Sunday, March 19, 2006

Freedom of speach

It seems that the debate on the muhammed drawings isn't going to stop in the nearest future. The drawings posted by a danish newspaper has caused the Muslim world to react in a way that has stunned and frightened the danish people. We are used to these kind of actions (riots, burning flags and embassys) being directed towards the United States or Great Britain..

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.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Threat on Free Societies

During the recent years terrorism has stolen the headlines in the news media. The world has seen many horrible attacks on civilians all over the world. In the news media worldwide this is not portrayed as actions of war, but as a strike against democratic societies and all our values in the western societies. This way of describing the acts of terror has been used by many world leaders, not at least Tony Blair and George W. Bush. But also leaders of other Countries has made similar statements: Terror is an attack on our core values and life as we know it. Therefore almost any countermeasures are justified.

In Denmark the picture is pretty much the same. The government never misses an opportunity to express their belief that this is a war and all things have to be concidered to avoid Denmark turning into a non-democratic State.

but somehow they fail to explain exactly how this is to happen. Do they honestly believe that the terrorists hope to convince the danish public to throw over our governments because of bombs in the London Underground or the Metro in Madrid? I do not think so, and actually i do not think any one else would agree on this.

No the threat on western civilisation is the threat that society will not stay free and open. That people will be afraid to express their meaning, their right to form political parties or intrest groups. In short the threat on free societies has to be a threat on the civil society.

Terrorist attacks are not an attack on civil society, but an attack on our governments. The primary goal is to introduce fear among the voters to put pressure on the governments to act differently. Terrorism and guerilla warfare are the only ways to strike back at an enemy that have you outnumbered and overmatched in firepower and technology.

So what would be a threat on civil society:

  • If politicians limited the formal or informal right to gather with your peers to form an oppinion and to express this oppinion.
  • If politicians limited the right to express your meaning freely, no matter how much it might be opposed to the government.
  • If politicians created a situation of mistrust amongst the citizens, because they endorsed a system of angiveri
  • If politicians created a society where it was allowed to put up suveillance cameras in the public space and film and store everything going on
  • If Politician gave the police the right to tab peoples phone calls and to access all public and private information stored in government databases without getting a court order from a judge.
  • If politicians demanded that the tele companies should tape and store all phonecalls and emails for at least 5 years

But, you might ask, would any politician do things like this? Doesn't this belong to the Stalinistic Soviet Union and similar dictatorships. But actually the danish government has put forth a law that will put all of the above into effect. And it seems that a majority in the danish parliament is going to vote i favor of the law.

In this way the politicians are running the errin of the terrorists by undermining the founddation of a strong civil society. Not because the intend to do so, but because they are afraid not to be elected for office the next time around.

Terror is not the thing that threatens democracy. It's how we respond to it that is the real threat.

In Denmark we still haven't had any strike of terrorrism which implies that we haven't got one single example that would suggest that the laws already enforced isn't enough to protect us against terrorism. Secondly all international experts on terrorism agree that you do not stop a terrorist attack by mass-surveilance. You do this by using informants, cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies, by infiltrating hostile organisations and by overlooking related organisations.

Funny enough none of the proposed laws addresses further needs in this aspects. The Police doesn't get any new rights to infiltrate or things like that.

So what is the laws good for then? First of all it is meant to show the politicians as being "hard on terrorism" and showing initiative. But secondly the laws actually gives the government, intelligence agencies and the police an extensive force that can be used, or misused, while investigating traditional types of crime.

To have central registers with all information on all citizens, not just criminals or people suspected to be criminals, accessible by all policemen is almost guaranteed to be misused by individuals. And maybe even by the governmental institutions. We have already had several examples of this under the old laws, so the potential is pretty frightening. Under the EU and Interpol, suggestions have been made that police forces in one country should be allowed to request all information on individuals from databases in other countries. This law is not yet passed, but seen in connection to the massive Danish database, no one can guarantee that this will not be exploited.

Examlpes have already come forth with EU citizens being denied to travel to other EU countries because they had been registered as having participated in demonstrations at international summits (e.g. the geneva summit). They had not been arrested or even accused of doing anything illegal. They had simply participated in a peaceful manner. The lesson is clear: If you want to travel freely inside the EU you should be careful about expression your opinion freely. This is an attack on civil society, democracy and life as we know it. Not by terrorists but by the people we elect for government.

It is about time we made a change.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Welcome to my blog

Hi everybody. This is a first picture i add to my blog in order to use it as my profile picture. Please bear with me :-) Posted by Picasa