Who Gets To Define Tolerance?

The never-ending story of the Mohammad cartoons…

Dairy company Arla Foods has been hit hard by the boycott of Danish products across much of the Middle East. Now the storm has settled somewhat, and they’re trying to inch their way back into this pretty substantial market. Their means to this end are full-page advertisements in 25 Arab newspapers last sunday, explaining their distancing themselves from the cartoons. Excerpt:

“Arla Foods has distanced itself from the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten’s actions in publishing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. We do not agree with the newspaper’s reasons for publication.

… we understand and respect your reactions that have led to a boycott of our products following the Danish newspaper’s irresponsible and unfortunate action.

… justice and tolerance are fundamental values in Islam.” (Arla)

In my opinion, a well-worded and tasteful text. And certainly understandable, given that hundreds of Danish jobs are at stake. But apparently, this is too much to handle for Jens Rohde, spokesman for the ruling Liberal Party (Venstre). Today, he says:

“Arla is ready to sell its own grandma to sell its products in dictatorships. I can not in the least understand that our principles can be taken so lightly. My freedom rights are not for sale for two pints of milk.” (JP, my translation)

I have nothing but respect for the Prime Minister’s handling of the case. But Rohde sounds almost as the muslim clerics here. Arla has said nothing about freedom rights. They have distanced themselves from the cartoon and the newspaper. If that is not exercising your freedom rights, then what is? Apparently, you can only be a liberal if you agree with the Liberals. Arla’s idea of tolerance is not the same as the Liberal Party’s. So what? Let me, like so many before me, (mis)quote Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Even though formal ties were abolished many years ago, it is now obvious that Jyllands-Posten is still very much the Liberal Party’s paper. Usually balanced and professional, and my online news outlet of choice, they do have a hard spot for religion of any kind.

It was JP that a few years ago ran some very hostile articles on the teaching of Creation alongside Evolution at Vejlefjord, the Adventist high school in Denmark. Eventually the minister did actually look into the case and found that their accusations were groundless and the school’s curriculum wholly in line with government requirements.

Now JP, and apparently certain parts of the Liberal Party are cementing this anti-religious position: You may believe anything you like, except that you are right and we are wrong. For of course, you are wrong and we are right. That doesn’t sound truly liberal to me.


Author: Kenneth Mollerup Birch

Living north of Copenhagen, Denmark. MA in Information Science. Interests include communication, internet, sociology, language, politics, religion, theology, travel, music, and food.

4 thoughts on “Who Gets To Define Tolerance?”

  1. Hi Kenneth

    I’m very much in agreement with the points you make. Arla, as a private company, is free to have any opinion about the Mohammed Cartoons they want to and advertise them. Jens Rhode seems to unable to differentiate between criticizing the cartoons and criticizing Jyllands-Postens right to publish them.

    I do, however, have two comments:

    1) Jyllands-Posten is and has always been newspaper with a very strong editorial line. This is not bad thing, as I’d rather read a newspaper who’s political bias is clearly detectable.

    2) Although I think the the Danish PM’s policy in the cartoon row has been correct, I do think it would have been prudent for him to have met with the ambassadors from when they first appraoched him last september. Not to give into their demands, but to listen to their concerns.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Torsten.

    I agree with you that it’s not a bad thing to have a strong editorial line. I still read JP and have no intention of boycott or anything. But the enlightened reader 🙂 should of course be aware of the editorial lines when making up his own mind. Same goes for television with the two main Danish channels occupying different sides–DR left-ish, and TV2 right-ish. I prefer TV2’s news coverage for the same reason.

    As for your second comment, yes, in hindsight it would probably have been a wise thing to do. It would not have taken anything from him to meet with them and cordially explain, among others, the principle of division of power and, as you say, listen to their concerns.

  3. I am very new too blogging. So far I am very impressed with blogging. I found your work very interesting. I have only been using wordpress for a couple of months the people that use wordpress are very helpful and your photos are great. I have been dabble a little in potography myself as well as writing. I liked especially your work that you did on tolerance, I find myself being a australian worrying that there is going to be a lot more race discrimination in Australia in the future which will be a shame. Our country is a very beautiful place and I would hate it if more race riots come to Australia but I am only one person, I do know there is other people who would not like to see this country change.

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