Saturday, January 28, 2006


Every now and then the human race, or subsegments of its population, does something to astonish me, fill me with hope and wonder and awe.  Much more often it makes me want to slam my head against a wall until it bleeds.  (My head, not the wall.)  And sometimes, like this evening, it makes me want to scoop my eyes out with melon-ballers and let wild ferrets suck out my brains through crazy straws.
From Reuters, as published in "The Gulf Times":
A prominent Saudi cleric warned Denmark yesterday of the danger of failing to apologise for printing cartoons seen as offensive to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a row that has led Riyadh to recall its ambassador.
Friday prayer leader Osama Khayyat praised the Saudi decision taken on Thursday because it said Copenhagen had failed to do enough over the cartoons, printed in the country's largest newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September.
"This … government has warmed our hearts with its clear Islamic stance," Khayyat told worshippers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah in a sermon aired by state television.
"It showed its extreme displeasure, did justice to the Prophet and warned of the dangers of continuing this grave hostile path," he said. The recall came after pressure from powerful clerics and a popular campaign to boycott Danish products.
Norway said on Thursday it had advised its Middle East embassies to voice regret that an Oslo-based newspaper ran reprints of the cartoons.
Kari Karame, an expert in conflicts and the Middle East at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, said it was wrong to exploit freedom of speech to defend any insults.
"It's a very bad principle to say you can treat people who are different from you as you want because of freedom of expression," she said, adding Norwegians were not anti-Muslim.
Saudi papers on Wednesday published an edict from Saudi's top cleric asking Denmark to punish the paper. Danish-Swedish dairy Corp Arla Foods said stones were thrown at a company car in Riyadh in one incident.
"This is a religious duty and all businessmen should do something," said Sultan, manager of a Riyadh supermarket which had signs warning customers where the Danish products were.
After Arab foreign ministers spoke out about the cartoons over a month ago, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged Danes in a New Year address to exercise the right to free speech without inciting hatred against Muslims.
What do you like best about that article?  There's so much to love about it, but my particular favorite is the notion of a god-loving people so incensed by the unbearable offense of a newspaper article that they'll throw rocks at things.
As Tom pointed out in a comment earlier today, Jyllands-Posten is feeling the heat.  The front page of their website featured a big box full of Arabic text -- with a link to a Danish translation of the article.  I translate hurriedly and sloppily but mostly pretty accurately:
Honored Citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Allow me this opportunity to correct some misunderstandings surrounding the drawings of the prophet Muhammed, which have now led to a boycott of Danish goods in your nation.
The drawings were published four months ago as part of a Danish debate about freedom of expression -- a right which we value highly in Denmark.
The initiative has been portrayed as a campaign against Muslims in Danmark and throughout the world.  I must categorically refute this.  It was not our intention to insult anyone's belief.  That it happened anyway, was actually unintentional.  We've apologized many times for that in the course of the past months.  Both in our own paper, in other papers, on tv, radio, and in international media.  We have at the same time held meetings with representatives of the Muslim culture in Denmark.  They took place in a positive and constructive spirit, just as we also in a different way are seeking to establish a fruitful dialog with Danish Muslims.
We are sorry that the case has reached its current level and will therefore repeat that we had no intention of insulting anyone, and that we, just like the larger Danish culture, respect freedom of worship.
Most sincerely,
Carsten Juste
Editor in Chief
Meanwhile, Iran has joined the fray and Per Stig Møller, the Danish foreign minister, plans to take the burning issue up with his EU colleagues.
The one bright spot on all this?  An opinion survey in which a majority of Danes have said they don't believe the Prime Minister (79%) or Jyllands-Posten (62%) owe the offended Muslim nations (or anyone else) an apology.
(Of course, the average Danish citizen isn't trying to sell milk and butter in Saudi Arabia, so we'll forgive Arla their craven obsequity.)
I'm astonished that this story isn't even getting brief mentions on CNN or BBC, and I haven't seen it picked up in any American media (besides brief wire reports buried in international sections).  The Arab League and OIC smell blood and are clearly trying to bully Denmark (and Norway) into submission.
But of course we're not in a clash of civilizations. . .

Piling On... 

Now Kuwait is piling on:
»Kuwait fordømmer på det stærkeste, det der er blevet trykt i en af de danske aviser«, siger en højtstående repræsentant for det kuwaitiske udenrigsministerium i en erklæring, som er sendt til aviserne.
»Det gør stor skade på profeten Muhammed«, sagde han og tilføjede:
»Dette er en af de former for foragtelig racisme, der har ført til katastrofer for hele det internationale samfund«.
"Kuwait strongly condemns that which has been put out in one of the Danish newspapers," says a high-ranking representative of the Kuwaiti foreign ministry in an explanation what was sent to the newspapers.
"It does a great injury to the prophet Muhammed," he said, and added:
"This is one of the forms of despicable racism which has led to catastrophes for the whole international culture."
Fair enough, right?  Some of those illustrations did play into racist stereotypes, and the anger seems appropriately directed at Jyllands-Posten, rather than Denmark itself.
Except that this representative also explained that Kuwait has "begun the procedure to call the Danish ambassador (who lives in Saudi Arabia) in for conversation."
So that's the new direction this seems to be taking: instead of just blasphemy and denigration of Islam (which accusations don't get much traction in the secular west), the Danish government is now to be held accountable for the "despicable racism" of Jyllands-Posten.
Is someone gonna call bullshit on these guys at some point, or what?  Because the fact that there's no opposing voice outside of Scandinavia contradicting these frivolous claims (is there?) means they're just going to get more and more play in the Arab world, and even the more outrageous claims are going to become accepted as given truths.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Arla Agonistes 

This makes me want to boycott Arla:
A Saudi Arabian boycott of Arla products leads the company to purchase advertisements to explain its side of the story to Saudi consumers.
The Danish ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Hans Klingenberg, wrote the text for Arla's advertisements.
'In certain connections the issue has unfortunately been presented as if the drawings were part of larger smear campaign against Muslims in Denmark. That is clearly not the case,' Klingenberg wrote. 'The Danish government respects Islam as one of the world's great religions.'
The ambassador cited PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen's New Year's speech, in which the prime minister condemned attempts to demonise groups based on their religion and ethnicity.
About 300 stores in Saudi Arabia have removed Arla's products now. A number of other stores have placed yellow plastic markers with a warning text that states the products come from Denmark.
It's embarrassing.  Arla should be ashamed.  (I think.)  Believe it or not, though, this Danish dairy firm has a blog, of all goddam things.
And they have a mention of the Saudi boycott in it.  Right here.  
Når forbrugere i Danmark vender ryggen til vores mælk, fordi de ikke bryder sig om vores måde at drive forretning på, så kan ændre vores adfærd og dermed gøre noget ved det. Men i dette tilfælde retter harmen sig ikke mod Arla, men mod Jyllands-Posten og det officielle Danmark. Og vi kan ikke gøre meget andet end bare se til. Øv.
("When consumers in Denmark turn their back to our milk because they don't care for our way of doing business, we can altar our affairs and thereby do something about it.  But in this case the harm isn't directed at Arla, but toward Jyllands-Posten and official Denmark.  And we can't do much except watch.  Argh.")
Which does kind of make me feel bad for them.  What are they supposed to do?  I don't know.
But somehow Arla's campaign seems wrong to me.  I realize they didn't bring this on themselves, but is it really the right answer to say, "Denmark loves Islam!  It's just those bastards at Jyllands-Posten who wanted to see if their exercise in free speech would stir up trouble... they're the ones that stirred up this trouble!  Those trouble-stirrers...  blame them!  But please keep buying our milk!"
Complicated mess.  I don't know.  But shame on Arla anyway.
I think.
(It's like if the Dixie Chicks said, "Hey, wait, we love George W. Bush!  We just said we didn't like coming from the same state as him because, you know, those ugly Texas license plates.  And those damn Rangers.  So don't misunderstand us--keep buying our albums, please!  Please!")
Comments are welcome on the Arla blog, by the way, so you can give them a thumbs up or thumbs down for their behavior if you want.

Blame Liberty 

It just keeps getting worse...  and apparently domestic Danish politics aren't hardening around the notion of a free press trumping the Wahhabist "right" not to have Mohammed's picture drawn.  Instead the opposition parties, including the Social Democrat's former front man, are holding the government partly responsible for the indignant absurdities of the Arab League and Saudi Arabia.
Says Lykketoft:
»Det er klart, at vi kunne have undgået meget - og mange misforståelser - hvis statsministeren oprindeligt havde taget det møde med ambassadørerne, som de bad om«, siger Lykketoft, der opfordrer udenrigsministeren til igen at tage kontakt til de arabiske lande.
"It's clear that we could have avoided a lot, and many misunderstandings, if the prime minister had taken the meeting requested by the [various protesting "Islamic" governments'] ambassadors," says Lykketoft, who urged the foreign minister to reach out again to the Arab countries.
I think Fogh had it right: what kind of absurd meeting would it be in which the prime or foreign minister of a democratic country has to explain to a roomful of despots, dictators, and theocrats exactly what freedom of the press actually means?  They're all playing this game for domestic consumption, and from some reports last week (or the week before), at least in some countries they're playing fast and loose with the actual circumstances to make it all sound much more insulting than it actually was.
I think this is an actual front in the current conflict.  I think the notion that a free press has to be apologized for is repugnant.  I don't think any western government should give an inch on this.  I think this would instead be a great opportunity to explain freedom of the press not to these disgusting governments, which obviously do understand it, but to the poor people suffering under their brutal regimes.  Because to them it must be unthinkable that a newspaper could publish something without the full consent of the government.
How do you do that?  No idea.  Can it even be done?  No idea.  So never mind...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Denmark's Saudi Problem 

Earlier this week--this morning or yesterday--I noticed an article about Saudi Arabian plans to boycott Danish goods (in protest of the Mohammed drawings discussed in previous posts), but I didn't get around to it.  Now I see they've recalled their ambassador to Denmark.
»Den saudi-arabiske regering har tilbagekaldt sin ambassadør til en konsultation i lyset af den danske regerings mangel på opmærksomhed omkring fornærmelsen af profeten Muhammed«, siger en talsmand for regeringen til Reuters.
"The Saudi-Arabian government has recalled its ambassador for a consultation in light of the Danish government's lack of attention to the insult of the prophet Muhammed," says a spokesman for the government to Reuters.
Wait...  Reuters?  This story has to be out there in English somewhere.  Hold on...  yes, here.  They also mention the boycott:
Danish food producers Arla Foods said the anger sparked by the cartoons had prompted a boycott of its dairy products in Saudi Arabia.
Arla director Finn Hansen said there had been calls for boycotting Danish products in Friday prayers and on Saudi television and in newspapers.
"We are certainly afraid this will spread across Saudi Arabia and affect our business," he told Reuters news agency.
The thing speaks for itself.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Professor Hitman? 

This is cool...  Hitman is being used to teach business leaders to get better at training their staffs.  (Why not staves?)  That means my sparkling dialogue is helping to inspire a whole generation of business leaders--er, okay, a seminar or two full of Danish HR bosses--how to get better at training and motivating staff.
Okay, maybe it's not so cool after all.  Interesting, though... and kind of dubious.
(In case you just tuned in, I write the dialogue for the Hitman games.  I've signed my weight in non-disclosure forms, so I will never discuss it at any greater length than that, but my name's right there on the credits when you buy the game so it must be legal to acknowledge it publicly.  Which I think I've done before anyway, come to think of it.)

Dillinger's Reaching... 

Politiken recently concluded some research and determined that the Nordic countries are the cultural elite of the world.
I'm going to translate on the fly:
Nowhere on earth publishes more books and produces more films per capita than the Nordic lands.  Denmark is tops in most culture areas.
by Lars Trier Mogensen and Marcus Rubin
Maybe it's the long, dark months that make us crawl under the blanket, turn on the light, and read thick books and watch a bunch of movies.  Or maybe we really are just more cultural than other people.
A comparison of the global cultural production and population tallies, conducted by Politiken, shows that the Nordic lands are way ahead of the big culture nations like Germany, France, and Great Britain.
The Culture Elite Live in the North
Every other year in Denmark alone there are just as many books published per capita as in these three European great powers combined.
In relationship to countries like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the rest of the world's small and middling countries must also bow down: the north is the world's culture elite.
Denmark proves itself best on the film front, where we are clearly number one in the world with the most films produced per capita.
Henning Camre, Director of the Film Institute, thinks that Denmark's top placement is the result of a combination of public support policies and a creative school system.
"Relative to Denmark's size, we've got a disproportionately big bunch of talent.  I think that the school system -- which gets criticized so often otherwise -- has played a big role.  The Danish schools have evidently been good at encouraging creativity and talent."
The same explanation comes from the editor of Monday Morning, Mikael Lindholm, the very one to have written the report "The North as a Global Winner Region" for the Nordic Council:
"Strictly value-wise the Nordic lands produce a form of avant-garde that's some steps ahead of most other regions in the world."
I haven't translated a whole story since well before the holidays, so my translating may be a little rusty, but I think that's a pretty good representation.
Are the north countries in general, and Denmark in particular, really any more or less "cultural" than other countries of the world?  Are books and movies alone enough to make such a measurement?  What about sculpture, painting, music, tapestry, theatre, dance, whittling?  Is there some way to quantify quality and content, or can we measure culture by sheer volume?  Is a country of one million people that publishes five books on, say, turnip raising, as "culturally great" as country of one hundred million that publishes less than 500 books, but on topics as varied as classical Hellenic finger-painting, indigineous Siberian dance choreography, and so on?  Can any defender of "culture" really argue that the concept is at all quantitative?  Are "avant-garde" ideas inherently good?  Will the egalitarian Danes really countenance the notion that in declaring themselves the cultural elite, they're obviously using a value-system that consigns some countries to the cultural rubbish heap?  Which countries are in the cultural rubbish heap?  Where is the link to Politiken's raw data?
American gunman and sometime philosopher John Dillinger once famously observed that "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver." 
That strikes me as an appropriately American answer to virtually all of the preceding questions, so I'm going to leave it at that.
(p.s.: Yes, the little dunkling was baptized a Christian.)

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