Everyone -- that is, everyone who hasn't been living under a rock -- is aware of the controversy that has developed from the printing, way back in September, of several editorial cartoons in a Danish newspaper, cartoons that some Muslims have found so offensive that they have become violent.
For instance, the Washington Post reported today:
Thousands of Muslim protesters enraged over the publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad set ablaze the Danish Embassy on Sunday and rampaged through a predominantly Christian neighborhood, dangerously escalating sectarian tensions in a country whose mélange of faiths can sometimes serve as a microcosm of the world's religious divide.In another article in the same paper, this report from Syria and Palestine:
Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday _ the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.The controversy illustrates the wide cultural, political, and philosophical divide between the liberal democratic West and the theocratically-inclined, illiberal Muslim East. Another article in the Washington Post notes:
In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.
"It's interesting how our ambassadors in Europe see this issue so differently than ambassadors in Islamic countries," said a European diplomat in Turkey, where reaction to the cartoon flap has been relatively muted. "Those in Europe see it as a free speech issue," he said, while diplomats in Muslim countries are agitated.The Danish prime minister, to his credit, has refused to buckle under the violence and threat of continuing violence. He argues that his government does not control the press and that freedom of the press includes allowing the press to say things that some people might not like.
The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to share confidential diplomatic traffic. The diplomat quoted a cable from his country's Cairo embassy that read: "I can't de-escalate. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not something I can sell here if it is in conflict with Islam."
Other world leaders are not so principled. The Washington Times reports that
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued through a spokesman that press freedom "should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."And the Vatican, says the Washington Post,
added its voice to Western governments condemning publication of the images. "The right to freedom of thought and expression . . . cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers."One must ask the Secretary-General, as a black African, whether his warning applies to literature that does not "fully respect" the religious beliefs of the Aryan Nations, originally known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. What are these religious beliefs, which, according to Kofi Annan, must be fully respected?
Members of Aryan Nations believe that they are the true chosen people of Israel, and that they are working towards the gathering of their "true" people for Jesus Christ. They feel that they are under an obligation to preserve their race as the one, true race of the world (Aryan Nations: 1). They feel that Adam was of the white race, and that not everyone descended from him, and therefore not everyone is of the true race. The Bible is used to enforce many of the Aryan Nations beliefs, such as that the Bible was written for Abraham and his family. They believe that this relates back to Adam, and in turn, back to them. People of other races are descendants from Cain, who is really a descendant of Satan. They believe Eve seduced Satan, and this resulted in the birth of Cain (Aryan Nations: 2). Wesley Swift and Richard Butler both began to include racism and anti-semitism in their doctrines, and this is still a prominent belief today. The Jews are of a lower class and stem from Eve's original sin, as do all non-white races.
Inter-racial marriage is clearly unacceptable. Coming soon for these people is the end of the race war (Aryan Nations: 2). This is the war that will eventually leave the white race on top. They feel that Christ's Kingdom will eventually be established here on earth, and will throw out all other races who are not worthy of God's love. This group feels that their beliefs all stem from love. This is the force behind their beliefs, and even though to others it seems to be hate-based, they proclaim again and again that it is their love for their race and nation that backs these beliefs. One of their goals is to teach every child of this race who they really are, and to help unite the people of Anglo-Saxon descent in this "race war."
Or let's ask the Vatican if it would be wrong to offend the believers of Tony Alamo, whose Tony Alamo Christian Ministries web site (and countless pieces of printed literature) says things like:
The Vatican is posing as Snow White, but the Bible says that she is a prostitute, “the great whore,” a cult (Rev. 19:2).1 She uses government agency branches in every country, including the United States, as her vicious little dwarfs. The more power and control she gets in government, the more she will fade away into the background in her “Snow White” disguise so that government will be used and blamed for all her evil deeds.These people hold these religious beliefs sincerely and fervently, but these same beliefs manifest themselves as anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and racist. Are we to refrain from criticizing them because they might offend "religious believers"? Or do the Vatican and Kofi Annan make exceptions for misguided or cultish "believers"? Their statements, as reported, are general and do not seem to allow for such exceptions. They are non-discriminating and, consequently, foolish.
REASON: To enforce laws that harass, malign, destroy, and censor everyone and every idea that is not Roman Catholic so she can sit as the satanic queen (the big whore).
One day in 1993, I was leafing through my recently-acquired copy of the hardbound edition of Peter McWilliams book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. I had to do a double-take when I saw this quotation, on page 36:
In a free society, standards of public morality can be measured only by whether physical coercion -- violence against persons or property -- occurs. There is no right not to be offended by words, actions, or symbols.I was taken aback because the quotation was attributed to me. Although it was something that I would say, I did not remember saying it. (Months later, I traced the quotation to a letter to the editor that I had written to the Washington Times sometime earlier, in reaction to (of all things!) the arrest of actor Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) in an adult movie theatre in Florida.
I stand by those words today, and I am particularly proud of the Danish government and Danish people, for staying firm in defense of liberal values against the barbarians who would destroy them. (Those other European and American newspapers that have reprinted the "offending" cartoons deserve praise and support, as well.)
The story is well-known that the Danes, even under Nazi occupation in the 1940s, stood up for liberal values by doing what they could, in the form of civil disobedience, to protect the country's Jewish minority. When the Jews were ordered to wear an identifying yellow Star of David on their clothing, the rest of the Danish people did the same -- even the king and royal family. Through this strategy of assimilative confusion, the Danes saved thousands of Jews from torture and death.
A Danish movie that I saw a quarter-century ago expresses well the sense of solidarity that the Danes have engraved on their souls. It is called "You Are Not Alone" (Du Er Ikke Allene), and I recall one of the subplots interwoven into the story was about how the students at a boarding school rebelled against censorship imposed by the school's rather authoritarian adminstrators. Some reviewers at the time suggested that "You Are Not Alone" was a political allegory. Perhaps it is even more clearly such today.
Not only did the Danes protect the Jews during World War II, they have been pro-active in promoting equality and justice for other minorities, as well. In 1989, Denmark became the first Western country to grant the equivalent of marriage rights to gay couples and their families. To be sure, the domestic partnership law was not passed without opposition, but in the 16 years since it took effect, gay couples have become integrated fully into the institutions of society without any evidence of social degradation.
Moreover, although America has many friends around the world, Denmark is the only country that has a celebration on the Fourth of July specifically to mark the Independence Day holiday of the United States. The Rebild Celebrations, as they are known, date back to 1912.
Throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, there are calls to boycott Danish products. To do my small part to counteract this irrationality, I went shopping today at Foods of All Nations in Charlottesville. I bought a six-pack of Carlsberg beer, a package of Denmark's Finest baby havarti cheese, and a very expensive stick of imported Lurpak butter. I only spent about $15.00, but there weren't a lot of Danish products from which to choose. I did what I could.
By the way, if you want to see the cartoons that started the violence, you can find them at a blog called "Face of Muhammed" (scroll down to the February 1 entry). And if you'd like historical evidence that the prohibition on artistic portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed is recent and not deeply embedded in Muslim culture, check out the Mohammed Image Archive, which notes:
While the debate rages, an important point has been overlooked: despite the Islamic prohibition against depicting Mohammed under any circumstances, hundreds of paintings, drawings and other images of Mohammed have been created over the centuries, with nary a word of complaint from the Muslim world. The recent cartoons in Jyllands-Posten are nothing new; it's just that no other images of Mohammed have ever been so widely publicized.Confirming this, Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, author of the book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, said on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday:
You do see a number of cases, both in South Asian art and in Sufi art and in Shia art, of depictions of Mohammed. In fact, you can go to any market in Tehran and find paintings of the Prophet Mohammed to buy.I'm not recommending that you go to a Tehran bazaar to buy a painting of Mohammed. I do recommend that you go to your local supermarket or furniture store and buy something -- anything -- imported from Denmark. (Let me be cheeky and suggest that the first thing you buy be a Danish ham or bacon.)
And if you see a Dane on the street, shake his hand. Give him a hug. Kiss him. He and his countrymen deserve it.
UPDATE, February 8: There are some tips for buying Danish products at George Mason University's History News Network and at the aptly named Buy Danish Campaign. Banners and logos that can be used on websites can be found at SupportDenmark.com.