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As Cartoon Row Flares, Campaign Urges 'Buy Danish'

  • Kathleen Moore

http://gdb.rferl.org/FBA09E61-C10C-49CF-8DC8-6C587EF593E4_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/FBA09E61-C10C-49CF-8DC8-6C587EF593E4_mw800_mh600.jpg Pakistani protestors burn a Danish flag on 2 February. (epa) Protests over the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper continue to gain in vehemence in parts of the Muslim world, and the row has prompted a boycott of Danish goods in many Middle Eastern countries. But now there are signs of an emerging counter campaign -- one that says people can support free speech by buying Danish products.


PRAGUE, 4 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The row over the Muhammad cartoons had been brewing for weeks.


But it was the armed raid on a European Union office in Gaza on 30 January that spurred Belgian Tijl Vercaemer to act.


"I got the idea on Monday after the raid and I wanted to do something positive, nothing provocative, but some positive action," he says. "So I created the website and registered the domain name supportDenmark.com and on Tuesday the website was online."


SupportDenmark.com urges people to do just that -- by buying Danish products, or by posting Internet pictures of the Danish flag with the message "I support Denmark in its struggle for freedom of speech."


Vercaemer says he has received thousands of emails from around the world, most of them supportive.


"It's mostly about freedom of expression and also people want to buy Danish goods," he says, "but it's just that they are shocked at how it's possible that the Muslim world can demand of us what we should or should not publish in our newspapers."


Vercaemer's website is part of an emerging, predominantly online, response to the campaign to boycott Danish goods.


The idea for a "Buy Danish" campaign has also appeared in conversations posted on blogs such as littlegreenfootballs.com, or the History News Network, a website at the George Mason University in the United States.


It published a list of Danish goods like cheese, beer, and porcelain, as well as online stores that stock them. A Belgian news and opinion website (Brusselsjournal.com), meanwhile, proclaims on its front page, "We are all Danes now!"


There is also an online petition (petitiononline.com/danmark/petition.html) that says it has more than 5,500 signatures in support of "Jyllands-Posten," the newspaper that originally printed the cartoons.


Some of the online campaigners say they understand how a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban can offend Muslims.


But they say freedom of speech includes the right to be offensive.


Eric Mortensen is the man behind Advar.org, a Norwegian website urging readers to "Buy Danish."


The world "advar" means "warn," and it is also the Norwegian acronym for "campaign for Danish goods."


"There was also a Norwegian paper that printed these cartoons and that's when it became a big issue in Norway," Mortensen says. "We felt the Norwegian government wasn't supportive enough of free speech and they were almost apologizing for this paper's right to print these cartoons."


Some of the sites in support of Denmark have anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant overtones. But Mortensen says his has no political agenda.


"No, we are definitely not anti-immigration, we are pro-immigration," he says. "This is nothing to do with Islam, nothing to do with immigration, this has to do with protecting freedom of speech and secular democracy."


The boycott of Danish goods across the Middle East could deal a real financial blow to Danish exporters. Danish dairy foods have already disappeared from many supermarkets and at least one company -- Arla -- has announced job cuts.


The people behind the "anti-boycott boycott" acknowledge their supporters are unlikely to fill that financial hole by eating Danish cheese.


They say their goal is more modest -- to give Denmark moral, if not financial, support.

Clash Of Cultures

Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie (epa file photo)

The furor raised by the publication in Europe of cartoons believed by many Muslims to be insulting to Islam is far from being the first time that Western notions of freedom of expression have clashed with Islamic sensibilities. Below are a few of the major incidents in this long-running tension.

2005: London's Tate Britain museum removes from exhibition the "God Is Great #2" sculpture by John Latham for fear of offending Muslims, citing the "sensitive climate" after 7 July suicide bombings in London. The sculpture piece consists of three sacred religious texts -- the Koran, the Bible, and the Talmud -- embedded in a sheet of glass.

2004: Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh is murdered after release of his film "Submission" about violence against women in Islamic societies. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born member of Dutch parliament who wrote script, plans another film about Islam's attitude to gays. She has also received death threats.

2002: Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel incenses Muslims by writing in "This Day" newspaper that Prophet Muhammad would have approved of the "Miss World" contest and might have wed a beauty queen. Muslim-Christian riots in northern city of Kaduna kill 200. Daniel flees Nigeria after a fatwa urges Muslims to kill her.

1995: An Egyptian court brands academic Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid an apostate because of his writings on Islam and annuls his marriage on grounds that a Muslim may not be married to an apostate. Abu Zaid and his wife move to the Netherlands.

1994: Taslima Nasreen flees Bangladesh for Sweden after court charges her with "maliciously hurting Muslim religious sentiments." Some Muslims demand she be killed for her book "Lajja" (Shame), banned for blasphemy and suggesting free sex.

1989: Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calls on all Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy against Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."

(compiled by RFE/RL)

See also:

Dutch Immigration -- The Death Of Multiculturalism

Report Says No Anti-Muslim Backlash In Europe

Vienna Conference Ends With Appeals For Understanding, Tolerance


A thematic webpage devoted to issues of religious tolerance in RFE/RL's broadcast region and around the globe.
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