Denmark Has Lost Its Innocence

[Below we reproduce excerpts from an article by Sven Tarp, International Relations Secretary, Communist Party of Denmark (Marxist-Leninist), dealing with the background of the controversy surrounding the publication of offensive cartoons about Prophet Mohammed by a Danish newspaper]

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark ," Shakespeare wrote in his famous Hamlet some four centuries ago. The events that have taken place during the last weeks and months show that Shakespeare's words have gained new actuality. We who live in Denmark can confirm that everything is not as it ought to be.

According to the modern myth already created, it all started in my hometown, the city of Aarhus , on September 30 last year when the national newspaper with a regional name, Jyllands Posten (The Jutland Post), published 12 cartoons that presented an offensive, stereotypical image of Mohammed.

The official reason for printing the cartoons was, according to the editor-in-chief, to challenge the way freedom of speech is practised in Denmark as it is allegedly being restricted due to a growing Muslim influence. Before publishing the cartoons, they were shown to a series of experts who explained that they most certainly would provoke anger among Muslims who would feel offended by the way their prophet was portrayed. So, the printing of the cartoons was from the very beginning planned as a malicious provocation.

Official and Real Motives

The publication of the cartoons is part of a national agenda promoted by the Danish ruling circles with a double purpose:

•  to divide the Danish working class into nationals and foreigners, Christians and Muslims, in order to weaken its resistance to the brutal imposition of neo-liberal policies at a very specific moment where the Danish economy is momentarily one of the most thriving within the general framework of a crisis-ridden capitalist world economy;

•  to weaken by creating an artificial image of the Muslim world as an enemy the growing demand among the Danish people that Danish troops should be withdrawn from Iraq where they are taking part in the illegal occupation headed by the U.S. imperialism.

From the very beginning, the whole issue has been treated with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity, both by the editors of Jyllands Posten and by the Danish government. It soon became clear that the Muslim peoples did feel offended. The Muslim society in Denmark , in early October, organized demonstrations and called on the newspaper to apologize for the publication. This was refused with the false pretext of defending freedom of speech.

On October 19, ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries requested a meeting with the Danish government in order to discuss the cartoons. In a very arrogant manner, the rightist government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to meet the ambassadors for a discussion that might have prevented subsequent events.

In an action unheard of in the history of Danish diplomacy, 22 former Danish ambassadors publicly criticized the Prime Minister's refusal to meet with representatives of Muslim countries. But the government stuck to its own decision. It apparently was not unhappy with the fact that the cartoons caused disunity and distracted popular attention from the social consequences of its planned "welfare reforms" that were announced last autumn.

It was only when the national agenda turned into an international crisis of unprecedented dimensions that the government and the newspaper decided to take action. But even then, their arrogance prevented them from saving what could be saved. The editor of Jyllands Posten , for example, apologized to Muslims because they felt offended, but he did not apologize for publishing the offensive cartoons, because such an apology, according to him, would be a violation of his freedom of speech! In this way, the apology was not enough to end the protests and neither was the appearance of the Danish Prime Minister on Arab and Muslim television channels where he didn't deliver the message expected from him.

A reactionary newspaper Jyllands Posten is one of Denmark 's largest newspapers with a long tradition of rightist policy. In the 1930s, it was infamous for defending pro-Nazi positions. After the Second World War, it turned completely pro-NATO. During the war in Vietnam , it was a loyal ally of U.S. imperialism. Today, it is an arduous defender of the Zionist state of Israel and the imperialist occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the growing pressure on Iran , Syria and other independent countries.

Jyllands Posten is considered the unofficial organ of expression of the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. As such, it is not an innocent player in the present crisis. Its defence of freedom of speech is nothing but hypocritical.

During the last years, Jyllands Posten has transformed itself into a national platform of the most rabid attacks against communists and other progressive people. Even the most idiotic anti-communist professor has free access to its columns. The freedom of speech practised by the newspaper is used to distort, silence and criminalize communist and progressive ideas. The way the former socialist countries in Europe and the Danish communists who were active during the Cold War are portrayed is just as insulting as the 12 cartoons.

For the Danish communists, freedom of speech is a beautiful principle that takes its concrete form according to the concrete historical context and the social class that practises it. It is a necessity for the free development of individual human beings and their participation in the democratic processes of modern society. But it cannot be accepted as an unlimited right of the ruling class to insult other people and cause tension, violence, war and destruction. Freedom of speech should always be subordinated to ethics and the rules of civilized behaviour among peoples and nations.

A Reactionary Government

The extent of the anti-Danish protests that have swept all over the Muslim world during the last weeks has taken the Danish public by surprise. Very few expected that something like this could ever happen. For years the Danish people have been indoctrinated with the belief that they lived in the best of all worlds; that they themselves were so very tolerant and everybody else, especially the Muslim peoples, intolerant; that their country was well-respected and their government well-intentioned and generous; that the Danish troops in Afghanistan and Iraq did a fine and humanitarian job and were well-received by the local people, etc.

This lie has survived and taken root because the Danish press, in spite of its own claim to be liberal and broad-minded, has turned into one of the most controlled and regimented in Europe. This control also explains why the Danish people haven't seen what has been in the pipeline for several years.

Denmark , that 20 years ago was known for its social democratic welfare system, its humanitarian assistance to the third world and its footnote policy that offered certain resistance to the most aggressive plans of NATO and U.S. imperialism, has little by little been transformed into a very reactionary country. At the international level, this has expressed itself in Denmark 's subordination to U.S. imperialism and its participation in the aggressive wars against Yugoslavia , Afghanistan and Iraq . At the same time, Danish foreign "aid" is being still more conditioned by the acceptance of neo-liberal and pro-imperialist positions.

It Started More than 100 Years Ago

The present crisis cannot be explained only with the cartoons and the arrogance of the Danish ruling circles, although they certainly contributed a lot. The real explanation should be found in the repeated humiliations that the Muslim peoples have suffered for more than 100 years, first under the rule of European colonialism and now in the form of joint U.S. and European imperialist domination with constant aggressions, occupations and impositions of Western imperialist interests in their countries. The Muslim reaction has been on its way for a long time. In this light, it is completely fortuitous that it was exactly Denmark and the cartoons that started the present revolt among the Muslim peoples. It would have come sooner or later. On the surface, the present revolt is taking the form of a clash between civilizations, a kind of religious war, with all the irrational fanaticism, different agendas, dangers and unclear dividing lines this brings about. But in its essence, it is an important anti-imperialist movement directed against world imperialism headed by the United States of America and with Denmark as an active and arrogant little brother. As Danish communists we greet this movement and hope that it will find still clearer and more consequent expressions.

However, the fact that it has taken a religious form mixed with fanaticism and different local and regional agendas also creates confusion and secondary contradictions and makes it more complex to forge an international anti-imperialist front. The burning of Danish flags and national symbols, for example, however justified it may be, insults the national feelings of a considerable part of the Danish population and contribute in this way to the strengthening of the rightist and extremist parties. Spontaneous manifestations and demonstrations for tolerance and solidarity are emerging everywhere. Another positive result of the revolt in the Muslim countries is that a third of the Danish soldiers who were expected to be sent to Iraq in the near future now refuse to go. Hence, an important battle of ideas is taking place within Danish society.

Position of Danish Communists

The main line of activity of the Communist Party of Denmark-ML is the struggle for the unity of the working class and the mobilization of the local and national trade union movement against the dividing policy of the ruling bourgeoisie. At the same time, we demand that the editors of Jyllands Posten should make a clear-cut apology for printing the cartoons and that the government should follow up in such a way that it becomes absolutely clear that it repudiates the provocation.

Our party is also active in the preparation for the big anti-war demonstrations on March 18, which will take place under the broad banner of withdrawing the troops from Iraq . At the same time, we are stepping up our solidarity with the Iraqi resistance movement and the Palestinian people while we are condemning the imperialist pressure and threats against Iran , Syria and other independent countries. We believe that the present crisis should be used to strengthen the anti-imperialist movement of solidarity with the oppressed peoples all over the world.

Finally, we wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters that at the end of day we have the same enemies, world imperialism headed by the Bush administration, and that we should unite in a broad international front in order to fight this enemy number one of humanity.