The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 7
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)
Technorati tags: denmark, politics, cartoon row, current affairs, freedom of speech, islam, xenophobia