The Motoons, one year on …
Posted by rantingkraut on December 17, 2006
More than one year after the conflict over the Mohammed cartoons, the aftershocks of this particular episode are still being felt. To mark the occasion, ‘Der Spiegel’s’ Henryk Broder has interviewed Flemming Rose, Jyllands Posten’s culture editor. It doesn’t look as if there is a professional translation forthcoming, so here is mine:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: After the excitement over the Mohammed cartoons, your country has moved out of the international limelight. What have been the lasting effects of the ensuing discussion on Denmark?
Rose: The general circumstances and conditions for integration have improved. We now have an organisation of democratic Muslims. This is no one-man show either, they have around 1000 members and represent 15-20% of Muslims in Denmark. They are not doing badly, considering that political parties in Denmark tend to have 3000 – 5000 members. They want to show the Danish public that it is not only radical Imams who speak for Muslims. Something has started to change. Another positive outcome is that the media no longer consult the radical Imams as a matter of cause when they are looking for a statement. They have understood that Abu Laban and his Mosque only represent about 5% of Muslims.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: He was the one who was active behind the scenes…
Rose: … Yes, him and another Imam in Århus, Raed Hlayel. If now there is an issue surrounding Muslims, Journalists no longer approach only those two. The discussion about integration has returned to reality. Jyllands-Posten did not create a new reality through the cartoons, but raised awareness of the existing reality. We didn’t invent the conflicting value systems, but acted as a catalyst for this conflict. However, this is not a conflict between “us” and “them”.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So what is it?
Rose: It is more complex. The dividing line is not between Muslims and non-Muslims, but between those who accept the rules of democracy on the one hand and those who reject those rules and resort to violence on the other. Democratic Muslims are my allies. Danes who associate with radicals and fundamentalists to push their own agenda aren’t.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t it strange though, that the conflict was ignited by an issue of freedom of speech?
Rose: Yes. This spring, there has been a major poll among Denmark’s approximately 200,000 Muslims –the first one of its kind. By this time, the situation had already calmed down. Only about 10% of the Muslims polled were of the opinion that the right to free speech is more important than the protection of religious sentiments. Over 50% opined that the protection of religious sentiments should have priority. This is quite simply in contradiction to the developments of European history over the last 200 years; it is in contradiction to everything we have fought for in establishing liberal, secular democracies.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What about non-Muslim Danes?
Rose: The other way round. Less then 10% think that religious sentiments are more deserving of protection than freedom of speech. This is the focus of our current discussions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t it the case that Danish society –like German society– has refused to acknowledge the existence of such contradictions for too long?
Rose: There were symptoms we preferred to ignore. The cultural elites in particular did not want to deal with them. And those who did anyway were soon branded racists. It just wasn’t politically correct to talk about cultural differences. This lack of readiness to confront the situation paved the way for the parties of the right. Not only here but also in Austria, the Netherlands and Belgium. The Multiculturalists and the left should be tearing their hair out since they are responsible for those developments. They have abandoned all those values they used to fight for: equal rights for men and women, the right to marry a partner of your choice, the right to education. All those used to be the aims of the left. But as soon as Muslims came into play, nobody wanted to know about them any longer. Suddenly, everything was explained by reference to cultural differences which one was supposed to respect.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you have an explanation for this?
Rose: Yes, for the left, Muslims took the place of the proletariat in Europe. The Quran became the new “Kapital”. It was a case of profound misrepresentation of reality, of pure romanticism. All this is also related to the intellectuals’ persistent wish to create a perfect world. That is something you can do in arts or literature, but not in real life. Only totalitarian regimes would do that. They want to create the perfect state, the perfect society and perfect people. If necessary they want to do this by violent means. In a democracy however we need to have controversies, we need to argue.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the controversy continue in Denmark?
Rose: Yes, but in a different way. I took part in a 2.5 hour discussion on the first “anniversary” of the publication of the 12 cartoons. It was very different from six month ago. I have not been attacked, although I had not changed my views, and we had a fairly civilized discussion. I said that the newspaper’s page showing the 12 cartoons should be included in school books, so that teachers and students can discuss this event and its consequences.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Were you surprised by the lack of solidarity other Europeans showed with your paper and with Denmark?
Rose: No, I was simply too busy for this. I was busy managing the crisis. Only in retrospect did I realize that this amounted to treason against the fundamental values of our culture. Take the example of Javier Solana, the EU’s “Foreign Minister”, who should have been representing Europe and its values. He traveled to the Middle East and almost apologized: “We will do all we can to avoid a repetition of this kind of events.” This, while me and my colleagues were continually subjected to death threats.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So what should he have said in your opinion?
Rose: He could have said: “I understand why you are upset, but we have a tradition which includes the right to make fun of religion and even to insult it. Your right to take offense reaches its limit where you become violent.” Solana didn’t say this, and he wasn’t the only one who didn’t find the right words. The British foreign secretary Jack Straw also said terrible things, even George W. bush did.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: In Germany it was [the novelist] Günter Grass…
Rose: … He referred to us as a “far-right newspaper“. Our Berlin correspondent contacted him three times, asking him to explain this statement. Grass didn’t reply, he merely confirmed receipt of the letter.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can you explain this hostile attitude?
Rose: I assume this goes back to the 1940s when the United Nations were founded. There was this idea of “linear history” and people hoped that every nation on earth would henceforth develop in accordance with the rules of the United Nations. One would just have to wait a while. It was taboo, even then, to talk about cultural differences. Immigration to western Europe started during the 1960s. We then thought: those immigrants will integrate somehow if they stay long enough. I am not talking about immigrants from Italy or Spain here, I am talking about those from the third world. When it became clear that they wouldn’t integrate, the multi-cultural model was invented. The original assumption was: “one day they will become like us” but now this became: “They are just different and we have to respect that, their culture is just as valid as ours irrespective of their values.” Added to this were a bad conscience from our colonial past, European self hatred and more. Finally, it became accepted opinion that these people are difficult to integrate, but not because they have a different culture, but because we are racists and imperialists; it is our fault, not theirs. That was the dominant discourse – until now. Now it is becoming clear to many, that the multicultural idea doesn’t work. This is an insight to which the cartoon controversy has made a contribution.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have been accused of publishing the cartoons simply to provoke.
Rose: Complete nonsense. You could not have been more naïve than we were. When Salman Rushdie wrote the Satanic Verses he new that he could insult or offend some people. We were quite innocent. We new that Islam forbade depictions of the prophet but assumed that this would only be valid within Islam and for Muslims. It would never have occurred to us that they would try force their rules onto us. When the cartoonists drew those cartoons they did what they have been doing every day: they made fun of people, groups and ideas. In this sense we were really experiencing a clash of cultures, and for many this was an eye opener.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What have the Danes learned from these events?
Rose: The same what a Chinese politician told Richard Nixon when he got asked about his opinion about the French revolution: “to early to tell.” Our recent experiences will have a very long lasting effect. And I really think that it is too early for a final analysis. Many are still in a state of shock. There is however one conclusion we can reach right now: there is an increasing tendency towards self censorship, not only in Denmark and there is a desire to avoid conflict.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you proud of your place in history?
Rose: No, for me it matters that we were unequivocal in our position: for freedom and against censorship. The more I think about it, the less I understand what so many people got so enraged about.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Would you do the same thing again?
Rose: I don’t accept this kind of question. If I now say “yes” it will sound arrogant, if I say “no” I would admit that we were wrong. Either would be inappropriate. It is as if you asked a rape victim if she would ever again wear a mini-skirt. One thing is certain though: this has been the most important political debate we have had in Denmark in the last few decades. For us it was like the 11 September only in a freedom of speech context.
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