Meer, Nasar and Mouristen, Per
Political cultures compared: the Muhammad cartoons in the Danish and British press
Ethnicities, 9, (3), . (doi:10.1177/1468796809337428).
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One outcome of the Muhammad cartoons controversy has been an
opportunity for comparative critical examination of public discourse on conceptions of citizenship and belonging vis-à-vis Muslim minorities in different national contexts. In this article, we focus upon the press reaction in two north-western European countries that at first glance promise to offer radically different cases. While Britain is a formerly imperial power where ‘legitimate’ public articulations of the collective ‘we’ must take stock of the sensibilities in this diverse inheritance, Denmark’s emergence as a modern constitutional state is perceived to be premised on a cultural, linguistic and ethnic homogeneity. It would only be fair to anticipate, then, that any comparison of press discourse on matters of religious minority toleration and respect for difference would herald very different outcomes attuned to
these traditions. Yet this article shows that, on closer inspection, Jyllands-Posten’s more ‘radical’
approach marked a departure from other Danish newspapers in a manner that left it relatively isolated, and that the self-restraint shown by the British press in not
reprinting the cartoons was far from universally supported, and subject to significant internal criticism. Indeed, the press discourse on both countries cast the reaction to the cartoons controversy by Muslims themselves as a sign of failed integration, and each moreover stressed a need for civility and respect – even where there was disagreement over the kinds of ‘dialogue’ that should take place. Nevertheless, significant divergences and cleavages remained, and the explanation for these differences rests not only on Britain’s more ‘multicultural’ traditions, but also the experiences of the Rushdie affair and the subsequent debate that had already taken place in Britain. What is striking is the ways in which the Danish discourse
appears to be plotting a course that is not that radically different from one taken in the British case, specifically the extent to which a recognition of religious minority
sensibilities needs to be offset with a civic incorporation that is cast in interdependent terms in a way that is inclusive of – and not alienating to – Muslims
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