Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Should we have been offended?

No, no pictures of Muhammad here, I would not have put them in before this discussion - my main flirt with blasphemy was seeing Life of Brian while it was still outlawed in Norway - so I am not ready to do it now. I do however respect the Norwegian blogger Vampus, who did exactly that. She has received threats on her life afterwards. Also, her blogg provider, VG, has censured her blog and removed the original picture.

The events since a large Danish paper printed a cartoon of Muhammad have been surprising. Two embassies have burned down, and children in several muslim countries eat local, but expensive cheese since the governments have stopped all import of Danish produce. Obviously, caricatures have immense power. This makes me wonder: should we have been offended long before this? When the muslim fundamentalists rant against the western decadent pigs, were they expecting us to torch their embassies? Bomb their gathering places? Persecute the muslims in our countries?

Democracy is based on rational debate. You cannot have democracy unless the minority is allowed to speak. Yes, the freedom of speech has limits in the west: In Norway racist expressions and blasphemic expressions are outlawed. We are however allowed to discuss this, and continously do. When the extreme right protests, demanding the right to harass others due to race, they are not arrested for discussing the right to freedom of speech. If they burned down a synagogue, they would be, though.

Seen from a world where you can persecute minorities without being punished, this may however look like weakness. Muslim fanatics in Norway insist that they need to defend their honour with violence. This culture of violence has not been common in Norway for 200 years. Before that knives were easily drawn to prove a point, so to speak - and Norwegians still treasure their knives. They are even a part of the national costume: dainty, silvered and ornamented, but functional. And both men and women knives exist. How deep is our layer of rationality, our culture of discourse and non-agression, when we are faced with the challenge: Fight, or live with dishonour?

Let us just hope nobody starts playing Fanitullen.

Norwegian cultural note: Fanitullen is a tune for Hardingfele, and the words describe how the fiddler learned to play from the devil in the basement, while the others were knifing each other upstairs.

Danish cultural note, from Lisbeth: Jyllandsposten, the offending paper, reaches about 500 000 danes. It is one of the largest Danish newspapers, and it is very conservative and is considered to lean towards right wing views on foreigners and foreign culture. Sadly, as Lisbeth says, the issue of this debate is not their conservative views, but a silly cartoon.

No comments: