Much has been made in recent days of the commitment to free speech in the Danish press.
But Jyllands-Posten, the right wing paper that first published the racist caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, refused to print a cartoon of the resurrection of Jesus in 2003. The paper feared that publication of the cartoon would provoke anger among Christians.
And in 1984 it campaigned against the artist Jens Jørgen Thorsen, who was commissioned by a local art club to paint the wall of a railway station. The work showed a naked Jesus with an erect penis.
The paper has shown no such sensitivity towards Muslims. Last September a news story appeared claiming that the writer Kåre Bluitgen was unable to find an illustrator prepared to work on his children’s book about Islam.
Blutigen said that artists feared attacks if they illustrated the book. In fact the third artist asked to illustrate the book had agreed to do so.
On 30 September, Jyllands-Posten published its 12 caricatures, under the headline “The Face Of Mohammed”. Accompanying them was an article by Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, claiming, “Modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims.
“They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech.”
One cartoon purported to show the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, another showed him on a cloud, greeting dead suicide bombers with the words: “Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!”
The racist provocation by Jyllands-Posten is just the latest episode in the paper’s right wing history.
When the fascist Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922, the paper wrote, “The very strong man, that Mussolini absolutely is, is exactly what the misruled Italian people need.”
In 1933 the paper argued for dictatorship in Denmark, saying, “We must assume that a majority of the voters wish for dictatorship as the only solution to the administration of the state.”
More recently, Jyllands-Posten has lent its support to right wing forces in Danish politics. On 16 March 1992 Henrik Christenson, a leading member of Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Denmark was killed by a bomb planted by Nazis. The right wing press in Denmark initially claimed that Henrik had been making explosives.
In the 2001 election, Jyllands-Posten played a crucial role in support of the victorious right wing Venstre party. It has since supported the governing coalition led by prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen – which includes the rabidly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Danish People’s Party.
A number of its journalists have been employed as “spin doctors” by the government.
A climate of Islamophobia
The cartoons were published amid a climate of growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism in Denmark. In September 2004, a new immigration act was passed specifically in order to make it harder for Muslims to enter the country.
Islamophobia runs through the establishment. In April last year, an authorised biography of Queen Margrethe expressed her view that Danish people should oppose Islam.
A few months later Danish member of parliament Louise Frevert, a leading member of the Danish People’s Party, claimed that young Muslims believe that it is their right to rape and assault Danes.
A 2004 political pamphlet by Frevert also claimed that Muslims secretly planned to take over Denmark.
The Danish People’s Party MEP Mogens Camre recently said of Muslims, “There is a straight line from the most despicable racist to he who circumcises his daughter, forces his wife to wear the headscarf, and to he who in religious fanaticism takes a passenger plane into the World Trade Centre.”
According to Jorn Anderson of Internationale Socialister, Socialist Workers’ sister organisation in Denmark, “There is a danger of a major racist backlash and further growth of the far right.
“How things develop will depend very much on the response from the left. A united mobilisation by the left and Muslim organisations would provide a focus for those many people whose disgust with increased racism in this country has grown considerably.”