Wednesday, December 29, 2010

29-Dec-10: Five questions prompted by a cartoon, several riots and a thwarted massacre

Moslems react to Danish cartoons - London, 2006 (Daily Mail UK)
Quoted in today's New York Times, the prime minister of Denmark says today's events "must not lead us to change our open society and our values, especially democracy and free speech.

Today's events, you ask? We think they show how the tentacles extend deep into the Scandinavian heartland:
  • Five men were arrested today in the suburbs of Copenhagen and in Stockholm on suspicion of plotting an attack on the offices of a newspaper in the Danish capital. 
  • Their plan, simply stated, was to "kill as many people as possible". This, according to the head of the Danish security service.
  • There's little doubt they had the means. Found in their apartment were "at least one machine gun with a silencer, live ammunition and plastic strips that can be used as handcuffs" according to the Danish authorities.
  • The plan was to replicate the Mumbai massacre of 2008 that resulted in the murders of 163 people, acording to th police.
  • The Copenhagen massacre was to happen on or before New Year’s Day - this coming weekend. 
  • This would be yet another act of revenge for the publishing of certain cartoons in the Danish newspaper in 2005... and by far not the first such act. Two Danish diplomatic missions were torched, a boycott of Danish goods was carried out in several countries, and a large number of violent protests took places in cities around the world among other reactions at the time. Then in 2009, two men from Chicago were arrested in a plot to attack employees of the newspaper. In January 2010, a Somalian man equipped with an ax and a knife was apprehended before he was able to enter the home of a cartoonist in the Danish town of Aarhus. And in September this year, Danish police arrested a man following the explosion at a Copenhagen hotel of a letter bomb that officials said was most likely intended for the same newspaper.
  • Security forces had been tracking this group for months and say there may still be further arrests.
  • Three of the men arrested hold Swedish citizenship.
  • A fourth, aged 26 and living in Copenhagen on a residency permit had been admitted to Denmark in 2000 as an asylum seeker from Iraq when (by our calculation) he must have been 16.
  • All five are Moslems, which is by no means incidental to the story. To think otherwise is to be impossibly politically correct. (Nearly 4% of Danes are Moslems. No one suggests that all, most or many are terrorists.) They were part of “a militant Islamist group with links to international terrorist networks”, the chief of Danish security is quoted as saying.
  • "A serious terror crime in Denmark has been thwarted through an efficient and close cooperation" between the security forces says this report.
In light of the above, we have some questions.
  1. If this was an act of terror, as everyone - including the headline writers and the police - is saying, why are these Moslem men, all of them members of a so-called militant Islamist group acting in the name of their religion, not called terrorists in today's newspaper reports? [It happens that we blogged about this question just yesterday: 28-Dec-10: How the militants, fighters, insurgents and freedom fighters turn into terrorists] Terrorists is precisely what they are, assuming the charges prove to be true.
  2. As the plot here involved religiously inspired acts of violent hatred, is the religious leadership of the institutions to which the five men were connected being asked to explain itself?
  3. Should it bother us that one of the plotters (at least) was there because he had gotten political asylum ten years ago? And should we be troubled that, having imbibed the best that Scandinavia can offer, he responded by preparing to massacre his neighbours?
  4. Is the essence of this frightening story really the struggle to defend free speech and liberal values, as the Danish prime minister said today? Or (which we believe) is it actually about the enormous life-and-death risks of hosting a militant minority within a democracy-minded, mild-mannered and liberal majority society while growing to understand (slowly, ever so slowly) that the hate-based values being incubated in their midst are not growing more moderate but rather are becoming sharper, more brazen, more toxic and more deadly with time?
  5. Reuters reported today that Syria was actively involved four years ago (when the cartoons story was still fresh) in encouraging attacks on European embassies in Damascus, according to a senior U.S. diplomat quoted in leaked cables. The embassies of Denmark and Norway were both burned down in those Syrian "protests". Reuters reports that the instructions for the riots came directly from Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otari, who directed mosque preachers to deliver "hard-hitting" sermons at weekly prayers. In the face of unrelenting violence, is anyone looking into what Scandinavian imams are preaching to their flocks? Or does it not matter?

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