Roger Whittaker

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Sunday 5th February 2006

Here's an experiment for you.

At your workplace tomorrow morning, bring the subject of conversation around to Australia, and mention Ayer's Rock (also known as Uluru). You will probably find quite a lot of sympathy for the view that tourists should not be permitted to climb the rock because it is held sacred by the local Aboriginal people.

Now, in a different group of people, mention the current Danish cartoons affair, and I predict that you will hear a lot of stuff about the famous clash of civilisations and puerile points being made at the level of a school debating society about the absoluteness of free speech (forgetting of course the standard debating society reply about shouting "fire" in the theatre).

You get the point.

This story is far more serious than all that.

The Danish editor who commissioned the cartoons is reported as having said that he had no idea of the trouble they would cause. If he said that, then he was either a knave or a fool, and the story about the original reasons for the creation of the cartoons indicates the former. At the very least, on the surface, this is an example of the kind of thinking prevalent in some parts of Northern Europe which uses Muslim unease with a few of the consequences of the liberalism of Western society as a stick with which to beat the Muslim community. I am thinking for instance of attitudes like those of the dead, gay, dog-loving Dutch fascist Pim Fortuyn who paradoxically tried to create hatred against minorities using the claim that they did not share the liberal attitudes of the host community.

On the current edition of the BBC World Service programme Reporting Religion , Haleh Afshar of York University said (my transcription):

We have to understand this in the context of the current political crisis. [...] It is convenient to prepare the West for perhaps an attack on Iran. I'm not usually given to conspiracy theories but I cannot understand it in any other context. [...] It's a process of creating a climate of crisis [...]