Saturday, March 04, 2006

Renewed foreign policy crisis in Danish government

(Cairo demonstration March 3rd. Muslim Brother. Among other brands Nido, which is a Swiss company, is targeted)

The big story today in the influential Danish daily Politiken is a letter from the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to prime minister Fogh Rasmussen of October 15th. In this letter. In this letter some of the grievances mentioned in the letter from 11 ambassadors of October 11th are repeated (Radio Holger, Louise Frevert, Minister of Culture) as part of an on-going maltreatment of muslims in Denmark.

In the letter printed in Politiken March 4th, the OIC stresses the fact that it works to counter a rising trend of islamophobia in Denmark, and it continues:

In this framework we believe that these dangerous developments in Denmark, unfortunately, neither will facilitate our common endeavors against xenophobia and islamophobia nor will it make any positive contribution to the efforts of the international community to reinforce inter-faith and inter-cultural harmony and dialogue. Certainly, it is also not going to ease your task to socially integrate the muslim minorities into the mainstream Danish community.
It is evident that the first and foremost step to prevent the further escalation of the situation is the unequivocal stance of the Danish government by taking all necessary measures.

The opposition parties in the Danish parliament are angry that this letter was not presented to the foreign policy committee in parliament. According to the Danish constitution all important foreign policy matters shall be submitted to this committee for consultation. Prime minister Rasmussen has apparently not thought that it was of sufficient importance. Nor has the Danish public been informed of the letter from the OIC. PM Rasmussen has responded to the letter in largely the same way that he responded to the letter from the ambassadors, namely by saying:

The freedom of expression is the very foundation of the Danish democracy. The freedom of expression has a wide scope and the Danish government has no means of influencing the press. However, Danish legislation prohibits acts or expressions of a blasphemous or discriminatory nature. The offended party may bring such acts or expressions to court, and it is for the courts to decide in individual cases. (letter of October 31st sent from the PM's office to the OIC).

The letter continues by calling for mutual respect between religions and cultures and explaining how initiatives are under way to strengthen the dialogue with muslims in Danish society. The OIC is apparently not satisfied with this. To the Politiken the general secretary of the OIC Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu says: "Superficial declarations won't do".

Demonstrations continue. The Rasmussen government seems to be under a lot of pressure, from within and from the outside. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the OIC may, as it says, represent 57 muslim countries and hence 1.3 bn. muslims, but it is not a strong organisation. It does not have a strong secretariat behind declarations and policy. Politiken probably exaggerates the threat to Denmark of the continued criticism of this kind.

It is a more serious matter for the Danish government when governments take up the issue, and when dissatisfation leads to consumer boycotts. Under the recent Bush visit to Pakistan Musharraf urged President Bush to put pressure on Denmark and Europe in the matter. Musharraf is eager to call attention away from domestic problems in Pakistan.


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