45 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Good stuff - thanks Hari.

  • 2. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:27 pm


    I agree with some of what you say. I too did a travel piece to Denmark last year. And I was totally surprised at the level of racism in Copenhagen - it has the tensest racial atmosphere of any European capital I’ve visited.

    But it cuts both ways. First, you have to realise why the native Danes are so angry and nervous (and they are). They feel threatened by the Muslims for all the reasons you state - they are used to being a relatively homogenous country, safe in their Nordic hideaway - but for other reasons too. One main one is language.

    Danish is a tiny language. Only the Danes (and the Greenlanders?) keep it alive. But the Muslim immigrants don’t bother to learn it. And why should they? Every Dane speaks English, so the immigrants can get by in English (much more useful all round, as well) and of course their own tongue.

    But the Danes REALLY resent this. Because they think it is leading to the death of their language/culture, and because they think it disrespectful of the host culture, and because they think it shows an unwillingness to assimilate. You have to see their point, even if it is oversensitive.

    Even if you don’t it is unquestionable that the language issue leads to tension. I witnessed an altercation between a Danish tourist guide and a local Muslim. He came up to her and asked a question in English and she snapped back - why can’t you speak Danish - he got pretty angry - result: two unhappy people, and another victory for racial tension.

    Moreover, the Muslims have reacted to their unhappy welcome with racism of their own. My friend the photographer and me were nearly run over by an Asian taxi driver. He laughed as he raced past us. It was unmistakeable. The Danes told me this was par for the course.

    But then I actually got in a taxi and the driver was Muslim and he told me about his son who was constantly refused entry to Danish discos. Which is appalling.

    In other words, it’s complex, perhaps a little more complex than you suggest.

    We should also remember that the Danes have a remarkable record of human rights - the only continental country to save all their Jews from the Holocaust - and that people don’t react like this unless provoked.

    That said, Denmark is definitely a country riven by racial tension. Which does make me question, slightly, the underlying motives for the cartoons. Ironically, I’m coming to the conclusion that REpublication was more justified than publication.

    By the way, we met in Baku!

  • 3. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:39 pm


    Hari has said in this post what people like Jai and Sunny and myself have been saying on the issue for the last few days - to be met with various degrees of shuffling and squawking by you. Nevertheless, I am really happy to see how you have been taught manners and civility by spending just a few days on this blog, and am happy to see your kinship with a fellow (and successful) writer!

    This is the key line for me:

    Those of us who feel we’re caught in the middle of this situation….must be sure to keep our perspective, to call things by their proper names.

    That is - people of brown skin and various nominal (or actual) religious background recognising the ugliness and nastiness in the impulse that drives the cartoon publication, recognising too the stupidity of the response of some people, and having to call bullshit everywhere, and at the same time, be patronised by libertarian Tories and others for seeing complexity amidst the headbanging.

  • 4. Morten Grosboel  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Please remember that the pictures is taken out of context. They were part of an ongoing discussion about self-censorship as a danish writer were unable to find an illustrator to a book about Muhammed.

  • 5. Rohin  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Nice article Hari (and nice book (The Impressionist), when’s the movie coming out?)

    I wonder, had the cartoons actually been a sound and justified basis for a debate on free speech, how things would have been different. With this unfortunate episode, two sides have polarised - those yipping with glee at the offence caused to Muslims, and of course the de-testicled wannabe-murderers baying for jihad. Moderate people like me and many on this site have been in the middle, as Sunny has put so well over the last few days.

    People said it was the Satanic Verses of the modern day, but these cartoons are not even in the same category.

  • 6. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 2:57 pm


    I shall ignore the slightly otiose barbs in your remarks… (shuffling and squawking? Patronising, moi? ’successful’?? Just you wait for my memoirs! etc etc) and accept your overarching point.. yes I have learned something from hanging around this blog. Not necessarily civility and good manners - to be honest, I just like arguing vigorously on HP cause I like winding up Lefties - it’s just so easy! - but maybe a different point of view.

    And yes, I have come to see a different perspective on the original cartoons - from you and Sunny and now Hari.

    However, I hope that you are learning from me: some civility and good manners. Only joking. No - perhaps you are learning that ostensibly patronising libertarian Tories are also genuinely perplexed by all this, and that concerns about identity and nationhood and all that do not necessarily go hand in hand with a subscription to Bulldog magazine.

    Well… I live in hope. But let’s keep talking.

  • 7. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:00 pm

    I have lost count of the amount of times I have been lectured on the Enlightenment in the last few days - all because people express their unease over the glee and lust to humiliate Muslims surrounding the debate. I am not even Muslim and nor are many of the people on this site who have expressed this reservation - but we recognise the goading and baiting when we see it.

  • 8. David T  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    Certain of the Jylands cartoons trade on physical stereotypes. Others do not. Some show Mohammed neutrally. Others show him opposing violence in his name.

    What the petition which being circulated complains about is lack of respect for, and a failure to honour, Mohammed. It mentions ‘discrimination’ in a vague way: but the essence of the complaint is the mocking of Mohammed. Mocking Mohammed is a very different complaint form ethnically stereotyping Muslims. One objection shouldn’t be morphed into the other. They are quite distinct. One could mock Mohammed in a non-racist way, which played on no cultural stereotypes at all: but it would still meet with the same objections from the devout.

    In any event, it is not possible to tell whether the outrage is the product of any of these cartoons in particular, because we can be reasonably certain that few of the demonstrators - in Somalia and Afghanistan for example - will have seen them. What we do know, however, is that a picture of Mohammed raping children, and being raped by a dog were added by the Danish islamists to the dossier shopped around the Middle East. These pictures were never published by Jylands Posten. They fall into a very different category of offensiveness.

    Finally, I have a question which nobody has been able to answer so far. Given that there are prominent clerics who explicitly preach violence by reference the example of Mohammed, how could those views be satirised, graphically, in a manner which either wasn’t open to the charge of racism, and which was otherwise acceptable?

    The answer, I think, is that such a cartoon could not be drawn. That is because the chief objection is not that Islam should not be associated with religiously inspired violence. Rather, it is that fighting in the defence of faith is something which should be honoured and respected, and not lampooned.

    Which is kind of the point.

  • 9. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:07 pm


    I said it before my friend - you and I are close together on lots of points - you would be surprised - maybe we will go into it on another thread sometimes and see how much we have in common on these topics - beyond the impulse to bait and goad each other there lies common ground.

    By the way - why don’t you submit an article to Sunny on this topic to be published here? Would love to read it.

  • 10. Francis Sedgemore  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    Having lived in Copenhagen for three years, I recognise the picture painted by Hari Kunzru, and appreciate very much the comments he made about soft racism. This is one of the most constructive contributions to the debate on the cartoons that I have read!

    In response to Sean Thomas, I would acknowledge that there is tension in the air in Copenhagen, but race is only a part of it. I think Sean is over-reacting to the situation, and fails to understand the general edginess that exists in the Danish psyche. As for the language, most Danes, while able to understand basic English, are terrible at speaking it properly, and it is almost impossible to live in Denmark without learning at least some Danish. Dealing with civil servants is next to impossible without it.

    Muslim immigrants to Denmark - and I came into contact with a fair number of them - do learn Danish, and the younger ones are often to be heard speaking the language with each other. But yes, there are exceptions, and Sean clearly witnessed this in action. The biggest problem in Copenhagen is the disastrous housing situation, and official policy that has allowed large parts of the Nørrebro quarter if the city to become a Muslim ghetto. There are also suburban housing estates of Copenhagen, Århus and other cities that are dominated by “Nye danskere” (New Danes). But these people are referred to routinely as New Danes, and while racial tensions exist there is also integration. One major difference with the UK is that in Denmark mixed marriages are relatively common.

    Denmark is a small country with a rich and proud history. But they are changing, by-and-large want to change, and are attempting to deal with the inevitable problems that arise as a result. The relatively high level of debate in Danish civil society I found a pleasant surprise, having lived previously in the UK and Germany.

  • 11. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Jay, you gotta remember the backstory. A lot of this ‘lust’ and ‘glee’ to humilate Muslims is nothing of the sort - its guilt over the Rushdie issue from people who didn’t do anything then… Like me..

    I remember not giving much of a fuck when Rushdie kicked off. Just some people rioting, who cares about some silly novel, etc. OK I was just a lad but I was smart enough to know better….I am ashamed of my apathy, looking back. Moeover, all that has happened since - the Tate thing, Behzti (and yes i know it’s a different religion - ! - but I’m talking religious censorship of all kinds) has added to the sense of creeping censorship… and so I think a lot of writers and artists and just people in general have decided to take a stand on this one because they felt they were spineless in the earlier cases. I really do not think it is a lust to humiliate Muslims, there may be elements of that, I am sure there are; but largely it really is a question of free speech. I am equally sure there are some elements in the Muslim reaction, even amongst non extremists, of racist resentment of white westerners (’arrogant Crusaders, secular drunkards, etc’)

    Having said that, I do see - now! - that there is a question mark over these cartoons, and whether they were the right place to take a stand. But in a way there wasn’t much choice - it was the Muslim reaction that made this such an issue - a battleground.

    I am capable of overreaction though. Hot Celtic blood. Tch.

  • 12. David T  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Try suggesting that Hans Christian Andersen was a paedophile - then you’ll really piss the Danes off.

  • 13. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:22 pm


    It is difficult to separate the strands sometimes though.

    I think everyone needs thicker skins and to spend more time talking to each other.

  • 14. El Cid  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    perspective… perspective…. such as recognising that Christianity has received much more of a kicking from secular society than any other religion…. recognising that when people rail against something they deem offensive that is written in Europe by issuing fatwas, boycotting products, burning flags, crying blue murder, and generally going mental that they are behaving like bullies and will trigger an adverse response…. recognising that it is not as if it is the first-ever images of the prophet, may peas be unto him, and that they are NOT banned in all of the Muslim world… or how about recognising that this is probably the biggest storm in a tea cup since Eve offered Adam an apple. After all, it is only a frigging cartoon.

    Jay, I have the following also to add regarding your people of brown skin and various nominal (or actual) religious background that recognising the ugliness and nastiness in the impulse that drives the cartoon publication.
    There is a tendency to mix race and religion, which kind of gets confusing. It seems you, Sunny, Jay, Hari, see some kind of racial stereotyping in these cartoons that I don’t. But then I have seen only one cartoon, the bomb in the turban one, which, while not very clever, looks to me to be attempted satire. However, I’m happy to defer to you on that.

  • 15. Peter Pedersen  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Dear Hari!

    You question the underlying motives of the newspaper, which i would like to give my comments about.

    I find you treat the issue rather superficially putting all your focus on the one danish woman you met, a taxidrivers story as well as coming up with wrong stereotypes about the danish society, the danish histroy, as well as values which I advice you to read up on.

    An example is that you state that danish is a tiny language. People who know about these things clearly knows that of the thousands of languages in the world it is in fact not tiny.

    You consider Jyllands-Postens cartoons as an act of provocation and a result of the “xenophobia” in the danish society.

    Let me inform you of the background for the cartoons which you seem to ignore 100%:

    A danish childrens book author, who wanted to write a positive childrens book about the Prophet Muhammad, had difficulties finding illustrators for this book. This was an upsetting fact in the danish art community, since Denmark has a history of being very openminden and dialogue-engaging when it comes to any issues that are debatable - including religion, and art. As an example there has prior - in danish art circles - been numerous diplays of Jesus in less flattering manner than the Muhammad-drawings portray the prophet in. Therefore the initial decision to publish the cartoons is in my opinion not an issue of racism towards muslims.

    Now in the light of the murder of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by radical muslims, death threats to the muslim dutch woman who made the movie “submission”, as well as cancelled art-exhibitions in Sweden and London, there was a growing fear that artist were now subject to censorship due to pressure from the surroundings, especially radical muslims groups.

    Jyllands-Posten therefore contacted the members of the national association of illustrators and gave them the task to draw muhammad as THEY see him. In other words not a task to draw Muhammad in a little flattering way or any such thing !. Some of them didnt draw anything, other refused with reference to contractual obligations, while the rest of the cartoons were published in Jyllands-Posten as a part of the whole debate described above, in connexion with an article clearly stating that the objection was not to offend anyone.

    Now if you look closer at the 12 cartoons, you will in fact find a big diversity in the portraying of “Mohammad” as the illustrators saw him. In the “crime-line-up” a danish politician from a right wing party is in fact also portrayed - alongside Jesus, Buddah, a journalist etc. In another of the drawings a schoolboy wearing a football top of a copenhagen club, points to a blackboard stating something lik: “Jylland-Postens cultural editor is a reactionary provocateur” .
    Another drawing depicts Muhammad as an old man in the desert. Then there is the bomb-shaped turban, which first of all has to be seen in its context namely : How the illustrator sees Muhammad, secondly can be seen as a depiction of how some people in the west see Muhammad. In other words the drawing simply states facts that are already at hand.

    As you see the issue is in no way one-sided, let-alone xenophonbically treated. In fact there is a diversity of view-points coming through not just via the article that followed the drawings or the public debate, but also in the actual drawings themselves. This is underlined by the fact that Muslims in Denmark have participated in the debate about the drawing, without going to extremes, threats, or acts of violence.

    Therefore the ongoing story about the drawings intending to offend and hurt muslems, especially the story in arab-media, is in best case wrong, and in worst case extremely biased and Xenophobic.

    In Denmark there has been a positive debate among danes and muslims, as mentioned, about the drawing that were posted in september last year (!).

    The story reached the arab world after a fanatical group of danish Imams travelled to the middleast-leaders with the 12 drawings as well as 3 very offensive “home-made-never-published” images of Muhammed. One where he was depicted as a pig, and others even more offensive. Now in this misinformationprocess, which even reached BBC who showed the pig-image, they also hugely exaggerated the ammount of support they had among danish muslims. 5-10.000 became 200.000 !

    Therefor it is in fact this muslimgroup themselves who have spread the unthruth about the issue, and portrayed their own Xenophobia. It doesnt take a genious to come up with reasons for their agenda !.


    Now you probably wonder what happend to the childrens book ?. The book was illustrated anonymously by a childrens book illustrator, in a very sober way and was published recently without any reaction from the danish muslim community.

    To finish my point, that danes are neither Xenophobic, nor passively racist, I would like to draw your attention to a few initiatives that has been taken to welcome the muslim people in our country.

    In danish schools and spare-time clubs* in Copenhagen, only halal-butchered meat is being served, even though there is a mix of foreigng and danish kids

    Another example is that Denmark, as one of the few european countries have a very strict law against racism etc.

    A 3rd example is that during swim-lessons there are seperate shower rooms, and times for muslim girls, because their religion tells them not to shower or swim with girls who are non-believers.

    You also give the impression that immigrants/non-danes are not allowed to enter discoes.
    May i then advice you to go to a disco or club any given friday/saturday night in Copenhagen and see for yourself that this is completely untrue. If the taxi-drives son was constantly disallowed access, did it occur that he could have cause a lot of trouble on prior occassions and then got banned?. Troublemakers pose an increasingly growing problem to the clubs in Denmark.

    I Hope my english is understandable. If people demand influence and opinion in the public space in any country the least they can do is to communicate in a way that is understood, whether in english, danish or arab. You dont seem to know that not being able to speak the language of the country you decide to live in is a problem, and you seem to forget that alot of people dont even speak english.

    It is a serios problem in the danish society that an increasingly big group of people thereby disclose themselves from jobs, education and contact with their fellow citizens.

    Best Wishes

    Peter from Denmark :-)

    * kids in Denmark are generally not looked after by their mother 2-3 hours after school since most women work outside the home. Therefore there are spare-time clubs in connexion with schools where other adults look after the kids

  • 16. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Peter Pedersen

    Hari did not say anything about the Danish language being tiny - that was seanT in his first response to the article.

  • 17. El Cid  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    You do realise that racists use personal experiences to justify their bigoted views (e.g. “I was mugged by black man once. All black men are bastards.”) I assume you are aware of that.
    Your article could also be seen to justify the indiscriminate reaction of some parts of the Ummah (i.e. holding the Danish prime minister to account because of the actions of a newspaper, boycotting Danish products, burning Danish flags).

  • 18. Jay Singh  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:41 pm

    El Cid

    Please read the article in its entirety - anyone who could say that it could ‘be seen to justify the indiscriminate reaction of some of the Ummah’ has to be smoking crack - are you smoking crack, El Cid?

  • 19. El Cid  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    Speed reading blogs when I should be working. I stand corrected. I have read the full article now. That man breaking into your car is not me.

  • 20. Peter Pedersen  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    @ Jay:

    Yeah sorry. I just realized it was not his post, but a friends posting.

    Get me right anyway: Danish is not the biggest of languages, but from a linguistic point of view, it is certainly not tiny either ;-)

    I want to add that many danish companies now have english as their corporate language and that immigrants with longer educations (University-level) in Denmark have a lower unemployment rate than danes with university-level-degrees.

    Best wishes


  • 21. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    Come on, lads. Simmer down.

    Peter Pedersen, that was indeed me who made the language reference, and the taxi driver references. I stand by my language theory - I think its important. I know it is very important in the Dutch case, which has similarities to the Danish situation, as Dutch people have written about it extensively. Their language goes unused by the Muslim minority, which irks them.

    As for the taxi driver stories, I know that i am generalising from one person’s perspective… but then so did Hari in his original piece with his hijab story…. The trouble is here is that all we do have is personal stories - personal feelings - and that is because racism is often so subjective. One person’s satirical cartoon is another person’s racist caricature. As we have seen.

    Personally - I am pretty damn sure that the Danes are amongst the most generous peoples in Europe, with a sterling human rights record, and I do not like to see them attacked - as Hari did, arguably - without someone defending them. It is also very easy for people from a big country like England, with a vibrant and self confident popular culture, where we know that immigrants are basicaly going to learn English, our language, to lecture smaller nations on racial anxiety and neurosis.

    After your post I’m close to changing my mind again on the cartoons. For fuck’s sake. I’ve never been this flip-floppy on an issue, ever. I’m normally pretty certain and determined on most things.

    This is a tough one.

  • 22. Amitava Kumar …  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    […] Pickled Politics has a piece by Hari Kunzru on the controversy. (Thanks, Harpreet.) Kunzru is right to speak against the parochialism present even among European liberals, and he is also on the mark about how Islamists, who would gladly publish, say, anti-Semitic cartoons are the ones who benefit from the the foolish mistakes of outfits like Jyllands Posten. It is good to have folks like Kunzru writing. Because otherwise all you get is something like this piece from the Boston Globe which, in an inflammatory way, begins by doing something that I had thought only the Hindutva half-pants-wallahs did-pitting good Hindus against bad Muslims. […]

  • 23. Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:15 pm


    In your Taxi experience, you inferred racism from an act which might very well be benign.
    In the author’s experience with the journalist, he did not infer anything, the journalist was IN FACT being racist.

  • 24. Hari Kunzru  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    The comments on my (short and quickly written, as you can tell from the typos and dodgy punctuation) piece have been fascinating. Tthe information from SeanT and Francis about the Danish context is helpful - thankyou.

    I’m not convinced by Mr Pedersen’s argument that a greater knowledge of Denmark’s undeniably liberal anti-racism laws would change my mind about those cartoons I didn’t like. He’ s right to point to the different points of view within the set, and to the ’self-censorship’ debate to which they were a response. 800 words is necessarily going to feel superficial when your country is being criticised by a foreigner ;-) . But his defense of Denmark sounds a little strained. Why not accept that there’s racism in your country? If there wasn’t, it’d be unique in the world and we’d all move there.

    I’ve no idea about the motivation of the Jyllands Posten editors and a lot of the comments Mr P attributes to me were in fact made by Sean T. However Sean’s even-handed post rings true. It seems obvious that whatever the ideals professed by the Danish state, there’s evidently a great deal of underlying tension within Danish society: Danes would do well to recognise this. The Dutch are experiencing something similar - a liberal legal framework which doesn’t match the more atavistic feelings of xenophobia floating around in Dutch society. That’s an argument for freedom of speech, probably. My feeling is that the JP made a lazy editorial decision rather than anything more sinister.

    As for the comment about the difference between ethnic stereotypes and representing the prophet - I think this is an important point. The two things aren’t the same. In my post, I was only talking about my own reaction, which was based on a dislike of ‘orientalising’ stereotypes. . It’s true that the basis on which some believing Muslims oppose the cartoons is the theological position that Mohammed should not be represented in any way. This argument doesn’t have any purchase on my own thinking and I’m worried by the idea (floating around a lot lately) that the prohibition should be respected by non believers out of deference to the sensibilities of believers. That seems like a slippery slope. Legally, where would we stop in our quest to give and receive ‘respect’? It’s a very good thing the UK religious offence legislation was amended this week, because otherwise the state would have been forced to get involved in a lot of these arguments about insult - and not just from major world faiths like Islam, but Scientologists and Wiccans and Raelians and anyone else who had the money to bring suit.

    If you accept, as I do, that freedom of speech has priority over the wish not to be insulted, that doesn’t necessarily mean anyone gets to say anything without any come-back. If someone casually insults your beliefs, you have the right to respond and to do so angrily. Civil society is based on the premise that these kinds of arguments are conducted in forums like this one. In my view, the people who should be most ashamed of themselves are not the editors of the JP, but those who (according to reports) mingled far more offensive cartoons with those printed by the JP, in order to further a political agenda which has nothing to do with rational debate.

  • 25. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    al Muj.

    No, I’m sorry - the journalist in Denmark was just expressing a vehement opinion on veiled women in western societies. She wasn’t necessarily being racist.

    Hari’s crucial words are: ‘the way she spoke startled me, because it seemed to indicate a deep, visceral level of threat.’ Note the ’seemed’.

    In other words, Hari perceived it as racist, or at least as evincing a ‘visceral fear’ (clearly implying racism). He saw it that way, and that;;s his choice, but it’s just Hair’s opinion. In fact the journalist could simply have been angry about veiled women on western streets, and what that says about Islamic subjugation of women - plenty of western feminists are simiarly angry, and they aren’t all racist, by any means. In fact most of them would be extremely angry to be labelled that way. Hari is maybe foisting his own anxieties onto the situation.

    Or do you think that any feminist critique of Islam treatment of women is necessarily racist?

  • 26. El Cid  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Fair cop Hari

  • 27. Gaz  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    I find all this talk of ‘soft’ racism a bit sad. Why are people so quick to use to the word racist? Harri sounds like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who reaches for the R word at every possible opportunity. Not liking the fact someone wears a Hijab is not reason enough to accuse him or her of racism.

    The same goes for being knocked back from a disco. There will be elements in danish society that are racist but pointing to racism from these examples is just lazy.

    If Muslim ghettos are a sign of racism then most countries in Western Europe including the UK, France, Germany and Italy are all racist too. For whatever reasons, Muslim immigrants to Europe have found it difficult to economically empower themselves and many are stuck in ghettos.

  • 28. Sunny  |  February 6th, 2006 at 4:55 pm

    Gaz - I don’t think you’re reading the article properly mate.

    In my view, the people who should be most ashamed of themselves are not the editors of the JP, but those who (according to reports) mingled far more offensive cartoons with those printed by the JP, in order to further a political agenda which has nothing to do with rational debate.

    totally agreed. Many Muslims have turned a blind eye to the actions of the Danish Muslim contingent too.

  • 29. David T  |  February 6th, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    In my post, I was only talking about my own reaction, which was based on a dislike of ‘orientalising’ stereotypes. .

    Yes, that was my immediate reaction to some of the cartoons - particularly the ‘mad mullah’ one, which traded in lazy stereotypes.

    There is a real tendency for some of us to ‘reinterpret’ the grievance in some ‘comprehensible’ and more acceptable manner: just as some after 9/11 saw the attacks as a condemnation of everything they themselves disliked, from market capitalism to the stance of the Bush administration in Kyoto.

    That was what I thought you were doing in your piece: but its clear now that you’re not.

  • 30. Peter Pedersen  |  February 6th, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Hi Hari !

    Thank you for your response:

    I fully acknowledge that there is racism in my society - both ways as shown - no question about it.

    Also tension, especialy politically since the public debate at times gets very direct and for “outsiders” also very hard.

    The whole globalisation issue - i think - challenges any nation these days. I cannot think of a nation where there isnt any tension because of this. The important thing to me is how we handle it.

    We deal with this in a very danish way - dialogue - and more dialogue !. Fx i think it tells a lot that a -ultra-right-wing demo this weekend had 14 participants, while an opposing demo had 1400 participants. Unlike rumours falsely stated on Al-Jazeerah there has been no Quaran-burning ceremonies or Mosque-attacks in Denmark. In fact there has only been peacefull protest, the most recent in compenhagen where ppl called for dialogue between the cultures and religions.

    This shows that alot of false rumours go around, and alot of the debate is not grounded in facts but feelings.

    There is a very long democratic tradition of particapatory democracy in my country which many outsiders dont know or understand. This is one of the reasons why some newcomers can feel isolated here: the customs they know and have dont apply directly. You have to argue for them to be installed.

    A thought example : In Somaila or maybe even Turkey a civil servant might give an allowance - bend the rules - or treat you specifically nice because you belong to a certain clan or etnicity. This happens extemely rarely in Denmark. (Not saying it doesnt happen at all).

    There is tension but frankly it is minimal compared to what you see in say UK. One might argue that UK is so much bigger, but even compared to Sweden, which is more comparable to Denmark, the amount of racism and hate-crimes is also extremely small in Denmark. Sweden on the other hand has serious problem, but no public debate whatsoever. I know which way i prefer - as a dane.

    With regards to the cartoons:

    I guess you have made up your mind about Jyllands Posten and what i wrote didnt change any of that.

    You have your “feeling” about it.

    My personal feeling is that the debate JP was raising is very important, but then again i am a dane, and I have read the article as well as followed the debate here very closely since september last year.

    Here i think it is important to focus on the medias role - and responseability in a world that gets smaller every day because of new means of communication.

    May i ask, when you got in on the issue/story, and if you have read the article in its context as well as in the language (danish) it was printed in ?. Not even a translated version ?.

    It can always be dicussed if it couldve been done more subtle by the artists that send in the images of how they see Muhamed, but that would to me just have proven their point about censorship.

    Mr. Kunzru i do accept that freedom of speach stands over the right to avoid insults, and i also agree, that everyone have the right to respond even angrily at things that offend them.

    For all i am not one of the danish company-representatives who fear a boycutt, a peacefull protest etc.

    But when it comes to banners like you saw in London recently that incite hatred and division, as well as physical attacs and vandalism of foreign emabassied, thus threatening the diplomatic system my call is FOLD !.

    The last part you wrote i fully agree with.

    Its supper time here in Aarhus, Denmark.

    Have a nice evening everyone !


  • 31. Analytical  |  February 6th, 2006 at 6:47 pm


    Interesting article - but why, in the name of heaven did you have to end it with an absurdity?

    “the equally heinous world-views of Bush and Al Mujahiroun”

    Can you honestly look at the Al Muj website - choice items such as ‘Homosexual Today, Paedophile Tomorrow’ - and say you have no wish to clarify?

  • 32. Siddharth  |  February 6th, 2006 at 8:50 pm


    Thanks for the excellent post. Its very satisfying to see your sentiments resonate with those of many of the regular bloggers and commenters here on Pickled Politics.

    My experiences of living and working in Denmark are more were more inclusive and tolerant than your experieces of the place, it would seem. Denmark was not a country I found to be inherently racist in a “southern redneck” manner. It has one of the most progressive records in Human Rights initiatives worldwide, and, in addition, puts its money where its mouth is by being one of the highest donors of humanitarian aid in Western Europe.

    The Right-wards shift in its politics since I was last there has obviously percolated down from on high, affecting the way people of different races deal with each other “on the street”. When I was there, I found Danes to be laid back and affectionate, but also able to be blunt and boorish with it.

    When I see the way Danes react to its immigrants now, it reminds me of the way Britain reacted to her immigrants back in the 60s and 70s. The tolerance is begrudging and seems to be tempered with scorn and disdain. And yes, hatred. And the immigrants stoically putting up with it for “the sake of the children”.

    This is why I don’t agree with your conclusion as it seems to round off the blame of anti-Muslim sentiment to “Bush” which seems a off the mark and sensationalist in a post 9/11 kind of way. You were right all along when you said that the sentiments behind the cartoons are simply ineffable racist bigotry, “the kind that lots of middle-class people express to one another at dinner parties when they think nobody from an ethnic minority is there to hear”. So true.

  • 33. Siddharth  |  February 6th, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    Oh yeah, and Viva Woodford Green!

  • 34. Niels Christensen  |  February 6th, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    To Sean Thomas
    Mayby your comment :
    But the Muslim immigrants don’t bother to learn it. And why should they? Every Dane speaks English, so the immigrants can get by in English (much more useful all round, as well) and of course their own tongue.

    was meant to be funny or nor I don’t know.
    But in Denmark it’s in fact a problem that mainly parts of the muslim population - doesn’t know danish. How do you think they can get a job if they are not able to speak or read the language.
    One of the jokes in this affair is in fact that the Imans who are leading protests have been granted political asylum, and have been in Denmark for years without bothering to learn the language and have been living on social welfare, which in fact are rather generous.
    You have to se the new danish Immigration politics in context of this. You can’t reduce the change in politics to
    The danish Society have structural problem with immigration, because it’s very difficault to integrate some of the muslims immigrants in the workplace.
    Especially those who have a backgound i rural areas from Turkey, Pakistan or Libanon.
    And if they don’t have a job, their chances to be a part of the society ( and their childrens chances ) are rather small. You could say - well if they wan’t to take the chance well OK? , Yeah right, but the problem is that many of them through mariage are inclined to social benefits, housing and so on.
    So Sean I don’t mind that they don’t learn danish, but why should I pay for them - Can you answer this Question ?

  • 35. Siddharth  |  February 6th, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Even if you don’t it is unquestionable that the language issue leads to tension. I witnessed an altercation between a Danish tourist guide and a local Muslim. He came up to her and asked a question in English and she snapped back - why can’t you speak Danish - he got pretty angry - result: two unhappy people, and another victory for racial tension.

    Moreover, the Muslims have reacted to their unhappy welcome with racism of their own. My friend the photographer and me were nearly run over by an Asian taxi driver.


    How did you know the tourist guide haranguer and the malevolent taxi driver were both, erm, erm, erm, you know, one of them lot? You know. Moozalim.

    Did you ask for circumcision confirmation as the driver sped off? You are allowed to make up stories, but such sad generalisations can only come from one a Harry’s Place type.

  • 36. Cinnamon  |  February 6th, 2006 at 9:55 pm


    was going to say something, but, Ayaan does it so much more better than I ever could:


    as for the statement that ‘Danmark is racist’, I think that is kinda… well racist. Unless you spoke to every Dane that is. *grin*

    Lighten up people, the old SWP methods of discussing and qualifying simple do not suffice for the task in hand anymore. There is no point in violently agreeing and then arguing over an outdated political dogma, such as the concept of ‘rascism’. Not saying it does not exist (muslims are quite racist as we found out in the past week) but, to combat the problem in hand, more differentiation is neccessary.

  • 37. seanT  |  February 6th, 2006 at 9:57 pm

    Niels - no, I wasn’t joking, I agree with you.

    I think immigrants to Denmark should be asked to learn Danish… and if they refuse, then deport them.

    Simple, really.

  • 38. Sunny  |  February 6th, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    I’m not sure about deporting, because having been to America, there are thousands of small immigrant communities that get by without English, though obviously their children learn as they intergrate into society.

    But I do lean towards the idea that immigrants should be forced into English/Danish tests etc so as to empower them to participate in the society they choose to emigrate to, rather than just be the objects of ridicule by the mainstream right. At the same time, it empowers the women to have a firmer footing if they’re left stranded by husbands etc. So while I agree on learning the language, I come at it from a different (and more humanitarian angle). Deporting would be against their rights I’d say :)

  • 39. Clive Davis…  |  February 7th, 2006 at 12:45 am


    One thing that makes me nervous about some of the people making the loudest anti-Muslim noises in the latest culture war is that they’re the same folk who were desperate to interpret last year’s riots in France as an intifada

  • 40. Bikhair  |  February 7th, 2006 at 1:33 am


    “…as for the statement that ‘Danmark is racist’, I think that is kinda… well racist. Unless you spoke to every Dane that is. *grin*”

    I would agree except for a Muslim I am a terrorist because an explosion happened in Iraq or London. Generalizations make sense when they arent about you.

  • 41. Vikrant  |  February 7th, 2006 at 9:27 am

    Wee… Hari…. Hari Kunzru on PP!!! Whens the Impressionist movie comming out?

  • 42. SajiniW  |  February 7th, 2006 at 10:22 am

    Excellent article there Hari - I hope to see more of you on here.

    Glad to see an intelligent debate has begun :)

  • 43. ss  |  February 9th, 2006 at 8:54 pm


    ‘Can you honestly look at the Al Muj website - choice items such as ‘Homosexual Today, Paedophile Tomorrow’ - and say you have no wish to clarify? ‘

    I’m an American, and while Bush is no where near as bad as Al Mujahiroun, the extreme religious right in this country DOES equate homosexuality with pedophilia on a regular basis. And Bush sided with these people in their (sadly, successful) bid to ban gay marriage in 23 states.
    There seems to be a theory floated in neo-lib/libertarian circles that deep down Bush is a closet progressive on social issues (abortion, gay and minority rights, etc.)
    This just isn’t true. Bush is exactly what he always said says he was (though since dropping in the polls he says it far less often), a Republican on the religious side of the party.

  • 44. ss  |  February 9th, 2006 at 9:05 pm


    I liked the Impressionist, but personaly I liked Transmission evn more. Is another book coming soon?

  • 45. Sriram Venkitachalam  |  February 10th, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Loved Peter Pandersen’s first post. Very glad you put forth the reasons for the commission of the cartoons. You have a very valid point. Personally I don’t think some of the cartoons are offensive, but some like the one with the bomb are.

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