Thursday, February 21, 2008


A turn for the worse

A bombing in Copenhagen this morning followed a week of street riots over the 'Prophet' cartoons

Around 11am today a bomb exploded in a solarium in Copenhagen. The suntan shop was situated just by the national football stadium in Oesterbro, a peaceful and affluent part of the Danish capital. The explosion completely destroyed the shop and the surrounding flats were also damaged. The police are putting the fact that no one was hurt down to sheer luck; two other bags were found in the area and have been destroyed. Two young men between the ages of 15 and 25 were seen running away from the crime scene; they were described as "foreign-looking" and are now wanted by the police.

The explosion is a drastic escalation of the week-long riots on the streets Denmark where young Muslim men have vented their anger and frustration towards Danish society by setting fire to cars and burning bonfires in the streets. The rioters claim that their action is a protest against the reprinting of the prophet cartoons, which took place last Wednesday when a unified Danish press decided to print/reprint the cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. The decision to reprint was taken when the Danish security service (PET) notified the public that three men had been arrested on suspicion of plotting the murder of the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard.

However, it is debatable whether the reprinting of the cartoons was the real reason behind the rioting. The night before they were published the air on Oesterbro was thick with the smoke of bonfires and burning rubber, carried by the wind from neighbouring Noerrebro, where much of the rioting has taken place. The cartoons no doubt had an explosive effect on matters, but the fire was already burning.

Denmark, once acknowledged for her liberal stance and social egalitarianism, has over the last years become an increasingly polarised society where the differences between the Danish majority and migrants and especially Muslim migrants have been the dominant political agenda.

This was certainly the case back in 2005 when Jyllands Posten chose to print the 12 prophet cartoons. The following months the Danes had the dubious honour of being on the cover of magazines around the world and TV crews from CNN, BBC, and CBS visited Denmark to tell the story about the people behind the cartoons.

Back then, the debate about whether the cartoons were right or wrong split the nation in two. On one side were the idealists who defended the them on the grounds of speech. For them this was about making an important stance against what - in Denmark - is still perceived as "the threat" from Islam. Needless to say, the xenophobes joined this side of the argument. On the other side were the pragmatists - the internationalists, if you will. These included most liberals, including most broadsheet papers. The domestic debate was far from pretty, and the rightwing Danish People's Party benefited enormously from the tense atmosphere. Two years later, many liberals and the liberal press seem to have joined the idealistic and confrontationalist boat.


Pertinent Links:

1) A turn for the worse

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