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.

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