Archive for the 'current affairs' Category

The Week

Steve Bell for the Guardian

The week in review.

I guess the past week may end up being seen as a kind of turning point when it comes to Denmark’s international reputation. “Jewellery-Gate” as it has become known in Denmark seems like it may leave a lasting stain on my country’s image abroad. The new law is a particularly egregious — and hard-hitting — example of pandering to the voters that may just have backfired, precisely because its symbolism is conceived for maximum effect. Not even the politicians who proposed and passed it seem to have spent much time arguing that confiscating valuables from refugees would make much of a difference to covering the considerable costs of admitting and accommodating them. It is purely a way of showing their resolve to prevent too many immigrants coming to Denmark. Less attention has been paid to the more consequential and fundamentally more serious decision to delay family reunification for refugees by three years, a measure that has been roundly criticised by human rights groups.

In addition to appeasing the reluctance on many Danish voters’ part to see large numbers of new immigrants, the new law is clearly part of an effort to deter refugees from seeking asylum in Denmark, prompting them to go elsewhere. In this, at least, the government may end up claiming a measure of success. At least in the short term. But at what price? In addition to being inhumane on the face of it, the new law is a flagrant instance of lack of solidarity with the rest of the EU, a demonstration that Denmark is unwilling to do its part to deal with a problem that belongs to everyone. Beyond that, there is a risk that the last shred of Denmark’s good name abroad as a champion of egalitarianism and humanitarianism — gained through the selfless (if also fortuitous) rescue of the country’s Jewish population during World War II and the success of the Danish welfare state in the postwar years — is now history. This will seriously affect our country’s diplomatic credibility and will make it harder for us to forge the kind of international relationships we depend on as a small nation.

This all recalls all too sadly aspects of the 2006 cartoon crisis, another instance of Danish politicians not grasping the international scope of their actions. But where that conflagration, however poorly handled by individual decision makers, erupted in defence of basic democratic principles, this one is happening in contravention of them. And where Denmark could reasonably have expected more support from its allies back then, this needlessly alienates them.

It’s a sordid and depressing case, and one that — because the symbolism is so blatant and so fraught — obscures similar measures taken elsewhere in Europe, putting our country first in a race to the bottom and distracts from real, international solutions to a very real and pressing problem. The crisis in Europe, brought on by the current wave of migration, is potentially existential and at the core of any solution will be the interpretation and integrity of the foundational principles of universal human rights. While it is extremely unlikely that these will go unchallenged by whatever decisions are made in the next few years to solve the problem, it should be clear from this mess that measures that blatantly flaunt them for short-term political gain only make matters worse. In that respect, perhaps, Denmark has done the international community a favour?

No links this week.

Information: satirebladet Spot!

I juni sidste år lancerede en gruppe journalister, tegnere og akademikere satirebladet Spot, som er tænkt som en art dansk pendant til Charlie Hebdo. Der er nu kommet fire numre og jeg forsøger at gøre status over det prisværdige men stadig noget tyndbenede initiativ i Information, med implicit forhåbning om mere og bedre og sjovere og grovere i fremtiden. Læs her (paywall).

The Week

The week in review.

Sorry, I can’t let it go. Yesterday I filed an article on the media shit storm over Charlie Hebdo‘s provocation, Riss cartoon speculating that poor, dead Aylan Kurdi might have become an ‘ass-groper in Germany’, had he been given the chance to grow up in Europe. I guess this small cartoon, buried deep within an issue with David Bowie on the cover and with many other, very different cartoons (one of which is at least as offensive…) is newsworthy, in the sense that anything Charlie does these days is potentially so. But: this is a still rather marginal left-wing magazine we’re talking about and casting it as the reincarnation of Der Stürmer or whatever in the manner of many, mostly uninformed left-wing critics is not only hugely overblown, but ignorant of context. Not to mention insensitive to the multivalent qualities of even heavy-handed cartoons. Look, it’s perfectly legitimate to criticise this cartoon for bluntly furthering an anti-refugee agenda — it clearly does, whether intentionally or, more likely, not –but this is mostly because of the media treatment of it.

People actually reading Charlie would be less inclined to jump straight to that conclusion, and perhaps also take it as commentary on our remarkably schizoid and certainly (and understandably) confused perception and representation of the refugees arriving in Europe: one day innocent children in need of help, the next ass-gropers and rapists in Cologne and elsewhere. I suspect that Riss is disgusted with the increasing sacralisation of the devastating image of little Aylan, especially on the left, and the concurrent demonisation of refugess based on the actions of some. Neither is helpful in handling what is clearly a real problem, leading as they do to dangerous complacency. This, as much as anything, is expressed by that cartoon.

For what it’s worth, above is Dominique Sopo, president of France’s biggest anti-racism grassroots organisation, SOS Racisme, fiercely contesting the accusation that Charlie is racist.


  • It seems that last year’s possible new Donatello discovery, a small gilded statue of a cherub, or putto, has found a new home for what approaches as Donatello price. I haven’t seen the sculpture, but it looks sufficiently original to be by that greatest of quattrocento sculptors. It certainly appears to be of higher quality–of subtler characterisation–than the closely similar version in Boston, which hasn’t been given to Donatello for many years, and could now possibly be a contemporary studio replica, or perhaps even a second original. Anyway, I have no idea, but hope I’ll get a chance to see it.
  • Jack Kirby gets the art press treatment. Intriguing sign of a possible, beginning canonisation and testament to what a difference couple of intelligently conceived art shows can make.
  • Waldemar Januszczak’s recent, very entertaining piece on notorious art forger Shaun Greenhalgh is now online. The hook of the piece is that the latter now claims to be the creator of the controversial ‘Bella Principessa’, which has been proposed quite forcefully as by Leonardo da Vinci, which I’ve written about here before. Greenhalgh says that the lady depicted was based on the check-out at his local Co-Op. Worth a read, even if it doesn’t quite settle the attribution of the drawing.
  • Information: Charlie Hebdos seneste

    I dagens Information har jeg en analyse af Charlie Hebdos seneste provo-tegning, der forestiller sig, hvor 3-årige Aylan Kurdi ville være endt, hvis han havde overlevet. Det er grove løjer, men også business as usual for bladet. Læs mere her (paywall, suk) eller køb avisen.

    The Week

    The week in review

    As is always the case, lots happened this week, but my preoccupation continues to be the implications of the 7 and 9 January 2015 murders in Paris, or at least what they are coming to represent. As Kenan Malik laments in his excellent op-ed piece for Göteborg-Posten, the initial wave of sympathy for the dead and the huge public manifestations which happened as a reaction all over France, and in other countries, exactly one year ago don’t seem to have changed much for the better when it comes to public opinion on freedom of speech and freedom of expression. European countries, France not least among them, continue prosecuting people for various forms of “hate speech” and “terrorist sympathies” while identity politics are leading educated people in increasingly absurd to silence others. And Islamist reactionaries and jihadists seem as determined as ever to silence any perceived transgressors, whether in the West or in Muslim majority countries, most recently and horrifically Saudi Arabia. At the same time, very few in the West are joining Charlie Hebdo in the necessary, continued testing of the boundaries. And frankly Charlie itself is much diminished now that several of their best cartoonists are either dead or have left the publication.

    There is, however, some cause for optimism. The fact that Charlie is now a household name, and that the timing and particular combination of targets in the attack last January seems to have secured for them a special, still-horrifying place in our collective memory, may mean that the particular issues of intolerance and freedom of expression they raise will remain with us as reminders of what we have to lose for a long time.

    Related links:

  • Jeremy Harding on Emmanuel Todd’s Who Is Charlie? I found Todd’s polemic-dressed-up-in-sociological-respectability at times grating, even shrill, and at times overly Utopian, but it is a fascinating read for what it tells us about French nationalisms, and for what it suggests regarding am egalitarian republican future that not only incorporates but is nurtured lapsed Muslims. The review is a good introduction, but read the book.
  • Adam Gopnik’s forward to the American edition of murdered Charlie editor Charb’s in my opinion rather underwhelming posthumously published pamphlet Open Letter on Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. Gopnik isn’t all that great here, but he is eloquent and summarizes the contents of the book well.
  • Kenan Malik (again!) is worth reading on the roots of radicalisation in Europe, and Thomas Hegghammer’s weeks-old op-ed on the allure of life as a jihadist today is a fascinating, even humanising read.
  • Al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Hajj on his time in custody in Pakistan and at Guantanamo Bay. Horrifying and informative.

  • The illustration above is by T. Thorhauge. I ran as part of Danish comics site Nummer9′s cartoon responses to the January Paris murders.

    Still at large

    Today, and on Saturday, it happened a year ago. In some ways it wasn’t all that new, nor unexpected — jihadist terrorist attacks have happened all over Europe with increasing frequency for the last 10-15 years, and several lower key attempts had been made to silence Charlie Hebdo. In fact, it remains scandalous that they weren’t protected better — the attack on their offices could have been prevented.

    Anyway, it seems like a watershed in Europe, creating a “before and after” in many people’s minds. The even more horrible attack in Paris on 13 November, while certainly shocking, only confirmed that everyone is at risk, not only cartoonists or Jews. Beyond that, there is a creeping, dangerous sense of “business as usual.” Probably because that is what it has become to us. Jihadist terrorism is surely here to stay for the foreseeable future, because its root causes are not going to disappear any time soon. And sadly, the influx of refugees from various Muslim majority countries probably isn’t going to help that particular problem. While we should clearly be doing more to help refugees — it is the only right thing to do — the challenges of integration are hard to deny, just like the prospects of peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan remain depressingly bleak.

    Many left-wing commentators seem to want to downplay the dangers of the situation, and while this is understandable given the rise in atavistic populism, Islamophobia, and at times ill-considered warmongering in the West, it also denies a pertinent reality that needs addressing. Jihadist terror is a threat to our open societies, even if the damage individual terrorists are able to inflict is generally limited, because our societies rely on trust to survive. Terrorism is an extreme form of the so-called heckler’s veto, in which a loud individual or small group disrupts, in some cases permanently, the free expression of others. It is designed to erode trust between individuals and to undermine the feeling of community that is so vital to us.

    The introduction of draconian anti-terrorist laws in response, including such measures as ultra-rapid processing of suspects, warrantless surveillance, and potentially the stripping of nationality for dual-nationality citizens, threaten us all in that, if allowed to take hold, they will inevitably transform our societies into closed, polarised and ultimately repressive ones. This is already happening, and at an alarmingly accelerated pace since 7 and 9 January 2015, which is another reason the events on those days feel like a turning point.

    Some of these measures are understandable, especially when applied in selected and particularly egregious cases, and it is naive to think that intolerance of the kind espoused by jiahids can be fought solely with tolerance. However, if we are to prevent the proliferation of terrorism and other politically or religiously motivated violence, there are certain core values that we need to uphold, not just for the afflicted (however we identify them), but for every person involved. It will not do to continue to encourage the formation of parallel societies and the neglect of minorities within the minorities that is often the result of well-intentioned multiculturalism, nor will it do hypocritically to deny rights to certain individuals because we consider them beyond the pale. The rights of the individual as defined in such foundational documents as 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Bill of Rights amended to the United States Constitution in 1791 remain the best guide we have to achieving greater mutual understanding, respect and community. And yes, this includes unfettered freedom of expression and the abolishment of inevitably fuzzy and potentially oppressive notions of hate speech, not to mention so-called ‘blasphemy’.

    In the meantime, we would do well to remember that institutions like Charlie Hebdo, whatever we might think of their individual editorial decisions are the white blood cells of our societies, and that our minorities are essential to maintaining the oxygen levels of their vascular circulation. The events of 7 and 9 January and what has followed are stark indicators that we might be forgetting this. Increase the peace.

    The Week

    Writing extemporally what’s on my mind was kind of the point of these posts back when I was doing them regularly (i.e. almost weekly), so I guess that’s what I’ll do here for this brief resurfacing on my blog.

    It’s a new year, and as usual it holds promise while simultaneously carrying a lot of baggage with it. Just these first few days remind us that people are still dying on the beaches of Europe while an increasingly destructive civil was is going on in the Middle East, Sweden — my neighbouring country as I write this — is instating universal ID checks at the border for the first time in generations, costing the country millions and reminding us all of the profundity of the problem we’re facing in Europe. Oh, and so-called Islamic State has just released another piece of vile agitprop promising bloody murder in Britain, my country of residence. And so on.

    Yet, all of this seems strangely unreal to me, in the grip as I am — at least in unguarded moments — of a kind of apocalyptic paralysis. For obvious reasons 2015 was a stark reminder that climate change is almost certain to change the world as we know it over the course of the next generation. All the current problems are negligible in comparison to what’s on the horizon. COP21 arguably provided some cause for optimism, but it seems foolish fully to trust that we will be able to avert the cataclysm science tells us is coming to an extent that doesn’t profoundly upset life everywhere on Earth.

    We’re all good at repressing such emotions, but I still can’t quite chase a feeling of futility every time I see, say, a new construction project or ceasefire initiative, never mind the ephemeral things I myself spend my energy on. What remains is the knowledge that my children will almost certainly have to manage life in a world radically, violently different from ours, where most of these concerns will be forgotten.

    Nothing particularly enlightening about that, I know. Futile venting, I know. What’s the use?

    For what it’s worth, here are some links:

  • Because I just read his excellent memoir, Between the World and Me, and was reminded of the horrifying Rosewood pogrom by this article, here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ classic essay “The Case for Reparations.”
  • Naoki Urasawa and Hisashi Eguchi about 70s and 80s manga. Interesting discussion, not least about Katsuhiro Otomo, the president at the upcoming Angoulême festival.
  • Lastly, look at that giant squid and then read this. Good night, and good luck.

    Here I stand

    Hype: The Rotland Inquiry

    Ryan Standfest, publisher at the small-press (dark) humor operation Rotland Press, recently put out the first issue of the Rotland Inquiry, which focuses on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris murders and their aftermath. Standfest has assembled an impressive range of cartoonists, critics and historians who present a variety of viewpoints and thoughts and images on the subject.

    The roll call sounds: Stéphane Blanquet, Hugleikur Dagsson, D.B. Dowd, Mort Gerberg, Jeet Heer, Danny Hellman, David Hughes, Paul Krassner, Mark McKinney, Tony Millionaire, Leigh Phillips, Martin Rowson, Johnny Sampson, Mahendra Singh, Art Spiegelman, and um, me. I’m in there with an edited and slightly updated version of one of the pieces I wrote for The Comics Journal back in January.

    I’m proud to be in the publication and encourage you to seek it out. It’s well worth it, whatever you think of my contribution.

    More on the publication and Rotland Press from contributor D. B. Dowd here and here.

    Remembering Malcolm X

    Copenhagen Now

    It feels – crushingly – like it was inevitable. Before, Copenhagen felt like it was somehow exempt from this kind of barbarism. That was an illusion, of course, but this is still a rude awakening.

    That’s an image of the presumed target of the attack, Lars Vilk’s masterwork Nimis, the flotsam city on the edge of Kullen, in southern Sweden.

    Angoulême 2015 at the Comics Journal

    As mentioned a few weeks back, I was once again covering the Angoulême comics festival for The Comics Journal this year. It as a strange, beautiful and slightly oppressive experience being there, three weeks after the Paris killings. This dominates my reports, I’m afraid, but tune in also for views on artists as diverse as Bill Watterson, Alex Barbier, and Taniguchi Jiro, and for thoughts on French comics right now, the state of the Angoulême festival, and the award winners. Onsite reportage parts one and two plus the usual more in-depth aftermath analysis.

    Charlie Hebdo and Paris: Post-Mortem

    It’s been up for a few days now, but I just wanted to note that part two of my examination of Charlie Hebdo and the significance of the murders in Paris is online at The Comics Journal. Part one is here.

    Charlie Hebdo at The Comics Journal

    I recently published a review of the latest, 7 million print run-issue of Charlie Hebdo over at The Comics Journal. I have a second article, which delves further into the contentious and complicated issues surrounding the massacre, the cartoons and journalism of the magazine, and a bit of everything else, so stay tuned.

    Charlie Hebdo anmeldt i Information

    I dagens udgave af Information kan man læse min anmeldelse af ugens med spænding ventede nummer af Charlie Hebdo med den bemærkelsesværdige forside ovenfor. Jeg skrev teksten til en meget stram deadline, så bær over med den lidt stakåndede præsentation, den manglende reflektion og en lidt brutal redigering. Jeg håber at skrive noget mere dybdegående snart.