Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The "Cartoon Row" -- latest roundup

Without any protestations of apology for my long absence from blogging (I've been busy, so there), here are some snapshots of some of the recent newsworthy events concerning the "Cartoon Row":

On the occasion of the holiday that marks the anniversary of the Danish Constitution, June 5, politicians all over Denmark traditionally give speeches on the state of democracy in the country. This year, Pia Kjærsgaard, the leader of the islamophobic Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti) unsurprisingly picked as her topic the threat to Danish democracy posed by Muslims, foreign and domestic. Ms. Kjærsgaard was speaking at Lykkesholm Slot, a conference center located in a scenic manorial estate built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The place, one of Hans Christian Andersen's favourite hangouts, was the venue chosen by Kjærsgaard to deliver an interesting diatribe that shines as an example of misinformation.

Intent on attributing the escalation of the crisis into actual violence to the malicious actions of domestic imams and hostile foreign (Islamic) nations, Kjærsgaard claimed that, from the publication of the cartoons until the sudden outbreak of attacks on Danish embassies, months later, "nothing happened", implying that the attacks came out of the blue. In this, she is not alone. Several Danish newspapers have presented the events in this fashion. It simply isn't true, however. They choose to ignore the many protests, both inside and outside Denmark, that took place in the months leading up to the outbreaks of violence.

As I have written in earlier posts, these outbreaks of violence are in themselves conveniently timed for Syria and Iran, and there is reason to be suspicious regarding their supposed spontaneity. But to say that they came after months of "nothing" is to completely warp the fabric of truth.

Standard practice for Dansk Folkeparti, of course.

You may remember Iran's rather quaint response to the caricatures... Showing once again their clear belief that anything unpleasant that comes their way is somehow related to Israel's imperialist agenda in the Middle East, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri decided to respond to the caricatures by soliciting caricatures from all over the world, lampooning the Holocaust. The mind boggles at the convoluted illogic behind this, but never mind that -- the caricatures (1100 of them, from over 60 countries) were collected, and over 200 of them are now on show in Tehran, according to aljazeera.net.

Of course, as crude and purposely offensive as this exhibition of Holocaust-related caricatures is, it is unlikely to elicit quite the same over-the-top response as the Danish caricatures that set off the original crisis. As British blogger Robert Hinkley put it:
"Meh, whatever. As a result I expect a total of zero buildings to be set on fire or stormed by gunmen, no embassies to be closed nor ambassadors recalled, and nobody to be killed in rioting."
That pretty much sums up my own expectations.

Two prominent political debaters in Denmark, Tøger Seidenfaden (editor-in-chief of the moderate daily Politiken) and Rune Engelbreth Larsen (controversial author and lecturer, with an eclectic and very odd CV including leadership of the oddball Minority Party and editor of the even-more-oddball intellectual magazine Faklen) recently co-authored a book dealing with the "Cartoon Row". Titled, predictably, "The Caricature Crisis" (Karikaturkrisen, Copenhagen, Gyldendal, 2006. ISBN 87-02-05166-4), the book has produced a lukewarm debate in the press. It has been criticized in the right-wing press as being unduly critical of Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen and his handling of the crisis, and in the left-wing press for being uncritical of Seidenfaden's own contributions to the crisis. Leftist daily Information went so far as to say that Seidenfaden was attempting a "whitewash" of his own actions.

For a press release dealing with the publication of the book, which presents the propositions within it in a more neutral tone than they are presented in the text itself, look here. Note that I agree with many of the propositions as they are presented in the press release, but there is a noticeable difference between the relatively bland press release, and the book itself.

Based on a cursory reading of the book (I'm going to have to devote more time to its individual propositions in later blogposts, I feel certain, but let's be pleasantly superficial here, for once), I would say that the critics are right. Seidenfaden and Engelbreth haven't produced a neutral analysis of the crisis -- rather, this is one angle on the subject, slightly misrepresented as more unbiased than it actually is.

In fact, as several critics (left, right and center) have remarked, it is decidedly odd to see Seidenfaden (generally respected as an intelligent man with serious credentials) teaming up with Engelbreth, a man whom many would regard as an outright crackpot.

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