Denmark and Jyllands-Posten: The background to a provocation
Date: Friday, February 10 2006
World-wide protests should always invite scrutiny. In the case of the Danish-made cartoons, however, there's a deeper lesson discussed in this report: how an enlightened nation like Denmark could so quickly sink to the betrayal of its own values.
By Peter Schwarz
10 February 2006
The basic lie in the controversy over the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by Danish and European newspapers is the claim that the conflict is between free speech and religious censorship, or between Western enlightenment and Islamic bigotry.
The taz newspaper, which has close links to the German Greens, declared the conflict was about reducing the influence of all religions, including Christianity, “to a tolerable measure.” In Spiegel.online, Henryk M. Broder condemned the halfhearted apology made by the publishers of the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, which unleashed the caricature controversy, as an “example of how democratic public opinion capitulates to a totalitarian standpoint.”
An examination of the prevailing political conditions in Denmark reveals how bogus such arguments are. One would be hard pressed to find another European country where political changes over the past few years have found such a clear and repellent expression.
In a country renowned for its tolerance and openness, the social crisis and the betrayals carried out by the old working class organizations have opened the way for the emergence of political forces which systematically encourage xenophobia and racism. Thenewspaper Jyllands-Posten has played a prominent role in this process.
Last autumn Jyllands-Posten assigned 40 prominent Danish caricaturists to draw the Prophet Muhammad. Twelve responded and the results were published on September 30. The project was deliberately designed to provoke.
According to the cultural editor of the newspaper, Flemming Rose, it was aimed at “testing the limits of self-censorship in Danish public opinion” when it comes to Islam and Muslims. He added: “In a secular society, Muslims have to live with the fact of being ridiculed, scoffed at and made to look ridiculous.”
When the anticipated reaction by the Muslim community failed to arise, the newspaper continued its campaign, determined to create a full-scale scandal. After a week had gone by without protest, journalists turned on Danish Islamic religious leaders who were well known for their fundamentalist views and demanded: “Why don’t you protest?” Eventually, the latter reacted and alerted their co-thinkers in the Middle East.