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The Annoying Difference: The Emergence of Danish Neonationalism, Neoracism, and Populism in the Post-1989 World

The Annoying Difference: The Emergence of Danish Neonationalism, Neoracism, and Populism in the Post-1989 World

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The Annoying Difference: The Emergence of Danish Neonationalism, Neoracism, and Populism in the Post-1989 World

551 pagine
7 ore
Jul 1, 2011


The Muhammad cartoon crisis of 2005−2006 in Denmark caught the world by surprise as the growing hostilities toward Muslims had not been widely noticed. Through the methodologies of media anthropology, cultural studies, and communication studies, this book brings together more than thirteen years of research on three significant historical media events in order to show the drastic changes and emerging fissures in Danish society and to expose the politicization of Danish news journalism, which has consequences for the political representation and everyday lives of ethnic minorities in Denmark.

Jul 1, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

Peter Hervik holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Copenhagen; an MPhil in International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER); and is a Professor in the Department of Culture and Global Studies at Aalborg University. He has done research and written extensively on the Danish media coverage of ethnic and Islamic minority issues as well as on the social construction of Yucatec Mayan identity in Mexico.

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The Annoying Difference - Peter Hervik


The Annoying Difference

The Emergence of Danish Neonationalism,

Neoracism, and Populism

in the Post-1989 World


Published in 2011 by

Berghahn Books

©2011, 2014 Peter Hervik

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without written permission of the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hervik, Peter, 1956-

The annoying diff erence : the emergence of Danish neonationalism, neoracism, and populism in the post-1989 world / Peter Hervik.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-85745-100-2 (hardback) -- ISBN 978-0-85745-101-9 (institutional ebook) -- ISBN 978-0-85745-101-9 (retail ebook)

1. Muslims—Denmark. 2. Denmark—Ethnic relations. 3. Denmark—Politics and government—21st century. 4. Nationalism—Denmark. 5. Islamophobia—Denmark. 6. Freedom of the press—Denmark. I. Title.

BP65.D4H47 2011



British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Printed on acid-free paper

ISBN: 978-0-85745-100-2 hardback

ISBN: 978-0-85745-101-9 institutional ebook

ISBN: 978-0-85745-101-9 retail ebook


List of Tables and Figures

List of Acronyms



Part I. Methodological Framework and Historical Context


The Emergence of Neonationalism and Neoracism in the Post-1989 World

Part II. The Campaign(s) of 1997


A Newspaper Campaign Unlike Any Other


The End of Tolerance?


The Danish Cultural World of Unbridgeable Differences

Part III. The Mona Sheikh Story of 2001


The Mona Sheikh Story, 2001


Mediated Muslims: Jyllands-Posten’s Coverage of Islam, 2001


The Response from Muslim Readers and Viewers

Part IV. The Muhammad Cartoon Crisis


The Original Spin: Freedom of Speech as Danish News Management


A Political Struggle in the Field of Journalism


The Narrative of Incompatibility and the Politics of Negative Dialogues in the Danish Cartoon Affair


We Have to Explain Why We Exist





Tables and Figures


1. Immigrants and descendants according to country of origin

2. Muslims in Denmark according to nationality in 2006

3. Editorials, columns, feature articles, and op-eds by newspaper


1. The basic circuit of cultural production

2. Immigrants and descendants in Denmark by 1 January 1983–2005

3. Percentage of Western and non-Western immigrants and descendants of total population by 1 January 1983–2005

4. Lars Løkke Rasmussen among Mujahedin guerrilla leaders, 1988

5. Cas Mudde’s far right populism triangle

6. Basic far right wing populism

7. Contours of far right populism in the two Maastricht referenda, 1992 and 1993

8. Far right populist strategy of the Progress Party (Fremskridtspartiet) and later the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti)

9. Danish newspapers’ circulation 1997, 2001, 2006, and 2009

10. Ask the Danes: Yes or No to immigrants (Ekstra Bladet 22 April 1997)

11. Ekstra Bladet’s story about Ali from Somalia (Ekstra Bladet 9 May 1997)

12. Danish political parties in the Parliament (Folketinget), 1997, 2001, 2005, 2007

13. The number of Somali refugees in Denmark in the 1990s

14. Politiken’s placard, 13 March 1997

15. Danish and non-Danish attributes found in interviews

16. Attributes of guests as used by the host

17. The narrativizing sequence of the figured world of host-guest relations

18. The development of far right populism

19. Multi-Denmark, Jyllands-Posten, 29 August 1999

20. The New Denmark, Jyllands-Posten, 15 July 2001

21. Kurt Westergaard’s drawing of Babar Baig

22. Front page of Jyllands-Posten, 11 September 2005

23a. Kurt Westergaard’s illustration in Jyllands-Posten, 12 April 1997: Theocracy in Iran as guilty of state terrorism.

23b. Kurt Westergaard’s illustration in Jyllands-Posten, 27 August 2005

24. Number of sold and read copies of newspapers during the peak of the Muhammad cartoon conflict

25. The three frames—a struggle of news and views


CHR: Danish Centre for Human Rights

DCISM: Danish Centre for International Studies and Human Rights

DMGT: Coalition of Muslim Immigrant Associations (Turkey)

ECRI: European Commission against Racism and Intolerance

EEC: European Economic Community

EUMC: European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia

IMER: International Migration and Ethnic Relations

ISESCO: Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

MIM: Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare

NAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement

NPR: National Public Radio

OIC: Organization of the Islamic Conference


The politicizing of the Danish media and the emergence of neonationalism have polarized Danish society over the last couple of decades. In Parliament, the veil is compared to the swastika; Muslims in Denmark are compared to tumors in need of radiation; and Islam is called a plague that must be fought like Nazism. These three radical comments were made by members of Parliament. There seems to be no limit to what can be said in the Danish public, or what the majority allows itself to say about the country’s ethnic minorities including Muslims. The stigmatization, marginalization, and criminalization of Denmark’s ethnic minorities and the discrimination against them disturb me and have motivated me to write this book.

I have spent much of my professional research time studying Denmark’s drastic transformation, trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of radically anti-Muslim commentary and the racialized belief system that such speech reveals. In research projects since the mid 1990s, I have experienced and analyzed the incremental change in how ethnic minorities were dealt with in the media, in policy, and in popular culture from various perspectives. This book will seek to bring these projects together in order to provide background for understanding the Muhammad cartoon crisis of 2005–2006. The cartoon crisis occurred as a logical extension of the polarization of Danish society but reached its global peak in February 2006, with violent reactions triggered by high-profile news of the publication of those Danish cartoons.

The development of Danish neonationalism has had a significant impact on my own research. When the new right-wing Danish government coalition of Denmark’s Liberal Party (Venstre) and the Conservative People’s Party (Det Konservative Folkeparti) came into power in November 2001, it chained itself to the far right wing, the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), to the extent that the three groups’ attitudes and politics toward the country’s immigrants and refugees seemed indistinguishable. The three parties agreed to close a number of useless committees and institutions that were run, they argued, by the elite judges of taste (smagsdommere). I was working for one of these targeted institutions, the Board for Ethnic Equality (Nævnet for Etnisk Ligestilling), in Copenhagen. According to a political agreement between the three right-wing parties, the Board and the Danish Centre for Human Rights had to be closed, since they had become too politically correct, as evidenced by their leaders’ critical remarks about the Danish People’s Party. Only two weeks later the government succumbed to intense international pressure and negotiated a new agreement with the Danish People’s Party which suggested that the Centre was to close but reappear in a restructured version. However, the Board for Ethnic Equality did close. The publication of my report for the Board, The Muslims of the Media (Mediernes Muslimer), in 2002 was one of its last activities.

As part of the public presentation of the report, the Danish Union of Journalists’ Equal Opportunities Committee organized a public meeting. The meeting gathered about 100 people, many of whom had authored reports and news articles that I dealt with in my analysis. Adam Holm, a journalist with Politiken, chaired the meeting, while Lisbet Knudsen, from Denmark’s Radio (public service television); Lotte Mejlhede, of TV2; and Bent Falbert, from Ekstra Bladet, were invited to critically discuss the comprehensive 343-page report, which presented the result of my research into the media coverage of religion from 15 May to 15 August 2001.

It was Knudsen’s relentless criticism, more than anything else, that I came to regard as the epitome of journalistic vanity. Knudsen described the report as tendentious and therefore not research, dismissing it as a work where the good people say, bad people assert. A search of the manuscript for the words say (sige), mean (mene), and assert (påstå) for what she considered the good guys and the bad guys revealed that her assertion was not supported by fact.

The initial media response to the book was negative, with Knudsen’s spurious criticism leading the way. The negative response resulted in a marginalization of the work. Who does that serve? In whose interest is the marginalization of a comprehensive critical analysis of the news media’s role in ousting young people from Danish politics? Today, I see the politicizing of the Danish news media, the denials of criticism, and the influence of the radical right on news media coverage. Knudsen was the head of the daily TV news production of Denmark’s Radio, trying to maintain its image of objective news broadcasting in light of the criticism that was also raised by the Danish Press Council, in its ruling six months after Denmark’s Radio’s controversial news broadcast, saying that there was no basis in the journalistic research for representing three Danish-Pakistani politicians as supporters of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Another outcome of the events we researched is the actual marginalization experienced by Danish Muslims—not least those participants in our focus groups who discussed footage of Denmark’s Radio’s TV coverage, headlines, and images, and said that they couldn’t recognize themselves in that coverage. I called my report Muslims of the Media in order to distinguish these two-dimensional media constructs from the diverse group of Muslims in the focus groups. Their views and their situation have not been recognized.

For me the event represents a personal watershed moment. Working for a more just and peaceful society is one of my objectives. If structural violence is committed by a powerful majority against its ethnic minorities, then the society risks suffering from increased physical violence, crime, carelessness, political polarization, and so on; these will strike at arbitrary moments in arbitrary spheres. The international informed community has a right to know about how Danish society has changed, for instance, how the concept of freedom of speech, originally designed to protect small numbers, now is being used by the country’s government and most powerful newspapers to insult, ridicule, and mock certain minorities, and at the same time the majority is insisting on having no dialogue with the people it speaks about. Public denials of bad news journalism, trivialization of discriminatory and racist issues, or politicizing of the news media should never thwart such an understanding.

Years later, in 2007, I analyzed the media coverage of the Muhammad cartoon crisis within the framework of another research project. We found three major discourses that are treated in this book. The most dominant—the one we call Free speech is the issue, and it is a Danish issue—could be found primarily in Jyllands-Posten, in the tabloids Ekstra Bladet and B.T., and in government statements, and it turned out that several confrontational writers in Jyllands-Posten were the very same radical right-wing, ex-leftist, anti-Islamic writers who fashioned what I have coined the Mona Sheikh story of 2001, following the key character in the media representations. Maybe my anger stemming from the meeting in 2002 was justified; maybe these journalist commentators had entirely missed the depth and power of the forces behind the most significant Danish media event in the 2000s next to the Muhammad cartoon crisis.

The Annoying Difference brings together research on three significant historical media events carried out over a period of thirteen years, in order to show the drastic changes and emerging fissures in Danish society and to expose the politicizing of Danish news journalism, which has consequences for the political representation and everyday lives of ethnic minorities in Denmark. In the eyes of the media, the general public, and mainstream perceptions these minorities were annoyingly different, as they refused to reduce their visible and aural differences. The first event is the symbiotic 1997 campaign of the newly formed Danish People’s Party and the tabloid Ekstra Bladet, which in turn cannot be understood without reference to the banal nationalism of two Maastricht referenda in 1992 and 1993; the European Soccer Championship in Sweden in 1992; and debates regarding the arrival of Bosnian refugees in 1994 and 1995. The second event is the Mona Sheikh case—a story about how young Muslims born in Denmark with Pakistani roots were forced to leave Danish politics in the summer of 2001 due to a Danish news media that, through its moralistic, panic-stricken coverage, demonized Islam and the young Muslims. Jyllands-Posten, Berlingske Tidende, and Denmark’s Radio played a crucial role in Denmark’s shift from a neonationalism that marginalized those who were ethnically different (particularly Somali refugees) to one that affected Muslims in Denmark and abroad. Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who was later to draw the bomb-in-the-turban cartoon for Jyllands-Posten, was active in this period as well, and so were key Danish political players and journalists. The attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 11 September came immediately after the Mona Sheikh story. Then, in Denmark’s November 2001 national election, the Liberals and Conservatives formed a strong coalition government based on the radical right-wing populist Danish People’s Party. The third event is the furor surrounding the Muhammad cartoons published in September 2005; violent reactions to those cartoons reached around the world and peaked in February 2006.

In my view the anthropological perspective is useful in analyzing media practices and discourses, because it offers the possibility of a balanced view of the inside and the outside: One can be an active participant, a provider of thick description, and offer an outsider’s perspective. I do not wish to argue that some kind of foreignness or distance is required to get a proper perspective of the Danish situation. However, I do think that living and working abroad for more than thirteen years provided me with a fruitful background for studying the drastically changing Danish society through its treatment of ethnic minorities.

In this case I see it as an advantage that I can understand the humor (good as well as bad) used to rationalize Danish neonationalism, since Danish is my native language, but can also look at Denmark through the eyes of others in Mexico, the United States, Norway, Sweden, and Japan since I have spent years in those places. Indeed, this experience and my ethnographic fieldwork with Yucatec Mayas and other Yucatecans help me to see more clearly that the entire Danish value system is tilting to the radical right, even as many Danes trivialize, naturalize, and normalize this development.

Since I wish to reach a broader audience with this analysis of the Muhammad cartoon crisis and the events leading up to it, I decided to write the book first in English. By doing so I hope to meet the foreign interest in understanding the enigmatic Danish development without merely reproducing existing discourses and official versions of the course of events.

For the last twelve years much of my research, publications, and lectures have revolved around the three key events that are used to organize this book. Here, for the first time I put them together in a single volume, with 3 to 4 chapters on each and an introductory section describing each event (details and acknowledgment of publishers are listed in the Appendix).

For the research and the writing that went into this book project, I first of all want to thank the generous people at Hitotsubashi University, Graduate School of the Social Sciences for giving me the unique opportunity to finish the manuscript while serving as a Visiting Professor. I wish to thank professors Kazuyasu Ochiai, Masonori Naito, Yoshiko Aishiwa, and Jonathan Lewis, and to recognize the outstanding efforts of senior secretary Miyuki Kobayashi for my smooth integration into Japanese society. Malmö Institute for Studies of Migration, Diversity and Welfare (MIM) and Malmö University College granted money that allowed me to spend two months as a Visiting Scholar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the spring of 2008. Extraordinary support was provided by distinguished professor Dorothy Holland, who was also there to comment, discuss, and suggest. An equally special thanks goes to the caring and constructive Alison Greene. Also, generously commenting on chapters were Donald Nonini and Bill Lachicotte. At MIM the book-work benefitted from my affiliation with MIM and its researchers, who in times of restructuring and howling wolves granted economic and scholarly shelter. Thanks to the Helsingin Sanomat Research Foundation and Professor Risto Kunelius for the invitation to participate in the truly global research project on the Muhammad cartoon conflict. For research assistance, I am indebted to the efforts of Aintab Alseraj, Christy Stanforth, Maria Ettrup, Daniel Hervik, Thomas Hervik, Simon Hervik, and Lise Binderup. Participants in focus group discussions and individual discussions have been invaluable for their time and open-minded talks. Likewise students in Copenhagen, Malmö, Chapel Hill, and Hitotsubashi have provided invaluable feedback. At Berghahn I have been happy and fortunate to work with the wonderful group of people Melissa Spinelli, Ann Przyzycki, Caitlin Mahon and Marion Berghahn. Thank you for the copyediting work of Michele Bowman. For additional constructive comments and exchanges, on smaller or larger pieces at various stages, I remain indebted to Ronald Stade, Carolina Boe Sanchez, Ulf Hannerz, Clarissa Berg, Risto Kunelius, Elizabeth Eide, Mark Allen Peterson, Kajsa Olsson, Maja Povrzanovic Frykman, Björn Fryklund, Ulf Hedetoft, Christina Jagd, Mikkel Rytter, Rikke Andreassen, Mona Sheikh, Simone Abram, Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Andre Gingrich, Gavan Titley, Alana Lentin, Haci Akman, Karin van Nieuwkerk, and the late Marianne Gullestad. Thanks to Nordicom, Taylor & Francis, Berghahn Books, Clarissa Berg, Jørn Stjerneklar, Ekstra Bladet, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard, and Politiken for permissions to published articles and illustrations.

At the very end of the process, I thank my family, who means the world to me— Simon, Thomas, Daniel, and finally Lisbet —for standing at my side, as four pillars, as supporters, and critical caring interlocutors.


Denmark’s Transformation

You would have to look hard for a country with a better brand-name than Denmark. It’s not only the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the country seems to live in one of his fairy tales. The people are pretty and prosperous, the land is green and fertile, and the towns are colorful and squeaky clean. Denmark’s queen is much beloved by her people and hails from the oldest monarchy in Europe.

—Daniel Schorn, The State of Denmark, 2006

The image of Denmark has traditionally been positive. Danes are even regarded as the happiest people in the world. But these images are based on gross oversimplifications, and in any case, the reality is changing.

A member of Parliament for the Danish People’s Party, Søren Krarup, compares the contemporary contestation of Muslim presence in Denmark to resistance against the occupying German forces during World War II. In other words, Islam must be fought like Nazism, and he doesn’t hesitate to declare in Parliament that the Muslim veil is the equivalent of the Nazi swastika. To a Danish daily newspaper he explained: I have said that the veil, the headscarf, is a totalitarian symbol, and thereby it is comparable to the totalitarian symbols we know from communism and Nazism respectively (M. Mikkelsen 2007). Another member of Parliament from the same party, Jesper Langballe, has evoked the title of a 1930s Danish book which translates to Pest over Europe to state that Islam must be fought like a plague, similarly to communism and Nazism (2002).

A third member of Parliament, Louise Frevert, used her Web site to broadcast reflections on the impossibility of integrating Muslims into Danish society:

Let us make this clearer by comparing the problem to the everyday life of a doctor working with cancer. If the doctor was to cure his patients for what is similar to ‘integration’ it would mean, that he needed to try to convince the cancer cells to become good, well-functioning and healthy cells that could work in harmony within the patient’s body. He would have to refrain from any type of therapy, treatment by radiation or operation, just talk to the cancer cells—and then observe how they spread in the patient’s body unhindered. (Frevert 2002)

Since 1989 Denmark has experienced a drastic transformation. The Danish Prime Minister has described it as a movement from the world’s most liberal integration policy to the world’s toughest (Hervik and Rytter 2003). Denmark has changed from being a role model in following international organizations and conventions to being a country where reports and research about racism are met with strategies of denial and trivialization (Hervik and Jørgensen 2002). Sociologists, anthropologists, and refugee experts have called for making higher demands on refugees and immigrants. Now, Muslims in Denmark must be prepared to be insulted, ridiculed, and mocked, according to the country’s largest national newspaper, Jyllands-Posten (Rose 2005; see also Jyllands-Posten 2005b). The Danish People’s Party and Ekstra Bladet described Denmark as changing status from a peaceful country to a multicultural society. Denmark has moved from a positive image of anti-authoritarianism and inclusive social interaction (Borish 1991) to a country known in Europe, the Middle East, and the Muslim world for xenophobia and Islamophobia—a country where 80 percent of native Danes see the relationship between themselves and Muslims as antagonistic. Finally, The Danish Democracy and Power Study (Magtudredningen) came about in the late 1990s because of Denmark’s emerging multiculturalism, which had to be analyzed for what was seen as a potential challenge to the country’s democracy.

The global media and its consumers have witnessed a wave of global violent reactions variously represented as against Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Christians, the United States, and the Western world, but all connected to two Danish events. On 30 September 2005 the largest newspaper in Denmark, Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, published the result of its internal experiment to find out whether Danish cartoonists were censoring themselves when it came to drawing the prophet Muhammad. Twelve drawings came in. They were published and became the primary object of interpretation and reactions. The second event, closely connected to the first, concerns the Danish government’s rejection of a dialogue with eleven ambassadors. These ambassadors had asked for a meeting to talk about the deteriorating situation for Muslims in Denmark, using Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons as what they saw as one of four recent examples of great concern.

These two events took place in September and October 2005, yet the more violent reactions across the globe did not occur until late January and February 2006. At this point the foreign news media had to break through a four-month-thick cloud of events and representations, including the Danish government’s handling of the affair; value-based Danish news journalism; and a popular Danish distrust of ethnic minorities. Many Danish journalists had tacitly labeled the affair the Muhammad crisis; weaker voices used the terms caricature crisis, cartoon crisis, and even "Jyllands-Posten’s crisis." Choosing one rather than the other would already put the foreign reporter within one of the competing frames of interpretation.

The Foreign Reporter in Search of an Explanation

The evolving cartoon crisis left media reporters, politicians, academics, and foreign governments wondering about what had happened in Denmark in the years leading up to this crisis: What had facilitated this development, and what triggered the crisis? Is the Danish case unique, or is it part of a transnational development, and can the same thing occur in other countries? What bearing does the Danish cartoon affair have on other countries?

Foreign reporters who turned to the Danish media coverage as a source for stories faced a choice parallel to that faced by Danish subscribers. Danes who wish to subscribe to one daily newspaper typically choose the newspaper whose political ideology, style, and viewpoints comes closest to their own. Each of the largest nationally circulating papers—Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten, Berlingske Tidende, and Politiken—embraced one dominant discourse on the cartoons. Choosing one over the other would yield a foregone conclusion about, for instance, what triggered the conflict or what transformed the conflict into a global news story.

For some reporters, ignoring the Danish context might simply be easier. Professors in communication Mónica Codina and Jordi Rodríguez-Virgili used the New York Times as a reference to establish that the flashpoint" of the story occurred when Imams Ahmed Akkari and Ahmed Abu Laban traveled to Arab countries to raise support for their protest against Jyllands-Posten’s publication and the Danish government’s refusal to meet with foreign ambassadors. On 9 February 2006, The New York Times stayed away from the Danish context , but nevertheless concluded that the imams’ travel to the Middle East was the cause of violent global reactions. Their travel was connected with a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in December 2005. The imams tried to set international brush fires and were successful in creating a turning point. The New York Times quoted a Cairo source as saying, It was no big deal until the Islamic conference when the OIC took a stance against it (Fattah 2006). Yet the OIC was already engaged in the crisis by 15 October, when the organization sent a letter of concern to the Danish Prime Minister almost at the same time as eleven ambassadors representing more than 500 million people in Muslim countries asked for a meeting with the prime minister. The meeting was denied. If the meeting hadn’t been denied, the imams probably would not have traveled to the Middle East in the first place. The New York Times ended up contributing to the blame the imams received for causing the cartoon outrage. And because the New York Times was then used as a source in academic papers and by other journalists, the story of the imams’ responsibility spread further. Analyses were carried out without consideration of the proper contexts.

Incidentally, blaming the imams for the outrage was also a spin strategy of the Danish government and a popular strategy of journalists working for Jyllands-Posten. So if foreign news reporters who came to Denmark consulted Jyllands-Posten and the Danish government as the original source of the story and the official response, then they would find that the imams were most likely be the first ones blamed.

One example is Pernille Ammitzböll, a Jyllands-Posten journalist who co-wrote a piece on the cartoon affair with U.S. terrorism expert Lorenzo Vidino for the neoconservative Middle East Quarterly, edited by Daniel Pipes. The article was built around an attack on Imams Ahmed Akkari and Raed Hlayhel; the latter was said to have an axe to grind with Jyllands-Posten because of the newspaper’s series of critical articles on Hlayhel in the spring of 2005. The personal attacks on the imams also deflected attention from the way both Jyllands-Posten and the Danish government handled the story. Yet again and again this article is used as an objective source of information about the cartoon affair.

Obviously, the imams’ travel to the Middle East was an important aspect of the story’s development, but it cannot be taken out of its politicized context. It is a winning strategy that prevailed in international reactions and was reflected by the popular Wikipedia in the first months after the crisis.

One of the reporters who came to Denmark was Bob Simon of Good Morning America (CBS), who didn’t buy into the official version of the story or to the background statements made by Jyllands-Posten. Simon criticized Jyllands-Posten for defending free speech yet not allowing the newspaper’s culture editor, Flemming Rose, to speak to CBS. He was also critical of the way Jyllands-Posten and the Danes treated the Muslim minority of 2 percent of the population. In an interview with the Danish news media, Simon explained further:

In my opinion it is not a coincidence that the Muhammad-cartoons were printed in Denmark. The Danes consider themselves as enlightened and moral beings, but not keeping up with their Muslim brothers and compatriots. I hope that this will be an opportunity to hold up the mirror and look at yourself and each other in a new way. My impression is that the Danes for many years have looked at themselves as if they in practically all areas were ahead of everyone else. This is not the case. Seen from the outside you are in a nation under pressure. Not because foreigners are pouring into the country, but because you are afraid to be run over. You must learn to be more tolerant towards foreigners in your country, whether they have a passport and residence permit or not. One can fear a continuous polarization, where the nationalist forces in the Danish People’s Party will continue their progress. (Illeborg 2006)

The International Herald Tribune wrote:

Now, after rioting that has raged for weeks in the Middle East and Asia after a Danish newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, Denmark has sunk even more deeply into an identity crisis. A country that once prided itself on having the most open immigration policies in Europe and a generous welfare state is grappling with how to preserve its vaunted liberalism while remaining Danish.

But the cultural clash is particularly acute in Denmark. As Muslim protesters in the Middle East burned Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in effigy this week, he insisted on Danish tolerance. It’s a false picture to portray us as an enemy of Islam, he said in an interview on Thursday. . . . But some Muslim leaders say such words fail to resonate when the Danish government relies on the swing vote of the Danish People’s Party, whose leaders have publicly compared Muslims to cancer cells. A country that touts itself as the world’s biggest net contributor of foreign aid per capita recently introduced legislation making it virtually impossible for torture victims to obtain Danish citizenship.

Successful asylum applications to Denmark plummeted to 10 percent in 2004, from 53 percent in 2001. In a sign that the cartoon crisis is fanning even greater anti-immigrant sentiment, the People’s Party leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, wrote in her weekly newsletter that the Islamic religious community here was populated with pathetic and lying men with worrying, suspect views on democracy and women.

She added: ‘They are the enemy inside. The Trojan horse in Denmark. A kind of Islamic mafia.’ (Bilefsky 2006)

Foreign commentators must also face the cultural aspects of interaction with the Danes. There are some general values said to be common to the Danish cultural outlook, and, as Gerd Baumann (1999) explains, these values form an essentializing discourse; they are acknowledged by many Danes but subscribed to by fewer. To make her entry into the commentary on recent changes in the Danish self-image, Swedish journalist Karin Söderberg uses a Lonely Planet quote: The Danes love to make fun of everything and everybody, but when it comes to themselves, they are very sensitive to criticism (Sydsvenskan 2005; Söderberg 2005). Söderberg uses popular travel guidebooks to state her case about Danes’ changing relationship to immigrants under the right-wing government.

Some denials of Danish racism and discrimination are based on the idea that foreign correspondents do not understand Danish humor and the real situation in Denmark. The clearest statement of this position may be Hans Jørgen Nielsen’s Er danskerne fremmedfjendske? (2004), in which he argues that Denmark is not xenophobic although foreign reporters perceive it as such. During the press conference held on the book’s publication date, foreign journalists were told that when politician Karen Jespersen, a Social Democrat at the time, suggested that the criminal asylum seekers should be placed on a deserted island, and when another politician, Kim Behnke of the Progress Party (Fremskridtspartiet), suggested that Somali refugees should be sent home and thrown out of an airplane, with or without a parachute, these were not expressions of xenophobia but examples of Danish humor, which foreign reporters did not adequately understand (Jafari et al. 2004).

Interestingly, the radical right nationalists of Danish Culture (Dansk Kultur) do the best job of capturing the social function of this claim that foreigners don’t understand Danish humor:

Danish jokes are known for their warm, dry humor, yes they are even cosy, but can become biting, when the people are suppressed, the country is or on the verge of being occupied or when you can say what you mean. When the Dane feels that he can no longer speak openly, and when censorship-like conditions, day fines, and foreign cultures seek to suppress Danish humor and culture, then the best thing and the most subtle joke is the one only the insiders can understand. (Dansk Kultur n.d.)

Being occupied undoubtedly refers to the Nazi occupation (1940–1945), while on the verge of being occupied is often used in anti-Islamic war rhetoric. Censorship-like conditions and day fines refers to not being able to talk about how dangerous and unwanted the Muslim and non-Western migrants are due to the risk of being fined for making racist remarks. Jokes only the insiders can understand does not in my opinion refer to the humor as such. The content is not funny at all, as the reporters rightly noted in a comment (Jafari et al. 2004). If Nielsen is pressured to explain the meaning of the joke, he will come up short. My point is that the reference to Danish humor helps to close a gate between ourselves and the unwanted others, to create a situation where we can tacitly agree that we have something they don’t: a certain sense of humor, which consists of mocking the others without their knowledge.

Danes love to criticize other countries, religions, and each other. But if criticized themselves, as the various quotes indicate, they often become upset and sensitive. Denials of Danish discrimination and racism are often met with arguments such as: The visiting investigators must have come on a bad day, or What does a Spaniard or a Croat know about Denmark? (Hervik and Jørgensen 2002).

The Politicized Danish Field of Journalism

The Danish cartoon story unfolded in an already charged political atmosphere whose importance was seldom featured in the story’s coverage. For those who followed the events closely, however, it was predictable that something would happen, although the magnitude and idiosyncratic course of events was not. The drastic political development involves the print media.

According to Danish media studies professor Stig Hjarvard, Denmark has witnessed a repolitization of the news media. In the early twentieth century, newspapers began losing their role as agitators; news began to be replaced by views. During the last decade, newspapers have again become political agents that try to make a difference. The presence of immigrants and refugees, in particular, has emerged as an area where newspapers have shown a strong stance. Hjarvard explains that to understand the repolitization one must not only look at the development of Danish politics but also at the major changes in the commercial conditions for Danish news production. In 2001 two new free newspapers, MetroExpress and Urban, made their début. By 2006 free dailies had captured close to 60 percent of the market, adding on to the damage already done by the electronic news media. The free newspapers, financed by advertisement, sought to reach a general audience with short fact-based news stories and consumer information. In response to this challenge, the largest established newspapers turned to values and opinions as a way to sell their papers. Offering an opinion by means of the editorials, the front page stories, and invited opinion pieces, these newspapers echoed the political parties, though nuances and variation could be found in all papers (Hjarvard 2006). The repoliticization of the Danish news media in the last decade is one of several historical aspects that are overlooked but necessary for understanding the Muhammad cartoon crisis. It is also a reality that foreign news reporters and scholars must learn to recognize and to operate within, if they are not to reproduce the politicization in their attempt to do serious news reporting and academic research.

The repoliticizing of the Danish media is accompanied by a professionalization of news management, where the right spin on the news will help favor the interest of named politicians, individual cases, and broader political reform. The spin utilizes catchy phrases, apt visualizations, and bipolar simplifications, such as Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. Most of the spin doctors are journalists to begin with. Through the spin they shape their messages and strive to be perceived as they wish to be by tapping into the way the news media is working. For instance, the news media currently thrives on a conflict-oriented boxing-match strategy: two opponents contend, every point made is reported as news, and at the ringside sit a number of wise experts who in various ways relate to the sides of the match—as former boxers, trainers, coaches, family, friends, and so on.

When the field of journalism is politicized, journalistic criteria of news reporting is constantly challenged, and so is the news media’s watchdog role, which is to keep an eye on those in power, both government and others. In addition, the news media’s position as gatekeepers of events, issues, and ideas (Lule 2001) may become manipulated by spin doctors outside of the media institutions. Even history becomes politicized: the past is used didactically, and people are guided toward remembering some events and forgetting others. History becomes selective, decided by contemporary battles for favorable public opinion.

As a consequence there will be blind spots that may seem innocent or may go unnoticed. In the coverage of the Muhammad cartoons there is a curious absence of information about Jyllands-Posten’s coverage of Islam in the last ten years. The angle is absent in the Danish press, yet available in the Swedish media. Another absence in the coverage is the demographic composition of Jyllands-Posten’s leadership. There are no women in the leadership—though according to Carsten Juste, this means nothing (Andreassen 2007)—and there are no Muslim journalists and very few journalists with an ethnic minority background among the newspaper’s journalists.

The Annoying Difference in Three Media Events

This book seeks to provide an analytic and historical framework to the Danish situation by focusing on three important media events: the newspaper campaign of 1997, the Mona Sheikh story of 2001, and the Muhammad cartoon crisis of 2005–06. And it seeks to provide the immediate context to these events by filling in blank spots that have been neglected by journalists, politicians, and academics in the treatment of these events in Danish history.

If you have lived in Denmark for the last decade, you can hardly fail to have noticed the development of a

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