One of Denmark’s fiercest advocates of freedom of the press during the 2006 Muhammad cartoon controversy is urging The Guardian to withdraw a satirical sketch that depicts Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen as a Nazi.
"I don’t think it’s fair," Pia Kjaersgaard told TV2. "They ought to withdraw it."
Kjaersgaard, who is Denmark’s speaker of parliament, vocally defended Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, after its cartoons of the Prophet provoked protests and boycotts in the Middle East, fueling debates about self-censorship and the right to offend among the global intelligentsia.
The Steve Bell cartoon, which was published by The Guardian on Tuesday, shows Rasmussen with a swastika-like armband, saying: "It’s offensive to compare us to the Nazis." The sketch also alludes to well-known Danish brands, including Lego and Carlsberg.
The Guardian described the cartoon as “a commentary on the Danish parliament’s decision to approve a plan to seize assets from refugees and is intended to be viewed in this context,” in an e-mail to Bloomberg sent by the newspaper’s press office.
The cartoon was inspired by a Danish law that allows officials to confiscate valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,463) from asylum seekers. The Washington Post was among the first newspapers to liken the law to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews during World War II.
Denmark’s government is now trying to repair the damage done to its reputation as a result of international reporting on the asylum law. The Confederation of Danish Industry sent out a public plea on Thursday urging the country’s politicians to correct the misunderstandings that have led some media to, in its words, “cross the line.”
Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen told Bloomberg that “obviously, there have been some newspaper stories that we’d rather have been spared.” Denmark wants to “get across the story that we’re not the first country to have a rule of paying to stay. More and more countries are imposing the same demands on their asylum seekers.” The government “has been engaged in public diplomacy for weeks to sort out all the misperceptions,” he said.
Denmark’s immigration law doesn’t permit the confiscation of personal items such as jewelry or mobile phones from asylum seekers, contrary to the impression given in some media reports. The United Nations Refugee Agency singled out a different corner of the legislation for criticism, namely, a clause that means refugee families can be kept apart for up to three years, compared with the previous maximum limit of one year.
Whether accurate or not, since the media storm hit, Danes have started to question their immigration policies. A poll published by the Politiken newspaper and broadcaster TV2 on Friday showed Denmark’s ruling bloc would lose an election held today, with just 48.3 percent support. What’s more, the poll showed that a group of pro-immigration parties all saw their popularity increase.
Kjaersgaard was a member of the Progress Party before co-founding the Danish People’s Party, which has been lending its parliamentary support to right-of-center governments since 2001. Despite never joining a cabinet, the party has played a key role in shaping Danish politics.
In a 2006 Constitution Day speech, she lambasted reactions by Middle Eastern governments to the Muhammad cartoons: "Their power stands or falls with whether they can effectively suppress intellectual freedom and freedom of opinion in their own people."
The cartoons were described by then Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as one of the biggest public relations disasters in Danish history.
"There’s a huge difference," Kjaersgaard said, when asked by TV2 whether her stance on the Steve Bell cartoon might not clash with her views during the 2006 controversy. "This is about a Danish law which has been hyped up and misunderstood.”
"I don’t plan to burn any embassies or join a rally at the British embassy or stomp on their flag.”