31 January 2006

Buy Danish!

This is one of the few items you'll ever see cross-posted on this blog AND any neocon blogs.
To wit: A Danish newspaper published a satirical collection of editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This was done after lengthy editorial debate about self-censorship in the West regarding Islam and the Middle East (read the linked article for background).
As expected, following the publication of these cartoons, some of which were rather pointed, the Muslim world exploded in indignation. Hamas has placed direct threats on the lives of Danes visiting the Palestinian territories (so endeth the theory that Hamas might be forced to liberalize in order to govern, I guess). Libya has pulled its ambassador from Denmark (good riddance, the Danes the probably thought). People across the Muslim world are boycotting Danish products.

So a counter-boycott has arisen: Buy Danish!. And why not? Shouldn't the Danes be able to publish satirical cartoons if they want? Free speech and free press are two of the cornerstones of Danish (and American) society, and why should the Danes (and the entire West) be forced to self-censor to please people in other countries?

Western artists have a history of portraying Mary, Christ, and other religious figures from Christian and Jewish theology in unusual and often extremely negative ways. Examples: an art museum in California exhibited a figurine of the Pope (that would be the previous Pope, John Paul II) squatting for a number two as if in the woods. A piece displayed at the Brooklyn Museum depicted the Virgin Mary covered in real elephant dung. (Real dung! That'll bring the crowds in!) Artist Andre Serrano has a whole series of "artworks" consisting of religious icons dipped in various of his bodily fluids, and charmingly titled things like "Piss Christ." Lovely.

Christians are, as any decent person would be, offended by these things, and not just because they are ultimately bad art (and they are, make no mistake; when you have to use elephant dung to get people to look at your art, that's a good sign you shouldn't have quit your job as a clerk typist). But Christians do not march on the museums demanding the artists' heads. Westerners wouldn't put up with that. Freedom of expression is too highly valued in our society; I certainly don't disagree that public money shouldn't be spent on this (because public money should never be spent on bad art), but I would never condone censoring this stuff. It's crude, and pointless and in time its practitioners will drop by the wayside; after all, there were bad artists in the Renaissance, but you don't remember them because bad art doesn't last. Funny, huh.

Frankly, I've seen these cartoons. Some make a good point. Some are puerile rubbish. Denmark is a small country; it probably doesn't have 12 outstanding editorial cartoonists, so that some of these cartoons would be bad shouldn't surprise us. If people wanted to censure the cartoons for being lousy, that would be okay with me. But the backlash has gone too far--just as the fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie's head (which is still active, mind you, both the fatwa and the head) went too far and had the ironic effect of making the Muslim Imams who trying to preserve their dignity look entirely devoid of it.

Now, I recognize that in Islam depictions of people are verboten, depictions of the Prophet doubly so. Islamic art has 1300 years of very fascinating history with nary a depiction of a human face, testament to the extremes of creativity the human mind is capable of. Look at a genuine Persian carpet some time. Look at a collection of 10th Century Arab pottery (the Islamic Ceramic Museum in Turkey has nice on-line photographs of its collection for free). Art does not have to depict the human form.

Neither, however, does art have to not depict the human form. Seriously, people. I'm not a Muslim. I'm not bound by Muslim dictates. Neither are the Danes, nor any other non-Muslims. Why should Muslims think I would be?

Oh, but it's not culturally sensitive!

Rubbish. We have arrived at a situation where no one can criticize any aspect of the Muslim faith without his or her life being threatened. People get away with criticizing aspects of the Christian faith all the time. Heck, Muslims criticize the Christian faith. The Qur'an criticizes Christianity specifically in at least three verses. Let's face it: the people boycotting Danish products want to have it both ways. Freedom of expression will never catch on in the Middle East as long as the brand of fundamentalist Islam that reigns in Iran and Hamas and Saudi Arabia controls the mosques.

The few Muslims I've known in my time were American Muslims, and they would not have supported the truly asymmetrical response the Muslim world has had toward the Danes over this (this matter of a cartoon, lest we forget the trivial nature of the debate here). The ideas of freedom of the press and freedom speech carry weight with Americans of all stripes, Muslims included. And, to be sure, if Muslims wanted to boycott Danish products over the incident, that's not a problem. It's the demand for a retraction, an apology, the withdrawing of ambassadors, the threatening of individual Danish citizens... I'm sorry, but that is not the response you take to a case of cultural insensitivity. It is entirely undeserved.

And you know what? If the people who are driving this response--I don't wish to imply that all Muslims or even all Muslims in the Middle East are involved here--want to claim it's an insult to their heritage or whatever, fine. It's an insult to my heritage to enforce censorship of the media or any form of expression because you find it distasteful. Liberty may not carry any water with the fanatics, but it sure as hell does with me.

So I say to hell with them. Buy Danish!

That doesn't mean eating danishes. Suggestions include:
Havarti Cheese: it's absolutely delicious; but buy the Havarti from Denmark and not Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Havarti isn't as good; just as well, Danish cheddar is awful. You can almost certainly find other outstanding Danish cheeses at your local grocer.
Danish Herring I don't care for the Herring in Cream Cheese, but the Herring in Wine and the Curried Herrings are actually quite good when you need a salt fix. Sometimes they're at the seafood counter, and sometimes they're in the refrigerated coolers by the shredded cheese and Claussen pickles.
Pork Denmark is home to Danish Crown, the world's largest exporter of pork and pork products. Though you may not find Danish Crown pork at the grocery store, buying pork generally will raise the price of pork, benefiting both Danish and Iowan pork producers. And anything that's good for both Denmark and Iowa just can't be beat. Danish Crown ham is sometimes available at the grocery store under the trade name DAK. Of course normally I'd recommend a nice Smithfield Virginia Ham, but this is a special case.
Tuborg or Carlsberg beer At home, at the office, at the bar: wherever fine beers are sold! You'll find Carlsberg at almost any well-stocked liquor store, including frequently at Class VI stores on military bases. Tuborg is harder to find but is the superior beer and well worth looking for. Available at the bar at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, although I bet the Qataris will be searching the next few planeloads and sending any Danish products back. Tell your local bar to support the Buy Danish! campaign by stocking Carlsberg and Tuborg.
Legos There is hardly a more Danish product in existence. Even though the Lego bricks themselves are made in a number of countries including Denmark and the U.S. (but not China), Lego is pretty much the first, if not only, Danish product most people would think of off hand. This is your excuse to go crazy at Toys R Us and buy every Lego set in the store. You know you want to.


Anonymous said...


In case anyone wants to see the cartoons. I'm an American living in Copenhagen, and I thought they were funny. Too bad the Danish flag is burning in the streets as I speak.
Buy Danish: Lego toys, Carlsberg or Tuborg beer, baby-back ribs, Danish bacon, Danish butter (Lurpak), Danish preserves (Ralphs carries them and raspberry is the best), Bang and Olufsen electronic products, Danish butter cookies, Danish cheeses (they have a brie that rivals the French)
Remember that Denmark is small, with a population of only 5 million or so, but they have the heart of lion and are trying to preserve democracy. This will affect their economy.

scanime said...

Any excuse to buy Lego toys is a good excuse in my book.

Lucky Bob said...

The geometry in some of the artwork is amazing to look at. Mathmatically minded people often love it for reasons they can't explain.
Bravo to the Danes standing up for free speach. Hmm. I'll have to start looking for the Danish label.

Voigt said...

Hi there

Thanks for the support. It is much needed. However I must say that Denmarks has plenty of skilled cartoonists, and the exercise of the cartoons were to depict an artistical expression of the Holy Prophet ( being an infidel I might get at fatwa on my head by speaking his name). Some of these artist were by incident cartoonists.


Mads from Denmark

ams said...

And that /is/ why I read Smitty's World--to learn informative things like, Legos are Danish. Huh.

Anonymous said...

As a Dane I just wanted show my gratitude too everyone who supports Denmark both moral and by buying our goods.

By supporting Denmark you support the freedom of speech which is the cornerstone in any real democratic civilization…

Erik, Denmark

Ayzair said...

How inspiring. I think I need some butter cookies now. All in the name of free speach, of course.

Anonymous said...

I like what you have here! I have a bar stools site I think you might enjoy.