Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Why he published the Muhammad cartoons

An op-ed in Der Spiegel Online from the cultural editor of the Danish newspaper that unleashed worldwide Muslim anger explains why he decided to run the cartoons.

The short answer:
[...] Equal treatment is the democratic way to overcome traditional barriers of blood and soil for newcomers. To me, that means treating immigrants just as I would any other Danes. And that's what I felt I was doing in publishing the 12 cartoons of Muhammad last year. Those images in no way exceeded the bounds of taste, satire and humor to which I would subject any other Dane, whether the queen, the head of the church or the prime minister. By treating a Muslim figure the same way I would a Christian or Jewish icon, I was sending an important message: You are not strangers, you are here to stay, and we accept you as an integrated part of our life. And we will satirize you, too. It was an act of inclusion, not exclusion; an act of respect and recognition. [...]
The bulk of the story lays out his fears for Europe, and the causes of those fears.

Europe today finds itself trapped in a posture of moral relativism that is undermining its liberal values. An unholy three-cornered alliance between Middle East dictators, radical imams who live in Europe and Europe's traditional left wing is enabling a politics of victimology. This politics drives a culture that resists integration and adaptation, perpetuates national and religious differences and aggravates such debilitating social ills as high immigrant crime rates and entrenched unemployment.[...]
This one time advocate of multi-culti--the ne plus ultra of Leftist societal aspirations since the 1980s--now sees it as flawed and harmful to traditional European liberal mores.
Now, in Europe's failure to grapple realistically with its dramatically changing demographic picture, I see a new parallel to that Cold War journey. Europe's left is deceiving itself about immigration, integration and Islamic radicalism today the same way we young hippies deceived ourselves about Marxism and communism 30 years ago. It is a narrative of confrontation and hierarchy that claims that the West exploits, abuses and marginalizes the Islamic world. Left-wing intellectuals have insisted that the Danes were oppressing and marginalizing Muslim immigrants. This view comports precisely with the late Edward Said's model of Orientalism, which argues that experts on the Orient and the Muslim world have not depicted it as it is but as some dreaded "other," as exactly the opposite of ourselves -- that should therefore to be rejected. The West, in this narrative, is democratic, the East is despotic. We are rational, they are irrational.

This kind of thinking gave birth to a distorted approach to immigration in countries like Denmark. Left-wing commentators decided that Denmark was both racist and Islamophobic. Therefore, the chief obstacle to integration was not the immigrants' unwillingness to adapt culturally to their adopted country (there are 200,000 Danish Muslims now); it was the country's inherent racism and anti-Muslim bias.

A cult of victimology arose and was happily exploited by clever radicals among Europe's Muslims, especially certain religious leaders like Imam Ahmad Abu Laban in Denmark and Mullah Krekar in Norway. Mullah Krekar -- a Kurdish founder of Ansar al Islam who this spring was facing an expulsion order from Norway -- called our publication of the cartoons "a declaration of war against our religion, our faith and our civilization. Our way of thinking is penetrating society and is stronger than theirs. This causes hate in the Western way of thinking; as the losing side, they commit violence."

The role of victim is very convenient because it frees the self-declared victim from any responsibility, while providing a posture of moral superiority. It also obscures certain inconvenient facts that might suggest a different explanation for the lagging integration of some immigrant groups -- such as the relatively high crime rates, the oppression of women and a tradition of forced marriage. [...]

What's wrong with Europe? For one thing, Europe's approach to immigration and integration is rooted in its historic experience with relatively homogeneous cultures. In the United States one's definition of nationality is essentially political; in Europe it is historically cultural. I am a Dane because I look European, speak Danish, descend from centuries of other Scandinavians. But what about the dark, bearded new Danes who speak Arabic at home and poor Danish in the streets? We Europeans must make a profound cultural adjustment to understand that they, too, can be Danes.

Another great impediment to integration is the European welfare state. Because Europe's highly developed, but increasingly unaffordable, safety nets provide such strong unemployment insurance and not enough incentive to work, many new immigrants go straight onto the dole.
As horrible as it may sound to Europeans, the fact that immigrants in America can fail economically is a tremendous spur to assimilation.
While it can be argued that the fast-growing community of about 20 million Muslim immigrants in Europe is the equivalent of America's new Hispanic immigrants, the difference in their productivity and prosperity is staggering. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study in 1999 showed that while immigrants in the United States are almost equal to native-born workers as taxpayers and contributors to American prosperity, in Denmark there is a glaring gap of 41 percent between the contributions of the native-born and of the immigrants. In the United States, a laid-off worker gets an average of 32 percent compensation for his former wages in welfare services; in Denmark the figure is 81 percent. A culture of welfare dependency is rife among immigrants, and it is taken for granted.
What is at stake are traditional European values. By not teaching them and requiring immigrants to adopt them, Europe risks its identity and future.

Yet multiculturalism that has all too often become mere cultural relativism is an indefensible proposition that often justifies reactionary and oppressive practices. Giving the same weight to the illiberal values of conservative Islam as to the liberal traditions of the European Enlightenment will, in time, destroy the very things that make Europe such a desirable target for migration.

Europe must shed the straitjacket of political correctness, which makes it impossible to criticize minorities for anything -- including violations of laws, traditional mores and values that are central to the European experience.
At the end, admiration for the American model of assimilating immigrants:
Maybe Europe needs to take a leaf -- or a whole book -- from the American experience. In order for new Europe of many cultures that is somehow a single entity to emerge, in a manner similar to the experience of the United States, both sides will have to make an effort -- the native-born and the newly arrived.

For the immigrants, the expectation that they not only learn the host language but also respect their new countries' political and cultural traditions is not too much to demand, and some stringent (maybe too stringent) new laws are being passed to force that. At the same time, Europeans must show a willingness to jettison entrenched notions of blood and soil and accept people from foreign countries and cultures as just what they are, the new Europeans.