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05. Feb 2006

There's something bigoted in the state of Denmark

Cogito Ergo Sum, en amerikansk weblog, skriver:
...Everyone on the planet has probably heard of the Jyllands-Posten controversy. The Danish paper claims they were testing the limits of free speech, citing cases where illustrators were afraid to illustrate books on the birth of Islam because of fears that their depictions would stir up hatred from Muslims.

This claim is obviously a pack of self-aggrandizing lies. If they had wanted to test the waters, they could have reprinted existing artworks which depict the prophet Muhammad, and written an article about these illustrators wondering if the above works of art would have been censored. Instead, they decided to employ some of the most racist and bigoted depictions of Muhammad they could muster, including one of him with a bomb-shaped turban and another of him with scimitar in hand standing in front of two burqa'd women (wives?) and a small black rectangle over the eyes, mocking the widely-held (but, as one can tell from the above links, not universal) proscription against depicting the Prophet. The intent was obviously to sow a backlash from Muslims, so that Jyllands-Posten could then portray itself as the victim of an unreasonable community.

Jyllands-Posten is working in the service of an unreasonable community. A community of racists and xenophobes who have gained strength in Denmark and would like nothing more than to see the borders closed and non-whites turned out of the country. Talking in abstract terms about freedom of speech and condemning only the overreaction of making death or bomb threats is to miss the whole picture. Trying to terrorize the artists and paper into complicity warrants condemnation, but we also need to condemn this strategem which was conceived to drive a wedge between Denmark and its Muslims. I support Jylland-Posten's free speech and right to print what it sees fit, but to not condemn the racism and xenophobia it represents is not to support free speech but to commit a serious moral lapse.

Svend White of Akram's Razor illustrates the problem:

In recent years, Denmark has been lurching rightward and turning increasingly hostile to Islam and Muslims (who now make up about 4% of the population). It is becoming increasingly common to see headlines about prominent Danish figures openly expressing prejudice against Islam, and mainstream parties are working increasingly closely with hardline nationalist (and, of course, Muslim-baiting) parties that were once rightly viewed as fringe and beyond the pale. It's gotten so bad in Denmark--and I'm sorry to say so as someone whose maternal side of the family is there and who has long taken pride in Denmark's once enlightened policies--that a prominent pundit in neighboring Sweden declared Denmark the most xenophobic country in Europe. By all accounts, inter-communal relations in Denmark (which for the most part are Muslim/non-Muslim relations) are becoming worryingly strained and beset with prejudice and misunderstandings. This is the political and social context that Jyllands-Posten's attacks on the Prophet occured in, and which is
conspicuously absent from the MWU piece.

One of the comments on his blog in another article was so true to this experience that it, and her location, was like a punch in the stomach.

I think sometimes people dont care what they say about Muslims because when they react they can just roll their eyes collectively with the world at the angry irrational Muslim. I think our image is so shattered that no one cares whether they hurt us or not becuase no one will see it as wrong anymore...

And her location? As one can see from her blog, it's the good ol' U.S. of A. This is a problem. This is a serious problem. This is supposed to be a land of religious freedom and enlightenment values, and yet those of us who try to stand as a voice of reason and inclusion are so drowned out that it is as if we don't exist.

And little wonder. A moderate voice in the Islamic world, Tariq Ramadan, is kicked out of the country while Pres. Bush appoints Daniel Pipes, a noted anti-Muslim bigot, to the U.S. Institute of Peace, which is on the same moral plane as appointing the infamous "Bull" Connor to head the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. It signals this administration's hostility to Muslims as nothing can that, faced with weak and rather paltry Congressional opposition, Bush made a recess appointment, good for two years during which the cause of peace and understanding was actively undermined in this think tank. It is despicable but all too easily understood.

I cannot emphasize enough how much work anyone with any concern for broad cultural understanding and respect for religious freedom has to do. We cannot be satisifed with a de jure religious freedom where Muslims are ‘tolerated’ but still targets of bigotry occasionally spilling over into violence, but must also strive for a de facto religious freedom where being a Muslim is as accepted as being a Methodist.
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