Below is a meditation on the recent Koran-burnings and the deadly violence that ensued, as seen through the lens of small-town Danish culture.
Many thanks to our Perth correspondent Anne-Kit for this translation from Sappho:
Different strokes for different folks
April 8, 2011
Column by Claus Thomas Nielsen
No double standards
“Well, obviously there are different rules for different people,” said the indignant man at the opposite end of the dinner table. A guest at the dinner party had been to Argentina and was telling us about Argentine towns on the pampas where third-generation immigrants were still attempting to uphold a certain level of Danish identity.
The anecdote led to this moralistic statement:
“So there are people and there are people. We are proud that Danes in Argentina are maintaining their own culture, but at home we demand that Muslims assimilate!”
Yes, that’s just terrible, isn’t it? What terrible double standards!
The thing is, however, that this is not a case of double standards. Double standards are about treating what is the same, differently; it isn’t about treating the different, differently.
And of course people are exactly different: Firstly, they can be different by degrees; secondly, they can be good or evil, truthful or mendacious, friendly or hostile, etc.
These differences are real, and naturally we need to treat people differently according to who they are.
Likewise, books that are about freedom and forgiveness must be treated differently than books that are about submission and terror.
Some books deserve a certain measure of reverence, others deserve only contempt. We all know the movie scene where the hero scrunches up the threatening letter and throws it into the fireplace with contempt. Needless to say, this is how we ought to treat threatening books as well.
If Hells Angels move in
I live in a Jutland [Danish mainland — the capital Copenhagen is on the island of Zealand] country parish with 800 inhabitants. This doesn’t sound like much, but nevertheless we have many foreign guests:
We have people living here who come from Germany, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Zealand, Copenhagen, Funen, Britain, Australia and the US.
This is not a problem, and if another 10 ordinary American families suddenly decided to come and live here in our beautiful and exotic region I doubt whether this would cause any problems either.
They would be well received, and on the whole we would think it right and good that they maintained as many of their homeland’s customs as possible.
But what if the new arrivals consisted of ten Hells Angels bikers from Copenhagen, who brought their families to our town and insisted that — in the name of tolerance — they keep not only their eccentric apparel and manner of speech, but all of their peculiar Hells Angels culture with its religious cult of black angels from hell?
What if there were a couple of Hells Angels children in each year group at the local school, and their parents demanded that their customs and their view of women be accorded equal status with the majority view?
In other words: What if they insisted that in future the parish should be bi-cultural, with the Hells Angels culture as one of these two cultures?
Well, within a very short space of time the rest of the inhabitants (including the other new arrivals) would start insisting that the worshippers of hell’s angels either renounce their faith and way of life and be fully assimilated into our parish, or that they immediately leave the parish and settle instead in a place where they would fit in.
Not because we are intolerant and against freedom, but in order to preserve the parish as a place for free and tolerant people.
(To call giving space to a hostile culture “openness” and “freedom of religion” is to use the language to tell a lie, just as the word “multicultural” is nearly always a euphemism for a polarised society.)
In other words, we parishioners would give the adherents of the angel religion a choice. And it is not beyond possibility that, in order to facilitate their choice, we would do as they allegedly did a few years ago in Thyborøn, when Hells Angels chose to culturally enrich this small fishing village via their presence during the summer vacations:
With 3-4 of their shiny Harleys sitting at the bottom of Thyborøn harbour, the rest of the culture-enrichers chose to turn their headlights back towards Copenhagen.
And I don’t think it was the physical act that made them leave. No, it was probably the comical situation that did the trick:
Picture a corpulent, tattooed and leather-clad rider from hell watching, slack-jawed, as his proud mount slowly sinks towards the bottom of Thyborøn harbour, with smiling fishermen looking on. In a society where people snigger every time they see a biker, their terror would never work.
So does that mean that the good people of Thyborøn are intolerant? No, there is nothing to indicate that, but they do seem to know the difference, by and large, between good and evil, right and wrong.
You see, there really is such a thing as “different strokes for different folks”. There is a difference between people, between cultures, between religions, and between civilizations. Some are good and some are evil. Some are about liberty, about love and equal value and others are about power, hatred and terror.
And it is the latter category that we should keep at bay.
That is why I hope that my own parishioners would act like the doughty fishermen of Thyborøn. There is just one small problem: Our own little harbour is just a couple of meters deep, so it isn’t really suitable for sinking Harleys.
It would be more practical to heap them up and set fire to them together with the black angels’ holy writs and insignia.
In the same way it would have been beneficial to the world if for instance the German and Russian populations of the 1920’s and 30’s had collectively agreed to burn the law books that were symbols of their nations’ enslavement.
And we might have helped them along with a few supportive bonfires of our own.
Of course we should not ban the books; burning them represents simply a symbolic liberation from their contents. And bonfires work. Any oppressive system works only as long as fear reigns. The oppressor has lost his power when the oppressed smile indulgently before they turn their backs.
But what if other Hells Angels followers in Berlin heard of their co-religionists’ humiliation at the hands of our parishioners, and they chose to attack the Danish embassy, kill 38 people and decapitate two female office workers?
Would that make us feel guilty and send us a warning to stop offending the religious sensibilities of Hells Angels followers?
No, on the contrary, this act would show that we did the right thing. They really do need to be fought with all available means. Anyone who previously had any doubts about the intrinsic evil of Hells Angels should now be convinced.
All other decent human beings should now feel compelled to reach for the cigarette lighter themselves.
Fear the fear
Only when we all say: I, too, am a Geert Wilders; I, too, am a Kurt Westergaard; I, too, am a Terry Jones; I, too, am a Lars Vilks [and we might now add: I, too, am an Ann Barnhardt! A-K] — only then will they understand that their terror does not work on us.
When faced with systems that are built on submission, the only thing we have to fear, quite literally, is fear itself. Who, then, are the accomplices to the 70 or so murders that have occurred since the latest Koran-burning by Terry Jones?
General Petraeus is, and so is Obama. When these infantile statesmen refer to the Koran as the “Holy Koran” and condemn the burning of pages made of paper as strongly as they do the decapitation of nurses, then they demonstrate that terror works.
We don’t need fewer bonfires, we need more.
And when it is clear for everyone that we are no longer afraid, then it is not unthinkable that the same fearlessness could start spreading slowly through the oppressed Muslim masses.
You see, each time the violence fails, a little piece of Allah is chipped away, and in the end there will be nothing left of the tyrant. That is why his adherents are so afraid and so angry.
Deep inside they know that Allah is a weakling, whose only weapon is fear. When that fear disappears, Allah and his prophet will disappear as well.
Like dew when touched by the sun.
Claus Thomas Nielsen is the vicar of Stauning.