Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Egypt's Grand Mufti Gets It Right 

For once I'm apparently in agreement with the Grand Mufti of Egypt.  In a Politiken interview I don't see translated anywhere, he tries to explain exactly what Denmark has done wrong and what it needs to do to restore its relations with the part of the world that's currently praying for its destruction.  (Aside to Grand Mufti: Danes don't generally pray for anyone's destruction, and don't consider that kind of behavior a reasonable response to a personal affront, so we've got a communication gap there, as well.)
The Grand Mufti says (toward the end of the interview):
»Jeg tror, at fire ting er nødvendige i Europa. For det første skal undervisningsmateriale, der chikanerer islam, fjernes. For det andet skal de love, der diskriminerer islam, væk. Der er enkelte love, der er meget diskriminerende. Tørklædeforbuddet for eksempel. For det tredje skal islam kunne anerkendes som religion i de lande, hvor der bor muslimer. Og for det fjerde skal muslimer have lige rettigheder og muligheder. Når det er sagt, har de også et ansvar for at integrere sig i deres samfund. Men det skal ske uden krav om, at de skal opgive deres identitet«
To paraphrase quickly, rather than translate (quick lunches, remember): he thinks four things are necessary in Europe: educational materials that harass Islam have to be removed.  Laws that discriminate against Islam need to be got rid of.  Islam must be recognized as a religion in every country Muslims inhabit.  And Muslims must have equal rights and opportunities.
I completely agree with all four points.  I guess my problem is that I think all four of these conditions have already been met--the odious French headscarf law the only exception that jumps immediately to mind.  (Yes, it's odious.  There are girls all over Brooklyn and Queens doing very well at school in their headscarves.) 
Also, there's a lot of translation being done better and faster than I can do it over here....  oops, that was supposed to be a link.  I can't make it work for the moment.  I'll edit it later today.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lost Time 

I haven't blogged in about a week. It isn't that I've lost interest in what's going on. It's not even just that I've been too busy. (I have been, but I can find time when I need to.) It's that every time I see something in the news that I feel compelled to blog about it, I start a post, am unable to finish it in the time I've got, and then when I finally do have time to finish it there's something else in the news that I'm even more anxious to write about.

Off the top of my head, I can remember wanting to write about the Swedisih government's shutting down of a private party's website because it hosted pictures of the cartoon; the Finnish prime minister's apology to the Muslim world for the cartoons having been hosted on a private site in Finland; the reaction of various Danish Muslims to the Prime Minister's meeting with only one particular group of Muslims; the momentary political shift in Denmark away from the Social Democrats and toward neither Venstre or the Conservatives but the Danish Folk Party; the ongoing lack of concern about Silvio Berlusconi's self-description as "the Jesus Christ of politics," especially when compared to the furor over another government minister's having been forced to resign for having worn a tee-shirt with one of the cartoons upon it; and, lastly, the dismally unfolding reality that while most western individuals on the left and right really do seem to "get it," our media and governments have put up their white flags.

Maybe that's because they're the media and governments and are so used to triangulating their statements, or trying to maintain the illusion that they're doing so, they've lost all common sense.

Because the common sense I'm hearing from pretty much everyone I talk to or correspond with, of every political persuasion, is this: whatever you think of the cartoons or the paper, the paper had the right to publish them. And the government has no authority to take any action against the newspapers for having done so. And Danish businesses and the Danish people certainly don't bear any collective responsibility for the behavior of a single newspaper. And Muslims around the world have every right to be offended, to express their offense, even to conduct peaceful though wrong-headed boycotts.

It's also common sense that when you start burning effigies, issuing death threats, inciting riots, attacking innocents, and burning down or attacking diplomatic installations, you've left the realm of the "peaceful protest."

Anyway, instead of trying to get caught up and make up for lost time, I'm just going to post this great link to Flemming Rose's own account of "Why I Published Those Cartoons." It's in English.

I'll try now to resume posting on my regular erratic schedule.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day 

Peter has sent me a new translated article to post, on the full chronology and activities of the Travelling Imams, and there's an interesting story in MetroXpress today about the harm this crisis has done to the average Dane's perceptions of Islam, but I have no time for any of that now. 
Lunch is short, and it's Valentine's Day, so here's the old History of Valentine's Day from the almanac archives.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Brace Yourself 

Yes, strap yourselves in for another bumpy ride on Religion's wild ride: Italian PM Silvio Berluscnoi has apparently called himself " the Jesus Christ of politics."
Presumably there'll be demonstrations of outrage Christians on the streets of Rome within the next couple of days.  A delegation of leading Jesuits will no doubt embark upon a tour of the "Christian World" to inform their co-religionists of Berlusconi's offensive remark.
Then it'll just be a matter of months before there are violent demonstrations in the capitals of all the Christian nations of the world.  Italian ambassadors will be sent packing; foreign ambassadors in Rome will be called home for consultations.  There'll be calls for an EU prosecution of the Italian head of state; the Organization of Christian Nations will demand satisfaction.  Italian embassies in several Christian countries will be attacked and even, in some cases, burned to the ground.
Newspapers around the world will refuse to print the text of the remarks, for fear of offending Christians.  A handful of newspapers in non-Christian countries will publish the text in solidarity with Mr. Berlusconi; in most cases the editors will be fired and the newspapers sued.  But western media will trip all over themselves reporting on the offensive nature of the remark, and every major leader of the world will explain that although an Italian head of state does have the right of free speech, free speech has limits and comparing oneself to our lord and savior Jesus Christ clearly crosses that line.  The New York Times will publish an editorial describing Berlusconi's contempt for the Christian condition, but will refuse to reprint the text of his remarks for fear of offending people further.
The EU will consider a ban on all metaphors involving the name of Jesus Christ.  Wolf Blitzer will interview Silvio Berlusconi on CNN and ask him if he's prepared to apologize to the Christian world for taking the Lord's name in vain.  Bersusconi will explain it was only a joke, told among friends.  Blitzer will then press a secret button under his desk and release the College of Cardinals, who will subsequently devour Berlusconi on live television in a rabid fit of wanton cannibalism.
And I am Marie of Romania.

Iranian Police Participated in Attack on Danish Embassy 

I just get a short lunch break, so I don't have time to translate, but this new story from Teheran is disturbing but unsurprising: apparently the local police enabled the attacks on the Danish embassy last week, and even drank tea with the perpetrators afterwards.
Don't Iranian police, unlike Danish newspapers, work for the government?  Or have the Iranian police been privatized?  Because I think Denmark is due a very serious, very sincere apology from the Iranian government.
Isn't it?
(I won't hold my breath...)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Vandals in Esbjerg 

According to this story, more than two dozen Muslim graves were vandalized in a Muslim churchyard in Jylland last night.
That kind of thing is disgusting.  I'll defend Denmark's free press with all I've got, but I will never, ever excuse something so ugly, hateful, crude, and disgraceful.
It's so damn frustrating to see the ugly extremes on both sides of this issue, when it's perfectly clear that the vast majority of Danes bear no ill will toward Muslim immigrants, and the vast majority of Muslim immigrants bear no ill will toward Danes.  It's so important to prevent the extremists on both sides from framing the issue as an apocalyptic clash of incompatible civilizations.  I regret that I myself can get caught up in some of the doomsday talk now and then.  But secular western civilization is absolutely compatible with Islam.  The millions of happy and productive Muslim immigrants who are perfectly at home in the western world are a testament to that fact.  It's the uncivilized elements of both sides that are setting off all the sparks.
But I've read enough history to realize it was ever thus.
Anyway, I hope the perpetrators are caught and that the law comes down on them with full force.
* * *
On an entirely different subject, EuroCNN broadcasts "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" every Sunday evening.  Anders Fogh Rasmussen was one of the featured guests tonight.  I thought he held his ground firmly but diplomatically.  I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive Wolf Blitzer for asking the Prime Minister (at this late date!) if he intended to offer a government apology for the offensive cartoons.  (I paraphrase from memory; eventually the transcript ought to turn up here.)
Fogh explained for the seven-hundred-thousandth time that under Danish law, the Danish government has no authority over or responsibility for the views expressed in privately-owned newspapers.
It was the right answer, I'm sure, but I would have found deep (if momentary) satisfaction if Fogh had replied: "That is an interesting question, Vulf.  Since you apparently don't understand the concept of a free press, may I assume your own government told you to ask it?"

Per Nyholm: "We Are Being Pissed Upon" 

I was fortunate enough to receive the following translation of a Friday Jyllands-Posten column in my inbox this afternoon.  The original may be found here.  Thanks very much to its translator, who identifies himself to me only as "Peter."  (I have made no modifications to the translation as it was sent to me; the bracketed editorial notes are his own.)
(Maybe American liberals will start climbing back aboard the (mostly vacant) free press bandwagon now that Danes feel a little betrayed by George W. Bush again.)
The translation follows.
* * *
We are being pissed upon
by Per Nyholm
February 10, 2006

I think it was the long departed H.C. Hansen, one of last century's great Danish statesmen who once - while the communists were demonstrating in front of Christiansborg [Ed: the seat of parliament] - threw his gaze across the palace square and remarked: "I will not be pissed upon."

Then he did what was necessary.

I feel that currently my beloved country is being pissed upon rather too much.  Denmark has not been neglecting its duties on the international stage. We have supported poor people with acts and advice, we have worked for peace, we have sent soldiers, policemen and experts to all the far flung corners of the world.  We have democracy, a state of law and a welfare state. Not all is perfect, but we harbor no malice to our fellow man.

And yet Denmark is being pissed upon. The spokesman of the US State Department is pissing on Denmark, the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs is pissing on Denmark, the President of Afghanistan is pissing on Denmark, the Goverment of Iraq is pissing on Denmark, other Moslem regimes are pissing on Denmark. In Gaza, where Danes for years have provided humanitarian relief, crazed Imams encourage people to cut off the hands and heads of the cartoonists who made the caricatures of Mohammed for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

Excuse my choice of words, but all this pissing is pissing me off.

What's happening? I am not so much referring to the threats against Danish citizens and Danish commerce. Nor are the burnt down Embassies what occupies my mind. I am thinking of a word that keeps popping up whenever the Mohammed cartoons are mentioned.

That word is BUT. A sneaky word. It's used to deny or relativize what one has just said.

How many times lately have we not heard people of power, The Formers of Opinion and other people say that of course we have freedom of speech, BUT.

They have said it, all of them, from Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General to our own Bendt Bendtsen [ed: Danish Politician]. Once we had to be sensitive of the easily hurt feeling of the Nazis, then came the communists, now it is the Islamists. The reason I say 'Islamists' is that I don't for a moment believe all the world's Moslems are pissing on us. I think we are dealing with thugs, fools and misled people. Those are the ones we have to deal with, and then the chickenshit politicians.

The cartoons are no longer something the Jyllands-Posten can control. They have already been manipuleted and misrepresented to the point that few know what's going on and fewer know how to stop it. This affair is artifically keept buoyant in a sea of lies, suppressions of the truth, misconceptions, lunacy and hypocrisy, for which this newspaper bears no blame. The only thing the
Jyllands-Posten did was that it with a pin-prick made a boil of nastiness explode. It would have happened sooner or later. That it happened more than four months following the publication of the cartoons, raises a question of its own. Are we dealing with random events or with a staged clash of civilizations? One might hope for the former yet expect the latter.

That's why I say: Freedom of Speech is Freedom of Speech is Freedom of Speech.  There is no but.

Initially I was doubtful of the timeliness of publishing the cartoons. Later events have convinced me that it was both just and useful. That they are consistent with Danish law and Danish custom seem to me less important than this: that we now know that remote, primitive countries deem themselves justified in telling us what we can do. Unfortunately we also have to recognize
that governments close to us agree with them in the name of expedience.

The just is in the offensive this newspaper has launched in the name of Freedom of Speech, the useful in our newly acquired knowledge. Welcome to a brave, new world, where even our Prime Minister - in spite of his laudable firmness - must gaze out upon a scorched political landscape. It's true, as is custom, his friend in Washington, George Bush, condemns the torching of our embassies, but his Department of State allude to us being the guilty ones in this case. The suggestion that Danish troops might benefit the democratization is buried under the charred remains of our diplomatic representations in Beirut and Damascus.

Perhaps it's time we started mopping up this mess. Perhaps Editor-in-Chief Carsten Juste ought to remove his apology which has gone stale sitting so long on the front page of our internet edition and which does not seem to interest madmen. Perhaps our government ought to announce to Mona Omar Attia, the strange Ambassador of Egypt, that she is persona non grata.

Perhaps it ought to be announced to the ambassadors that have been called home to fictive consultations in the Middle East that they may spare themselves the cost of the return ticket.

To the degree it is possible, The Lying Imams ought probably to be expelled. And then we ought to make an effort for the Moslems who in a difficult situation have proven themselves to be true Citizens.

We, for our part, have no wish to be a burden for the arab governments. We will happily withdraw our soldiers, policemen and diplomats. If they think our money smells, we will stop our aid. Our trade must make do as well as it can. We promise to not bear a grudge and, in time, we will be glad to return, but we are through with the hypocrisy. We have better things to do than being pissed upon at our own expense.

Turn down our activity in the Middle East. This world holds other opportunities.

Naser Khader: "I Feel Insulted" 

As promised in a previous post, I've translated Naser Khader's commentary "I Feel Insulted ."  (The essay first appeared in Berlingske Tidende on January 31, when the issue was only just beginning to receive international attention.)
I've done my best to translate in a way that sustains the emotional tone of the essay and avoids awkward literal translations of Danish idioms and expressions.  While this means my translation may not be 100% reliable on a literal level, it does mean you won't be scratching your head wondering what the hell writing "column up and column down," for example, could possibly mean.
His essay follows.
* * *
I Feel Insulted
by Naser Khader
January 31, 2006
The case of the Jyllands-Posten prophet drawings has now reached hitherto unseen heights.  Saudi Arabia and a couple of other Muslim countries now feel insulted and offended, and consumers in those nations are therefore starting a boycott of Danish goods.  The line of the insulted gets longer and longer, and this author hereby adds himself to the queue: I feel insulted in my democratic consciousness.  And I demand an apology.  Now!
The Danish debate about Jyllands-Posten's Muhammed drawings has drawn out many voices.  We've heard from the press itself, from the Prime Minister, from the opposition, from Muslim organizations, and from Muslim individuals.
Some consider the drawings an unacceptable insult to all Muslims, others don't.  The same can be said with regard to the Islamic world: some feel insulted, others don't.  My impressions from different Arabic media is that the most pervasive opinion – maybe surprising for some – can be summed up like this: We cannot as Muslims dictate that non-Muslims obey the dictated prohibition of picturing the prophet.  The uprising over Jyllands-Posten is in other words not a grassroots movement in the Islamic world, and that's certainly also reflected in the tally of countries that have complained and threatened boycotts to this point.  That's approximately a handful of the world's roughly 55 Muslim countries, and among these the loudest and most pointed protests are coming from Saudi Arabia.
Given this background, it's noteworthy that in Denmark one hears critiques of the drawings based on the premise that they're insulting to Muslims.  The spokesman for Grundfos, Niels Due Jensen, forthrightly urges Jyllands-Posten to give the world's Muslims an apology.  This paints all Muslims with one brush, a tendency which Jyllands-Posten's critics are otherwise usually right to condemn.   Some charge that the insult targeted a weak group.  To that I say that just because one is a Muslim doesn't require one to be weak.
As a Muslim and a democrat I therefore wish to stress: I (and many others) don't feel insulted by the drawings.  On the contrary, I feel strongly insulted that where there was once a tradition for religious satire in the Middle East, it's now become primarily a western privilege to treat religion satirically.  And insulted that freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and artistic freedom are for the most part reserved to the western world.  Why don't we in Denmark fight for the Muslim artists' right to the same privileges as their western colleagues?
I feel insulted that we in Denmark hear demands for an apology to fundamentalists in Saudi Arabia instead of demands for democratic liberties for everyone, including Muslims.
Why don't we condemn Saudi Arabia's outrageous absence of democracy?  Why do religious insults outweigh democratic insults?
You can write yourself senseless on the topic of how wise it was for Jyllands-Posten to put out the drawings.  You can do the same on the topic of whether they were or weren't an expression of anything more than tasteless provocation.  Or whether the government could have handled it differently.  But it is indeed nothing but wonderful that the foreign minister is now "working diplomatically to calm the troubled waters."  Dialog, yes.  Apology, never.  What should he apologize for?  That we don't interfere in the freedom of the press and artistic freedom?  Whom should he apologize to?  Saudi Arabia?
If anyone ought to say they're sorry, it's Saudi Arabia.  Apologize for its glaring disrespect of human rights, for its disrespect of religious freedom and for its systematic war on equality.  For denying women their voting rights, for denying them a passport without a man's permission, for only counting their witness as half a man's, and for forbidding them something as banal as driving a car.  For the poor underpaid Filippino Christian guest workers imprisoned just for possession of a personal Bible.  Apologize for Sharia punishments.  For hand amputations for thievery and the lash for consumption of alcohol.  For stoning to death for infidelity and homosexuality, yes, I could go on.
Saudi Arabia should be ashamed, and an apology for having insulted the country with satirical drawings is simply a bow to fundamentalism.
My message to Saudi Arabia and the other Muslim countries who have joined the boycott therefore goes like this: You insult my democratic consciousness.  Apologize.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Man 

I've mentioned Naser Khader a couple of times in the last few posts.  I haven't linked to him yet.
I apologize for the oversight.  Here he is.
If you can read Danish and haven't already read this, please read his essay "I Feel Insulted."
If you can't read Danish...  damn.  It's a lot to translate, but I'll do my best in the days ahead.  As far as I'm concerned, in this little sliver of this little lightning-flash of a moment in history, I think he is doing the most important work in the world.
(And yeah, I'm aware of the fact that his politics are generally to the left of mine, but unlike the American left these days I'm capable of putting my ideological reflexes aside in emergency situations.  Oh... and I'm capable of recognizing emergency situations.)

I Wish the Times, It Was A-Changin'... 

The New York Times publishes an article entitled "A Startling New Lesson in the Power of Imagery" with the following opening paragraph:
They're callous and feeble cartoons, cooked up as a provocation by a conservative newspaper exploiting the general Muslim prohibition on images of the Prophet Muhammad to score cheap points about freedom of expression.
Readers of the Times will have to take the writer's word for it since they've never seen the images themselves.  But you have admire the audacity of the way this whole episode is being framed here.  "Cooked up," "provocation," "exploiting," "cheap points."  And that's just the first sentence!  (But aren't we supposed to have to pay for Times opinion pieces now?)
But let's fast-forward to where the author really drops the ball, in comparing the current international fiasco to a little tempest-in-a-teapot I myself lived through in New York:
An obvious precedent, now comically tame by comparison, is the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999, a promotional bonanza for the British collector and wheeler-dealer Charles Saatchi, who owned the art in the show. The exhibition incited protests by the Catholic League. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani played the stern dad to a bunch of publicity-savvy artists whose work included a collage of the Virgin Mary with cutouts from pornographic magazines and shellacked clumps of elephant dung.
Previously unmoved to action by Catholic League protests against a play at City Center involving a gay lead character fashioned after Jesus, the mayor, contemplating a Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, decided he was personally offended by the art, although he had never actually seen it, and threatened to cut off public financing for the museum.
"You don't have a right to government subsidy for desecrating somebody else's religion," he said, foreshadowing a bit the Danish debacle about freedom of religious expression, notwithstanding that the artist of the Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili, happened to be Roman Catholic.
The New York art world was shocked only because it had expected the show to pass without fuss, since the art was already old news to insiders. But then museums nationwide had to hold their collective nose to defend Brooklyn over the issue of free expression, and by the end the whole affair had turned into farce, obscuring even the quality of what were, in fact, a few not-so-bad works of art.
That's an obvious precedent?  It's obvious in that it involves a religious symbol being desecrated, but beyond that I'm lost.
What Giuliani said is absolutely right, and does not foreshadow the current debate at all.  No one has a right to a government subsidy for anything.  A government is acting entirely within its rights if it decides that, based on a violation of what are considered community standards, a given exhibit ought not to receive the support of federal money.
But I don't even want to get into all that.  What's interesting isn't that this particular writer thinks there are parallels between a mayor threatening to withhold a subsidy and a violent global movement calling for the destruction of a sovereign nation.  What's interesting is that the times actually dared to show the offending art!
Here's the image:
You know what I think personally?  I think publishing this image was a callous and feeble attempt, cooked up as a provocation by a liberal newspaper exploiting the general Catholic weariness at seeing their holiest symbols desecrated (by artists who don't have the courage to stand up to Muslim sensibilities on the same topic) to score cheap points about.... well, whatever.  I don't see how it does much of anything other than put the lie to their editorial from the other day (see post below).  Are you telling me the image in that photo isn't just as "easy to describe" as the images from Jyllands-Posten?
This is the kind of stupid hypocrisy that makes me sick.  As America's leading newspaper, the Times ought to be very firmly leading the charge on the right side of this debate.
Instead they're playing whack-a-mole against America's Catholics.
What's the message?  "Muslims worldwide have a right not to be offended by what we print in an American newspaper.  American Catholics do not."
I guess the only way to get them to change their mind would be to put them through what Jyllands-Posten is experiencing: last night I saw on the news that the police count of bomb-, death-, and other threats against them had passed the century mark.  Yes.  And their cartoonists are in hiding for fear of their lives.  Yes.  And every day, all day, on every Danish media outlet, we are told more stories of which Islamic groups are vowing to kill which Danes (and which are simply declaring open season on the whole country).  Danes are being ordered home from Muslim nations.  An amnesty has been passed allowing Danes with family members in Muslim countries to bring them into Denmark without the usual bureaucratic hassles for the next 14 days.  And so on.
And what Americans probably don't even know is that, within Denmark, the whole issue is being dealt with beautifully.  Extremist groups (Abu Laban & co.) have been cut out of "the dialog" with the government, and MP Naser Khader is leading moderate Muslims into a new organization, for which funding is already flowing from every part of Denmark.  (He's also saying Denmark has nothing to apologize for, but he himself is demanding an apology from Saudi Arabia.)  These moderates are organizing trips to the Middle East to go and explain to their fellow religionists how a free press works in a free country.  They've expressed their offense at the images, but have also expressed their understanding that this is simply how things work when you've got a free press.  They're moving on.  Yes.
The problem is not Denmark.  The problem is the militant extremists around the world running absolutely riot over an issue I'd wager most of them don't even understand.  Embassies burn, people die, journalists go into hiding, newspaper offices must be evacuated...
...and the Times sees a good opportunity to put that provocative Danish newspaper and those rascally American Catholics in their place!
* Sigh... *

Friday, February 10, 2006

On the Lighter Side of Murderous Rage 

It's Friday night here in Denmark and there's so much wrong with this idiot world that I have nothing to say.

So I'm falling back on my default, which is two parts denial, two parts skepticism, and a liter of whiskey. (Stirred, not shaken, for that necessary touch of iconoclasm.)


While surfing Yahoo News photos of the Happy Shiny People of the world calling for the death of my friends and family, I came across one that gave me unexpected pleasure.

Here's the caption:

Protesters chant slogans as they set fire to a Danish flag during a demonstration after Friday prayers at Beyazit Mosque in Istanbul February 10, 2006. Around two thousand Muslim protesters chanted slogans and burnt flags of Denmark, France and Israel in protest against the cartoons printed by Danish and European media. REUTERS/Ahmet Ada

Here's the photo:

Notice anything funny about this picture?

It's the Swiss flag. Seriously. Look, I know a thing or two about the Danish flag. It looks like this:

And the Swiss flag looks like... well, like that flaming thing up there.

So congratulations, you idiots: you're too stupid even to hate correctly.

* * *

If you click a few photos back from the Swiss-hating Turks over on Yahoo News, by the way, you can probably cash in on that $25 million reward...

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