Sunday, February 17, 2008

Danish Foreign Ministry Errs

The ten members of the Danish parliament's Foreign Policy Committee, including Denmark's former foreign minister Mogens Lykketoft, erred when they canceled a trip to Iran two days prior to scheduled meetings. The purpose of the trip was to meet with members of the Iranian Parliament as well as to look into such issues as the country's human rights and uranium enrichment.

During this same time period
Danish police arrested two Tunisians and a Dane of Moroccan descent on Tuesday, accusing them of planning to kill a cartoonist who drew a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that was then published in Danish newspapers 2 years ago.

One presumes that Denmark upholds due process, and that in Denmark arrests are not equated with guilt, but remarkably fifteen Danish newspapers reprinted this very same cartoon on Wednesday in protest against the alleged plot. The alleged plot.

Even if these papers had waited for a guilty verdict following due process, it would remain the case that an infantile provocation of this magnitude is beyond reproach. Considering the vast difficulties worldwide that derived from the initial printing of these cartoons, there are simply no words to describe the decision of not one or two deranged editors, but a coordinated effort among 15 newspapers in what is generally regarded as a modern nation. Publication of the cartoons two years ago led to protests and rioting in Muslim countries around the world. At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked.

As explained in the Feb. 16 Reuters article:

"The Iranian parliament had demanded an apology of the Danish parliamentary delegation, which they of course cannot accommodate," Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller said in a statement....

Moller said the committee could not apologize for the fact that Danish media carried out its obligation to inform as it could not apologize for freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Danish constitution.

Here is where Moller commits a flatuous, and indeed a gross and arrant mistake. Why "of course"? No one asked Moller to apologize for freedom of expression, or to apologize that Danish papers have a duty to inform their readers. It would be more than simple enough for Moller or a designated spokesperson to express a mature, and reasoned apology, even seizing the opportunity to elaborate on whatever particular social virtues are so sacrosanct in Moller's mind.

Here is what Moller could better have said:

"Respected citizens of Iran, indeed respected world citizens who seek to live as true Muslims in elevated and peaceful ways, we of the Danish parliament who will soon be guests in Iran, wish to express profound apologies for any offense that happens in our country to that which you hold sacred. We hope you will understand our traditions in which freedom of expression must be guaranteed, and though it pains us to see abuse of these freedoms, the Danish government will never seek to encroach on what we believe to be a vital pillar of any free society. As Danes we are sorry that Islam has been offended in our country. Likewise we pray in earnest that all who call themselves Muslims will follow Islam as it advises us all to embrace its highest virtues of tolerance and harmony seen in the Hadith "You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

While we cannot undermine the all important democratic principle that guarantees freedom of expression, we can apologize for Danes who abuse this freedom to offend. As we try to elevate the mentality and public discourse in Denmark, we hope likewise that if newspapers or government policy in Iran espouses views that offend or incite Muslim believers against Christian and Western democratic sensibilities, that this too can change.

We hope that our upcoming visit to Iran will help us grow in our mutual understanding of one another, and lead to more harmonious relations among our peoples."

For a government to stand behind actions that are so patently reprehensible as a unified media decision to offend religious believers around the world, and then to poison international relations by canceling a high level diplomatic mission is a near perfect error, a disgrace to the West, an offense, and a missed opportunity.