The Arab Street is owed an apology!

The Arab Street is owed an apology! April 23, 2011

Most of the time I post stuff about Denmark, it tends to be bad news–of course, if you're a Muslim observer of Danish politics there's often been, sadly, pretty good reason for that–so I thought I'd try to atone a bit by translating this very thoughtful and topical piece by a Danish pundit on the lessons of the Arab Spring.

One could quibble about a few small things (e.g., identifying Saudi-funded establishments as "ultra-orthodox"; their claim to orthodoxy is rather debatable), but I think his thesis is dead-on. For years, it's been customary to dismiss the Arab masses with this offensive shorthand that casts them as a mindless  herd of animals, and Western media need to eat some crow now that their lazy, dehumanizing cliches have been so spectacularly disproven.

[Moved it over to the Tikkun Daily blog.]

No doubt I've translated some things poorly, so Danes lurking out there are encouraged to chime in and correct any mistakes.

You'll note that this isn't in Jyllands-Posten (the newspaper that became an international household name by publishing the infamous political cartoons that launched a thousand protests, demonstrations and ugly stereotypes).  Denmark has a number of national newspapers. Unlike Jyllands-Posten, Politiken is on the Left–the Danish equivalent of The New York Times, not that I find the Gray Lady  particularly leftist most of the time–and when it comes to the cartoons and Danish Muslims it has almost been "The Anti-Jyllands-Posten."

Its then editor in chief, the recently deceased Tøger Seidenfaden, was very critical of the decision of his counterpart at Jyllands-Posten (Fleming Rose) to publish the cartoons–as was I at the time–and one of its most prominent columnists, Rune Engelbreth Larsen, has long been a one-man Danish answer to the Southern Poverty Law Center, exhaustively documenting the rising tide of xenophobia and Islamophobia within Danish society and giving the desperately-needed straight dope on the significance of the cartoons and the factors in their bizarre transformation from mole hills to mountains.

Speaking of how different Politiken's political role has been, the newspaper under Seidenfaden's leadership even went so far as to issue an apology last year to Muslims for the cartoons. They were reacting to an international class action suit by Sayyids (i.e., descendants of the Prophet, peace be on him). Ironically, here we part company, as I think this move was a big mistake, not to mention a pointless gesture given how Seidenfaden and Politiken had nothing to do with the cartoons in the first place.

Now, I respect the good intentions at work and think the desire to turn a new page in Danish-Muslim relations was quite understandable, but the lawsuit was a farce. Its premise (that a group a Muslims who happen to be allegedly descended from the Prophet were especially harmed by the cartoons and somehow had legal standing to seek damages on his and/or the Ummah's behalf) was absurd, geopolitically counterproductive and self-evidently contrary to the precepts of international law.

That lawsuit reminds me of these short-sighted and ultimately dangerous campaigns by Middle Eastern countries to get the UN to outlaw blasphemy. It's rather embarrassing to see representatives of Muslim countries displaying such appalling ignorance of the fundamentals of law and Western political values  (though this is obviously intended more for domestic political consumption, not unlike the immoral, theocratic blackmail over family planning and abortion that Washington regularly engages in when Republicans are in charge). International law should only (and, indeed, ultimately can only) concern itself with the welfare of human beings, so the advocacy of pet religious dogmas or even religious faith itself simply has no place in such matters.

To go down any other road calls the entire legal edifice into question. And, besides, if these leaders had any understanding of law, they'd realize there already was a legal framework for taking action against Islamophobic demagoguery. To the extent real harm is being caused by such cases of "blasphemy," there  undoubtedly already is legal precedent under international law by virtue of their incitement of hatred between communities (not unlike how anti-Holocaust denial laws work).

But I digress, as usual.

Update: I've moved the translation over to Tikkun Daily blog.


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