Friday, July 17, 2009

Elementary, Moisés

I confess I don't actually know who Moisés Naím is, but he wrote an article in the Spanish daily El País comparing the Muslims' reaction to the Danish Muhammad cartoons back in 2005 with their response to China's crackdown on its Muslim Uighur population after they burned cars and stores in recent riots. Eamonn McDonaugh provides a very good translation at Z-Word Blog.

At the beginning of the article Naím machine-guns us with rhetorical questions:

Where are the fatwas? Where are the huge protest marches? Where are the protests in front of the embassies? What happened to the indignation-laden speeches? What does Al Qaeda have to say? In other words, what does China have that Denmark didn’t?

Naím does have an answer in mind, but wants us to get to it on our own. So that I'll try to reach the conclusions he expects us to draw; to that effect, I need to ask a few questions myself:

1) Were the cartoonists who drew the Muhammad caricatures Jewish? No.
2) Was the newspaper where they were published a Jewish journal? No.
3) Were the newspaper's editors Jewish? No.
4) Was it a newspaper published in the Jewish state? No.

Then there can be no doubt:

The Muslims protested the Danish cartoons and not the Chinese repression of the Uighurs because they are antisemitic.


edwin said...


Have you thought about submitting this to El País as an op-ed?

vhs said...

A Dane here (well, legally I'm Swedish, but I grew up in Denmark) with some info:

1) The editor in charge of the publications of the Danish cartoons, Flemming Rose, is actually, I believe, a descendant of Jews.

2) That was completely irrelevant, though. No one in or outside of Denmark talked about or cared about that - and I don't think it was of much relevance to him either.

3) After that thing, Flemming Rose said he would also publish 'Holocaust Cartoons' to show that it was indeed a matter of 'free speech' and not persecution of a minority. His editor in chief said 'NO!' and gave him a vacation.

4) It was indeed a matter of persecution of a minority in Denmark. That was expressed openly by Jyllandsposten when they published the cartoons, stating that the purpose was to "mock and ridicule" Muslims in Denmark.

5) After that, they turned around and claimed it was to defend/express free speech.

6) Jyllandsposten has a long history of racism. After the "Krystallnacht" in Germany the editor on Jyllandsposten expressed sympathy with and understanding for the antisemitic sentiments of the German people. Today there's a different minority that it's okay to bash.

7) The international protests against the cartoons did not break out because of the cartoons alone. The cartoons where a symbolic "last straw" on a long and increasingly racist political atmosphere in Denmark. Without that, they would probably not have been much of an issue.

8) The international protests did not start immediately after the publications of the cartoons. Only after several attempts from Muslim organizations to get a debate with the Danish government, to get some kind of discourse started, which was blankly refused and the Danish government put fuel to the fire. Then it became "political".

9) Unlike the Uighurs Danish muslims are primarily Arab (also, some are Turkish and some are Somali) and unlike the Uighurs they they have relations in Arab countries. Arab newspapers, politicians, organizations etc have their eyes on Denmark (and Europe) because descendants of those countries live in Denmark/Europe and those descendants still have family etc in the Arab countries.

10) The Uighurs ties to the Arab world, on the other hand, go back about a thousand years. To claim that people in Syria should be more concerned with the Uighurs than any other human on this Planet is like claiming I as a Swede/Dane should feel some intimate connections to Canada, Russia and Ireland because those countries were partly settled by Danes and Swedes a thousand years ago (heck, there were even Vikings who settled in Greece and Syria, so I should somehow by related to Syrian politics because of that?).

11) In other words: It is less a matter of religious affiliations than of an/several ethnic group(s) whose religion is used as a 'proxy' to align them all into one category. People in the Arab world reacted to Danes bashing their cousins and uncles - literally. They may share a religion with the Uighurs but they do not share anything else. In Denmark (and elsewhere in Europe, but more so in Denmark) there is a rabid racism that targets their relatives.

All of this does not "justify" over-reactions etc... but it does certainly explain crucial differences that someone who insists on seeing everything as "religion-related" cannot ever see or understand.

Danish Jews also react when East European Jews get attacked... understandably (as most of them are descendants of 'Ost-Juden'). They react less so, when the ancient Jewish population in China get attacked... also understandably, if you want to understand. Which of course, requires that you try to not see all people as religious categories.

... My first comment on your blog. Let me just say, I enjoy it. You do a great job here.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

A thoughtful answer to a light-hearted post, vhs.

But I don't think anyone has any duty to justify the issues he chooses to focus on. Pundits like Naím disingenuously pretend not to be aware of the symbolic content certain events have. Also, we don't see them complaining that the desecration of a single Jewish grave in Europe gets a lot more coverage than the Lord's Resistance Army's 10,000 victims in Uganda.

Edwin, El País is a major-league newspaper. I don't think they're open to bloggers writing op-eds.

Utpal said...

Moises Naim is the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine. He is an MIT-trained economist of Venezuelan background, and sits on the board of NED. He was part of the economic team (minister of industries or something I think) in the term of Carlos Andres Perez 1989-94, that applied "shock therapy" to reform the economy. It directly led to the famous Caracazo riots where the govt ordered the army to shoot at sight looters, in the process killing hundreds. One of the team's other great accomplishments was liberalizing the banking system without putting any regulatory system for checks (it led to a major crisis: in 1994, virtually the entire banking system collapsed).

Apparently he is running Foreign Policy magazine pretty much like the team he was part of ran the Vzlan economy: the magazine is reported to be millions of dollars in debt and operates in a hugely non-trasparent fashion.

El País is (unfortunately) considered big league, yeah, although it publishes huge amounts of crap.

SShendeR said...

Well, actually no, and you failing to see this says more about your prejudices than those of the author.

What the author meant to show was that while Muslims cry about injustices committed against their Muslim "brothers" in Palestine, they remain silent about Muslim on Muslim violence or that which is not done by (perceived) Western agents, even when it is far more deadly and less justified. As an example, the only spontaneous protest that Muslims have shown so far was either to do with Israel (or other Western countries vis-a-vis Muslims to a lesser extent) or with so-called defamation of Islam.

The obvious conclusion is that (most) Muslims care little about Muslim suffering, and when they apparently do it's a function of who's the perpetrator and the result of hatred and rage against him, not the sympathy for the victims. Moreover, it appears that satirical cartoons in an obscure Danish newspaper are more offensive to Muslims than their coreligionists suffering (let alone suffering of infidels).