The dispute over the cartoons of Mohammed in the Jyllandsposten newspaper has now been going on for a while, and has had consequences that no one had imagined. The article Islamic world up in arms - Sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind analyses the reasons why the cartoons could provoke such an explosive response in large parts of the world. As the article explains, the cartoons in and of themselves are not the real reason. They are only the spark that fired up the enormous anger and frustration that is present among the masses in the so-called Islamic countries. It is an anger caused by economic and military aggression and oppression from the capitalist class of the Western world – an aggression that Denmark is a part of, even though Denmark is a tiny power in no way comparable to the United States.
Denmark is, as most people know, a small country without a major military force. When we go to war in the desert we send a submarine! Therefore Denmark is an easy target to attack. For the regimes in the Middle East and Asia, Denmark is an appropriately weak target upon which to unleash the frustrations of the masses. In this way the anger of the masses towards the imperialist policies of the West can be directed against the least dangerous of the western allies. Even though the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh often and willingly gives the impression that he and George W Bush are the best of pals and important allies, it would be absurd to imagine that Bush in any way worries about Denmark. The Danish military force in Afghanistan and especially Iraq was convenient support from within the EU, but the “friendship” is built on nothing else.
The Danish government: guardians of free speech or hypocrites?
How could the situation go so far that Denmark is suddenly portrayed as a country that doesn’t respect a large part of the world’s population?
The Danish governments - both the former and present - like to present an image of Denmark as a defender of freedom and democracy in the world. In this image we are in the forefront when it comes to aid to the poor countries and in the defence of human rights. Denmark is portrayed as the rich fairytale country whose biggest concern is how to celebrate the H. C. Andersen year.
But this is far from the truth. The truth is that the right-wing government is based on the extreme right-wing party, Dansk Folkeparti (Danish Peoples party), a party that has members connected with extreme Nazi elements. The Danish government has carried out a racist discriminatory policy that has been criticized by the Court of Human Rights several times. But this does not worry the present Danish government.
The political debate has reached a level that reminds us of Germany in the 1930s. Muslims are portrayed as “the internal enemy”, a so-called “fifth column” and “seeds of weed”, where even “respectable” politicians from the biggest governing party, Venstre run campaigns with slogans like “82% of all immigrants commit crime” and they demand that both second and third generation immigrants should be expelled from the country with the principle of “three strikes and you’re out”.
When the government hides behind “freedom of speech” and puts itself forward as the defender of democracy it is sheer hypocrisy. This is the same government that contravenes the Human Rights Convention by discriminating against people because of their colour, religion, etc. Anders Fogh for a long time refused to apologize for the cartoons using the excuse of freedom of speech, but freedom of speech is not what is at stake here.
The media, with Jyllandsposten in the front line, is utterly hypocritical when they use freedom of speech as a shield. Where were the media when 500 Iranian workers went on strike and were arrested, where were they during the one million strong demonstration at the WSF in Venezuela and where are the media when the Danish workers come out on strike for better conditions? The truth is that the Danish media are an integrated part of bourgeois Denmark. Their main task is to defend Danish big business and the Danish government.
The Danish government in fact only started to worry when their embassies started to burn and, even more importantly, when Danish exports were seriously threatened. When one country after another boycotted Danish products and thereby threatened the interests of Danish companies the matter got serious. Danish foreign policy is closely linked with corporate interests. During in the war in Iraq Danish companies made profits. Only when the present scandal over the cartoons starting affecting these interests they decided something has to be done. That is their way of thinking.
However, what the debate on immigration reveals is not that the Danish population has suddenly become extremely right-wing. Reality for most Danish workers is one of growing pressures at work, cuts in social spending and constant attacks on the working class. When the Social Democrats who had been in government lost the elections in 2001 their slogan was ”it has never been better” – a slogan that no Danish worker could recognise as being true.
To divert the attention of the workers away from the concrete issues and thus avoid having to explain the real reasons for these problems, the Social Democrats also moved far to the right with their rhetoric on immigration, with one politician even suggesting that all immigrants involved in crime be sent to a desert island. All this played right in to the hands of the Dansk Folkeparti. With its anti-immigration propaganda, combined with a promotion of itself as the defender of the welfare state, it emerged as the third largest party in the last elections.
The fact that the right-wing government can remain in power resting on Dansk Folkeparti support is possible mainly because of the Social Democrats’ inability to put forward any opposition. When the government, using immigrants as a pile driver, carries through attack after attack on the working class, the answer from the Social Democrats is to move another step to the right.
The policies of the government and the complete lack of alternative on the part of the opposition is creating an even bigger vacuum and pushing young frustrated immigrants into the arms of religious fanatical organisations such as Hiz Buth Tahrir. At the elections in February 2005 the Social Democrats got the worst result since 1920, if you exclude the landslide victory in 1973. Their answer has been to move even further to the right and chase after the right-wing government.
What this means is clearly shown in this crisis over the Mohammed cartoons. Now according to the recent opinion polls the Dansk Folkeparti would win an extra eight seats while the Social Democrats would lose nine. The Dansk Folkeparti is about to overtake the Social Democrats as the second largest party in Denmark, with 17,8% of the votes, while the Social Democrats stands at poor 21,6%. This would mean that the two biggest parties would be Venstre and Dansk Folkeparti – a right-wing and an extreme right-wing party.
The Social Democrats have adopted the same policy as during a war, i.e. that now “we have to support the common national interests”. This is accompanied by weak criticism of the Prime Minister limiting themselves to saying that he didn’t enter into a “dialogue” with the Muslims.
In reality there are no common national interests. When Danish embassies burn this doesn’t affect the Danish workers but the companies whose interests the embassies defend. Instead of developing a class perspective the Social Democrats follow in the footsteps of the right-wing government. The point is, that in spite of the media propaganda, the Danish working class continues to exist as it has always done. And more than ever before an opposition is required that can stand firm and put forward a working class policy.
Immigrants used as a battering ram
There is no doubt that in Denmark the same conditions have been created that led to the explosion of the estates in France. Asylum seekers are put on humiliating “lunch pack arrangements”, where they can’t even decide what to eat. If your name is Ahmed instead of Andersen your chance of getting a place to live, a job or an apprenticeship is heavily reduced. If you are under the age of 24 you can no longer marry who you want, and if you want to marry a foreigner you have to have 50,000 Danish Kroners (about 6700 euros), a real job and the right kind of apartment – otherwise you have to move to Sweden or some other place. You don’t belong in Denmark if you have committed the sin of falling in love outside your own nationality. Tests in Danish and ”Danishness” have now to be taken before you can get a Danish passport; tests that few native Danes would be able to pass. This means that refugees who have been tortured, who have been denied the opportunity to learn languages, are sent back to the regimes they fled from.
Immigrants are forced to live in de facto ghettos through the housing policy. A limit has been imposed on the level of support one can get from the state and the conditions for the unemployed are constantly being made worse. These are policies that are pushing especially the immigrants further and further into desperate and inhumane living conditions.
On top of all this immigrants are no longer treated in the same way as the rest of the workforce, on the same terms as the Danish workers. They are given special “training” on less than the minimum wage where they have to learn to “have a job”, “get up early” etc. Besides this an “introductory wage level” has been introduced as a way of providing companies with cheap labour. This is a policy were immigrants are used as a battering ram in the attacks against all Danish workers with their hard won rights, such as collective bargaining agreements, the minimum wage, etc. The introductory wage level was introduced with the argument of getting more immigrants into jobs. Now, however, half of those on introductory wage levels are native Danes! It has become clear that it was only a smokescreen for an attack on all workers.
When the government’s Welfare Commission (a commission set up by the right-wing government to present its ideas on how to cut welfare spending) presented its recommendations in December with a long list of proposals on how to attack the rights of the Danish working class, the government took up two of these, and one of them was precisely on immigration. Here we can clearly see the “divide and rule” policy of the government.
For now the so-called welfare “reforms” have been postponed because of the “Mohammed cartoons crisis” – the Danish government are busy protecting their embassies. But there is no doubt that big attacks are on the cards. The real division is not between immigrants and Danes but between capitalists and workers. If racism is to be fought effectively and if the attacks on the Danish working class are to be halted the workers must unite in a common struggle. Only through such a struggle can the prejudices that are being whipped up by the Danish media and politicians be combatted.
The protests that have been taking place both abroad and at home are not about some cartoons in a newspaper, or about the right to make fun of one or other religious figure. The cartoons and the protests against them have to be understood within the context of many years of Western imperialist domination and the constant attacks on Muslims in the Western world.
Class struggle instead of “clash of civilisations”
The idea that has gotten an echo in the recent years and that is presently being pushed by the media, i.e. that what we are facing is a so-called “clash of civilisations”, is nothing but a reactionary lie. Governments on both sides of the present conflict can exploit the cartoons for their own purposes, which at bottom are one and the same, to stay in power. Reactionary regimes in the Middle East and Asia can let the masses ”let off steam” safely, while the Danish government can use the same crisis to divert the attention of the Danish population away from the real nature of its policies. In short both sides hope to consolidate their own position.
As the Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller stated so clearly when he appealed to the regimes in the Middle East: the policy must not be decided on the streets! And that is what both sides in reality fear the most: that the masses on both sides of the conflict begin to participate in politics and take their destinies into their own hands, as we have seen in Latin America.
The divisions are not between different religions or nationalities but between labour and capital – the only way forward is that the workers in all countries take power into their own hands. For workers’ internationalism and world revolution!