Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Danish cartoon affair revisited

For the record, a post of mine on the Indo-Eurasian Research yahoolist from August 2009 is reproduced, concerning the Danish cartoon affair, the hypotheses proposing to "explain" it, and my own role in it.



--- In Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, Michel Tavir wrote:
>
> [Mod. note. The terms "party line" and "party liners" are really loaded,
> Michel. What supposed party are you talking about? When you say that
> "Denmark was chosen because, more than anywhere else in Europe, the
> anti-muslim ultra-right had (and still has) a defacto grip on political
> power...", who was supposedly doing the choosing? Without naming
> names it sounds more than a bit conspiratorial. - SF.]
>

There was no need for Michel to withdraw into a figurative reading of the expression he used. In Denmark, an "anti-Muslim" political party (Pia Kjaersgaard's) did have a "grip" on power, in the sense that it gave indispensible outside support to Rasmussen's minority government.

But I wouldn't call it "ultra-right". When moving rightward from the centre, the farther right you go, the less likely that you will meet "anti-Muslim" people, who are usually also anti-democratic, anti-American and anti-Zionist. Neo-Nazis in their demonstrations nowadays carry pictures of the Hezbollah sheikh and of Iran's president Ahmadinejad, comrades at arms in the struggle against the Zionist World Conspiracy. Recently the leader of the Dutch neo-Nazi group said on TV that Bosnian and Albanian Muslims were fully part of Europe, because they are white and also because of their numerous volunteers in the Waffen-SS, but African Muslims were not, and nor were African Christians or native religionists, because of their race. From the Nazi viewpoint, not religion but race is important: history shows that religions come and go, but race is forever, at least if we do the demographically right thing. And that's where religion may play an auxiliary role: in Himmler's footsteps, some neo-Nazis theorize that the white race would be better off by converting to Islam, a martial and pro-natalist religions that leaves no womb unused. Some neo-Nazis have put this advice into practice and converted to Islam.

"Anti-Muslim" positions are more common in a more moderate segment of the right, viz. libertarian, pro-democratic, generally also pro-American and (pragmatically rather than religiously) pro-Zionist. And are now reviving among the Left. Increasingly, leftist intellectuals on the European continent are realizing that the instrumentalization of postmodern "cultural relativism" as a shield against criticism of Islam's treatment of women and of non-Muslims just can't be reconciled with their basic commitment to equality and emancipation.


> > It was, in short, scholarship, not sensationalism.
>
> That's also how I viewed Jytte Klausen; (...) yet, if she is quoted properly:
>
> > Ms. Klausen, who is also the author of "The Islamic Challenge: Politics and
> > Religion in Western Europe," argued that the cartoon protests were not
> > spontaneous but rather orchestrated demonstrations by extremists in Denmark
> > and Egypt who were trying to influence elections there and by others hoping to
> > destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya and Nigeria. The cartoons,
> > she maintained, were a pretext, a way to mobilize dissent in the Muslim world.
>
> it appears that she is [toeing] the "party line" that was propagated around
> the world by the West's willing media.<


That was indeed the line taken by the hegemonic media, but for a different reason than the one your propose. It was to abort the rising impression of Muslim hatred for liberty that they shifted responsibility for the anti-cartoon riots away from "ordinary Muslims" and into the hands of fringe movement leaders or impersonal state actors.

> For those who like myself were on the
> front line at the time and refused to be blinded by ideology or prejudice,
> it was obvious from the start that we were witnesses to an orchestrated (not
> a "well-orchestrated", as the cliché goes) provocation that fit all too
> nicely into one of the neo-cons favorite paradigms, Huntington's so-called
> clash of the civilizations.<

That's exactly what Ayatollah Khamenei said at the time. It was also said by the editor of the Flemish weekly Knack, who argued that Jyllands-Posten's Jewish editor Flemming Rose, the American alleged Likudnik Daniel Pipes with his Middle East Forum, and also the Flemish website Brussels Journal, then the main clearing-house for news about the cartoon affair, had concocted the cartoon scenario with the aim of provoking the Muslim masses in Syria and Iran into vandalism and other ugly scenes for the TV news in order to prepare the ground for an Israeli military attack. Pen-pushers and pencil-pushers conspiring for world war, no less! Considering that i have written for both the Middle East Quarterly (about a similar affair, Rushdie's The Satanic Verses) and Brussels Journal, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a truly ambitious conspiracy. At least I can say I was "on the front line at the time and refused to be blinded by ideology or prejudice".

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/search/node/Koenraad+Elst

(You may notice that, extensively elsewhere but also on BJ, I have repeatedly written *against* the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran; war polarizes opinion and only hardens the existing beliefs, whereas what the Muslim world needs is a thaw that makes their beliefs melt and give way to Enlightenment.)



Well, after that promotion to crown witness, it is my testimony that to my knowledge, there was no such pre-planning involved. A journalist simply wanted to know if you can make as much fun of Mohammed as is routinely done with Jesus and Yahweh in European papers. And he found out.


>
> The most serious, comprehensive and trustworthy book published on the
> Mohammed cartoons affair is "Karikaturkrisen - En undersøgelse af baggrund
> og ansvar" ("The Danish Caricature Crisis - an Investigation of Background
> and Responsibilities"), published in 2006 by Tøge Seidenfaden, the
> editor-in-chief of Politiken, Denmark's second largest newspaper, and
> renowned analyst and commentator Rune Engelbreth Larsen, whose outlook on
> current affairs is rooted in the traditions of humanistic Renaissance and
> the Enlightenment:
>


Strange what positions these "humanists" take: shielding obscurantism from scrutiny and attacking secularism and freedom of speech. I know a different breed of humanists who swear by the Enlightenment. Or knew, for quite a few have been murdered, such as Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh. Others are absconding, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali ex-Muslim politician, or have been smashed out of court, like Mohamed Rasoel, the Pakistani ex-Muslim who was sentenced by a white judge in Amsterdam for "anti-Muslim racism" after writing critically about Islam and its view of non-Muslims. He hadn't written anything about islam that hadn't been written in essence already by Ernest Renan or Winston Churchill or Bhimrao Ambedkar, or has since been written by Henryk Broder and other respected mainstream intellectuals. Anything held against the cartoonists also counts against those big names.

The lead in criticism of Islam now rests with pro-Enlightenment ex-Muslims like Ibn Warraq or Ali Sina or Taslima Nasreen. They put their lives at risk, they are the vanguard in the struggle for secular modernity against religious obscurantism. Another reason for genuine secularists too support them and the cartoonists is the worldwide anti-freedom alliance that soon materialized between different religions. In India, the Hindu-nationalist BJP supported a resolution (in the Andhra Pradesh assembly) condemning the cartoons. In the Netherlands, Christian parties surprised everyone with a proposal to reinvigorate the dormant law against blasphemy, now explicitly to include "blasphemy" of Allah and Mohammed. And did you ever hear GW Bush, the reborn Christian and neocon par excellence, applaud the cartoons?


> It doesn't seem that their book was ever translated into English, most
> likely because what it had to say wasn't very popular among party liners.
>

Strange, for the same things have been said in English by well-published writers like Karen Armstrong. It was also supported by every single member of the panel at the 2006 AAR conference (I was there in the audience); they had not cared to invite a single expert or participant willing to defend the cartoonists.


> Sorry if I come across with a certain sense of frustration, but this remains
> a very sensitive subject for some of us, considering where the swamp of
> intolerance the world, and Europe in particular, has increasingly got itself
> mired in since those events took place.<

Every one of the Islam critics I mentioned, including the tenors of the cartoons affair, have stated as their reason (or at least one of their reasons) to hold Islam up for criticism that Islam is intolerant. Their stated intention is to do something about intolerance. Shouldn't that make you happy?


> Needless to say, I'm not taking
> issue with the freedom to publish controversial material, anymore than
> Seidenfaden or Engelbreth would.
>

That's at least one thing we can agree on. As Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might." That's what the cartoonists intended to do.


Steve Farmer wrote:

>
> > Note that the NY Times article doesn't give a link to
> > the cartoons either.
> >

In the case of the US and UK press, I could understand why, at the height of the Iraq war, and with many other entanglements in the Muslim world, they would choose to avoid hurting Muslim sensibilities. In case an al-Qaeda operative were to cite the publication of the cartoons as justification for the killing of their soldiers in Iraq, the newspaper editors might feel morally implicated. But to continue this prudishness about the cartoons today is no longer justifiable.


> >
> > http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/dantes_inferno/
> >

Sometimes Mohammed shows his face in these pictures, sometimes he is veiled. When the Dutch-Pakistani Islam critic Mohamed Rasoel, when he still an unknown name behind his book, was invited by the press, he appeared on TV (there to be grossly insulted) with his face covered.

Incidentally, his name was a pen name, meaning "Mohammed Prophet". After he had seen Muslims demonstrate in Britain and also in Rotteram with slogans like: "We will kill Salman Rushdie", he calculated that they would think twice before shouting "We will kill Mohammed the Prophet".


> > Please note that I'm not "anti-Islam": I'm against all pre-Enlightenment-
> > style political/religious extremism: Islamic, Zionist, Hindutva,
> > Christian, Mormon, Dravidian, general-American, whatever. They are
> > all hangovers from pre-modern states of culture.
> >

Another point of agreement! Good to see how this painful affair, viz. the violence by obscurantists against cartoonists exercising their freedom of expression, gives rise to such a chummy situation on this forum.

Kind regards,

Koenraad Elst

2 comments:

Capt. Ajit Vadakayil said...

dear mr elst,

pl punch into google search I AM A PROUD HINDI- VADAKAYIL.

keep an open mind. it does NOT follow the Max Mueller script.

capt ajit vadakayil
..

Shankar Sharan said...

Your "written *against* the interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly Iran; war polarizes opinion and only hardens the existing beliefs, whereas what the Muslim world needs is a thaw that makes their beliefs melt and give way to Enlightenment." is really a sound and positive thought. Though I am not sure, if or when such a thaw could occur in Islamic world.

Perhaps the key to solution first demands an understanding of: what is the attraction in Islam for the Muslim masses? Could you, KE, enlighten us on this point someday?