Thursday, February 16, 2006

An American in Denmark

Whew, where do I begin with Denmark? First you must understand that with the creation of the EU, Danes have become increasingly worried that they will lose their national identity. People already think that Denmark is the capital of Sweden and Germany has invaded it at least once almost every 50 years (and for some reason, after each war, including WWI, Germany ended up with MORE Danish land rather than less). Danes have become increasingly protective of their "danishness". So during the past 25 years or so the surge in refuges from arab countries have made Danes increasingly nervous because these immigrants have often not seamlessly integrated into Danish society. Not that Danes make it easy, they will fight to the death to insure that you have the same rights as the next person, but if you break tradition, beware! But for many arabs who came to Denmark for political or religious freedom, the idea of conforming seems contrary to that goal. They will happily learn Danish, get whatever job they can, and be a productive member of society, but they won't give up their religion or dress. And this bothers many Danes, who view this as a rejection of their hospitality. So just as in France, there has been rising resentment on both sides. A political party has been formed whose sole purpose is to prevent the building of any mosques in Denmark. They have been remarkably successful. Honestly, the way California treats Mexican migrant laborers is better than Denmark's current attitude toward arab immigrants. There is a contract you have to sign when you apply for residency (residency! not citizenship!) where you promise to raise your child according to Danish standards, in Danish schools, with Danish as a primary language. Because Denmark is concerned about your child's well-being, your child's name must be on the state approved list of baby names UNLESS you can prove that the name you are giving your child is a common name from your homeland. Oh yes, and the current slang term for Danish-Arab is "Mohammedane".

Now, add to this the declining number of people who read Jyllands-Posten (the newspaper in question) and you may begin to see what happened.

The JP wanted to start a lively debate regarding the current Islamaphobia, so they asked all the famous cartoonists to draw Mohammed. And then they published them in September or October. (We don't get that newspaper because it's... well, it's the Washington Post to the New York Times, most of the time, it's full of crap.) Apparently it takes a while for people to get upset around here. Anyway, in Denmark at least there was a lot of discussion about the cartoons. At the time both my boyfriend and I thought, well, that's a dumb thing to do, but there didn't seem to be a lot of outcry from Danish muslims. And suddenly there is.

The newspaper has apologized for the fuss, but stands by it's right to freedom of speech (which is a very strong freedom in Denmark, you can say just about anything to anyone at any time). The point that has been made by a lot of Danish arab journalists is that the countries who are fussing the most are the ones who do not have freedom of speech and have a government controlled press. The government of Denmark can do nothing to the newspaper. The company that has been boycotted all over the arab world can do nothing to the newspaper. The publication of politically incorrect cartoons in a newspaper read by MAYBE 300,000 has gotten a reaction way out of proportion to the incident.

As a person who comes from a country whose flag gets torched all the time and who constantly finds herself having to explain America's foreign policy to everyone I meet, I find myself surprised at how upset Danes are getting over the reaction of the middle-east. But I'm used to being universally disliked and mistrusted for being an American, Danes are used to everyone loving them. Or not even realizing they are a country. For them it is a shock and they have no idea how to solve this problem. Like the JP should fire the culture editor, or he should resign or retire. The prime minister and the queen could keep talking about how disappointed they are with the newspaper to print such blatantly inflammatory cartoons. The parliament could lift the ban on mosque building and finally let muslims build an adequate mosque in Copenhagen (hey, maybe they could have two!). But I don't think they will. Danes are very stubborn people, and when they feel their rights are threatened they will not give in; currently they are viewing this as a show down on freedom of press. So expect very little.

But if I could reach out to all the Danes who are currently worried about how much the world hates them, I would tell them, "fear not, my friends, next week we Americans will do something far worse to take the burden of infamy from your shoulders!" At least we can count of that!

And on a related note: how ironic it is that Syria, Libya, et. al are calling for a UN resolution regarding freedom and respect for religion? I say we pass the damn thing just for the look on their faces when we slap them with a whateverthehellyoucallthem for statements made against Judaism. Heh heh heh.

Ah, and for continuing coverage including some very well written opinion pieces, check out the International Hearld Tribune.