Danes Finally Apologize to Muslims (But for the Wrong Reasons)

Cartoons and Hypocrisy:
Danes Finally Apologize to Muslims (But for the Wrong Reasons)    
By RACHARD ITANI

http://www.counterpunch.org/itani02022006.html


In many European countries, there are laws that will land in jail any person who has the chutzpah to deny not only the historicity of the Jewish holocaust, but also the method by which Jews were put to death by the Nazis. In some of these countries, this prohibition goes as far as prosecuting those who would claim or attempt to prove that less than 6 million jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. In none of these countries are there similar laws that threaten people with loss of freedom and wealth for denying that large percentages of gypsies, gays, mentally retarded, and other miscellaneous "debris of humanity" were also eliminated by the Jew-slaughtering Nazis.

Quickly now: what defines a hypocrite? Answer: a person who follows the letter of the law, but not its spirit. The laws against anti-semitism are just that: laws against anti-semitism enacted by hypocritical Europeans with blood on their hands from the genocides in their recent and distant past, and much guilt to atone for in their hearts and minds.

The spirit of the law, which would extend this protection to Muslims as well, if not indeed other religious groups, is nowhere to be found in the Western legal code. You can curse the Prophet of the Muslims at will and with total impunity. However, approach the holocaust at your own risks and perils if you do not include in your discussion the standard, ritualistic incantations about the six million Jewish victims of the European Nazis. There is a word for this in the English language: hypocrisy.

I used to have a lot of respect for the Dutch, the Danes, and the Norwegians, and still do. However, I cannot claim that this respect is not more nuanced today. The coloring started when the Dutch, who are invariably and automatically described as being amongst the most "tolerant" people in the West, if not the world, proved that their tolerance was little more than skin deep. Their reaction to the murder of Theo Van Gogh was anything but driven by tolerance. They behaved as a mob in reaction to the criminal, despicable action of an extremist and murderer, by painting the whole Dutch muslim community with the same broad brush that Vincent Van Gogh would have eschewed. They burnt Muslim schools and mosques. They directed opprobrium at Muslims in their midst, calling on them "to go home" though many had been born in the Netherlands. No subtlety in the Dutch reaction. Just collective anti-semitism which they directed not at the Jews, but at the Jews’ cousins, the Muslims.

Then the Danes, who must have felt left out, decided to go the Dutch one better: a Danish paper published cartoons that are no less offensive to Muslims than anti-semitism is to Jews. The cartoons were described by Danish politicians and the press as not provocation, but a principled case of free speech, although many Danish and Scandinavian newspaper editors are on record stating that they published the cartoons as an act of defiance against "radical Islam." This is akin to these ignorant morons recommending that the U.S. ought to nuke Tehran because that would teach Iranian President Ahmadinejad a lesson.

What free speech are we talking about here? The law says thou shalt not utilize or publish anti-semitic language or imagery. Consequently, Danish (and other European) papers will refrain from doing so, lest they fall foul of the law and offend Jewish sensitivities. The law does not say: thou shalt not offend muslims or use imagery that may be deeply offensive to them. So Danish papers will not refrain from doing so, in fact they will go out of their way to offend Muslims both in Denmark and around the world, in the name of "free speech." And the Norwegians? Well, they just decided to follow the Danes down perdition lane, all in the name of holy hypocrisy, so a Norwegian paper also published the offending cartoons. The statement about "confronting radical Islam" was in fact made by the Norwegian editor of a newspaper that is described as a "Norwegian Christian Paper." And now that other European papers and Magazines have also followed suit, if there was any doubt that this affair is one of anti-Muslim bias, it was swept away by the statements of the Editor in Chief of Die Welt, the German magazine, who declared that the right to publish the cartoons was "at the very core of our culture" and that Europeans cannot "stop using our journalistic right of freedom of expression within legal boundaries." It’s the "legal boundaries" qualifier that gives the game away: there are no legal boundaries in Europe protecting Muslims from the same ignominies that the law protects Jews from.

And what further argument does Die Welt put forward to justify its "legal" action? " It pointed out that "Syrian TV had depicted Jewish rabbis as cannibals." You can imagine how helpful a similar argument would hold up in a court of law: "But your honor, I only killed one guy and raped two women: the other guy killed four and raped 10!" That a German editor-in-chief of a major German paper should use the "legal" argument to justify offending the religious sensitivities of Muslims, when that same "legal" framework would see him thrown in jail faster than he could spell the word legal if he offended the sensitivities of Jews, may be a testament at least of his own deep-seated contempt for Muslims. That so many European papers have now reprinted the offensive cartoons is an indication that the contempt for Muslims does not stop with the editor-in-chief of Die Welt.

This whole affair is nothing but an over-reaction to a simple cartoon, you say? Not if you remember a certain other cartoon that appeared in the British newspaper, The Independent, on 27 January 2003. It depicted Prime Minister Sharon of Israel eating the head of a Palestinian child while saying: "What’s wrong? You’ve never seen a politician kissing babies before?" Jews in Britain and around the world erupted with indignation, arguably because the depiction reminded them of millennial charges levied against them by Christians who accused them of using the blood of babies in ritualistic killings. You see, Sharon can actually kill, maim and spill the real, actual blood of Palestinian babies: that is not offensive to Zionist Jews and their apologists in the West. But let Sharon be depicted in a cartoon metaphorically as the ogre that he has proved to be in his real life, symbolically eating a Palestinian child, and the world will erupt in offended indignation. A cartoon that is offensive to Muslims, on the other hand, is depicted as nothing but an expression of "free speech." There is a word for this in any language: hypocrisy.

Before the Danish cartoon incident started to evolve into a growing international crisis, the Danish Prime Minister and the publisher of the Danish newspaper that first published the offending cartoons both declared that they would never apologize on grounds of free speech and because publishing the cartoons had not broken any Danish laws. (Yes, the "no law broken" argument again.) Yesterday, however, they both ended up apologizing in the face of a growing tsunami of protests on the part of Arab and Muslim governments, some of whom withdrew their Ambassadors from Copenhagen. The Danish prime minister did not apologize because his moral compas suddenly found True North again. The real reason, of course, is that he understood, though a tad too late, the potential economic consequences of a widespread boycott of Danish goods on the part of one billion people. There is a word for this in the Danish language: realpolitik.

Muslims and other reasoning people around the world understand well that European laws against anti-Semitic speech, writing, and behavior, were enacted for two reasons. The stated reason was to protect the Jews from the continued onslaught of anti-Semitic attacks, both verbal and physical, which culminated historically in the repeate
d pogroms that Christian Europeans launched against Jews repeatedly through the centuries. (Historically, it was the Arabs who protected the Jews and took them in whenever they fled Christian barbarity, especially in the Middle Ages.) The real reason, of course, is to protect the Europeans from the pangs of their own conscience, which has very good reason to feel guilty indeed, given what Europeans did to Jews in the last millennium, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, not to mention what they did to the indiginous people of the Carribean and the Americas since the 1600s, and to the people of Asia, Africa and Oceania as well. I have long thought that it’s European Christians, more so than Jews, who ought to observe Yom Kippur, or adopt a similar atonement observance of their own.

While the spirit of the law is that Europeans shalt not offend any ethnic or religious groups including Muslims, this seems to be lost only on the Europeans themselves, or at least the Danes, the Germans and their ilk amongst them, who only care about, or fear, the letter of the law. Why should we therefore be shocked when Muslims depict Europeans as nothing but a bunch of hypocrites? Why shouldn’t Governments of Muslim countries recall their Ambassadors to Denmark in protest, as some did? The only disappointment is that no Western or non-Muslim government, the meek complaints to a French newspaper by the French Foreign Office excepted, had the moral and ethical courage to publicly, unequivocally and forcefully condemn an act that is as deeply offensive to Muslims as the desecration of a Torah scroll, or of a Jewish cemetery, is offensive to all civilized people in the world, be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Animist, or Atheist.

There are two ways for Europeans to redeem themselves: the immediate temptation would be to call on their national parliaments to extend the protections of the laws against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denying to Islam and Muslims, as well as any other religious group . That would be the wrong recommendation however. The right recommendation would be to repeal the laws that govern holocaust denying and other laws that favor one group over another, so that the issue truly becomes one of free speech. And if Europeans are the civilized people they claim to be, then their politicians and newspaper publishers ought to find it easy to immediately apologize when they have unwittingly offended the taboos of any human community, be it religious or otherwise.

Muslims and Arabs have suffered enough hypocrisy on the hands of European Christians, just as Jews suffered in the past on the hands of these same Europeans, and as Palestinian Muslims and Christians alike are suffering today on the hands of Americans, Europeans and, of course, Zionist Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazi. If Europe thinks of itself as a civilized society, then it ought to do its utmost to redress the wrongs that too many people around the world have suffered as a result of European misbehavior and often outright criminal actions, most especially since the 1400s.

Muslims deserve nothing more nor less than for Christians in the U.S. and Europe, and Zionist Jews in Israel, to simply abide by the golden rule: treat others as you would have others treat you. So far, Christians and Zionist Jews have proven that they only abide by the alternative definition of this rule: "They who have the gold, make the rule." The gold in this case is a combination of economic and military might. Of this, Europeans, Zionist Jews and their American overlords have aplenty in reserve. Were it that they also had an equal reserve of un-hypocritical, civilized morality and ethical behavior to underpin their feelings of sanctimonious superiority.

And the other measure that Europeans can adopt to redeem themselves? The European people can start by throwing out of office, and initiating criminal proceedings against, any politician responsible for sending a single soldier to invade, occupy, and initiate pogroms against the people of Iraq: these politicians have been guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which makes them unfit for the honors that continued office holding bestows upon them. Europeans can also give the boot to any politician who has approved or turned a blind eye to a single rendition flight that sent any person to the torture chambers of the Americans or their surrogate torturers in some Arab or Muslim countries. These are the same countries whose religious sensitivities we should all respect as strongly as we respect Jewish sensitivities when it comes to the Jewish holocaust, not because the law says so, but because it’s the right thing to do. These are also the same countries whose human rights trespasses Europeans ought to condemn as equally and vehemently as they should condemn the continued human rights abuses and state terrorism perpetrated by the Israeli government in Palestine/Israel, and by some European governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in other out-of-sight/out-of-mind places like Haiti, Africa, and elsewhere.

In other words, Europeans can start by applying the simple rule of one weight and one measure to both friends and foes, equally to themselves and to the rest of the world, because policy and politics, both domestic and foreign, ought to be based upon and subject to principled moral considerations, not expediency of the economic, financial or religious kind.

Is that such an unreasonable moral proposition to consider?

Rachard Itani can be reached at: racharitani@yahoo.com

  • http://abusinan.blogspot.com Abu Sinan

    Great stuff there! Thanks.

  • http://www.modspil.dk Carsten Agger

    While I totally agree with your previous posting critizising liberal Muslims like Mona Eltahawy for not getting what’s going on in the Danish context, I think this Counterpunch piece piece is also missing the point.
    Denmark, for instance, has no laws against Holocaust denial and thus no laws “favoring Jews” as the author alleges. I don’t think we should have, either: While Holocaust denial is rather absurd and usually associated with really vitriolic anti-Semitism, we need the deniers to be able to actually speak up in order for us to refute them.
    I have, myself, quoted Mona Eltahawy and other liberal Muslims on my own blog. I’ve done this because it’s important that people in Denmark see that many points of view exist in the Muslim world and that people burning the Danish flag and calling for execution of the cartoonists are not really representative.
    But yes, Eltahawy and other liberal Muslims do miss the point; they miss it because they don’t know the Danish context and don’t realize the cartoons were actually not just innocent satire – the intention was to offend. Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons were published in a context of repeated and intensive hate speech against Muslims, originating in the extreme right and the right-wing “Danish People’s Party”, and picked up by most political parties, even though the governing “liberal” party Venstre has been distancing itself from the anti-islamic rhetoric lately.
    In that context, defending the cartoons with “freedom of speech” is completely ridiculous. Would the NYT run 12 cartoons depicting Martin Luther King as a drug dealer, rapist and “dumbass nigger”, and would they subsequently defend this with “freedom of speech”?
    I don’t think so.
    Any chance such cartoons might spark riots and unrest in the US. You better believe it. And that’s really the context in which the Danish cartoons were published. Except for the fact, of course, that the Prophet is not just widely admired, but actually sacred to many people.
    I’m a bit miffed by the threats from some extremists to Danes just for being Danes and by other extremists’ calls for execution og incarceration of the cartoonists, etc. (the Saudi government doesn’t really seem to want to explain to its population why the cartoonists can’t just be thrown in jail – I wonder why?) but I most definitely think the newspaper should apologize for printing the cartoons and publicly recognize that this was a *faux pas*.
    But, again: the author of the CounterPunch piece is beside the point when he makes comparisons with anti-Jewish rhetoric.
    Yes, there’s a lot of hypocrisy and double standards behind the publication of the cartoons. But similar anti-Jewish cartoons would be just as legal (and just as offensive) in Denmark. Actually, there’s some irony to this: If an Israeli newspaper had pulled the same stunt, its editor and the cartoonists would probably be jailed for hate speech and inciting to riots.
    My main point is still, though, that the Danish newspaper did this in order to offend in a climate filled with anti-Muslim hate speech, and I sincerely believe they should apologize for doing so – sooner rather than later, yesterday rather than today.

  • http://akramsrazor.typepad.com Svend

    Tusind tak (“a thousand thanks”) for the great comments, and my compliments on a very interesting and informative blog (http://www.modspil.dk/; sorry, folks–it’s in Danish), as well. (Though your nude Klimt pic almost made me spill my coffee. Guess I’m just another prudish American… ;) )
    Your point about the value of publicizing such dissenting perspectives from liberal Muslims is certainly well taken. You’re absolutely right about the need for Danes (and everyone else, including Muslims) to understand the range of opinion that exists within the Muslim community. The perception that Muslims are monolithic is at the heart of rising anti-Muslim bigotry and irresponsible policies that doom the WEst to needless conflict with Muslims, so I certainly understand the importance of showcasing Muslim diversity.
    Whether Eltahawy and other liberals actually *more* “representative” of the Muslim world on this matter than the flag burners is another question. Don’t mean to be a pessimist, but I suspect their cool, analytical reaction is not all particularly representative of the region. I suspect that, to the extent that they know about the case, most Muslims share the flag-burners’ anger and desire to punish what they perceive to be a slap in the face.
    What you have here is an extreme overeaction to an extreme action. Extremism begetting extremism.
    And I am not trying to criticize the author–who is an accomplished journalist and commentator on the Middle East, and whose work I respect greatly, even if I sometimes find her overly accepting of the Washington consensus–but rather highlight an unfortunate trend. These days, Muslims are under enormous pressure to prove themselves to be progressive and open-minded for outsiders (often people with very little understanding of Islam or the Muslim world), and I think some of us occasionally go overboard there, papering over ways in which third parties are at least partly responsible for these political problems. In those cases, I believe there’s a danger for Muslims to provide extremists a way of rationalizing the irresponsible and injust policies that creating all these needless conflicts.
    I also appreciate that the author’s message might be geared towards readers in the Middle East, who need to understand the great cynicism and hypocrisy on display in some cases, and therefore have a different tack. If that’s the case, I respect that. As an American my primary concern is naturally American policy and debate, so I want to make sure her analysis isn’t used here to justify stupid policies.
    I share your disgust with the excesses and hypocrisy seen on the Muslim/Arab side. For me, it goes without saying that threats of violence or calls for incarceration are wrong (and clearly un-Islamic, btw). Also, I think it is more important to open Danes/Westerners eyes to the less obvious role they have played, and continue to play, in this saga than focussing on the (in my opinion) fairly obvious problems with the “Muslim” response. I don’t think there’s much danger of those shortcoming being overlooked, so I focus on that what I think is the less widely understood lesson from this.
    Still, I can’t criticize Muslims for being offended and for wanting to make their voices heard. Where I suspect I might disagree with Eltahawy is that I think Muslims are justified in being angry and considering a boycott, just as blacks would be justified in boycotting a company that has become known for racist policies (e.g., Denny’s, which used to have special rules for black customers). That doesn’t mean I *want* a boycott–especially now that Copenhagen’s listening–or think it’ll be constructive in the long run. We all have the right to punish businesses with whom we disagree by spending our money elsewhere. That’s Capitalism.
    I pray, though, that the leaders in the Middle East call off the boycott, as it will not improve the situation (quite the contrary, especially for Danish Muslims). Assuming Danish authorities are now dialoguing with Muslims about this issue, to continue the boycott would be very irresponsible.
    Thanks also for your comments on the anti-Semitism angle, too. You make a good point. The author of the CounterPunch piece doesn’t seem to know that Danish laws are (or at least used to be) so much “laxer” on anti-Semitism that German Neo-Nazis use Denmark to publish their German-language revisionist books, as such crap is totally banned in Germany.
    At the same time, I think this is more than a question of what laws are on the books. There are more informal factors, such socially sanctioned doublestandards and prejudices, that are far more decisive factors in my opinion. The US had all sorts of wonderful laws about civil rights, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, ad infinitum, which didn’t stop the neocons from treating Muslims and Arabs as secondclass citizens once the public opinion turned against Muslims after 9/11.
    I certainly hope that this blows over quickly. What a terrible, terrible mess.


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