The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 4
From October 2005 (when the letter of the Islamic diplomats was sent to PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen) until February 1 2006 (the beginning of the violent phase of the crisis, when Palestinian gunmen shut down the EU office in Gaza), things were relatively quiet. In retrospect, it seems to have been an unusually peaceful period, given what followed -- but this is only because of the contrast with the violence.
During this three-month period, as various individuals in the Muslim world moved in preparation for the conflict, the caricatures were the subject of much debate in Denmark. In mid-December 2005, the situation became the focus of an unusual exchange in the Danish media. An open letter signed by 22 Danish former ambassadors criticized Anders Fogh Rasmussen for refusing to meet with the Islamic diplomats. The response of the PM and his party's foreign affairs spokesman Troels Lund Poulsen was that the former ambassadors' criticism was "very mistaken and sad". Lund Poulsen further said:
"De er med til at gå på kompromis med ytringsfriheden ved at stille sig moralsk an. De muslimske ambassadører ville jo i dialog med Fogh for at få stoppet tegningerne. Og det tjener jo ikke noget formål at gå i dialog med personer, som vil kortslutte den demokratiske proces. Derfor gjorde Fogh det eneste rigtige".
("They are helping to compromise the freedom of speech by adopting a moralistic pose. After all, the Muslim ambassadors wanted to enter into dialogue with Fogh in order to have the cartoons stopped. And it serves no purpose to enter into dialogue with people who want to short-circuit the democratic process. Therefore, Fogh did the only right thing.")
The open letter from the former ambassadors came shortly after former Danish foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen (from the same party as the PM) had openly criticized the cartoons as a "puerile demonstration of freedom of speech". The foreign affairs spokesman of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats' Mogens Lykketoft summed up the moderate opinion of the affair at this time:
"Det er fuldstændig uforståeligt, at han ikke vil tage et møde med de muslimske ambassadører og repræsentanter i Danmark. Jeg forstår ikke, at man har et problem med, at nogle tegner profeten, men jeg forstår heller ikke Jyllands-Postens handling og statsministerens forsvar for den."
("It is completely impossible to understand that he won't meet with the Muslim ambassadors and representatives to Denmark. I don't understand why one might have a problem with somebody drawing the prophet, but nor do I understand Jyllands-Posten's actions and the prime minister's defense of them.")
At this point in time, the situation in Denmark was still one of political posturing by the various parties, over a subject that (to most Danes) seemed rather overblown. This was to change in late January 2006. While the Danes were aware of the (to most Danes) completely inexplicable scenes of demonstrators burning Danish flags and of the impending boycott of Danish goods in various Islamic nations, the matter still seemed very distant and unthreatening.
On January 30 2006, a group of masked gunmen representing themselves as members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades (the armed wing of the former Palestinian ruling party, Fatah), marched into the EU office in Gaza, demanding an apology from German, French and Norwegian papers for reprinting the caricatures.
It is important to note that immediately prior to this, on January 25 2006, Fatah had suffered a major defeat at the polls to its chief rival within Palestinian politics, Hamas. There seems little doubt that the action in Gaza less than a week later must be viewed as a political manifestation by Fatah -- a manifestation aimed not to convince the West, but to win over the Palestinian electorate.
On the day of the Gaza incident, and on the following day, in a bid to ameliorate the situation, Jyllands-Posten offered up an apology in its pages, in the form of an open letter in Danish, Arabic and English. The Danish Muslim Association issued a statement that they were fully satisfied with the apology and regretful that the matter ever got so far.
By this time, however, events were in full motion, and incapable of stopping.
(Continued in part 5)
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