Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 8

(continued from Part 7)

As the boycott of Danish goods continued to affect Danish exports to the Middle East, the Danish company that was under most pressure was Arla, a dairy goods conglomerate responsible for most of the Danish dairy exports, as well as most of the domestic market. Arla had recently had an unpleasant encounter with the effects of consumer boycott -- they had for several years been subjected to a domestic boycott, resulting from public outrage at their bullying tactics towards minor competitors.

The domestic boycott had not been overwhelmingly effective, but had nevertheless resulted in an overall loss of Arla's market coverage in Denmark of several percentage points. This translated to a great deal of money, and Arla had learnt its lesson. Faced with a potentially equally harmful boycott (the Islamic countries constituted a much larger market, but with much less market penetration than Denmark, for a net result of approximately similar levels of potential harm), Arla was well aware of the potential damage to their interests, and wisely chose to play it safe and avoid antagonizing Muslim consumers further.

For this reason, Arla had, in mid-February, formally renounced any support for the caricatures and Jyllands-Posten, and undertaken an intensive advertising campaign in the Middle East, trying to convince the consumers not to punish Danish companies for the activities of a single Danish paper. Humanitarian aid (to organisations like the Red Crescent) was part of the campaign, aimed at winning back the consumers of the Islamic world.

While this was going on, the huge and influential Danish shipping, transport and industrial conglomerate, A.P. Møller (Mærsk Line), continued its activities in the Middle East unabated. Most national governments were not going to let a little thing like consumer outrage get in the way of critical infrastructure development and transportation, and A.P. Møller knew that very well. The development by Mærsk of a USD 5 billion off-shore oil field in Qatar continued unabated. At an energy conference in Doha, on February 19 2006, the Qatari Minister of Oil, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah made it clear that the caricatures were not going to change the way Qatar dealt with Mærsk.

Not surprisingly, Arla's willingness to disavow Jyllands-Posten was viewed in some quarters in Denmark as a disloyal and cowardly surrender to economic pressure. The perception was that the Danish companies were far more interested in making money than in standing up for Danish political and moral values.

With this, pressure grew upon PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen to make it clear that the government continued to stand on the principles of free speech, and that the business affairs of these companies did not reflect official government policy. Because the government consisted of two intensely pro-business, pro-market parties, this was even more important.

Moreover, many Danish intellectuals (and in particular, the Danish PEN club association of writers) had come out against the government and the caricatures, branding them culturally insensitive and deliberately confrontational.

It was time for Anders Fogh Rasmussen to take an aggressive stance, and rein in the strays. He'd done so often before, in crisis situations, by forcefully attacking political opponents as well as any voices of dissent within his own party ranks. As brutal as this approach often seemed, it usually worked, leaving his opponents cowed and their criticisms forgotten or overshadowed. In late February, he decided to once more go on the offensive. It was to be one of the most potentially self-destructive decisions of his political career.

Speaking with the pro-government newspaper Berlingske Tidende on February 26, Fogh Rasmussen strongly criticised both the PEN club and the media in Denmark, for failing to take a stand against Islamic aggression. He was especially vitriolic towards the "intellectual elite" who had "failed to defend the free speech that they made their own living off". It was his stated opinion that the intellectuals and the media, "motivated by distaste for the Danish People's Party, for Jyllands-Posten, and for the government" had let themselves be guided by their own prejudice into adopting a double standard.

Referring to the matter of his failure to fully inform the Folketing's committee on foreign affairs (see part 6), he remarked that this was an immaterial matter in the face of the scale of the emergency.

This, too, was a standard crisis management tactic used by Fogh Rasmussen -- ignoring scandals to begin with, and when they could not be ignored, not denying them, but adopting a "pragmatic" attitude that they were minor compared to the "real issues".

Attacking the media and the intellectual elite was standard fare for Fogh Rasmussen. What was not so common was the fact that, lumped in with these two groups, he also accused the Danish companies operating in the Middle East of being "unprincipled", and sacrificing civil rights for monetary gain.

To the Danish companies (which were frantically scrambling to salvage their markets from the long term political and economic fallout of Fogh's catastrophic decision to "tough it out" with the Muslim ambassadors), this attack was shocking. After all, the Danish government was considered to be pro-business, and the Danish mercantile/industrial sector were the financial backers of both government parties. Not unreasonably, this attack was received by Danish industrialists as an act of rank disloyalty.

The very next day, Niels Due Jensen, chairman of the board of directors of the Danish company Grundfos, responded sharply to Fogh's comments, in the pages of Jyllands-Posten. Grundfos, the world's leading producer of pumps, naturally had strong economic interests in the oil-producing Middle East. Niels Due Jensen had previously called for Jyllands-Posten to apologize, and clearly felt that the prime minister's remarks were aimed at him (among others). In an unusually direct statement, Due Jensen said:

"Både statsministeren og Jyllands-Posten har totalt mistet jordforbindelsen i Muhammed-sagen. For princippets skyld kæmper man for ytringsfriheden. Det er også i orden, men når man samtidig krænker millioner af andre mennesker med det, er det ikke i orden længere.
"Jeg er dybt uenig i statsministerens kritik -- og i øvrigt med den kritik, som Jyllands-Posten løbende fremfører mod danskere og erhvervsledere, der har en anderledes mening end dem selv. Vi har ytringsfrihed i Danmark, selv om den kan være upopulær. Jyllands-Posten er selektiv i sit syn på ytringsfrihed. Anderledestænkende bliver tævet og latterliggjort af Jyllands-Posten. Det skulle man holde sig for god til."

("Both the prime minister and Jyllands-Posten have totally lost contact with reality in the Muhammed case. For the sake of principle one fights for freedom of speech. That's all right, but when one simultaneously offends millions of other people with it, it is no longer all right.
"I strongly disagree with the prime minister's criticism -- and furthermore, with the criticism that is continually made by Jyllands-Posten of Danes and business leaders who have a different opinion than they do. We have freedom of speech in Denmark, however unpopular it may be. Jyllands-Posten is selective in its view on freedom of speech. People with differing opinions are {verbally, ed.} beaten up and ridiculed by Jyllands-Posten. This should be beneath their dignity.")

Another Danish business leader, Hans Skov Christensen, CEO of The Confederation of Danish Industries (DI, Dansk Industri), had also previously called for an apology, but disingenuously claimed not to feel targeted by Fogh Rasmussen's criticism. DI had always been in line with government policies, he diplomatically remarked.

But in many sectors of business, irritation with the PM's remarks was evident. As several sources put it, the government had all along made strong efforts to salvage Danish business interests in the affected regions, and had cautioned everyone against confrontational policies -- it seemed unreasonable to turn around and attack the businessmen for keeping a low, non-confrontational profile, as they had been instructed to by the government.

On several separate levels, the decision to attack Danish businessmen for their supposed lack of principles was a major blunder by Fogh Rasmussen. Whether or not the accusation was true, Fogh seemed to have forgotten that the businesses represented the political and financial base of support of both the government parties. On the one hand, the PM's own party, Venstre, was originally largely an agrarian party. Though the agricultural lobby had become less important, they were still a significant part of Venstre's constituency. Furthermore, Venstre's political platform was poro-business and strongly in favour of free markets. Attacking the major agricultural and industrial exporters meant attacking his own supporters. It couldn't help but be seen as a major breach of confidence.

Similarly, the Conservative Party, Fogh Rasmussen's much-neglected and abused junior partners in government, were very strongly involved with Danish mercantile and industrial interests. For them, being involved in Fogh Rasmussen's attack on business leaders meant being tarred with the same brush, without the compensation of being viewed as "taking a stand on principle". They were being taken along for the ride, with or without their consent, and the ticket price was getting expensive.

(Continued in Part 9)

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Interlude: Selected quotations on the "Cartoon Row"

I'm currently backed up with other writing obligations, so instead of a lengthy chapter in my ongoing dissection of the "Cartoon Row", I'm going to temporize by offering you some selected quotations from various sources, in connection with the controversy.

It is often the case with quotations that they are taken out of context, but I've tried not to abuse this, and I've sourced them all as carefully as possible.

Here you go:
"Evil forces journeyed out on a tour of the Muslim world. The Islamic Society in Denmark, with the imam Abu Laban at their head, spread lying and spiteful propaganda against the country that has received them with open arms. That the case has developed into an international conflict is solely due to deliberately misrepresented messages regarding both Jyllands-Posten and the government, as well as the Danish People's Party.

And look at the mess it has gotten us into..."

- Pia Kjærsgaard, Danish MP and leader of Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People's Party), writing in her weekly newsletter, January 30 2006.
An interesting quotation, that illustrates the way the xenophobes in Denmark choose to interpret the affair. One can't help but note the use of the word "evil" and the phrase "welcomed with open arms" (here used in contrast, to illustrate how ungrateful and perfidious the imams supposedly are).

"If anyone should apologise, it is Saudi Arabia. Apologise for its open contempt of human rights, its scorn for freedom of religious expression, and its systematic repression of equal rights.


Saudi Arabia should be ashamed of itself, and an apology for offending that country with satirical drawings amounts to falling at the knees of fundamentalism.

My message to Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries that joined the boycott is: You insult my democratic conviction. Say sorry."

- Naser Khader, Danish MP for Radikale Venstre (Danish Social Liberal Party), writing in the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, January 31 2006.

" the Muslim world, we are not used to laughing at religion, our own or anybody else's. This is far from our understanding. For that reason, these cartoons are seen, by average Muslims and not just radicals, as a transgression against something sacred, a provocation against Islam."

- Tariq Ramadan, in the International Herald Tribune, February 5 2006.

"Fogh is dead in Europe. From now on, he's just the guy with the Muhammad case."

- Anonymous source close to Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen, quoted in the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende, March 19 2006, describing the remoteness of Fogh Rasmussen's chances of ever getting an important position in an international organisation after his eventual retirement.
I'm generally unhappy with using anonymous sources, but this one was just too good to leave out. Also, please note that Berlingske Tidende is a conservative paper that is usually extremely supportive of Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his government.

"We regret that there has been this misunderstanding. It was never our intention. We're sorry that it has caused these hurt feelings and offense in Denmark. {...} It was never our intention to link Denmark and racism, or LEGO and racism in this way."

- José Luis Díaz, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Danish television channel DR, March 21 2006, in response to Danish outrage at an anti-racism poster produced by the UN, using a LEGO brick, a poster that had been perceived in Denmark as a comment on the "Cartoon Row" (even though the UN had previously used LEGO in the context of posters, e.g. for the UNHCR's series of "LEGO refugee" posters, in 1994 & 1997).
Apparently, the UN has no difficulty apologising over hurting people's feelings, intentionally or otherwise. Perhaps Anders Fogh Rasmussen could take a hint from this.

That's what I have to offer, this time. I'll return, soon, with another installment in my series of articles on that great soap opera of our times, the "Cartoon Row".

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Monday, March 20, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 7

(continued from Part 6)

As February 2006 drew to a close, the domestic political situation for the government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen was essentially unchanged. The opposition had at no time managed to muster a united stance on the issue of the caricatures. The major opposition party, the Social Democrats, was leery of seeming too "immigrant-friendly", knowing that this would cost them votes to their main competition, the xenophobic Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti).

It may seem strange that voters would jump from a center-left party to a party that is often perceived as an extreme-right party. However, the situation is less clear-cut than that. The Danish People's Party appeals to voters not only on a xenophobic platform, but also with a centrist pro-welfare agenda which is at odds with the Liberalist-Conservative government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, but which is very close to the Social Democratic agenda. As a result, the jump from Social Democrat to DPP is a short one, requiring only a xenophobic shift.

The opinion polls supported this view; in late October 2005, before the crisis developed, the Social Democrats mustered the support of 22.5% of the voters, and the DPP were at 12.8%. A month later, in mid-November, both parties had gained slightly, as the initial stage of the crisis polarised opinions for and against xenophobia. The Social Democrats were now at 26.2% and the DPP at 14.0%. However, as the crisis wore on, and the Danish public began to feel more and more beleaguered by what they viewed as an essentially unfair foe, the opinion polls shifted. As the Social Democrats continued to lie low, they lost any initiative, and this showed in the polls. By mid-February 2006, they were down to 21.8%, and the DPP was up to a remarkable 17.8%, their largest voter support ever.

Clearly, the DPP were gaining as a result of a public perception that they represented a "tough stance" on "Islamic aggression" towards a Denmark that increasingly considered itself the wronged party. Equally clearly, the Social Democrats were losing through lack of leadership. A strategy of "borgfred" was announced early on, but only served to make the Social Democrats look ineffectual. Borgfred (literally, "peace in the castle") is a Danish political term that stems from the fact that the seat of parliament is Christiansborg Palace, and which means that the opposition refrains from attacking the government in a time of national crisis, as a matter of good conduct. Worse still, when Anders Fogh Rasmussen failed to reciprocate by not attacking the opposition, this failed strategy gave him the initiative. Even worse, the Social Democrats couldn't "reopen hostilities" without seeming unpatriotic and petty. For the Social Democrats, it was a no-win situation.

Not so for the opposition Danish Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre), which had previously made working for a stable multi-ethnic Danish society a key plank of their platform, and which included a number of prominent moderate Muslims in their ranks. For the DSLP, the situation was a gift, and their polls reflected this. In late October 2005, they stood at 9.6% voter support, slightly above their latest election result of 9.2%). By mid-November, they had dropped back a bit, but as they began to make their position known, they made great advances. By mid-February 2006, they stood at 12.1% voter support, a respectable advance.

One strong influence on this advance was that of the prominent Muslim member of the DSLP, Naser Khader. In response to the crisis, he had been instrumental in forming a moderate Muslim political network, Demokratiske Muslimer ("Democratic Muslims"), which strove to bring a moderate Muslim viewpoint to the debate, both in Denmark and in the Islamic world.

The DSLP's stance on the crisis was strongly disapproving of the government's handling of the process, but equally critical of the motives behind the protests in the Islamic countries. In a statement issued by the party's parliamentarians on February 22 2006, the criticism rained heavily on both sides:
"Uanset om man er enig eller uenig i de 11 ambassadørers henvendelse til regeringen, så forudsætter demokratiet ytringsfrihed, ligeværd og dialog. Når 11 ambassadører henvender sig og beder om et møde, så er der 11 regeringer bag. Derfor er det i sig selv en diplomatisk provokation at afvise ønsket om møde. Afvisningen bliver også en afvisning af dialog og kommer til at virke som manglende respekt for ligeværd.

"Der er mange dagsordener bag de aktioner, der har udviklet sig som en steppebrand i muslimske lande. Vi støtter regeringens bestræbelser på at få urolighederne stoppet, og vi tager stærkt afstand fra afbrænding af ambassader og trusler mod danskere. Vi tager også afstand fra alle ekstremister, der har bidraget til at få udviklingen ud af kontrol.

"Vi er enige i, at JP har ret til at offentliggøre tegninger og tekst, der provokerer og prøver grænser af. Den ret til ytringsfrihed vil vi forsvare hver dag. Men vi har også selv ret til at have en mening og ytre os om det, vi læser i en avis. Det er vel det, der er meningen med provokationerne i bl.a. JP.

"Muslimers integration i Danmark går ikke gennem 'hån, spot og latterliggørelse', hvilket var en del af JP’s begrundelse for tegningerne. Og vi bryder os bestemt ikke om det had, der vises ved afbrænding af Dannebrog."

("Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the 11 ambassador's letter to the government, democracy presupposes freedom of speech, equality and dialogue. When 11 ambassadors ask for a meeting, they represent 11 governments. It is therefore a diplomatic provocation in itself to refuse the request for a meeting. The refusal also becomes a refusal of dialogue and gives the appearance of a lack of respect for equality.

"There are many agendas behind the events that have developed like a bushfire in the Muslim countries. We support the government's efforts to bring the unrest to an end, and we strongly deplore the burning of embassies and threats towards Danes. We also deplore all extremists who have contributed to bringing the development out of control.

"We agree that JP [= Jyllands-Posten] has the right to publish illustrations and text that provoke and test limits. That right to freedom of speech is something that we will defend every day. But we also have the right to have an opinion about what we read in a newspaper. Isn't that what the intent of the provocations in JP, among others, is?

"The integration of Muslims in Denmark does not proceed through 'scorn, mockery and ridicule', which was part of JP's justification for the drawings. [RP's note: this was, in fact, a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of JP's original article, which merely said that any religion must be willing to put up with these things in a free society] And we definitely do not care for the hatred that is shown by burning the Danish flag."

The DSLP, thus, were profiling themselves as the party of choice for moderates who supported multi-ethnic society, and showing a demonstratively even-handed attitude of disdain towards extremists on both sides. Other parties had a less clear stance.

The voter support of the Danish Liberal Party (Venstre), the party of the prime minister, made no significant advances during the period, nor did they suffer any significant losses. This was probably the net result of losing one set of voters and gaining another (those who didn't care for Fogh Rasmussen's arrogant approach to the crisis, and those who approved of it). On the other hand, the supporting government party, the Conservatives, suffered a slight setback, probably for the same reason as the Social Democrats. The Conservatives had never been politically far from the Social Democrats, since the two parties represented more or less moderate mirror images, on either side of the center. As a result, they had the same weaknesses to the DPP's magnetic effect on the more xenophobic voters.

The most interesting party to study, in the polls, was the tiny Christian Democratic Party (Kristendemokraterne). In a time of crisis coloured by religion, one would think that this party, ever a marginal presence in Danish politics, would profit in the polls. Not so, however. Only minor deviations took place in their poll results throughout the period. It should be remarked, in this context, that the semi-official stance of the Christian Democrats was in support of the Muslim moral outrage at the caricatures, on the grounds that they were offensive to people of faith, whatever the faith. The Christian Democratic view was that the caricatures marked a secular lack of understanding of the very concept of anything being sacred and beyond mockery.

This may be taken as indicating that the focus of the crisis, as least in the minds of the voters of Denmark, was not a religious struggle between Christians and Muslims, but a cultural clash. It was a collision between the cultural background and expectations of the (secularised and Western) nation of Denmark, and the cultural background and expectations of the (religious and Middle Eastern) Muslim communities in Denmark -- a collision that grew to involve other nations as well. Hence, instead of moving their votes to the Christian Democrats, the voters shifted to the DPP, whose xenophobia were more clearly culturally oriented than religious.

(Continued in part 8)

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

See Spot. See Spot blog. Blog, Spot, blog!

I've been writing this blog for a while now, and it has turned out slightly different from my initial plans.

Originally, I had planned to leave the subject matter fairly broad and eclectic, covering all my many (many, many) interests, from cooking to politics to languages to film, and so on. However, the success of my first series of posts on the "cartoon row" has left me convinced that the way to go with this particular blog, Random Platitudes, is to concentrate on the political / historical / current affairs / opinion piece style of blogging that I've begun with.

Which leaves me with nowhere to put all the other stuff that I'm interested in and want to blog about.

Therefore, I've been thinking of the best way to handle this, and I've decided to create new "sister" blogs to Random Platitudes, to handle the various groups of subjects that I want to blog about. The first of these, soon to be born, will be a blog on reviews (of film, television, animation, computer games, books, comics, whatever takes my fancy).

As I add more blogs, they will appear in the sidebar, under "RP's other blogs" (or a similar title). I hope you'll be so kind as to grace them with an occasional visit, and to give me your honest feedback.

As always, I am grateful to you all for taking the time to read my meandering and wordy posts.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 6

(continued from Part 5)

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a multi-national force under British leadership had been based in SE Iraq. Part of this force were 530 Danish soldiers, stationed at Qurnah, 60 kilometers north of Basra. The force's operations consisted mostly of "security and stabilization".

On February 13 2006, the city council of Basra issued a statement demanding the withdrawal of the Danish troops until and unless an apology for the caricatures was issued by the Danish government. Initially, this demand caused some consternation in the Danish government. The ruling Liberalist-Conservative government had invested a great deal of prestige in its support of the U.S.-led occupation, and found itself torn by conflicting interests. The largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, had always maintained the position that the troops should only remain so long as they were welcomed officially. If push came to shove, the ruling coalition could muster a majority in the Folketing, the Danish parliament, but not without great difficulty, as the supporting Danish People's Party was at best lukewarm to the troop presence in Iraq.

Fortunately for Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Iraqi national government (such as it was) issued a statement two days later, confirming the continued official welcome of the Danish troops in Iraq.

At about the same time, the Egyptian ambassador to Denmark, Mona Omar Attia, was called to the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen, for a consultation of a different kind. The topic was her personal actions during the initial stages of the crisis. During the consultation, the Foreign Minister's representative, Chief of Protocol Christopher Bo Bramsen, made it clear that her misrepresentation of Danish law in international Muslim circles (in particular her documented and demonstrably false claims that Islam was not a recognised religion in Denmark, made on Egyptian television in early February) were incompatible with her diplomatic status.

The situation culminated with the ambassador demissioning on February 17. She left to take up a new diplomatic post in South Africa, a post that she had reportedly been in line for since December. Though this may well be true, the sudden departure without a clear replacement (the embassy's affairs have since been handled by the embassy staff, under Minister Plenipotentiary Mohab Nasr Mostafa Mahdy, until a new ambassador can be appointed) would seem to indicate that the timing of her departure was not planned, but rather a direct result of the strained situation.

As domestic aspects of the crisis flourished in Denmark, the uproar and violence continued abroad. Demonstrations in Pakistan and elsewhere continued to claim lives. The EU's foreign policy coordinator (the closest thing the EU has to a collective foreign minister) Javier Solana, made a circuit of the Muslim countries, trying to put a damper on the crisis.

Demonstrating a lack of understanding of basic principles of civil liberties, the Muslim countries began to put pressure on the UN and the EU to adopt resolutions intended to prevent or prohibit the defamation of religions -- in effect, to make the UN and EU adopt laws against blasphemy, superseding freedom of the press. This initiative was one of the talking points during Solana's visit to Jordan on February 14 2006, and King Abdullah made it clear that Jordan supported the initiative.

As the month wore on, unrest broke out in Nigeria, exacerbating an already existing tension between Moslems and Christians. The result was a series of bloody riots that left hundreds dead or wounded.

In Danish domestic politics, a new crisis broke on the troubled prime minister, near the end of February. On February 22, the Danish daily Politiken broke the story that during October and November 2005, Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit had sent a series of diplomatic notes to various international organisations (including the EU's Javier Solana; the Secretary General of the OSCE, Marc Perrin de Brichambaut; and the member countries of the UN, as well as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan). In the notes, Egypt made it clear that they were not asking for judicial retribution to be visited on Jyllands-Posten or the caricaturists:

"We do not expect that any country will take legal or disciplinary actions against a newspaper [...]

"However, we had expected an official Danish statement underlining the need for, and obligation to, respect all religions and refrain from mocking their adherents, to prevent an escalation that could have serious and far-reaching consequences."

It was clear that the notes could have been utilised as a way out of the crisis, had the Danish government been willing to use it. Such a statement could easily have been made without compromising the principles of free speech. That Anders Fogh Rasmussen chose not to make use of this option is probably attributable to a lack of foresight (in late 2005, the crisis was still smouldering, and its eventual full extent not readily apparent) and to a desire to score points in domestic politics, by appealing to the xenophobic trends among the voters. As time passed, so did the chance to make use of the option. The crisis escalated beyond the level where it could be easily resolved.

However, the point which makes the matter of the notes becomes truly significant is a different one... specifically that the position of the Danish PM throughout the crisis had been that the Muslim countries had demanded that the Danish government carry out legal reprisals against the newspaper and caricaturists. The letter made it clear that this was not true. Moreover, the letter had not been drawn to the attention of the parliamentary oversight committee on foreign policy. Clearly, the Danish government had been walking a very fine line, legally, and perhaps even stepping out of bounds. Deceiving the Folketing is more or less the worst crime a minister can commit. The relevant law, Ministeransvarlighedsloven ("Law of Ministerial Responsibility"), dating from 1964 and revised in 2000, states:

"§ 5. En minister straffes, hvis han forsætligt eller af grov uagtsomhed tilsidesætter de pligter, der påhviler ham efter grundloven eller lovgivningen i øvrigt eller efter hans stillings beskaffenhed.
Stk. 2. Bestemmelsen i stk. 1 finder anvendelse, såfremt en minister giver folketinget urigtige eller vildledende oplysninger eller under folketingets behandling af en sag fortier oplysninger, der er af væsentlig betydning for tingets bedømmelse af sagen."

("Article 5: A minister is subject to criminal liability, if he deliberately or through gross negligence fails to carry out the duties incumbent upon him according to the constitution or to applicable law, or according to the nature of his position.
Section 2. The contents of Section 1 become applicable if a minister gives the Folketing false or deceptive information, or, during the Folketing's treatment of a matter, withholds information which is of significant importance to the parliamentary evaluation of the matter.")

By any reasonable estimation, it seemed clear that in its treatment of the Egyptian letters, the government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen had skirted extremely close to the limits of legality with regard to the obligation to keep the Folketing informed. Whether they had crossed over the line into actual crime remains unclear. Equally unclear was the question of whether de-emphasizing the Egyptian letters was a conscious attempt at cover-up, or simply an amazingly short-sighted misevaluation of their significance.

(Continued in part 7)

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 5

(continued from Part 4)

In the days immediately before the Gaza incident, demonstrations protesting the caricatures had taken place. The demonstrations included burning of the Danish flag, and various other staples of Middle Eastern political demonstrations. To the Danish public, seeing images of the Dannebrog, the Danish flag, being burned by yelling demonstrators was a shock. Furthermore, in comparison to the Danish custom of peaceful and orderly demonstrations, the yelling crowds seemed more like mobs than demonstrators.

To many Danes, a boycott of Danish goods, however unfortunate, seemed a reasonable, if slightly disproportionate, response to the offense against Muslim sensibilities. Danish consumers have a long history of political activism and boycott, and the inherently non-violent form of such a protest was eminently understandable and acceptable to most Danes. Violent protests, flag burning and death threats, however, were a different matter. Viewed from Denmark, these were barbarous acts.

This impression of barbarism (and an essentially alien worldview) was firmly cemented in the minds of the Danish public, when demonstrators in Damascus attacked the Danish embassy to Syria, on February 4 2006. The following day, the Danish embassy to Lebanon, in Beirut, was burned.

It may be a coincidence that the first two locations where the demonstrations turned from protest to violent attack on embassies were in Syria and Lebanon. It may likewise be coincidental that insufficient local police were present to deter the demonstrators from the attacks. There is no certain proof that Syria deliberately engineered the attacks (to put pressure on Denmark, as the perceived weak link in the UN Security Council). However, the timing and the location seem suspiciously convenient for Syria.

By this time, the protests were spreading. Demonstrations in Afghanistan and Somalia claimed at least six lives on February 6 2006. The very next day, in Tehran, a crowd of several hundred people attacked the Danish embassy to Iran. Again, this seems to be a suspiciously convenient occurrence, given Iran's recent controversy with the IAEA over nuclear development. That the first attacks on embassies take place in Syria (and its dependent neighbour, Lebanon) and Iran coincides remarkably with the interests of precisely the two countries with most to gain from pressuring the weakest member of the UNSC.

By now, many religious and political groups in the Islamic world had become aware that the caricatures had become a popular cause, and they eagerly participated in the growing conflict, fueling the fire.

However, the situation was no less problematic in the West. Anti-islamic groups had eagerly seized on the situation, claiming it as proof of their preconceived notion that Islam in general was a religion of terrorists. Unsurprisingly, the anti-islamists cribbed the ideas set forth in Samuel P. Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, and the print, broadcast and internet media were full of punditry proclaiming the imminent clash of civilizations, and the inevitable need for a major war between Islam and the West (as if either of these two concepts were monolithic entities).

More disturbingly, many writers made use of arguments based upon the so-called "Three Conjectures", a syllogism that seemed to imply that the only logical response to a (presumed Muslim) terrorist attack using a nuclear device was massive nuslear response. The conjectures, which were apparently first posted on the internet by the pseudonymous "Wretchard", were simplistic and unconvincing (one should always be wary of syllogisms), but made for an excellent rhetorical tool for alarmist demagoguery.

The anti-islamists weren't the only people in the West who were adding fuel to the fire. Eager to defend the freedom of speech and of the press (and, less charitably viewed, also to promote themselves), many prominent persons in the cultural and political sphere spoke out in the media. In France, the magazine Charlie Hebdo published the caricatures again, on February 8 2006, along with other new caricatures. This was rightly interpreted by French President Jacques Chirac as an overt provocation.

The vast geographic span of Islam was highlighted by the fact that demonstrations were taking place as far away as Malaysia and Indonesia. On February 12, the Danish Foreign Ministry issued an advisory to Danes travelling in Indonesia, urging them to leave the country for their own safety.

On February 13, an Iranian newspaper, the Hamshahri Daily, began accepting submissions for a contest among its readers to "test Western free speech". Originally, the contest had been announced as calling for caricatures of the Holocaust, but this was later expanded to cover the limits of free speech in the West, in general. This contest was already a hot topic, because Flemming Rose, in interviews with CNN and the Danish TV2 on February 8 2006, had declared that Jyllands-Posten was ready to publish the results of the contest in its pages, as a demonstration of free speech. However, in doing so, he appears to have acted unilaterally, without the consent of the editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste. The offer certainly bears all the hallmarks of Rose's personal devotion to free speech. Shortly after the interviews, Juste disavowed Rose's plans, and the following day, Rose was sent off "on vacation".

It may be conjectured that Juste's reaction provided evidence that there were limits to what could be printed in a Danish paper -- that caricatures of the Holocaust fell into a separate and inadmissible category. It may also be conjectured that it proved that the Muhammad caricatures were acceptable only because they were anti-Islamic. Whether these conjectures are true, is open to interpretation. Certainly, they contain at least an element of truth. However, Juste's actions in reining in Rose could reasonably be viewed as an attempt to put an end to the crisis by avoiding further provocations of any kind -- a sensible act on the part of the beleaguered newspaper editor.

At any rate, mid-February saw a gradual escalation of the crisis, with an added twist. Danish travel agencies refunded millions of kroner worth of cancelled vacations to Islamic countries. Hardest hit were Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria and Tunisia. Although there may have been an element of boycott to these cancellations, the overwhelming reason was, of course, fear. Nor were Danes the only nationalities to reduce tourist activities in Muslim countries. Other European nations reported similar effects, to a lesser degree.

At present, there is no way of estimating the losses in revenue to the tourist industry in the Islamic countries, but it has to be considerably more than the effect of the boycott on Danish goods. Economically speaking, the crisis was bad for business, on both sides.

(Continued in part 6)

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