Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Heaven will direct it.
It has been all over in the press, and chewed over later in the blogosphere (see for instance the BrusselsJournal).
That is, the 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish Journal Jyllands-Posten a while ago, by which the artists wanted to underline that freedom of speech overrides the Islamic ban on depicting the Prophet.
The paper wanted to know if it was possible to make jokes about the Prophet like Jesus has been in the middle of Western caricature and humor in the last decades.
Some people were not amused at all. Eleven ambassadors of Muslim states in Denmark wrote a letter to the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, asking for a meeting. They stated they felt deeply offended, calling the cartoons a smear campaign in the media against Islam and Muslims and requested an official apology for the cartoons.
Rasmussen denied, and said to the Copenhagen Post:
"This is a matter of principle. I won't meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so". He said that individuals who felt offended could take grievances to the courts.
"As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press - nor do I want such a power. It is a basic principle of our democracy that a prime minister cannot control the press.".
"Can Muslims take a joke?" wondered The Free West, while Hoegin (in Dutch) commented here, here and here.
How serious Muslims take the row is proven by it being on the agenda of the OIC (The Organization of The Islamic Conference) next month.
As such, the row hits a sore nerve on one the leading European questions today, which is how to handle the numerous Islamic immigrants in Western Europe. In popular perception, they are the main perpetrators of street crimes, they refuse to conform to European culture and habits, they are the darlings of the nanny state, and they want to impose Islam and Islamic Law (Sharia) all over Europe. It's hard to think of any other single issue where political leaders and grassroots diverge more.
Belgium, for instance, has adopted a set of laws (commonly known as the Anti-Racism laws) making critique on Muslims immigrants virtually illegal, and the largest Belgian (Flemish) party, the secessionist ultra-right party Vlaams Belang has been condemned last year on the basis of these laws, a fact applauded by the OIC, see (here, p.43).
The privileged status of Islam has also been stressed by the UN's secretary-general, Mr. Annan, when he called for an end of Islamophobia, but never mentioned Christianophobia in the Muslim world. The debate on Turkey's admission to the EU is just a symptom of this broad divide between leaders and voters, as were the NO-votes on the EU draft constitution in Holland and France earlier this year.
The Free West muses:
By accident, today I saw The Life of Brian again, one of Monty Python's masterpieces. I think it is one of the most realistic portrayals of the period in which Jesus lived. The Pythons are still around, alive and successful, and their film is still available. I rented it at a Blockbuster store.
When the film was released, Christians were upset by it. But now it is part of the central body of Western culture.
When Mel Gibson's almost reactionary film was released, a film which took the most orthodox gospel for historic, the very blasphemous The Da Vinci Code hit the bookstores which told an anarchistic version of the Jesus legend. It was possible to have these two extremes speaking to its audiences - it was a confirmation of the vital freedom of Western culture.
All of that seems impossible with the Mohammed legend. In Denmark ambassadors of Muslim countries, among them Turkey, want the Danish prime minister to interfere in Denmark's freedom of speech.
A Flemish playwright and muslim of Tunesian descent, Chokri Ben Chikha, wrote a play recently about Our Lady of Flanders. The play will be on stage soon, supported by state funding. On the flyers, the Virgin is mockingly depicted with nude breasts. As the BrusselsJournal remarks:
Contrary to what Ben Chikha says there are things that one had better not laugh at, such as Islamic religion for instance. Some time ago a Dutch artist showed the backs of naked women with verses from the Quran written on them. This was considered blasphemy. A Muslim extremist ritually slaughtered the artist, Theo van Gogh, in broad daylight.
OpinionIt's very well possible that Muslims feel offended by the Muhammad cartoons, just like Christians were offended by Monty Python's Life of Brian a quarter of a century ago. In Western Europe, there were all kinds of blasphemy laws in vigor at that time and before, but they haven't been enforced for a long time, and often been abolished since.
It's very understandable that Muslim states have different views on free speech, blasphemy, secularism, and the equality of religions (even in "secular" Turkey, Christians are still discriminated in public life).
So Muslims and Islamic states should accept and understand equally well that Muslims can't impose their laws and customs in this matter on our Europe either. We didn't defeat fundamentalist Christianism over centuries with loads of blood, sweat and tears just to adopt another form of absolutist theocracy. I'm sorry guys, but we do it our way. And if you don't dig that, the southward exit door is still wide open. Call it Islamophobia, we call it pride. [read more...]