Freedom of speach
Funny enough many danes have for some time joked about the american public being totally unaware of the actions and effect they have on the Middle East. You often hear americans being interviewed wonder why so many arabs have anything against them. This, in Europe at least, is often conceived as the americans being so concerned with domestic issues that they don't bother to stay informed on international problems. At the same time it would seem that the americans have a hard time coming to grasp with the fact that there might be other cultures out there that choose a different set of cultural, social and moral values. the belief seems to be that they have the final recipe for the perfect society and as such have an obligation to enforce it on everybody else.
I am not shure how much of this is actually true and how much of this is just us Europeans being prejudiced. The americans of curse like any other country or culture is more facetted than that. But observing the discussion in denmark on top of the debate about the drwaings of the prophet makes you start to wonder whether the stereotype description of the americans might not apply to the danes as well.
The danes have this wery strange self image. on one side we are aware that we are a wery small country with wery little influence on international politics. this is most clearly seen in the EU debate. The pro EU politicians would claim that we have to join the EU to keep at least some minor voice on the international scene while the opposition claims that even inside the EU we are so small that we will be totally overrun by the other Member States.
This attitude is unfortunately put together with the firm belief that we are indeed the greatest country in the world. This means that if we started to listen to the oppinion of anybody else, things can only turn worse, and when we turn over power of decision on specific issues to the EU, we run the risk of being a victim of decisions made by people thinking otherwise.
A good example of this is the attitude toward new Member States in the EU. When we joined the open market of the EU and removed the toll booths, everybody belived that the fact that the working force had free mobility inside EU would automatically lead to the scenario that everybody else would automatically move to Denmark. Strangely enougt that din not happen. Last year 10 new Member States joined the EU. Again Denmark made the same assuption not having learned a thing from the previous example. We made restrictions on people moving to denmark to work. Almost no other Member States passed such laws, and surprisingly enough they did not get overrun at all. So now of course the danish politicians are discussion removing those useless laws again.
But what does this have to do with the crisis in the Middle East and the reaction towards Denmark? Well the danes see the muslims in the Middle East react to the drawings in danish newspapers and we do not seem to be able to connect this to ourselves. The debate in Denmark is not centered about what we might have done to cause the muslims to react in such a way. Instead we argue that this is an issue of freedom of speach. instead of discussing why the drawings were printed in the first place, we would rather discuss whether the newspaper had the legal right to print them. This is very convinient because it diverts the focus from the moral issues and values and instead turns this into a discussion of basic democratic values (which of course no one in a democracy can be against). This quickly leads to demonisation of the opposite point of view and the attitude in favor of or against the drawings are connected to the attitude towards the freedom of speach.
If you do not agree with the drawings, you do not agree with the principle of free speach. this of course is rubbish and a false conclusion. It seems to be the same strategy that George W Bush used i USA during the Iraq War. If you did not agree with the invasion of Iraq, you were against USA, unpatriotic and pro terrorism.
The fact is that the rhetoric towards muslims has become more and more harsh in Denmark and especially in Jyllandsposten (the newspaper that printed the drawings) during the last years. And the danes that have nothing against muslims have been embarrasingly quiet. The drawings were not percieved as being very provocative because they were just a little step further down a road that had been followed for so long.
On the positive side this whole ordeal seem to have avaken the democratic and moderate forces and gotten the quiet majority to speak out their frustration with the tone, message and moral of the danish debate on immigrants in general and specifically on Middle East immigrants. It is nasty business when you so cleaarly see on tv how other people feel about you as a nation and a country. Let us hope the moderate and democratic forces will not go back to sleep again.