First of all, I want to express my warmest thanks to a good friend, Lubos Motl, from Harvard University who has supported the Danes in the question about those stupid cartoons; see his posts about this here, here and here. I think there are many central points about politics where Lubos and I don’t agree. But at least we would never burn each others flags if we were to disagree…
Update: my friend Sean Carroll over at Cosmic Variance also has some interesting comments about the cartoon controversy; there are also some interesting comments at Mkhaela’s New Blog and at Random Platitudes.
And now to my central points: The bad news:
* On Saturday furious Syrians set fire to the Danish embassy (as well as the Norwegian one) supposedly as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad spread.
* Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday instructed the commerce ministry in Tehran to review trade ties with all European countries involved in the cartoons affair.
* Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday it has summoned Denmark’s ambassador to the ministry “to lodge a strong protest and demand immediate action by the Danish government against the newspaper.”
* Furthermore, calls for a mass boycott of Danish products in Arab states continued Saturday.
* Demonstrations against the caricatures also occurred in Baghdad; Khartoum, Sudan, and the Palestinian territories.
* On Sunday, Muslims protesting caricatures of Islam’s prophet set fire to a building housing the Danish consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, as security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to stop the protesters. Subsequently, the Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.
* On Monday, hundreds of Afghans clashed with police and soldiers during demonstrations against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Four people were killed and at least 19 wounded.
* More demonstrations have also appeared on the West Bank, in Niger, in Tehran and in Sarajevo.
How could it go so far? Basically, Denmark is at the eye of the storm after the cartoons that Muslims demonstrators find offensive, first appeared in a Danish newspaper. You should know, that actually the controversy began last September – more than four months ago – when 12 drawings of the Muslim prophet were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (which I still think was a rather stupid and immature thing to do). It gained strength in January, when a Norwegian newspaper reprinted the drawings. This Norwegian Christian newspaper was one of the first newspaper outside Denmark to publish the cartoons. They have now appeared in papers in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Poland.
The drawings have touched a raw nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. However, as far as I know, there is nothing directly in the Qu’ran which inhibits depictions of the Prophet. And, as I’ve said before, the Prophet has been depicted several times earlier in Arab history. So why has the reactions in the Islamic world been far out of scale to any offense given? How many of these demonstrations have actually been “spontaneous”? And how many were initiated by governmental control? How many demonstrators have actually seen the twelve original drawings? Or were they upset by rumors that some of the drawings depicted the Prophet as having sex – in whatever way it was, since I’ve never seen those false drawings which have nothing to do with the original cartoons? And if this is true, then who was interested in giving a completely wrong impression of the Danish press – or the Danish people in general for that matter? Did it serve as a political cause for obtaining more personal power? Has it served the purpose of helping the millions and millions of Muslims who are in no way interested in internal as well as external political conflicts?
Let us return to the question of why some Western countries have supported Denmark and some have actually not. What about one of our most important allies – the United States, you might ask? The US also stepped into the row, but initially – at least not for me – in a satisfactory way: “These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims,” State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said recently. “We all fully recognize and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.”
In this way, the US response actually has contrasted with European governments, which have tended to acknowledge tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted papers’ rights to print the cartoons. Well, I guess the main reason is that the US government is trying to improve its reputation in the Middle east – and for obvious reasons.
Yesterday, however, president Bush pleaded for an end to violence triggered by drawings of the Prophet Muhammad and also said that press freedom should be exercised with sensitivity. “We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press,” Bush said. And furthermore, that: “I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property, protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas”.
However, there are also some good news:
* In Denmark, a network of moderate Muslims established on Saturday condemned the attack on the Danish embassy and urged restraint. Naser Khader – on of my personal heroes in this case – the first immigrant member of the Danish parliament and who initiated the group, said: “It is terrible. This is no longer about the cartoons, the situation is out of control. I cannot take enough exception to it”.
The network issued the following statement:
Declaration by the newly founded “Moderate Moslem”-Network, passed on saturday 4. february 2006, during an assembly held at the Danish parliament, as a response to the drawings of the Prophet Mohammed.
We declare, today, that now is the time for dialogue, rather than digging trenches. We call on the Moslem countries, the Danish imams and the government to enter into dialogue, to settle this conflict, so that we may again meet on a friendly footing, and ensure that exchange of views and experiences across cultural, religious and geographic boundaries can continue.
As Moslems, we are the proof that Islam and democracy are not incompatible.
It is our hope that our example here in Denmark will make Moslems around the world react and follow our lead. Only by uniting, can we change the fundamentalistic picture of Islam that the many extremists have drawn with violence.
* UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently said that the violence over the cartoons wasn’t justified.
* And the government in Lebanon apologized and the press urged an end to cartoon riots.
* On Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair described the violent protests that have taken place against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad as “completely unacceptable”. Blair also said that he spoke with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, where the cartoons were first published, to offer him Britain’s full support and solidarity. Blair furthermore stated, that “the attacks on the citizens of Denmark and on people of the European community are completely unacceptable, as is the behavior of some of the demonstrators in London over the past few days”.
* On Tuesday a statement by the United Nations, European Union and the world’s largest Islamic group urged an end to violence. “Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam,” said the statement released by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the EU chief Javier Solana.
* And finally – as mentioned above – on Wednesday, president Bush called upon governments to stop the violence and protect the lives of diplomats overseas.
Furthermore, you should know that there are many things about Denmark which we should be proud of: As for example, the freedom of the press (Denmark is currently ranked #1 together with eight countries like Finland and Norway, while for example, the US shares a spot at #22, Turkey is at #113, Indonesia is at #117, Syria is at #155 and North Korea at the very bottom: #167), the father of quantum, Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, physicist (and a very good candidate for a Nobel Prize in Physics) Lene Hau, the Carlsberg and Tuborg beers, the LEGO toys, the Stokke stuff for babies, the Bang & Olufsen audio and video products, Danish cheese, the movie The Idiots by director Lars von Trier, The Celebration by director Thomas Vinterberg, Babettes gæstebud by Gabriel Axel, Novo Nordisk medicine (which for example has helped millions of people with diabetes mellitus), Ecco shoes, Danish porcelain, world-famous poet Hans Christian Andersen, writer Karen Blixen (sometimes known as Isak Dinesen) and Martin Andersen Nexø, astronomer Tycho Brahe, physicist Hans Christian Ørsted (who invented electromagnetism), Jørn Utzon (well you know, the opera in Sidney…), actress Connie Nielsen, drummer Lars Ulrich from Metallica, painter Asger Jorn and Peder Severin Krøyer, composer Carl Nielsen, architect Arne Jacobsen and of course the famous PH-lamps as well as many other things.
What would you have added?