The End of Tolerance

Stefan Theil, Newsweek, March 6, 2006

The world has long looked upon the Dutch as the very model of a modern, multicultural society. Open and liberal, the tiny seagoing nation that invented the globalized economy in the 1600s prided itself on a history of taking in all comers, be they Indonesian or Turkish, African or Chinese.

How different things look today. Dutch borders have been virtually shut. New immigration is down to a trickle. The great cosmopolitan port city of Rotterdam just published a code of conduct requiring Dutch be spoken in public. Parliament recently legislated a countrywide ban on wearing the burqa in public. And listen to a prominent Dutch establishment figure describe the new Dutch Way with immigrants. “We demand a new social contract,” says Jan Wolter Wabeke, High Court Judge in The Hague. “We no longer accept that people don’t learn our language, we require that they send their daughters to school, and we demand they stop bringing in young brides from the desert and locking them up in third-floor apartments.”

What’s going on here? Weren’t the Dutch supposed to be the nicest people on earth, the most tolerant nation in Europe, a melting pot for minorities and immigrants since the Renaissance? No longer, and in this the Dutch are once again at the forefront of changes in Europe. This time, the Dutch model for Europe is one of multiculturalism besieged, if not plain defunct.

This helps explain Europe’s unusually robust reaction to the cartoon crisis, which continued last week with riots in Nigeria and Pakistan that have left over 100 dead. There were apologies, to be sure, for causing offense after a small Danish paper published a dozen cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But on one point European leaders were united and bluntly clear: they would not tolerate any limits on European newspapers’ rights to publish. “Freedom of speech is not up for negotiation,” declared Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, summing up a consensus that has only grown stronger as the cries of outrage from the Muslim world grow louder.

Welcome to the end of tolerance, or at least to the nonnegotiable limits to what Europeans will tolerate. Whether it’s the Netherlands’ rediscovery of Dutch communal values, or the universal affirmations of free speech (to mock religion, or anything else), Europe is everywhere on the defensive. After decades of relatively unfettered immigration and cultural laissez faire when it came to accepting people of differing values and social mores, there are signs that a potentially ugly backlash is setting in. Even before Jyllands Posten published the cartoons last fall, Denmark’s Minister of Cultural Affairs Brian Mikkelsen said, “We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid.” These days, he speaks for most Europeans. Danes, and Dutch, and a few other countries might be well on their way to creating multiethnic societies. But make no mistake: they’re no longer willing to tolerate a European melting pot—a broadly multicultural society—where different cultures live by widely different norms.

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Copenhagen—Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which angered the Muslim world by publishing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad last year, has won a Danish critical journalism award for its initiative, the jury said.

Denmark’s largest daily was honoured with the Victor Prize for “having opened everyone’s eyes by showing how easy it is to introduce cracks in freedom of expression and how so-called political correctness is infiltrating what we believe to be inalienable rights,” Hans Engell, the editor of tabloid Ekstra Bladet which awards the prize, said during a prize ceremony in Copenhagen late on Thursday.

The Victor Prize, named for the late editor-in-chief of Ekstra Bladet Victor Andreasen, was handed to Jyllands-Posten’s editor Carsten Juste.

“This prize is awarded to Jyllands-Posten for its adamant defence for months of freedom of expression, which is under threat,” Engell told AFP.

Freedom of expression

“Jyllands-Posten only did its duty: exercise its right to freedom of expression,” he added.

Juste, guarded by two secret service bodyguards, noted “how fragile freedom of expression is” as he accepted the award, his newspaper reported.

The 12 drawings of Muhammad, which first appeared in Jyllands-Posten last September, have sparked violent protests in Muslim countries against Denmark especially, as well as against other European countries where the cartoons have since been reprinted.

Islam considers any image of the prophet blasphemous.

Both the newspaper and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen have repeatedly refused to apologize for the publication of the cartoons, insisting that freedom of expression is a fundamental right in Denmark.

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