Ellemann-Jensen and democracy

Former Foreign Minister and contestant to be Prime Minister of Denmark Uffe Elleman Jensen (Lib.) has been an out-spoken critic of the Mohammed cartoons from the beginning. In a recent post on his blog on major Danish daily Berlingske Tidende’s web-site he asks who benefits, Cui Bono, from the publishing of the Mohammed Cartoons and answers himself that since the Taleban are using the cartoons to recruit we should think again before publishing something like that again. Furthermore, because there was no special reason to print the cartoons and the terrorists seem to gain from them, Jyllandsposten was wrong to print them in the first place and the entire Danish press was even more wrong to print them after a plot by radical Islamists to kill Kurt Westergaard, the creator of the bomb-in-turban cartoon, was exposed. So goes his argument.

I used to have the greatest respect for this man but his arguments simply don’t hold water in this case.

First of all, the fact that some idiot may abuse your creation after you put it out in the public is no argument for not putting it out there in the first place. Think of cars, guns, medicine and kitchen utensils. All of which can be used to harm yourself and others and still those reckless producers keep churning out forks when they know that some child is just going to stab himself in the eye first chance he gets. Get the irony?

Second point that “there was no reason to print the cartoons”: well, first of all the press does not need a special reason to print something. That is the whole idea of not having censorship: the press is free to judge what to print without prior acceptance from someone else. Read UN Charter of Human Rights article 19 if you are in doubt. (After printing, the press is of course subject to the courts’ decisions on points such as defamation or disclosure of state secrets but not before). The whole industry of gossip magazines would have a hard time if relevance had anything to do with what was allowed in the press.

The idea that there was no special reason to print the cartoons may also be disputed by trends visible in i.e. the killing of film maker Theo van Gogh, threats against Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rushdie and others. The sheer fact that the cartoons elicited such an enormous response calling for obeisance to the Islamic taboo on images of the prophet also makes it somewhat difficult in my mind to deny that there is and was a movement towards establishing defamation as a trump-all argument. It was exactly this movement that the cartoons wanted to and did in fact bring into the light. No reason to print the cartoons? I beg to differ.

Mr. Ellemann-Jensen has been active in responding to a wealth of comments on his blog and in one such response he writes that (my translation):

“I think that Danish democracy is threatened from the inside if we do not understand that a stubborn insisting on own values – without understanding that other may perceive things differently – is a threat against democracy.”

(The grammar is a little off but that is how he put in himself).

So by giving into anti-democratic forces we are in fact protecting democracy? By insisting on keeping democracy the way we know works well, we are actually trying to abolish democracy?

I’m sorry but that just doesn’t make sense.

His point is probably that democracy is supposed to let everyone be heard and then move towards consensus. Well, the Muslims have been heard. They have made their point. Democracy has worked thus far but this conversation is a two way deal and they do not get to write the conclusion just like that.

Since their idea that religion is above freedom of speech is directly opposed to the idea of democracy, no compromise can be made without compromising democracy itself. I happen to put democracy before religion and I am therefore unable to accept any form of compromise that gives authority to religious taboos.

Freedom of speech is an absolute cornerstone of democracy and any kind of censorship (religious or otherwise) is a threat to a free society.

Mr. Ellemann-Jensen who was also an ardent critic of the Soviet Union should know better than to give into anti-democratic demands.