Imams lied or failed to correct the misconception that drawings of Muhammed as a paedophile, Muhammed depicted as a pig and a photograph of a praying Muslim being raped by a dog have been printed in Danish newspapters. Those are beyond what WOULD be printed in any Danish newspaper. I say WOULD, because the three images, complete with the 43 pages of rabid Muslim propaganda of which they form part (the documentation the rabid Imams brought with them on tour), have been printed on the website of a Danish newspaper to document the case! Whether this false impression was intentional or not the courts will decide if the case goes to court.

    Fact is that the rabid Imams lied or failed to correct the misconception that publicly buring the Koran is the favorite pastime of the Danish population, that the Danish Government intends to publish an edited version of the Koran in Danish, and that Muslims are being persecuted and harassed every time they leave their home. Whether it was intentional or not the courts will decide if the case goes to court.

    If a case against the rabid Imams goes to court, then it will be the first time the ‘treason clauses’ of the criminal code has been applied in peace time. Well, peace time is a fluid expression considering that it is the extremists on both sides who have hijacked the matter to serve their own ignorant purposes.

    I am really annoyed by the whole situation, because it is not making it easier to be a ‘normal’ moderate Muslim in Denmark nor is it making it easier for the ‘normal’ moderate Danes (Muslim as non-Muslim) to ‘fight’ the increasing power of the right wingers on both sides.

    I am a bit pessimistic about the resolution of the case, because we (I and other moderates) can only do our best to contain the right wingers of both kinds in Denmark while we have no influence on the Muslim right wingers who have hijacked the situation in the Middle East.

    The latest I heard was that the head of the rabid Muslim Imams in Denmark wants to go on TV with the Prime Minister to defuse the situation, which I think is a really bad idea. He was the one to start the whole mess and if he is now endorsed as a ‘peacemaker’ then he will get even more power in Denmark. If we give in to him, then he has won the power-play for influence on extreme Muslims in Denmark where the Muhammed caricatures are just on piece of the puzzle!

    What makes matters more complicated is that the newspaper and the Danish Government can go no further than they have by appologizing for the hurt feelings. We cannot and will not give in to a few Muslim extremists and punish anybody for something that is not illegal in Denmark.

    Look at it this way: Muslims outside Denmark DEMANDS that Denmark changes their ways according to their moral values. We do not DEMAND that the Middle East accept human rights and women’s emancipation according to our moral values. Are Danish moral values inferior to Middle Eastern moral values? Definitely not in Denmark!!!

  2. crunkistan Says:

    Dear Thomas,

    I dont mean to single out Denmark in this post and I am sorry if you felt that way. I am trying to broadly contextualize the current situation in how this issue is more than just a question of free speech, how it is also about certain social responsibility and ethics. And, I do disagree with you in terms of whether or not these cartoons were Racist in intent or not.

    These cartoons also trivialize the current conditions in the middle east and other parts of the world and that is also why the outrage is so strong. To many people who are protesting these cartoons and the language of “freedom of speech” emanating from EU countries speaks of hypocricy because of what is going on in Iraq, or in their own country, or places where elections are cancelled if an unfavored party wins.

    Also, its not that people in other parts of the world dont have a sense of humor or dont appreciate satire…. as a matter of fact you will find far less faith in governmental institutions, religious clerics in the so called muslim world. And unlike EU very few people have as much faith in their governmental institutions.

    As far as your chronology of events that transpired in the past year.. I can only say that you are right I dont know much about its history but I am a bit uncomfortable with the way the newspaper or board of education decided to started a education program that mention which seems so insensitive against muslim practice of not representing the prophet. And to portray the prophet with turban missile reeks of prejudice, contempt not an effort towards greater understanding or dialogue.

  3. Thomas, again again Says:

    Dear Stan 🙂

    I still maintain that there was no racial intent in the caricatures. Muhammed is a symbol of Islam. If you want to do a caricature of Islam who else should it be? If it had been Osama bin Laden that had represented Islam in the caricatures, then I think it would be racist. I know we agree that ObL does not represent Islam.

    Both in physics and in normal life, pressure generates counter pressure. These caricatures were not printed out of the blue. They were a response to the rabid Danish Imams who do not understand that respect is not something one can DEMAND. In Denmark everybody feels strongly about the principle about having to EARN respect by showing respect.

    The caricatures were printed to mock those Imams and to provoke a general discussion by questioning whether a couple of rabid Imams have the rights to decide the agenda for everybody in Denmark, Muslim as well as non-Muslim. I will agree that the caricatures were provokative, but not that they were racist.

    As I said in my previous post, this should have been a strictly Danish issue handled in the Danish way. I am not asking you to understand or approve of the Danish way, but I ask you and everybody else to respect that this is the way things are handled in Denmark.

    I was quite a bit dismayed last night when I saw CNN’s tabloid reporting from Denmark. They had a short piece with Abu Laban, the head of Islamisk Trossamfund (Islamic Community of Faith) saying that he ‘is concerned’ about the situation in Denmark. What a crock of shit. HE is the one who started the fire and now he is concerned!?!

    Social responsibility and ethics is as foreign to him as to any other tyrant in the world (Muslim as non-Muslim). It is his rabid Muslim followers who find it socially responsible to spit on or yell at Danish women who dress in a manner that they do not approve of! It is the sons of his rabid Muslim followers who disrupts the social coherence of entire school classes when they start in the first grade with the impression that it is not necessary to respect the teacher if that happens to be a woman and that the whole world is centered around a Muslim boy’s needs which means that he can tell the girls in the class what to do and what to play! It is his rabid Muslim followers who DEMAND that pork is forbidden in Danish schools and who DEMAND that religion is introduced in Danish schools (school and religion is separated by law in Denmark!).

    Abu Laban does NOT represent Muslims in Denmark, only the very small group of extremist Muslims who are pimples on the butt of society! Nobody forces him or his followers to be in Denmark so he can choose to go to some remote mountain region in the Middle East where his views may be accepted, but if he wants to stay in Denmark then he has to accept that we do not want a Taliban regime in Denmark.

    This whole matter is about standing up to bullies like Abu Laban to the benefit of Danish society (the Muslim and non-Muslim members in general). If the caricatures are taken out of context they can be racist, but in the right context they are not.

    As mentioned, the caricatures did start a healthy debate in Denmark to begin with and I am quite sure that the outcome would have benefited both Muslims and Non-Muslims in Denmark if Abu Laban and his co-conspirators had not gone on a mission of lies in the Middle East and if it had not been very convenient for the government of Saudi Arabia to have the Mohammed caricatures plastered all over their newspapers instead of articles about all the people who died during the pilgrimmage to Mecca!

    The caricature where Mohammed has a bomb in his turban can be read as a question and as a statement. In Denmark it is read as a question: “Terrorism is generally linked to Islam, is that the right way of seeing things?” while you read it as a statement: “Mohammed was a terrorist!”. It is purely a matter of interpretation!!!

    Let me give you a silly example: If you and I go into an elevator in Denmark and the sign over it says “GODS ELEVATOR” I will interpret that as a freight elevator while you may interpret it as blasphemy 🙂

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