Monday, February 27, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 4

(continued from Part 3)

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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Thursday, February 23, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 3

(continued from Part 2)

In the previous chapter of this narrative, it was described how Egypt undertook a series of diplomatic initiatives, calling international attention to the Muhammad caricatures, and seeking to put diplomatic pressure on the Danish government. This begs the question: Why was Egypt so active in this matter?

A probable explanation is to be found in the strong undercurrent of Islamism in Egyptian politics. At the parliamentary elections in 2005, the strongest opposition group, a moderate Islamist group called the Muslim Brotherhood, had done very well, increasing their representation from 15 to 88 seats in the 444-person parliament. Local elections were coming up in 2006 that looked to put the ruling National Democratic Party at even more of a disadvantage. Clearly, making a bid for the Islamist votes was a very smart political decision for the incumbent Egyptian government.

It should be mentioned that since then (February 2006), the decision has been made to postpone the local elections for two years -- apparently, the Islamist votes weren't that easy to win over.

As Egypt worked the international political angle, an entirely different angle was about to be worked by a group of Danish imams. In early December 2005, they made a tour of several Islamic countries (including Egypt, Lebanon and Syria), showing off a 43-page dossier including copies of the caricatures and agitating for action on the matter.

The leaders of this group of imams were Ahmed Akkari and Ahmed Abu Laban. Both of these imams represent groups of Muslims in Denmark. Akkari was acting as spokesmen for 27 different small groups of Muslims, and Abu Laban is the head of the Danish Islamic Society (Islamisk Trossamfund). It is safe to say that they do not directly represent all of the approximately 200,000 Muslims in Denmark -- a reasonable estimate would be about 20,000 at most. It is fairly common knowledge that both are heavily funded from abroad (like many other Muslim minorities around the world, they receive generous grants from Saudi Arabia), and it has been alleged (by moderate imam Fatih Alev) that the funding depends on their media profile. In this connection, it is worth noting that Abu Laban (representing about 1000-2000 Muslims) was mentioned in the press 646 times in 2005, more than twice as often as Danish EU-parliamentarian Gitte Seeberg (representing over 125,000 voters).

In the dossier, the group had compiled a number of alleged "insults to the Prophet", including the caricatures -- but also including three photocopied pictures of unclear origin. The three photocopies showed a man wearing a pig snout (labeled "Here is the true image of Mohammed"); a dog copulating with a praying muslim (labeled "That's why Muslims pray"); and a man with horns and exposed genitalia (labeled "the pedophile Prophet Mohammed"). It was later stated (by Akkari) that these were examples of contents taken from threatening letters received by Muslims in Denmark. However, it seems clear that the pictures were presented during the tour as being part of the set of caricatures published by Jyllands-Posten. The picture of the man with the pig snout was originally thought to be a photo-manipulation, but was later revealed to be a picture taken at a pig-calling contest in France, in August 2005.

Whether Akkari was telling the truth about the origin of the pictures or not, it cannot be disputed that he made several openly untrue statements to the Danish media concerning the Middle East tour. As a result, his general credibility in the Danish media fell, and remains low. Certainly, many of the moderate-sounding statements he has made in the Danish media do not ring true, when compared to his inflammatory rhetoric during interviews in Arabic-language news media.

Akkari and Abu Laban both claim that they merely presented the pictures, and did not agitate for violent response. This may or may not be true -- it is not unreasonable to assume that the tour was a bid to heighten awareness of themselves in the Islamic world, and possibly secure additional funding. Certainly, it seems as reasonable to propose that the primary motivation for the tour was monetary as to propose that it was solely malicious. However, it should also be noted that the dossier contained a number of remarks attacking Denmark's secularized society as being "atheistic", not Christian. It also contained deliberate misinformation, including claims that Islam was not a recognized religion in Denmark (it is) and that mosques were not allowed to be built (they are).

While Egypt was undertaking its diplomatic initiative, and the Danish imams were taking their tour of the Middle East, the Danish police were dealing with a complaint filed by several Muslim organizations, on October 27 2005. The complaint alleged that the publication of the caricatures in Jyllands-Posten had been a violation of articles 140 and 266b of the Danish Penal Code (see the preceding post). The investigation was dropped on January 6 2006, when the regional police prosecutor in Viborg found that the matter did not satisfy the requirements for a criminal prosecution (or, in other words, such a court case could be expected to end in an acquittal).

Elsewhere in the Islamic world, both Iran and Syria were under pressure from the UN Security Council. Iran had recently come under fire for its failure to comply with the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Syria was likewise under pressure to comply with UNSC resolutions 1559, 1636 and 1644. Under the UN's rotation system, Denmark was serving a term on the UNSC -- might Denmark conceivably be the weak link in the UNSC? The idea must have occurred to the Iranians and the Syrians.

While all this was going on, the caricatures were reprinted in a number of newspapers around the world -- including, remarkably, the Egyptian newspaper El Fagr on October 17 2005. The Egyptian paper's article, which included a strong denunciation of the caricatures, didn't lead to any uproar in itself. From October 2005 to January 2006, the caricatures were reprinted in whole or in part in dozens of European newspapers.

All of these factors were embers, sullenly glowing with the potential to burst into flame. In late January 2006, the flash point arrived, and over the next few weeks the flames, quite literally, erupted.

(Continued in part 4)

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Another digression: Freedom of speech and discrimination laws in Denmark

Since the entire matter of the Muhammad caricatures is generally perceived as hinging on freedom of speech versus religious taboos, I think it might be interesting to make another digression, on the topic of how Danish law deals with this sort of subjects.

Firstly, the Danish constitution guarantees freedom of religion, in section 70. Similarly, sections 77-79 grant the freedoms of speech, association and assembly. Of course, freedom of speech doesn't mean the right to say anything without consequences. The text of section 77 (my emphasis added) makes this quite clear:

Section 77 -- Freedom of Speech
Any person shall be entitled to publish his thoughts in printing, in writing, and in speech, provided that he may be held answerable in a court of justice. Censorship and other preventive measures shall never again be introduced.

In other words, the government of Denmark cannot under any circumstances censor a newspaper (or any other publication). However, the newspaper can be brought to civil court for defamatory statements, or to criminal court for transgressions against various laws prohibiting inciting to criminal acts, racist utterances, etc.

The Danish penal code contains several provisions limiting free speech. For instance, there is the article on blasphemy, article 140. However, this article has not been successfully invoked since 1938. For instance, the Danish Kristeligt Folkeparti ("Christian People's Party") tried unsuccessfully to invoke it against Danish artist Claus Deleuran's comic book Rejsen til Saturn ("The Voyage to Saturn") in 1980. The comic satirized Christianity as a money-grubbing religion, among other things.

The penal code also contains article 266b, which specifically makes it a crime to disseminate discriminatory utterances based on race, colour, nationality, ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation. The maximum penalty is 2 years in jail.

Article 266b was introduced in 1971, in order to satisfy the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Racial Discrimination (1965).

Now, having a law on the books is one thing. Prosecuting people is another matter, especially in the very sensitive interaction between a free press' right to freely print even provocative articles, and a reasonable limit on "hate speech". In this regard, it is worth noting that a significant instance of case law on the subject predates the Muhammad caricature controversy by over a decade:

In 1994, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Jersild v. Denmark, a case dealing with free speech in the media, and racist utterances.

In 1985, Jens Olaf Jersild, a Danish TV journalist, had made a TV documentary dealing with a group of racist youths, and in the course of the programme, he allowed them considerable leeway in making very inflammatory racist remarks. This led to a criminal case under article 266b against the youths, Jersild, and the programme controller, Lasse Jensen, for disseminating racist utterances.

The accused were convicted (although fairly mild sentences were imposed), and the case was appealed all the way to the Danish Supreme Court, Højesteret. When the verdict was upheld in the Højesteret, Jersild appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1994, he won a judgement in his favour, based largely in the fact that he hadn't endorsed the racist statements in the programme.

As a result of the Jersild case, case law on the subject of discriminatory remarks in the Danish media is strongly in favour of the media's right to report anything, however odious or discriminatory, so long as it is not endorsed.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 2

(continued from Part 1)

On October 12 2005, a letter was sent to Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, signed by the ambassadors of 11 predominantly Islamic countries. The letter was drafted by the Pakistani ambassador, who spoke the most perfect English of the group, and vetted by their respective governments.

In the letter, the 11 requested a meeting with Fogh Rasmussen, and proposed that it be held on October 19 2005. The letter has since been made out to deal only with the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. For instance, Fogh Rasmussen has recently made a statement in the English-language weekly al-Ahram that presented the matter as solely one of the diplomats demanding that the government of Denmark take legal steps to punish the newspaper that published the caricatures.

However, there was much more to the diplomats' letter.

The publication of the caricatures in Jyllands-Posten, on September 30 2005, was not the sole event during the period that might be construed as anti-Islamic agitation. In fact, several occurrences during the summer and early autumn of 2005 had given the diplomats good reason to view the situation with alarm. In the letter, they isolated four events, only one of which was the publication of the caricatures.

First, there was the matter of Louise Frevert, a somewhat eccentric (verging on the bizarre) politician from the Danish People's Party (mentioned in the preceding post). In newspapers and on her homepage, she had made a number of inflammatory remarks, tarring all Muslims with the same brush, as terrorists, and describing Islam as a "religion totally hostile to humanity".

Second, there was the matter of Kaj Vilhelmsen, a Danish anti-Islamic extremist, who had made some remarks on the radio urging the ethnic cleansing of all "Mohammedans" (as I mentioned previously, this is a phrase extremely odious to Muslims) from Europe, as the only way to prevent otherwise inevitable terrorist attacks. Failing that, Vilhelmsen urged the wholesale slaughter of the Muslim immigrants. It should be noted that Vilhelmsen was sentenced to 14 days in jail for this, recently -- since these remarks were a clear transgression of Danish law, specifically section 266b of the Danish penal code, dealing with racist utterances, etc.

Third, Denmark's minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen (a singularly disagreeable man), had made a number of statements at a conference of the Conservative Party in September 2005, citing the Muslim community as a "parallel society within Denmark", practicing "medieval norms and undemocratic mentality".

And finally, the caricatures.

Separately, all of these might have been shrugged off -- but together, and added to many other minor provocations, a picture was beginning to form of a Denmark gearing up for serious discrimination against Muslims.

Sensibly, the diplomats (with the approval of their governments) asked for a meeting with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to discuss the matter -- and then something unexpected happened, something that left the diplomats dumbfounded.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to meet with them.

Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, this was a instance of monumental stupidity. To anyone versed in Danish history, it was not all that surprising. It's almost a tradition that Danish heads of government have a blind spot in the area of foreign policy, combined with a foolish belief that they can handle it on their own (in a "statesmanlike" manner, one would presume), without the need for such petty details as consultation with the Foreign Ministry.

In this respect, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was no different than a number of his predecessors in office.

For instance, there was H.E. Hørring, who had to step down in 1900 amidst a scandal over his attempts (without consulting the Foreign Ministry) to bribe U.S. senators to propose a U.S. purchase of the Danish West Indies. Or J.C. Christensen, who almost touched off World War I a decade before time, in 1905, when he (without consulting the Foreign Ministry) attempted to broker a deal with the German general staff for Denmark to become a military ally of Germany -- placing the strategically important straits of Denmark in German control, a situation that would almost certainly have led to war within a year. Fortunately, the Germans saw the hazards of the proposal, and declined.

In this instance, the situation was complicated by the fact that Anders Fogh Rasmussen has a very strained relationship with his foreign minister, Per Stig Møller. Regrettably so, since Møller is a highly intelligent man with a gift for diplomacy. Had he been involved from the start, it is fair to say that the situation might not have escalated.

It must be considered probable that Fogh Rasmussens refusal to meet with the diplomats was intended to gain him credibility at home -- in effect, to garner him an advantage in domestic politics, by making him appear to defend Danish (and Western) freedoms against perceived foreign pressure. He seems to have been unaware of the degree to which he was transgressing against established diplomatic convention by refusing to even consult with the 11 diplomats.

At any rate, the refusal of Anders Fogh Rasmussen to meet with the diplomats created a completely new and unprecedented situation. Suddenly, the matter had become a diplomatic crisis. Only four days later, the government of Egypt called the Danish ambassador in Cairo in for a consultation. He was asked to convey to the Danish government that the government of Egypt expected the Danish government to officially distance itself from the caricatures, and warned that the situation was at risk of escalating.

When the Danish government didn't comply, Egypt contacted the other Muslim countries, the Arab League, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the United Nations, to organize diplomatic protest against the caricatures.

At this stage, the ancillary issues had fallen by the wayside, and only the subject of the caricatures remained an issue. The situation had escalated into a full-blown diplomatic crisis.

It was not to remain so.

(Continued in part 3)

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Friday, February 17, 2006

A digression: Origins of xenophobia in Denmark

Before continuing my series of posts on the "cartoon row", I think it may be useful to digress a little. A lot of the events that have transpired will not be fully understandable by non-Danes, unless some background information is given.

In today's Denmark, xenophobia is an important political factor. This is a significant point, since it is a fact that deviates quite strongly from the way Danes tend to view themselves. Ask any Dane, and they will tell you that it is typically Danish to be helpful and open towards foreigners. This is the way Danes see themselves, and it is fundamental to their worldview.

Yet a significant portion of the same people who claim to be open and tolerant will, given the right circumstances, openly utter strongly xenophobic remarks directed at a particular segment of the population of Denmark -- to wit, the large group of first- or second-generation immigrants living in Denmark.

As of January 1 2000, 7.1% of Denmark's population were first- or second-generation immigrants. Of these, the largest groups were Turks, Germans, Bosnians and Lebanese, with Pakistanis, Yugoslavs, Iraqis, Somalians, Norwegians, Swedes, Iranians, Poles, Britons, and Vietnamese as other major groups. The Turks made up the most significant group, with twice as many Turks as Germans.

This figure, 7.1%, is supplemented by a number of refugees with more or less permanent asylum in Denmark, bringing the total to about 8.4%.

The fact that many of the immigrants, and refugees, are Muslims, is an important factor in shaping the thrust of the xenophobia. When xenophobia manifests itself in any population, it strikes those most different from the local population. Thus, the many Nordic immigrants encounter few, if any, twinges of xenophobia, whereas the Muslims are often made the target of outright discrimination.

Now, despite this, Denmark has a long tradition for emphasizing tolerance and mutual respect between the peoples of the world -- so how did this sudden wave of xenophobia come about?

To answer that, we have to go back to 1814.

Until 1814, the kingdom of Denmark was a dual monarchy, governing both Denmark and Norway. Furthermore, the king of Denmark also ruled the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Thus, the kingdom had within its borders at least three major ethnicities. Roughly speaking, the ethnic Danes made up about half the kingdom, and the Norwegians and Germans each made up another quarter. Many artists and entrepreneurs were either German or Norwegian, and German was regularly spoken on the streets of Copenhagen.

In the Napoleonic Wars, the Danes had found themselves on the losing side (through a combination of bad luck and poor leadership). By 1814, Denmark was bankrupt and faced with the payment of war reparations to the winners -- which included neighbouring Sweden, a long-time enemy of Denmark. As part of the settlement, Denmark handed over Norway to Sweden. The result was a new distribution of ethnicities within the now-reduced kingdom. With the disappearance of the Norwegian minority, the Germans now made up approximately a third of the kingdom's population. The Danish moiety had grown from half to two-thirds.

In 1864, the pattern repeated itself. As part of Bismarck's grand project to unify Germany under Prussian hegemony, Denmark lost the Duchies -- and the greater part of its German population. Suddenly, Denmark had become a nearly homogenous nation, with only one ethnicity to speak of.

From 1864 and for a century thereafter, Denmark cultivated its sense of defeat and loss, transforming it into a mirror-image sense of pride in being a close-knit society. This was only reinforced by the Nazi occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945, which solidified the image of the foreigner as Other in the Danish collective mentality.

Not long after the Second World War, Europe underwent a period of economic expansion, and the general level of education in the population rose. As a result, Danish people suited for unskilled or semi-skilled labor became relatively scarce. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, this shortage led to the importation of large number of migrant workers. Most of them were Turks, and they were originally called fremmedarbejdere ("foreign laborers"). Later, the term gæstearbejdere ("guest laborers") was introduced, presumably to emphasize the fact that their stay was expected to be temporary, not permanent.

Many of the Turks that chose to migrate came from the poorest, most backwards areas in Turkey, and friction with the Danes was to be expected. The most obvious difference was religious, and to many Danes, the image of the unassimilated foreigner, the outsider within Danish society, became associated with Islam. Nevertheless, the initial reception was moderately friendly. As the number of immigrants grew, during the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s, however, the mood cooled considerably.

To explain the cooling, a number of economic factors can be brought in -- but from a nationalist angle, the cause was more straightforward. Formerly a nearly homogenous nation, Denmark was having to get used to something that had been outside its experience for over a century: the idea that significant ethnic minorities existed in the country, and were no less "Danish" for not being ethnic Danes.

A new political party, Fremskridtspartiet ("The Progress Party"), had been formed as a tax-protest party in the early 1970s. By the mid-1980s, the party had adopted xenophobia as part of its platform. The party's leader, Mogens Glistrup, openly called the Muslims "Mohammedans" (a term deeply abhorrent to Muslims, since it wrongly implies a worship of the Prophet Muhammad as if he were divine).

In 1995, the Progress Party splintered, and a breakaway faction led by Pia Kjærsgaard formed a new party, Dansk Folkeparti ("The Danish People's Party"). The new party appealed to its voters through a platform consisting of xenophobia and an appeal to the socially disadvantaged (pensioners, in particular). This populistic appeal won it a growing influence in Danish politics. By 2001, they had become the third largest party in the Folketing, the Danish parliament. As the main support of the minority Conservative-Liberalist government led by the Liberalist Anders Fogh Rasmussen, they have managed to wield a significant degree of power over government policies.

Unsurprisingly, they have used a lot of this influence to support their xenophobic programme. In effect, they are the "invisible" third party in what is in reality a majority government.

When I return to the subject of the "cartoon row", in my next post, please keep this development in mind. Remember that this is a very vocal and highly influential group in Danish politics -- but that they still make up a minority of Danes. Many sensible Danes abhor them and their policies (though many who openly disavow them probably secretly support some of their views -- human nature being what it is).

Addendum - some selected recent blogposts and news stories on this topic:
Dunner's: How often? I don't!
Mikhaela's News Blog: Even More on the Mohammed Cartoons: Or, Mikhaela's Cartoon Wars FAQ Rotten judgment in the state of Denmark

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" dissected -- part 1

This is the first in a multi-part series of posts, wherein I will deal with the subject of a conflict that has become oddly high-profile, despite the apparent insignificance of the initial spark that set it off. To wit, the "cartoon row", as it has been dubbed by the media.

On the surface, the conflict appears to deal with the publication of a dozen caricatures satirizing the prophet Muhammad, published in the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30 2005. The first that most people heard of it was four months later, on January 30 2006, when gunmen raided the EU offices in Gaza, demanding an apology for the caricatures.

Since then, Danish consulates have been attacked; the Danish national flag has been torched; Danish goods have been made the target of a boycott, etc. Altogether, the Islamic world appears to be up in arms against Denmark -- at least, the more excitable elements. Pressure on Denmark's government to apologize on behalf of the Danish people (who are being held collectively responsible by the radicals) is intense, and the Danish right wing is making the most of the situation, by emphasizing its anti-immigrant (and anti-Islamic) position. The situation seems locked into a spiral of confrontational rhetoric.

But is that all there is to the situation? Is the situation as clear as it seems, or is there more to it?

Let's go back to September 2005, but a bit further back than the publication of the caricatures. As you will see, there's a great deal more to the story than just a pointless provocation.

In the summer of 2005, author Kåre Bluitgen, writer of several books critical of Islam (Nye danskere and Til gavn for de sorte) and a frequent participant in media debates on Islamic presence in Danish society, was working on a book dealing with the life of Muhammad. During a meeting with an old acquaintance, journalist Troels Pedersen, Bluitgen mentioned that he was having trouble with his book, because three different illustrators (according to Bluitgen) had refused to participate, citing fears of reprisals for making pictures of Muhammad. Not necessarily an incredible story, since a Danish (non-Muslim) lecturer at the University of Copenhagen had recently been attacked for reading aloud from the Qu'ran.

Troels Pedersen didn't do anything with the story at the time -- but three months later, he was working at the Danish news agency Ritzau and Pedersen now made the situation with the three reluctant illustrators the basis for an interview with Bluitgen. Bluitgen declined to identify the three, but Pedersen went ahead with the story anyway.

On September 16 2005, Ritzau sent out the story of Bluitgen and the reluctant illustrators, under the headline Danske kunstnere bange for kritik af islam ("Danish artists fear to criticize Islam"). It was a very catchy news story, and it was quoted by a number of other media. Repeated requests by journalists for Bluitgen to identify the supposed illustrators were denied, and a certain skepticism crept in. Had Bluitgen concocted the story to bring attention to his upcoming book?

Nevertheless, the story dealt with a subject fundamental to a free press, namely the fear of creeping self-censorship. At Jyllands-Posten, an editorial staff meeting on September 19 2005 brought up the suggestion of testing Bluitgen's claims by asking a number of named illustrators to portray Muhammad. The idea was popular, and the newspaper's cultural affairs editor, Flemming Rose set the plan in motion. He sent out requests to a number of illustrators, and all of them responded positively, with no apparent fear of reprisals.

Rose (formerly correspondent in Moscow and Washington for another major daily newspaper, Berlingske Tidende) is a well-travelled man, with an extensive knowledge of the world. He is also a person who tends to treat the world as a series of black-and-white situations... perhaps the result of too many years in Russia and America (two cultures well known for the lack of intermediate shades in their world-views). In this situation, the matter was very clear to him. It was a question of a fundamental freedom of Danish society: the right of freedom of expression. And Rose was willing, even eager, to step forward and defend this right.

On September 30 2005, Jyllands-Posten printed the twelve illustrations, along with Flemming Rose's article warning about the need to protect the freedom of expression. The article garnered very little attention in the ordinary Danish public. The Muslim minority in Denmark, however, took the matter seriously -- as did a group of diplomats from the Islamic countries who were attending a reception the same day.

The scene was set for the next stage of the conflict.

(Continued in part 2)

Addendum - some selected recent blogposts on this topic: of gods and cartoons
spark: Cartoon Row Whos guilty
India Uncut: Where is Denmark?

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Something resembling an introduction

As the title of this blog implies, I don't consider that what I have to say is particularly Earth-shaking or profound. Nor do I have a specific policy as to what I'll discuss here. I may speak of current political events in one post, only to ramble on about historical minutiae in the next, and then turn to discussing a children's TV show in the next. There are no guarantees -- only that I'll do my level best to see things from more than one side.

Here, in this introduction, it might be considered appropriate to speak of myself -- but I'm not going to. Such details about me as may be germane to a particular issue, I will remark on in the relevant blog entries. It's better, I think, for you to form an opinion of my credibility based on my writings.

All right, all right... I won't let you go completely cold into this. But a mini-bio is as far as it goes:

I'm in my early forties, and I have an academic background -- my field is history, but I deal with a number of other, related subjects. Denmark, in Europe, is my native country. I speak a number of languages with varying degrees of fluency, and my interests are about as broad as the entire field of human activity (though Country & Western music doesn't really hold any attraction for me, I must admit).

That's all you get for now.

Welcome to my blog -- love it or hate it, but don't be bored by it.