Is Denmark Really Xenophobic?

January 31, 2006

Let me be honest. I have no doubt in my mind that Denmark these days is one of the most xenophobic countries in western Europe; one of the worst xenophobic parties in the western world, Danish People’s Party (which I’ve talked about before) is the third largest party in Denmark; the Danish government has cut down on immigration; Denmark is currently involved in a major political and diplomatic crisis because of satirical cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, etc., etc. (however, this situation is of course not directly related to the fact that xenophobia appears to be widespread in Denmark as well as in other European countries and the Danish population is not in any way responsible for this foolish publication of some cartoons – more comments about this below).

But can the relative xenophobia in the European countries be measured?

If there is one place where you – in principle – always can find the answer, its Google. So, I tried to search for the word “xenophobia” together with the name of certain countries. Here is how many hits Google returned:

1. 569.000 for xenophobia And france (60,7 million)
2. 558.000 for xenophobia And germany (82,4 million)
3. 352.000 for xenophobia And italy (58,1 million)
4. 341.000 for xenophobia And england (60,4)
5. 242.000 for xenophobia And austria (8,2 million)
6. 228.000 for xenophobia And sweden (9,0 million)
7. 206.000 for xenophobia And belgium (10,4 million)
8. 198.000 for xenophobia And portugal (10,6 million)
9. 180.000 for xenophobia And norway (4,6 million)
10. 169.000 for xenophobia And denmark (5,4 million)

The number in the parentheses is the population of the country in question. Maybe not so surprisingly, France and Germany top the list with Norway and Denmark taking last places, which actually surprised me. We all know about the problems with attitudes towards foreigners in France and Germany (and we should not forget the riots in the suburbs of Paris last month).

What if we look a relative index, which I more or less randomly define as the number of hits in thousands divided by the population in millions? Then we observe something completely different: Norway and Denmark top the list with Austria coming in at third place (which might not be too surprising for obvious historical reasons):

1. Norway 39.1
2. Denmark 31.3
3. Austria 29.5
4. Sweden 25.3
5. Belgium 19.8
6. Portugal 18.7
7. France 9.4
8. Germany 6.8
9. Italy 6.0
10. England 5.6

It is a strange historical fact that Norway also published the satirical drawings of Muhammad from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. To conclude, in my mind, Denmark is not only xenophobic but also relatively xenophobic…

However, I also want to make the following completely clear: Liberty of expression is fundamental to our society. And I resent fanaticism in any form.

Concerning the cartoons mentioned earlier (and which are not really directly related to the question of how xenophobic Denmark is), there is a large amount of stupidity on both sides (for example has Prophet Muhammad been depicted several times earlier in history, both in the Western and the Arab world, see here, and therefore the question can not just be about depicting Prophet Muhammad; my guess is that it is much more about frustration and internal political conflicts). The question is not about the Prime Minister acting against freedom of expression. And the question should not, I think, be about politics (I don’t like mixing up religion with politics even though that might be impossible in principle). The question is about respecting other peoples beliefs – even though maybe only 0.0001% of the people demonstrating against Denmark have actually seen those satirical drawings…

Update: The origins of xenophobia in Denmark are analyzed by a Danish historian at Random Platitudes (this is, by the way, an excellent blog).

Danish Prime Minister Refuses to Apologize over Prophet Cartoons

January 30, 2006

Four months ago the danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 satirical drawings of Prophet Muhammad; one showed Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Another portrayed him with a bushy gray beard and a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle.

The story has been escalating ever since. And for obvious reasons. In a statement Sunday, the newspaper said: “we at Jyllands-Posten feel regret because the issue has reached this level and we reiterate that we did not mean to insult anybody”.

At this point, the situation is more than critical. How did your Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, react? Basically just by – as usual – ignoring the whole situation (one reason being, I presume, that the governments power is more or less completely determined by the xenophobic right-wing Danish People’s Party, which I’ve talked about here and here). According to Reuters:

Denmark’s Prime Minister said on Sunday his government could not act against satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed after Libya closed its embassy in Copenhagen amid growing Muslim anger over the dispute.

The newspaper Jyllands-Posten had not intended to insult Muslims when it published the drawings, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, referring to an editorial on the paper’s Web site in Danish and Arabic.

And furthermore,

Since Jyllands-Posten published the drawings in September, the Danish government has repeatedly defended the right of free speech.
“The government can in no way could influence the media. And the Danish government and the Danish nation as such can not be held responsible for what is published in independent media,” Fogh Rasmussen said.

What is the situation like now? Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark and there is a widespread boycott of Danish products in the Middle East. On Sunday, Libya closed its embassy in Denmark in protest at the drawings. Also on Sunday, in a demonstration on the West Bank, members of Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades threatened Danes (and other Scandinavians) in the area and told them to leave immediately. And even former US president Bill Clinton described the cartoons as “appalling” during an economic conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

It is often claimed that the Danish government has broad public support for its stance on the cartoons. A recent opinion poll showed that 79 percent of Danes think Fogh Rasmussen should not issue an apology and 62 percent say the newspaper should not apologize. You should know that such an opinion poll is not worth a dime. The uncertainty is most likely +/- 20 percent; people have been asked about something which they for most part haven’t ever thought about; and phrasing the question in a slightly different manner would have given a completely different outcome.

All this could damage Denmark’s reputation for several years – as if it hasn’t been largely damaged already.

More related news at Google News.

CSL-1: The End of Cosmic Strings?

January 17, 2006

In the last couple of years there has been some enthusiasm both in the string theory and cosmology communities regarding the possible observation of an astronomical effect of a cosmic string. A pair of images – named CSL-1 – has been observed with the right properties such that they are candidates to arise from a single object lensed by a cosmic string such that it actually appears doubled. See for example the following paper.

The recent Hubble Space Telescope observations of CSL-1 clearly shows that it is not a cosmic string, but just a pair of interacting elliptical galaxies. If there were a string lensing a single object, you would have to see a discontinuity of the picture along the string – very different from lensing by a point mass for example. And even though the shapes are quite similar, the actual shapes would have to have been much more similar.

If CSL-1 could have been interpreted as a cosmic string, surely it would have had a very important impact on our understanding of fundamental physical laws – basically, it could either indicate a field theory phase transition at high energies or that it is possible for some superstrings from the early universe to remain macroscopic and still stable. At any rate, this particular case has not falsified the idea of cosmic strings in general. This should answer the question posed above.

The hypothesis that we may observe cosmic strings has been around for long – and long before it was shown that these cosmic strings could be identified with strings from string theory (the other possibility being that cosmic strings might arise as gauge theory solitons). The idea, that a cosmic string could be a fundamental string (F-string) is actually rather new. Before 1995 it was believed that F-strings have a tension close to the Planck scale and observational data precludes such heavy strings – cosmic strings are bound to have a tension at least two orders lower. Furthermore, Witten showed that long BPS F-strings (in the heterotic string theory) are unstable and hence would never be seen.

There are of course a number of instabilities that would prevent superstrings from growing to cosmic size (but it should be remembered that there is no fundamental principle preventing strings from growing to cosmic sizes – it’s basically just a matter of how much energy the string carries).

One is related to gauge strings. For gauge strings, the U(1) symmetry is exact with a magnetic flux running along the core of the string. However, one expects that should be electric and magnetic sources for every flux, so that the string can break by creation of a monopole/anti-monopole pair.

Another instability is related to global strings: that there are no global exact symmetries in string theory (this is because black holes can destroy global charges). This implies that a domain wall will force the string to collapse. The heterotic and Type II strings are effectively global strings, because they couple to the two-form field B. The Type I string couples to no form field and it can potentially break. The Type I and Type II cosmic superstrings have appeared in brane inflation models. However, it now seems that long superstrings can be stable – they generate networks (generally of (p,q) strings), radiate and lens distant objects (this was exactly what many hoped to see in CSL-1). More precisely, in Type II and Type I string theories it has been realized that it is possible – with the advent of D-branes – to construct long superstrings which are not BPS but are nonetheless stable and potentially observable. And in warped compactifications – as in the Randall-Sundrum model – superstring tensions can be reduced by several orders of magnitude.

I should be said, that a problem might be, however, that string theory generally produces too many and too many kinds of cosmic superstrings. For example, a cosmic superstring may arise as a Dp brane wrapped on a compact (p-1) dimensional cycle and general Calabi-Yau compactifications often have a huge number of S^2 and S^3 cycles.

After the observation of CSL-1, the existence of cosmic strings might be considered less likely for some people. But as such, it was not really a blow to string theory (as Peter Woit seems to be implying), or to the possibility of observing cosmic string, or to new physics in general. Sure, it was really bad luck – think about this: how many years did it take before black holes were “observed”? Does anybody believe that black holes do not exist? Or Dark Matter, for that matter 😉 ?

The CLS-1 has also been discussed by Lubos Motl, by Peter Woit (as mentioned above) and at Cosmic Variance.