Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Great Danes and the Culture War

Sullivan has just posted another missive that has two important claims:
So, in refusing to publish the cartoons at issue, the American media are simply following the line not of Islam but of radical Islamists, who engineered this outbreak of violence in the first place.
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What journalists print should be designed to provide news and data for readers, not to assuage extremist religious sensibilities.
Perhaps he should have a glance at the cover story now running on Salon. Written by Jytte Klausena, a Danish national with journalistic experience in Denmark's Muslim community, the article details the political milieu in which the cartoon controversy was born. From the article, it is clear that the outbreak of violence was engineered not only by the Islamists (who have much to answer for), but by right-wing Danes as well. Klausena's central claim is that the cartoons were designed not as "news" or "data", but as provocations in line with the policies of right-wing politicians in Denmark.
The debate now raging over the caricatures has tilted on the defense of free speech — but a deep and unflinching commitment to free speech is not really the mission of the paper at the center of the maelstrom, nor of the present Danish government.
Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's biggest newspaper, is a conservative paper that is firmly (if unofficially) associated with Denmark's right-of-center ruling party (much in the way that British papers are Liberal or Tory). According to Klausena, the paper "has always minded the religious and political sensitivities of its readership, the Lutheran farmers and the provincial middle class." That courtesy does not extend, apparently, to the Muslim population of Denmark.
The paper wanted to instigate trouble, just not the kind of trouble it got. And in this mission it acted in concert with the Danish government. "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid," boasted the minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, in a speech at his party's annual meeting the week before Rose's cartoon editorial last fall. Mikkelsen is a 39-year-old political science graduate known for his hankering for the "culture war." He continued, "The Culture War has now been raging for some years. And I think we can conclude that the first round has been won." The next front, he said, is the war against the acceptance of Muslims norms and ways of thought. The Danish cultural heritage is a source of strength in an age of globalization and immigration. Cultural restoration, he argued, is the best antidote.
I deplore the violent protests associated with the publishing of these cartoons, but I do not want to be associated with these xenophobic ideas as a result. I do not stand with jihadist rabble-rousers, and I refuse to be associated with other far-right members of Denmark's government who have described Muslims as "a cancer on Danish society" in speeches in parliament.

There is a middle ground. Yes to free speech, always. But yes to empathy and respect—and no to xenophobia—as well. Has Europe not learned its lesson?
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