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In Respect for Religious Sentiment
Excerpt from ¡Journalista! for October 11, 2006
(Note: Red text indicates a dead link.)

 

"Oh well, whatever, nevermind."
- Kurt Cobain

 

Still from the video that kickstarted this controversy back into the headlines.

 

I somehow managed to miss this until events rubbed my nose in it: Last week, Danish state television broadcast footage of members of the youth wing of the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party as they partied at a weekend getaway, in an evening which apparently ended with the young reactionaries drunkenly drawing anti-Islamic cartoons. From all accounts, the kids didn't know they were being filmed, but according to a Reuters report, a Danish artist named Martin Rosengaard Knudsen, working in conjunction with the left-wing group Defending Denmark, had infiltrated the group and taken the footage "to document attitudes among young members," footage which was then posted to Defending Denmark's website and aired on a local television station. The predictable brouhaha has ensued, and as two of the young men seen in the video went into hiding and Danish diplomats worked to diffuse the controversy, Defending Denmark pulled the videos from their websites. From the group's website:

Defending denmark are pleased that our video documentation has sparked a debate about the damage the DPP is causing the Danish brand. Having generated the desired attention to this serious issue, we have now removed all videos in respect for religious sentiment.

Whether Defending Denmark was also concerned for the safety of the people whom they surruptitiously filmed and broadcast drawing anti-Islamic cartoons on television, alas, was not addressed in the website statement. (The video, incidentally, can still be seen at the bottom of this entry on the conservative Danish weblog Tabooh. Obligatory warning: Don't visit the page unless you're prepared to swim past a long and angry anti-immigrant rant.) Tom Spurgeon has a good round-up of recent developments.

It should be noted, of course, that not all Muslims reacting to the story are threatening violence by any means: In fact, an Indonesian radio station has what strikes me as the perfect response, holding a contest that invites listeners to draw the best picture of the Danish king standing with pigs. Fight stupid cartoons with stupid cartoons!

The first time this nonsense erupted, you'll recall, was when Jyllands-Posten cultural editor Flemming Rose learned of a writer unable to find an illustrator willing to draw the Muslim prophet Muhammed for a book project, and decided to draw attention to the underlying issues by calling upon artists to do just that. I don't believe Rose to be responsible for the idiocy that followed. Indeed, the pictures he published lay dormant for several months, and had even been published in an Egyptian newspaper without incident, when a group of Danish Muslims began circulating a booklet that not only reprinted the cartoons but also three other, much more inflammatory and fraudulant images, on a tour of the Middle East, which were then used for propoganda purposes by the tyrannical leaders of nations where unauthorized demonstrations can lead to jail, torture and even death — there are twisted hands all over the initial cartoon eruptions, but they don't belong to Flemming Rose. I believe that to conclude otherwise is to essentially give in to intimidation by religious extremists seeking to cow others into deferring to a Medieval sensibility that regards submission to Islamic beliefs by followers and non-believers alike as paramount to co-existence. With two possible exceptions, the cartoons weren't intended to be disrespectful of Muslim beliefs, and even the two dicier images were clearly commenting on the undeniable propensity of fanatics to use bloody violence to achieve their aims. Even if the cartoons were distasteful, it shouldn't have mattered once push came to shove. I wouldn't defend the cartooning of Mike Diana in a Journal review to save my life, but I'll happily defend it against Florida bluenoses looking to throw the poor bastard in jail. Western civilization is based around the individual's right to express contrary opinions, and we abandon that right at our peril.

It's much harder to find sympathy for virtually anyone in the current controversy. On the one hand, we have members of an extreme right-wing political party mocking the religious faith of others. On the other hand, they at least had the courtesy to do it in private, only to be placed in danger by a group of cryptoliberal dweebs (to use Howard Chaykin's delightfully nasty turn of phrase) who were clearly willing to jeopardize other people's lives in order to make a political point. That Defending Denmark claim lofty intentions for their actions is irrelevant. Even if you believe, as I do, that Flemming Rose couldn't have forseen what would occur months after he published the Muhammed cartoons, Defending Denmark not only clearly had to have known what would happen — they were most likely counting on it, in the hopes that it would damage their political opponents. Indeed, this time even Ahmed Abu-Laban, one of the Danish imams who helped fan the flames during the last go-round, is trying to downplay the current controversy, even as the Muslim Brotherhood works to amp up the lunacy. The activities staged by the Danish People's Party were obviously questionable, but it's Defending Denmark that should hang their heads in shame, and it's Defending Denmark that should be held responsible for whatever happens next.

 

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