This message below was submitted as a comment on my earlier suggestions about the Danish cartoons. It explains how the events unfolded on the Danish side and reports on positive measures to ensure more cultural understanding. So I thought this comment deserves to be highlighted in a post on its own.
From: Nicolai Steinø, Denmark
After having just seen the shocking images of the burning down of the Danish embassy in Damascus, I had to check Humeid’s weblog in hope of getting a more varied understanding of the arabic discourse on the 12 drawings. Personally, I find it very important to seek behind the stereotypes – particularly in a situation like this. I am therefore happy to see the vivid dicussions which onfold here. And I would like to contribute with some Danish perspectives on the situation.
Humeid’s quoting his childhood school knowledge in fact takes the story back to where it all started. Last year, a Danish writer who was then writing a childrens’ schoolbook entitled ‘The Quran and the Life of Prophet Muhammed’ mentioned to a journalist friend, that he was unable to find an artist who would make the illustrations for the book. As the book was targeted at primary school level, it had to have illustrations, but apparently illustrators were afraid of possible retaliatory measures from fundamentalist islamists.
The journalist thought this was a relevant news story and eventually the newspaper called for cartoonists to depict the prophet Muhammed in defiance of what it proclaimed to be a self-imposed restriction on freedom of speech on behalf of Danish illustrators. As I first learned about the 12 drawings, I was staying in Turkey. I thought my Turkish colleagues might address the subject and therefore I started to look into the story. I was a bit worried, as the newspaper which published the drawings is known for its animosity towards muslim immigrants.
Being away, I couldn’t get hold of an issue of the newspaper, so I was unable to judge the nature of the drawings. I did read about one though, which I liked very much, because it – rather than actually depicting the prophet Muhammed – displayed what I believe was the true reason for the whole event. In the drawing you see a school child with arabic looks named Muhammed pointing to a sentence written in arabic letters on a blackboard. What the editors of the newspaper didn’t realise when they printed the drawing was that this sentence read “The editors of [the newspaper] is a bunch of reactionary provokateurs”. Thus the satire was turned upon the newspaper itself in a very intelligent and a very funny way.
As a corollary to Humeid’s suggestions for responses to the 12 drawings, the 12 cartoonists have in fact set up a fund financed by the royalties generated from the drawings, aiming at inter-cultural exchange between the western and the islamic worlds (of course this has a bizarre irony to it, as the more the drawings wil be displayed, the more royalties they will generate). And an initiative to invite cartoonists from arab countries to Denmark to collaborate and exchange with Danish colleagues has already been arranged.
In my view, publishing the 12 drawings was an overly self-assertive and insensitive measure. However, in the light of all the discussions it has entailed, I think it could potentially lead to something positive. After all, freedom of speech is certainly not just a western concern, as little as taking pride in one’s beliefs is only important in islam.
But of course – as the burning down of the Danish embassy in Damascus so frightingly reminds us – the situation may also be used by those who seek confrontation. In Denmark both right wing extremists and conservative imams have tried to use the situation to their own confrontational ends. But on the other hand it has also led to the formation of a “moderate muslims’ network” in Denmark, and today demonstrations for intercultural understanding have been held across Denmark gathering both immigrant and native Danes.
Read these related posts on 360east:
- Another Denmark
- Argeeleh Express: Now your home can smell like Tche Tche too!
- Spam with a freedom song attached
- Wondering how the Prophet might have responded to the cartoons..
- How watwet works.. (hint: it’s also FREE!)
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