Norwegian man arrested for Oslo bombing and Utøya shootings

One of the first reactions to the terrible incident in Norway I came across was by a Facebook friend and acquitance of my wife’s. Without any shred of evidence, he blamed “the bastard sons of Muhammad” for the attacks,which were supposedly revenge for the Danish cartoons reprinted in Norway in 2006. The man is a prominent broadcast journalist in his country. The gut reaction in Europe today is to blame Muslims, just like Jews were cast as scapegoats before 1945.

At 22:32 local time tonight, NRK announced that a man had been arrested and charged with both the bombing in central Oslo and the shootings at Utøya. He is a 32 year old Norwegian man and does not seem to be a Muslim.

As tends to happen in situations like this, people jumped to the (in this case mistaken) conclusion that Islamists were behind the atrocity. The news media quickly find some “analyst” or other, usually strong on opinion and links with government and weak on intellectual substance. Those who are knowledgeable, understanding and argue responsibly are rarely heard. Earlier in the evening, an expert on Norwegian TV cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions but  added that such coordinated attacks bore the hallmark of Al Qaeda. People are said to have carried anti-Al Qaeda placards in central Oslo hours after the events. According to NRK, there are “many reports that Muslims are being harrassed on the streets of Oslo.” A man is alleged to have been dragged off a bus and beaten up. (

The religion or lack of religion of the person who detonated the bomb and pulled the trigger makes no difference to the parents of the young people shot. But sadly, the Islamophobic current in Europe and North America is so strong that it seems very difficult to swim against it. As soon as some atrocity is committed, journalists and supposed experts point their fingers at Muslims. Now that it turns out the suspect is a Norwegian, we are unlikely to hear pundits pontificate about the essential Viking savagery and bloodthirst of the Scandinavians. Nobody will commit the same category error they commit when somebody claiming to act in the name of Islam carries out an act of violence.

The reaction by my wife’s friend was extremely irresponsible and borders on hate-speech. He may have been writing in a private capacity on Facebook, but because he is a well-known broadcaster he reaches many people and should exercise more caution. Even more irresponsible was the New York Times’ decision to print the suggestion by Will McCants, an American security ”intellectual” with apparently strong links to the Norwegian military, that a specific Islamist group was behind the attacks. This was repeated by the Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent in the UK. The Independent have substantially rewritten their report ( since the evening of the 22nd July. After I posted a comment on it, they have also disabled comments. The previous version of the article made a telling but disturbing link between race, ideology and religion. It said that the physical appearance of the man arrested indicated that he was a right-wing extremist rather than a Muslim. There are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant chauvinist groups on the right whose members have brown skin like Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. There are also tall, blond Norwegian Muslims, although Anders Behring Breivik does not seem to be one. People with different physical traits can and do belong to all kinds of religions and ideologies. Religion and ideology do not change a person’s body, nor do skin and hair colour determine a person’s beliefs. If a bomb had gone off in a Protestant neighbourhood of Belfast, would journalists say that a Catholic-looking man was seen in the vicinity? Probably not, because the idea of typically Catholic physical features is absurd. Yet such absurdities are conventional wisdom when there is a suspicion, however unfounded, that Islam is involved. Like its closest relative, Christianity, Islam is a universalistic creed with believers of all races and political persuasions.

The initial media coverage of these tragic events tells us a lot about the world we live in. It is the same world that gave rise to National Socialism, the Khmer Rouge and the Interahamwe. Not much has changed since the 1930s. The tendency to stereotype and scapegoat ethnic and religious minorities is the same as it was before Auschwitz. Just like anti-semitism was once respectable mainstream opinion, today Islamophobia is. As has been from Hitler and Goebbels to Radio Milles Collines, the modern mass media play a key role in reflecting and shaping popular opinion. During the Rwandan genocide, hate radio mobilised the perpetrators to action. If instead of immediately assuming that “it was the Muslims who dunnit” and speculating about cartoons, Afghanistan and Libya, the Norwegian and international media had reported differently, maybe two young women at Grønland and a man on an Oslo bus would not have been harmed. And if, instead of a supposedly non-Muslim Norwegian, a Norwegian or foreign Muslim suspect had been arrested, we would perhaps have seen pogroms on a larger scale. We do things when we use words, and we all have a responsibility to not harm our fellow human beings through language. This is true for all but particularly for journalists and the supposed intellectual authorities the media give voice to

The following is a very quick translation of an article published on the website of NRK, the Norwegian public service broadcaster, at 22:43 CET (

The arrested person is Norwegian

The man who has been arrested after the shooting at Utøya is Norwegian, says Storberget. Witnesses NRK have spoken with say the man is tall, blond and spoke Østland dialect.

– The offender is Norwegian. He has been charged with what has happened at Utøya, says Justice Minister Knut Storberget.

A total of at least 17 people have been killed after attacks on the government quarter in Oslo and the Labour Party youth camp on Utøya Island outside Oslo. According to the police, the death toll will rise.

Police confirmed that the same offender is behind both attacks.

– The arrested man is 32 years old, and he is an ethnic Norwegian, says police chief Sveinung Sponheim in Oslo.

Unknown if more are involved

According to witnesses NRK have spoken with, the man is tall, blond and spoke Østland dialect.

– It is imperative to create security, but not least, to find the perpetrators and the person or persons responsible, says Storberget.

The Justice Minister will neither confirm nor deny whether the man is known to the police.

– I am not aware that any threats have been made prior to this attack, he continued.

The Justice Minister stresses that the police do not know whether the man acted on his own or whether more people were involved in the attack.

– You will not destroy us

– Today Norway has been hit by two cowardly and bloody attacks. We do not know who is behind them, said Stoltenberg.

– This is a very taxing evening. The days ahead will be even harder.We share the suffering of the wounded, and we sympathise with their relatives. I have a message to those who attacked us: You will not destroy us

At least 17 killed

A fake policeman is said to have been seen at both crime scenes.

Police say the perpetrator arrested at Utøya can be linked to both the attack on government buildings and the shooting drama at Utøya.

Earlier this evening, police arrested one man, but it is unknown whether more perpetrators are involved.

– The person was dressed as a policeman when he arrived to the island, regional police information chief in Nordre Buskerud, Bjørn Erik Sem-Jacobsen, told NRK.

Eskimo Avenue: Pejorative Arctic ethnonyms as the final frontier of racism?

Kenn Nakata Steffensen


At the recent Media for All Conference in London I came across a stall marketing a new division of the subtitling company Broadcast Text International. The rather unfortunate name they have chosen is Eskimo Avenue. It could not have been named Paki Street or Nigger Lane, but it seems that Eskimo Avenue does not raise many eyebrows in our day and age. In the company’s own words:

Eskimo Avenue is a Nordic dubbing company within the home entertainment industry.

We localise cartoons, films, games and TV shows into Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish.

If you demand excellence throughout the whole chain, from translation to the 5.1. master – welcome to Eskimo Avenue.


Ironically, some translational excellence seems to be missing somewhere in the chain. The name is highly inappropriate, even offensive to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. Using the word “Eskimo” is a serious branding error and a manifestation of, probably unthinking, racism. It is all the more surprising because both the parent company and Eskimo Avenue pride themselves on the quality of their translation work. Cross-cultural branding is, in the broad sense, about translation. A brand transmits meanings between different cultures. As an exercise in translation, this is a failure. As I have argued elsewhere (Steffensen 2011, forthcoming), what Charles Taylor terms misrecognition is a serious problem in the media’s representation of subaltern ethnicities, and in this case in branding:

A person or a group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back a demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being (Taylor 1997: 98).

The term “Eskimo” refers collectively to the Yupik and Inuit peoples of the circumpolar Arctic. Specialists disagree on its exact etymology and whether it was originally a pejorative term or not. What they do agree on is that it originates in more southerly North American languages. That is to say that it was an externally ascribed ethnonym. The people labelled as “Eskimo” never adopted it and, more importantly, take objection to it as mirroring back “a demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves.” Unlike some other externally ascribed names for marginalised and oppressed social groups, like “queer” or to some extent “nigger”, “Eskimo” has never been appropriated and resignified by the stateless nations it lumps together and demeans. That is what matters in this case. Whether it originally meant “those who lace snowshoes” or “eaters of raw meat” and whether it came from Cree or Algonquin is irrelevant to its contemporary meaning in political discourse. Over the last 40 years or longer, the “Eskimo” in Canada and Danish-occupied Greenland have asked the wider world to stop using the word. They do not identify as “Eskimo” and prefer other designations (Kalaalit, Inuit, Inupiak, Yupik, Naukan and others) that do not have the negative connotations associated with centuries of colonisation and racism.

Eskimo Avenue
Eskimo Avenue Logo

It is well known that the Inuit and Yupik resent being called by this name. One does not have to be a specialist in Arctic affairs to know this. It is common knowledge to most generally informed Westerners. It is therefore nothing less than scandalous for a company whose business is to transmit meanings between cultures and languages to engage in such racist name-calling. The fact that it is discursively possible to launch a company called Eskimo Avenue apparently without further thought provides some insight into the status of the Arctic and its population in the contemporary world. As I argued in an earlier post on this blog, the Arctic tends to be constituted in policy and academic discourse as nature rather than culture (Steffensen 2009). Its human inhabitants and their cultures are systematically erased, as can be seen and heard at policy and academic conferences about the region. It is conceived of as a tabula rasa for states and corporations ruled and managed by Asians, Europeans or their diasporic descendants to act on and in to further their own national, corporate or putatively universal (in the case of climate change) political and economic interests. The Arctic is seen as a zone of climate change, military rivalry, transit and economic exploitation, but rarely as somewhere where “real” people of equal worth and dignity live and die. Or, as Kuupik Kleist put it at the Arctic Council summit in May this year:

Although the focus on the natural sciences absolutely makes sense for our political way of thinking and strategic planning, it is also important to consider what we who depend on the conditions in the Arctic consider the most important aspect. The Arctic is not only about polar bears and ice. What is most often absent from discussions is the human situation in the Arctic and our living conditions. (Quoted in Sermitsiaq, 13th May 2011, my translation)

What the inhabitants of the Arctic consider “the most important aspect” is the human factor, which the outside world tends to prioritise lower than fishing, shipping, mineral and fossil fuel extraction, global climate change and military security. What Broadcast Text/Eskimo Avenue are doing lies in continuation of a long tradition of dehumanising non-Western peoples and using racism to justify political and economic domination. In this Western optic, the Arctic is a vast space to be exploited, and its inhabitants “wholly crude and barbarous peoples such as the Eskimos.” (1988: 229) Continuing on a Hegelian note, it is “is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit.” (Hegel 1956: 99) Whatever history takes place in that part of the world, such as the new global warming-fuelled geopolitical and economic “great game” unfolding between the Arctic powers is thought not to include the region’s human inhabitants. They and their aspirations for self-determination, equality and liberty are either overlooked or considered so insignificant as to be fair game for stereotyping and misrepresentation in advertising and marketing. The Arctic remains incompletely decolonised and there are no politically powerful diasporas of Arctic peoples. These are the conditions of possibility for naming a business Eskimo Avenue. The people insulted are far away and matter very little. Usually, the subaltern does not speak back (Spivak 1994). One can better understand that companies and products may have contained a pejorative name some 50 years or more ago, but it is utterly indefensible in 2011. One therefore hopes that the Qallunaat at Broadcast Text International take note and reconsider their branding in their own interest and as a gesture of respect to the Arctic nations.


Eskimo Avenue website

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 1956 The Philosophy of History. New York: Dover, 1956

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 1988 Lectures on the philosophy of religion: The lectures of 1827. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988

Sermitsiaq 13th May 2011

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty “Can the Subaltern Speak?” pp. 66-111 in Williams, Patrick & Laura Chrisman (eds.) Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory: A Reader. New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1994

Steffensen, Kenn Nakata 2009 “Arctic science, Arctic policy and Acrtic politics: A tale of different lifeworlds”

Steffensen, Kenn Nakata 2011 “BBC English with an accent: “African” and “Asian” accents and the translation of culture in British Broadcasting. Thematic issue on “Ideology and manipulation in audiovisual translation”. Meta: Journal of Translation 2011, edited by Jorge Diaz Cintas and Aline Remael

Taylor, Charles “The politics of recognition”, pp. 98-130 in Heble, Ajay, Donna Palmateer Pennee & JR (Tim) Struthers (eds.) New contexts of Canadian criticism. Peterborough: Broadway Press, 1997

Defending Denmark’s borders and its international reputation: Mutually exclusive messages in two languages

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

The Danish government’s recent decision to impose border controls in possible violation of its Schengen Treaty obligations has caused concern among the country’s EU partners, its immediate neighbours Sweden and Germany in particular. The apparent intention to permanently reintroduce border controls (unlike France’s temporary closure earlier this year) has cast the EU’s flagship accomplishment of free mobility into crisis. Both the common currency and free mobility are now under threat, perhaps teaching us that it is Hobbes and Machiavelli rather than Kant we should turn to in order to understand the regional dynamics in Western Europe in the past and present.

The way the policy change was announced in Danish and English further substantiate some points I have previously made about the political use of language and manipulative translation practices in Danish foreign policy and international relations in general. In an article published in 2009, I argued and documented that the Danish state systematically misrepresents the legal and political character of its sovereignty over its North Atlantic territories when projecting its international identity in the English language (Steffensen 2009). The way this takes place is principally by means of translation practices, which resignify Danish legal/political concepts by appropriating a mostly British conceptual vocabulary for strategic purposes. The political objective and effect is to render the colonial nature of the relationship between the metropole and its overseas territories more palatable to international opinion. The efforts are by and large successful, and the Danish state is able to maintain a separation between the “private”, domestic, truth expressed in Danish and an external “public” image as a model liberal internationalist state, and certainly not a significant colonial power.

This is similar to the Japanese dyad of honne本音and tatemae建前. Honne refers to a person’s sincere feelings and tatemae to socially necessary public manifestations. The two can be in conflict, and this does not necessarily pose the same problem in Japanese ethics as in the monotheistic “truth is one, error is many” traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (See Williams 1996; Gray, Doi 1973). One could argue that Denmark’s recent contradictory messages in Danish and English reflect a conflict between domestic honne and international tatemae caused by its giri (social obligations). The related concepts of omote 面 and ura 面 can also be applied to understand the two tongues Denmark seems to be speaking with. There is an international facade and another side that is hidden from view.

What is remarkable about the announcements of the closing of Denmark’s borders is that two different statements were issued in Danish and English. Where the cases I examined in 2009 were examples of tendentious translation from Danish, and where a foreign-language announcement is usually a translation of a native source text, the English press release ( is a completely different text from the official Danish-language document ( Issuing two statements with very different messages for domestic and international consumption is a step further than manipulatively translating texts and selectively failing to translate others.

The first difference that strikes any reader who knows both Danish and English is the titles. The English text is neutrally entitled “The Danish agreement on customs control.” The much stronger worded Danish title is “Permanent customs control in Denmark (enhanced border control)”. In Danish, the government wishes to signal that the measures are of a permanent nature and that border controls will be strengthened.

According to the Danish text, the main objective of the new border policy is to prevent foreign criminals and irregular economic migrants from getting to Denmark:

 There has in recent years been a marked increase in cross-border crime in Denmark. This is not least the case for crimes of enrichment committed by foreign gangs, the smuggling in and out of drugs, weapons, people and large sums of money as well as avoidance of Danish tax through the use of foreign labour.

 The Government, the Danish People’s Party and Christian Democrats agree that this trend must be curbed and that it must be done through a heavy build-up and permanent and visible controls at the Danish border crossings.

The English text, on the other hand, states that the policyaims first and foremost at enhancing customs control and implies increased controls in relation to the smuggling into Denmark of mainly goods and items.” The Danish text emphasises the need to prevent certain people from entering the country, not “mainly goods and items.” Where the visibility and permanence of the projected border facilities are stressed in Danish, this is played down in English to mean that “construction of proper facilities will help create better conditions for both travellers, road-users and the customs officers.” The new installations are only permanent “in the sense that the new customs control buildings will be permanent and the allocation of new resources will also be of a permanent nature.”

The English document omits the Danish document’s emphasis on stopping “people-smuggling” and “foreign gangs.” It says that:


It also is important to bear in mind that the agreement in no way implies that the police will carry out checks on individuals at the Danish border, just as there is no question of introducing passport control in relation to the other Schengen States.

The general tone is also very different. The Danish text presents a picture of necessary defensive measures to protect a vulnerable country from external threats. It uses the military metaphor of an arms build-up (oprustning). Denmark is discursively constructed as being under threat and the rhetoric maximises the threats from outside. The main thrust of the English text is to minimise the threat Denmark’s actions poses to the outside world. There seems to be an implicit recognition that the new measures are perceived as aggressive, so the purpose is to avoid misunderstanding by presenting the policy as moderate and harmless by the frequent use of reassuring words and phrases like “however, this does not mean”, “important to bear in mind”, “in no way implies” etc.:

The agreement also implies a strengthening of policing in order to enable the Danish police to act upon specific requests from customs officers. However, this does not mean that the Danish police will be permanently present at the border.

It is clear that the two press releases present two different and logically incompatible pictures of the reasons behind and the purpose of the policy. The Danish public are told that their government is protecting them from the dangerous “outside”. It is fulfilling its obligation of providing security, law and order, and this means controlling the flow of people and illicit substances/objects across the borders of the realm. It is presented as a defensive measure. There is no reference to EU and international obligations. The world outside Denmark is reassured that the government is not threatening the free mobility of people because the objective is to prevent smuggling. The Danish government says to its domestic constituency that it is defending the realm while trying to defend Denmark’s international reputation in English.

The two press releases can be read here:

The following is my translation of the Danish text. It is unofficial, but judging from what I have seen from Danish ministerial translators in the past, it is almost certainly far more accurate (See Steffensen 2009).

Permanent customs controls in Denmark (enhanced border controls)

There has in recent years been a marked increase in cross-border crime in Denmark. This is not least the case for crimes of enrichment committed by foreign gangs, the smuggling in and out of drugs, weapons, people and large sums of money as well as avoidance of Danish tax through the use of foreign labour.

The Government, the Danish People’s Party and Christian Democrats agree that this trend must be curbed and that it must be done through a heavy build-up and permanent and visible controls at the Danish border crossings.

This is to be ensured by substantial investment in new control facilities, significantly more customs officers, extensive video surveillance of cars that cross the Danish borders, and rapid assistance from police if customs officers discover crime.

The enhanced controls are to take place at all Danish border crossings. This means a permanent presence at the Danish-German land border, the Øresund link, Danish ferry ports and airports as well as the Danish waters, see below.

The Government, the Danish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats agree to allocate a budget of up to 150 million kroner for investment in new, visible, control facilities and new IT equipment etc, as well as a frame of up to 35 million kroner in 2011, rising to up to 119 million kroner in 2015 for more customs officers and an enhanced police deployment etc.

Derived income is also expected from the enhanced deployment.

The Government, the Danish People’s Party and the Christian Democrats will follow up on implementation of the enhanced control efforts, with a particular focus on the progress and impact of each initiative. The enhanced deployment will contribute significantly to exposing and curbing illegal activities at the Danish borders, see box 1 below.


Doi, Takeo Omote to ura. Tokyo: Kobundo, 1973

Gray, John Heresies: Against progress and other illusions. London: Granta, 2004

Steffensen, Kenn Nakata “Denmark’s invisible empire: The politics of translating the Danish constitutional order”. in Epstein, Brett J. (ed.) Northern lights: Translation in the Nordic countries. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009

Williams, David Japan and the enemies of open political science. London: Routledge, 1995

True Democracy Now in Cork: Some questions and comments from a sympathetic observer

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

I have followed in the news media what is happening in Spain and the support it has engendered around the world, including here in Cork. It is interesting and potentially politically transformative. It is inspiring to see people peacefully protesting against injustices. Hopefully, something better than what has existed until now will come out of it. However, the text on “global revolution” you have uploaded strikes me as not quite in the spirit of the True Democracy Now Manifesto, and I suspect that it may work against rather than for the movement. Having read the two texts, it looks to me like True Democracy Now Cork may be going in a different and less productive direction than the Spanish True Democracy Now movement.

These comments and questions are from the perspective of a sympathetic observer watching your movement unfold from the sidelines and wishing you success. One reason why I can only remain an observer and not a participant is the doubts raised by the text you uploaded to I do not have as direct a stake in the political development of Spain as most of you, but I hope the search for alternative democratic forms of organisation will have some success there and inspire change in other countries.

You write that

 Today May 21th, all the anonimous children and grandchildren of those who lived in such a dark period of history, have not forgotten the dark shadow that were their lives. They have raised and educated a generation that can see the light, a generation based on solidarity and equality.

Which dark period of history are you referring to? The global economic crisis of recent years? The Spanish Civil War? The Franco dictatorship? It is not clear. It seems that certain historical memories have been transmitted to the “anonymous children and grandchildren” of previous generations, but I cannot work out which “dark period” is being remembered.

I also do not understand what it means for a generation to be “based on solidarity and equality.” If so, when did this apparently momentous social change take place? And how? Was there no solidarity at some point in the recent past? Was equality not a key political value since quite some time before the French Revolution? I think you mean that young people today value solidarity and equality higher than their parents and grandparents. I am not convinced. These values can be found throughout history and across generations.

You also seem to be claiming that May 2011 is somehow like May 1968 in Paris, i.e. primarily a student/youth rebellion. When you speak of “a generation that can see the light” you also seem to imply that one generation has particular insights that older generations lack. I believe this is both factually wrong and a tactical mistake. While it may be true that the movement in Spain is mostly made up of young people, who have suffered relatively more hardship as a result of the economic crisis than other age groups, I do not believe that this is a generational struggle. If it is, it has little prospects of success, especially in a country with the demographic structure that Spain has. Like most of Western Europe, Spain has a rapidly ageing population, and if any movement wants to succeed it should not claim only or primarily to represent young people or appeal exclusively to them. They are already on your side, as are many older people whom you should (1) Take care not to alienate and (2) Mobilise more of. The conflict is really one between political and economic elites and masses who feel that the political system fails to represent their interests adequately and that they are picking up the bill for the excesses of the business, particularly financial, elite. You should therefore not turn it into a conflict between generations, especially because you need middle-aged and elderly people on your side for the simple reasons that there are numerically more of them and they have more power than younger people. Defining the struggle as one between generations does not help the cause.

The sentence “Each one of us have a new world within ourselves and in our hearts, and there is enough anger and happiness to make a real change” may sound good as a piece of rhetoric, but does it work as politics? While emotions like anger and happiness may ultimately be what spurs people to political action, there is little hard political substance to such statements. The point is to channel those emotions and go beyond feeling indignation to effecting real change. That cannot be achieved just by “keeping going”. Activism for its own sake is like a headless chicken, and it leads nowhere. There must be specific and realistic objectives, and dismantling “the capitalist system” is too vague and romantic. It is an abstraction and distraction from more attainable goals. Keep it more modest, please. Global capitalism is a reality your movement has to deal with, and it won’t go away that easily. Apart from being analytically naïve, using rhetoric like that of dismantling capitalism is sure to alienate the majority of people who are on your side and it will win you few supporters, and certainly not the type you need to have maximum impact. It is therefore a major tactical blunder. Besides, the contradictions of capitalism are not between generations but between classes, if you are attempting some form of Marxian analysis. Young people belong to all socio-economic classes and a generation can therefore, in a Marxian sense, not be a revolutionary subject. I think you should avoid sounding Marxist, but if you do, make sure it makes analytical sense.

As I have understood it, the objectives of the Spanish movement and your local offshoot are still somewhat vague and fuelled by a sense of distance between the ordinary citizen and the main channels of representation in the Spanish political system: Elected assemblies, political parties, trade unions and the like. The grievances being voiced by the movement are, as far as I am aware, to do with corruption, a two-party dominant electoral system, mass unemployment among young people in particular but also across generations, and socially unjust austerity measures. These are the issues you should be addressing. If you speak in flowery terms about representing an especially enlightened generation that demands and wants “it all and wants it now” and claim that this dwindling demographic is on the verge of overturning capitalism on a global scale, you will be seriously disappointed. If, on the other hand, you can keep the momentum going and more tangible and realistic objectives come out of the process, you have a chance making a real difference in Spain and beyond. As I understand the Manifesto, it is a call for a substantive democracy rather than a merely procedural one.

The first objective should be to try broaden the coalition of social forces behind the movement. Real democracy now should not mean “angry young people against capitalism” but something more like “the people against corruption and for social justice.” You should choose your words much more wisely than you have done in this text. The more specific demands should aggregate and channel the sense of dissatisfaction mentioned above, i.e. the introduction of more effective measures against corruption, electoral reform to more accurately represent the views of the voting population, policy measures to generate employment opportunities for younger Spanish workers in particular, and social welfare measures like adequate pensions and unemployment benefits, a moratorium on mortgage and utility bill arrears etc.

Revolutions are turbulent and unpredictable, and only history will tell if this is a truly revolutionary upheaval like the great 18th, 19th and 20th century revolutions. I think there are also cautionary lessons to be learnt from the history of revolutions. They have often degenerated into terror, been manipulated by small but disciplined groups, and frustrated the hopes of the initial revolutionaries.

There is an opportunity to make history and improve things for the better, but only if you are more inclusive, more modest and realistic.

Michael Mumisa takes aim at Satoshi Kanazawa and shoots himself in the foot

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

Today is the first time I have come across the works of Sheikh Michael Mumisa of Cambridge and Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics. One is a South African Quranic scholar and Ph.D. candidate in literature, the other a Japanese evolutionary psychologist and reader in management. Both are of non-European origin but think remarkably like each other, it seems. Mumisa’s discussion of the problems he sees in Kanazawa’s work come across as not substantially different from what he criticises. The irony is that these two non-Westerners both subscribe to an Enlightenment view of history as progress and of a moral hierarchy between racial (Kanazawa) or ethnic groups (Mumisa). Both are, as far as I can see, profoundly European, even Anglo-American, thinkers. It is a silly family quarrel between an African and an Asian son of the enlightenment, and Mumisa’s attack on Kanazawa leads nowhere because their reasoning is very similar.

Michael Mumisa asks his readers “Why does LSE academic Satoshi Kanazawa seem to hate women and black people?” The answer he gives is just as disturbing as Dr. Kanazawa’s apparent racism and misogyny. Mumisa’s answer in short seems to be “because he is Japanese.” The argument can be summarised as:

1.A tacit taken for granted assumption that racism and sexism are evil. This is so obvious that Mumisa does not need to spell it out.
2.The evil Japanese are more racist and sexist than other people.
3.Satoshi Kanazawa is Japanese and therefore a racist and sexist.

Being Japanese supposedly makes him more susceptible to the errors of evolutionary psychology than bearers of other cultural traditions. Ironically, Mumisa thus seems to be guilty of exactly what he accuses Kanazawa of – racism wrapped up in a dubious underlying philosophy of history as evolution or moral progress.

Like I presume Mr. Mumisa does, I take for granted that most people who read this value rational argument and fairness and therefore oppose racism and sexism as irrational and unethical doctrines. To claim that one is a racist and sexist is beyond the pale of contemporary public discourse. I also agree with Mumisa that the pseudo-scientific views attributed to Satoshi Kanazawa are reprehensible and that evolutionary psychology is “a pernicious political ideology which masquerades as science.” There is, however, a curious imbalance and self-undermining logical flaw in Mr. Mumisa’s short article.

It takes the author a long time to get to what should be the point – the intellectually and ethically problematic status of Dr. Kanazawa’s statement that “Black women are objectively less attractive than non-Black women” and especially how this relates to his theoretical views on humanity and society. Just over half of the article (383 out of 758 words) discusses the problem of pervasive racism in modern Japanese culture and its historical roots. This is highly relevant in the analysis of Japanese culture and politics, but the question is how relevant it is to the case at hand – Satoshi Kanazawa’s views on race and gender.

Mumisa is right that racial stereotyping and discrimination are widespread in Japan and partly right that some of the sources, or perhaps amplifiers, have historically been Social Darwinism and the white supremacism of European-American imperial ideology. But his account neglects the indigenous sources of racism in Japanese and wider East Asian traditions of thought, where Shinto notions of purity and pollution, the divine origins of the Japanese nation and Confucian notions of hierarchy play an important part. Besides the originally British doctrines of Social Darwinism and utilitarianism, another equally if not more important element in the 19th century Japanese re-encounter with Western thought was German romanticism. But the assimilation of “blood and soil” national romanticism was possible because of cultural conditions favourable to its reception. Japan is not some tabula rasa onto which Western ideas are transcribed and exist in an unchanged form. It is made up of thinking people with a dynamic culture of their own.

What is missing from Mumisa’s treatment of racism in modern Japanese culture is any sense of its indigenous roots and of Japanese historical agency. The reader is left with the impression that the Japanese “aped” Western Social Darwinism, which is precisely the general Western stereotype of East Asians and the Japanese in particular. When we are told that “the ideas advanced by Social Darwinism and eugenics remain influential today in Japanese intellectual life and popular culture”, the silent referent is contemporary Britain or the generalised West, against which Japan is compared unfavourably. Japan may have been late in revoking its last piece of eugenic legislation, but only some 20 years later than Sweden, which is generally held up as the paradigm case of enlightened, progressive European modernity. Mumisa seems to be suggesting that Japan is stuck in backward 19th century modes of thinking, which more enlightened parts of the world have evolved beyond! By saying that the ideas he disapproves of “remain influential” he is portraying Japan as relatively backward and morally inferior. It would seem that the ghosts of Darwin, Hegel and Marx haunt the author too.

The first half of Mumisa’s text sets the stage for the denunciation of Kanazawa and evolutionary psychology that follows. He builds up a picture of Japan as somehow more racist than a silent and idealised referent, the West/Britain. The extent of the socio-political phenomenon we call racism is empirically difficult to compare, as there are both quantitative and qualitative aspects to it.1 Racism in Japan manifests itself differently and is often not recognised as such by its perpetrators. There is a general tendency to think of it exclusively as racism against the Japanese and a failure to think of Japanese racism against others. My impression as a Japanese-European who grew up in Africa is that racism is more pervasive in Japan than in the UK or US but no more so than in countries like Denmark, Israel, the Netherlands or France.

It is also curious that Mumisa mentions Emobile’s Obama monkey ad, as the decision to withdraw it can be seen as an illustration that racism is considered unacceptable and that Japan is thus a much more “normal” and enlightened country than he makes it out to be. So Japanese companies are clearly receptive to foreign concerns about racism and deal with in a responsible manner. If we accept that the ad was racist, the response by the company does not support Mumisa’s argument.2 But it is questionable whether the ad in question was racist at all:

E-mobile has used this cute Japanese macaque as their mascot in commercials before this one (in the last one the monkey listened to headphones while using a PC), so it would be hard to claim that they just pulled this monkey out of nowhere so they could make a racist joke (this is not the same as Mandom’s ad). The monkey’s previous commercials had him acting like a human, so it was already established that E-mobile’s mascot is a cute monkey that mimics people. With this latest ad, they were probably trying to make a cute commercial that brings attention to the benefits of changing to E-mobile’s service, and a parody of Obama’s “Change” slogan was most likely included without a thought of race issues. I doubt that most Japanese people would even understand how a pink-faced grey monkey native to Japan could be equated to African people.3

A newspaper article does not leave enough room to discuss in depth the complexity of the Japan and racism problematic. But what Mumisa overlooks is that, even if they were accorded “honorary white” status in Apartheid-era South Africa, the Japanese are not white. Japan’s historical experience of racism is both as victims of European and American racism and as colonisers and perpetrators of racism against other Asians, especially Chinese and Koreans. The US had its “Oriental Exclusion Act”, interned its citizens of Japanese ancestry, and waged racist “war without mercy” against Japan, Korea and Vietnam. My own mother was denied a visa to Australia in the 1970s. The Japanese have been both victims and perpetrators of racism. Another aspect of this complexity, which Mumisa fails to mention is that in the late 19th and early 20th century, Japan was seen as a champion of the non-white world by some Indian and Burmese nationalists, anti-colonial liberation movements in the Malay world and Middle East and by elements of the movement for racial equality in the US. The first attempt to enshrine racial equality in international law was by the Japanese delegation to the Versailles Summit. Japan wanted the preamble to the League of Nations founding treaty to state that all races were equal, but this was blocked by the “white” powers. These are well-known historical facts, so one wonders why Mumisa paints a one-sided picture of a Japan that imports and imitates Western racism. Is it ignorance or a determination to misrepresent?

Japan is by no means unique in having its share of racists, but more importantly, Dr. Kanazawa is an individual with certain objectionable views. He happens to be Japanese, but he does not necessarily hold his views by virtue of his ethnicity. Yet this is what Mr. Mumisa claims when his text moves from an essentialist attack on Japanese culture as such to state that the individual Kanazawa represents Japanese racism:

Nowhere is this more evident than in Satoshi Kanawaza’s work at the London School of Economics where he has been reproducing and disseminating medieval and early modern Japanese views about blacks and women through the new medium of evolutionary psychology.

This is where Mumisa commits the category error of equating being Japanese with being a racist and misogynist. Kanazawa may be all three things, but is he a racist and misogynist because he is Japanese? And is this not itself a racist argument?

Another question is the “essential” Japaneseness of Dr. Kanazawa and the dubious theories he peddles. He is a reader in management at the London School of Economics. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Arizona in 1994 and has, as far as I have been able to establish, never held an academic position in Japan. Judging from his publication record, the “gateway drug” to his life of abusing harder, Darwinian, theory was rational choice theory and structural functionalist sociology. Along with the pioneer of sociobiology, Westermarck, Kanazawa proudly parades Talcott Parsons, Bronislaw Malinowski and Robert Merton as his intellectual grandfathers, his “father” being his Ph.D. supervisor Michael Hechter.4

Anybody familiar with Japanese intellectual history, and especially the social sciences in the 20th and 21st centuries, will know that it has mainly been Marxist and Weberian in orientation, sensitive to historical and cultural particularity and inherited a certain anti-positivist tendency from the mainly German intellectual currents it engaged most strongly with – Weber’s interpretive sociology, neo-Kantianism, Lukacsian historicist Marxism and the “fateful encounter” (Heidegger) with phenomenology and existentialism. Kanazawa is far from a typical Japanese social scientist, and this is underlined by the fact that he works abroad and publishes in English. Where the German and Japanese traditions have been idiographic in orientation, Kanazawa is much closer to contemporary Anglo-American and historically French (Destutt de Tracy, Comte among others) ambitions for a cumulative, unitary science of society and nature. As he is atypical of the Japanese social science profession, was educated and works outside Japan, the source of his views is more likely to be that he is one of “Helena’s cronies” (a colleague of the neo-Darwinist star Helena Cronin) rather than his Japanese ethnicity. The real problem is not Japan but positivism and neo-Darwinism in the social sciences, of which the LSE is the main propaganda centre.

To argue that he is “reproducing and disseminating medieval and early modern Japanese views” and to imply that he is a racist and misogynist because he conforms to Mumisa’s stereotype of what the Japanese are essentially like is mistaken. Dr. Kanazawa’s ideas are very British and represent one of the most influential streams in recent Anglophone thought, i.e. the re-application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to society and culture. Rather than waste half his article on showing how his Japanese culture makes Kanazawa a racist, Mumisa should have spent more energy on exactly why “the claims of evolutionary psychology rest on shaky empirical evidence, flawed premises, and unexamined political presuppositions.” By failing to pursue what is the real argument, and by arguing in the irresponsible way way he does, he undermines his own purpose. A person’s ideas are undoubtedly a product of historical circumstances. This goes for Kanazawa, Mumisa and myself. To understand and criticise a thinker must involve some consideration of the social and historical context, including culture and ethnicity. But one has to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant context. By emphasising Dr. Kanazawa’s Japanese ethnicity, explicitly misrepresenting Japanese culture and implicitly idealising the British culture that Kanazawa operates in, Mumia misses the point. I am not familiar with the rest of Mumia’s authorship, but just as there is very little of Japan in Kanazawa’s views, this article reflects an unthinking Eurocentrism and internalisation of the social evolutionism he opposes. There is little in it that seems to reflect South Africa or Islam, both of which are part of Mumisa’s biography. This is far from unusual. Like Dr. Kanazawa, he lives in Britain and works in one of that country’s elite universities. Intellectually, both are “brown sahibs”, and it is difficult not to be one in a post-colonial but still imperialist world. It may arguably be the Hegelian master-slave dialectic in operation.

Subtitling on BBC World Service Newshour 20th May 2010

There was a short item on subtitling on the World Service’s Newshour programme on 20th May 2010. Michael Brook of the BFI was interviewed.

Frankly, he does not seem to know much about the subtitling industry or the craft of subtitling. I will have a few words to say about it later, but I am too busy subtitling today.

For some reason or other, WordPress does not let me upload the audio file. In the meantime, you can listen to the interview here:

Cop-enhagen: Memories of the Danish police

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

Recent media reports of Danish police brutality brought back memories of my student days in “wonderful Cop-enhagen”. Some days ago, the police there arrested almost a thousand mostly peaceful and law-abiding marchers and were only able to charge a dozen with any offences. All had their hands tied and were held for four hours on a bitterly cold street and forced to wet themselves. Judging from reports in the British media, the brutality of the Danish police seems to have surprised some foreign journalists and climate activists. A lady from the Philippines was shocked that they were as bad as or worse than the police back home. I cannot say if they are better or worse than their Philippine counterparts, but it is my experience that they are far more prone to arbitrary and racially motivated harassment than London’s Metropolitan Police. Observing the streets of Copenhagen and those of London, they also generally seemed more brutal and intimidating. The expectation that the Danish police should be gentler than other police forces is testimony to the strong power of a false general image the country enjoys abroad. In spite of the mainstreaming of aggressive nationalism with racist overtones since the 2001 elections, the 2005 cartoon crisis, confrontation in the Arctic and an increasingly militaristic and pro-US foreign policy, the idea of Denmark as a small, liberal internationalist and internally egalitarian and democratic country remains strong. Parts of the successfully projected ideological myth are true, but this was never the whole story. There is democracy and egalitarianism, but the other side of this is a tyranny of the majority and intolerance of cultural diversity. Nationalism was always stronger and more arrogant and xenophobic than in many other parts of western Europe. As for imperialism, I argued in an article published earlier this year that Danish international relations discourse operates as a “cloaking device”, which mysteriously makes 97% of the state’s territory invisible in international relations. This huge land and sea mass is the still colonised remnant of a once even vaster Danish empire.*

When I lived in Copenhagen between 1989 and 1994 I was regularly stopped and questioned by the police for no apparent reason. The same happened to male Iranian exile acquaintances. My belief then and now is that it was a matter of race. Many police officers seemed to have the prejudice that young men with darker hair and pigmentation than the majority were all up to no good. They would therefore stop them, demand identification and check if the bicycle they were riding had not been reported stolen. It is of course ironic that the descendants of Vikings and Vandals should hold such views. Many policemen are from Vendsyssel in Jutland, which takes its name from the ancient Vandal tribe.

I was stopped by the police every few months, sometimes to verify the legal ownership of my bicycle, other times just to check ID. This did not happen to my “normal-looking” friends. One summer night outside my home in Oehlenschlægersgade I was threatened with a beating next time they came across me. I was guilty of nothing and completely sober coming back from the shop across the road. I may have been irritated and sounded condescending, but I was polite in my exchange with them. Another time I was stopped cycling down Tagensvej. Not only my identity but those of my immediate family were checked as was the ownership of my bicycle. I was also stopped on Frederiksberg Alle and Gammel Kongevej.

On another occasion I walked past what must have been a fight between two groups of teenagers – one “immigrant”, the other “Danish”. This was on the corner of Vesterbrogade and one of the streets leading towards Istedgade. A shop window was smashed, nobody seemed injured, and four or five youths in black bomber jackets fled the scene as the police arrived. Black jackets were the uniform of the racist gangs of the time. The police made no attempt to chase the young fascist-looking men but started questioning the others and took them away in their cars.

Outside Copenhagen I was sometimes stopped by police up to 25 kilometres from the Danish-German border. They drove in unmarked cars and seemed generally to approach foreign-looking pedestrians in border towns and villages by shouting at them in English. At night they shone powerful lights at you, and as they tended to drive in unmarked vehicles it was quite intimidating. You did not know before they shouted “Stop! Danish police!” that it was not some psychopathic killer in a Volvo. They often seemed disappointed that they had not caught an illegal migrant. Their response to being spoken to in “better” Danish than their own (more educated and middle class) was often hostility. A person who was not expected to speak Danish responding politely in a social dialect considered superior to their own may have been unsettling. Often the response to the unfamiliar and unclassifiable is aggression. Sadly, a racially “alien” person who neither speaks no Danish nor speaks with a foreign or working class accent seems to fall outside the sociological imagination of many Danish police officers. Ironically, there was probably fear on both sides because of their inability to deal with a person who fell outside their established categories. I was afraid of what they might do to me, and they were disturbed by and afraid of an unclassifiable stranger. In Britain, on the other hand, not many would be unsettled by a Gujarati or Jamaican who sounds no different from any other English lawyer or academic. It is a sad reflection of the state of Denmark and the intersections of race, ethnicity and class. Perhaps there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark” as Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously said.

My most frightening border encounter was not with the Danish but the German police. It made me feel “fear and trembling”. It happened in the spring of 1989. I was walking on a street in the centre of Flensburg, some six or seven kilometres from the border. I had arrived by train from Munich via Hamburg and was going to catch a bus to Sønderborg in Denmark. An unmarked burgundy Volkswagen van drove onto the pavement, a man jumped through the side door, grabbed me and dragged me inside. The back of the van was full of electronic equipment, and the man who lifted me off the street and the driver were wearing police uniforms. They asked for my passport, which they inspected. They asked where I was going, complimented me on my German and let me go. They were polite once they were satisfied that I was Danish and going to my parents’ house across the border. Interestingly, they apologised when they had established my nationality and said something about having to do what they did because of the proximity of the border. The implicit message seemed to be that it is acceptable to bundle holders of certain other passports into vans and do who knows what to them. In other, and perhaps somewhat extreme, words Germans, Danes and some other nationalities are fully human and endowed with rights to be treated decently, but some other people do not have those rights.

Having had these experiences as a law-abiding Danish citizen who happens not to look like a Viking, I am not surprised by reports of excessive force by the Copenhagen cops. I imagine them to approach foreign demonstrators with the same prejudice as they approach their fellow citizens and permanent foreign residents who look Muslim, Greenlandic or anarchist – as fair game deserving a “røvfuld” (thrashing/beating) I was told in a North Jutland (Vandal) accent one summer night in Vesterbro.

I am aware that black men are far more likely to be targeted by London’s Metropolitan Police than any other sociological category. I am also aware that the police force has been officially described as “institutionally racist”, but this is in itself testimony to the relatively more liberal nature of British political discourse. In spite of the dominance of an increasingly unpleasant nationalism with racist elements, an unresolved colonial history and creeping illiberalism, most Danes seem to think that racism and imperialism are other people’s problems, namely countries like Britain, France and the US. My experience since 1994 in London is that I have never been stopped and questioned by police on the street. When I have had to speak to members of the police force, they have always been professional and polite, and I have not felt any hostility or suspicion due to my looks or origin outside the British Isles.

Police forces are by definition violent and repressive. They are the agency charged with exercising legitimate(d) violence within the territory of the state. The British police are no exception to this, and there are clearly also problems of abuse of power, disproportionate violence, racism and religious prejudice. Even so, at least in my experience, they are a lot more civilised than their Danish colleagues, and the British media and political system openly discuss problems with policing. These are some of the reasons I prefer life in London to Cop-enhagen.

* Steffensen, Kenn Nakata “Denmark’s invisible empire: The politics of translating the Danish constitutional order”. in Brett Epstein (ed.) Northern lights: Translation in the Nordic countries. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009

Is existentialism nationalism?

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

Is existentialism nationalism? The “turbulent priest” and Danish People’s Party parliamentarian Søren Krarup argues that it is. The following is a translation of an article he published in Politiken on 10th November 2009. He draws on Kierkegaard to argue that a change of system has taken place in Denmark, and that the rest of Europe will follow where Denmark leads – down the path of xenophobic ethnic nationalism.  There are some comments and explanations of terms in the notes. A more detailed analysis will follow soon.

Krarup: Denmark has become a pioneering country in Europe

The change of system in 2001 is ultimately an educational project. The Politiken System has lost.

BY Søren Krarup

Let us just ask the question now eight years later. Was there a change of system in 2001? Is this concept real and serious in this situation?

It is obvious that when one uses the term change of system about what happened in November 2001, as I do, one presupposes that the period until 2001 represented a kind of system. Am I right in this?

If I may be a little self-centred, I would answer that I have made and substantiated such a claim through my many years of writing.

In particular in my book The modern breakdown in 1984, but also in others in a rather wide-ranging authorship, I have tried to depict and document a common intellectual characteristic, which carried the hallmark of cultural radicalism and departed from Georg Brandes’ “breakthrough lectures” in 1871 and in particular the domination of public opinion by the daily newspaper Politiken from the end of the 19th century until – well, until the change of system in 2001.[1]

The Politiken System – this was Denmark from 1905 until 2001, with everything that it entails.

With defence nihilism, with national self-loathing, with a cold shoulder turned to the Danish South Jutlanders, with the 9th April 1940, with a policy of collaboration with the German occupying forces, with EU supranationalism and a foreigner policy with contempt for the Danish people’s right of primogeniture to Denmark, which was expressed so characteristically and poignantly by Bjørn Elmquist during the second reading of the Aliens Act of 2nd June 1983: “We can now say that at least here in our own home we do what we can in order not to discriminate on the basis of nationality.”

Such a statement is identical with the abolition of Denmark as a nation or of Danish nationality[2], which evidently for all distinguishes and must distinguish between those who are Danish citizens covered by Danish law and those who are not Danish citizens and hence cannot make claims to the rights of Danish citizens in Denmark.

Bjørn Elmquist’s revealing phrase articulates the Politiken System. Characteristically, he does not understand it himself. I have discussed it with him, and he does not comprehend the reality. This may be what actually characterises the Politiken System. You are just being “good”. You are only representing “human compassion” and “justice”.

Such undisputed self-righteousness – I am tempted to say such totalitarian humanism – has long ago transcended the reality of existing human beings. One just wants to sacrifice oneself for humanity. And the fact that one sacrifices the real, living, concrete human beings, whom one owes respect and solidarity, does not affect such Pharisees.

This is the Politiken System. This is the system, which the parliamentary elections of 2001 broke with, which is why it makes good sense to speak of a change of system.

There were attempts at changes of system during 20th century Danish history. This happened not coincidentally and most markedly in connection with the German occupation and the resistance struggle against the collaboration policy. Also in this case, it was disputed and challenged Danes who stood up against the official stance of capitulation and self-destruction. The existing versus the abstracting. But the inspiration from the resistance struggle was strangled by the Politiken System in the post-war era, and although the same inspiration was felt in the resistance against the EEC, it was also unable to turn the ruling line of self-righteousness or Pharisaic humanism.

This only happened in 2001.

There is a characteristic event, which outlines the problem. I remember it only too well, and incidentally I saw Arne Hardis of Weekendavisen mention it recently. It was in the mid-1980s when the reality of foreigner policy[3] began to dawn also on Social Democrats, and mayors in the western suburbs of Copenhagen began to demand greater realism from their party.

This led to the constitution of a committee chaired by Vibeke Storm Rasmussen, which in its report painted a sinister picture of a divided and ruptured “lower Denmark” under the aegis of immigration policy.[4] These Social Democrats demanded protection of Denmark and the Danes. But the Social Democrats had made the ideological humanist Svend Auken its leader in 1987, and he scrapped the report and instead had one drawn up, which made it the policy of the Social Democrats to combat what the Politiken System called the “racism” of the population.

Thus the Social Democrats prepared their own defeat. Because this was how Svend Auken and his like-minded allies betrayed the existing Dane.

This is because it is all about the concept of existence. It all actually takes it departure point in Søren Kierkegaard’s understanding of what it means to be human. It is all about how human life is about guilt and responsibility, not about ideology and utopia and the worship of progress.

What is it to be human? In the book I already mentioned, The Modern Breakdown, I drew a line in Danish and European intellectual history[5] with Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Marx as the two decisive opponents. I could just as well say Christianity and humanism since Kierkegaard’s writings are just a Christian nota bene to the enlightenment tradition, which with Marx garbs itself in totalitarian robes, and the real content of which we have seen far too clear and far too many testimonies to in the 20th century.

Kierkegaard and Christianity preach respect for “the singular individual”, the existing human being. Humanism and Marxism on the other hand denote contempt for the individual in the name of the idea and progress.

Immigration in Denmark grossly disregarded consideration for the Danes. Svend Auken & Co. were busily occupied taunting and chastising those Danes who could not rise above their increasingly intolerable conditions on the streets and staircases. It was ”racism” when the tormented and concerned Danes cried for help. It was the “racist” Danes, which the Politiken System and the ideological Pharisees made into the problem.

But reality is real, although the Politiken System condemns it. The Danish population’s needs and fears would not be abolished by Svend Auken’s indignation over the Danes.

Existence was real, and the real meaning of the change of system is the expulsion of abstract ideological lies by existential reality.

The Danes had had enough of empty phrases! The Danes reacted spontaneously, immediately, yes, existentially to the threatened life they had come to live under immigration policy.

That is what is new. And that is the change of system. That one reacts to one’s situation. That one is not cowed by the many phrases, which the Politiken System has been a master at selecting and disseminating. That one dares to let one’s given reality be the yardstick and thus send a century to the scrapheap, which made human reality what should be overcome.

It is by no means a coincidence when the political left, which craves power so badly, takes over the right-wing government’s foreigner policy and assures that they mean it from the heart.[6] Of course, this is not true. I can testify to this as a member of the Select Committee on Integration.[7] But what is crucial when describing the meaning of the change of system is that those parties, which implemented the Aliens Act of 1983[8] and thereby brought down disaster upon Denmark, must now respect the ordinary Dane’s no. The ideologues and the Pharisees have been educated by the population. They must – to stick to the terminology – say yes to existence and no to ideology.

Or to put it more clearly: Say yes to Kierkegaard and no to Marx.

The change of system is therefore ultimately an educational project. The common people’s education of ideological, immature, politicians for whom nothing matters less than the everyday, reality, existence. In the Politiken System empty phrases rule. What matters is not being but appearance. If you can attach the correct labels to yourself and the wrong ones to your opponent, you are right. This has been the system in Denmark since 1905. But the population have learnt through hard-won experience in recent decades that the everyday, reality, existence is what is crucial.

And thereby – I say – Denmark has become a pioneer country in Europe. I recently had another opportunity to ascertain this. This is because Denmark had a visit by a Swedish girl journalist who has made a film about Denmark and the Danes, whom she tries to cast suspicion on and slander by all means, and of course the Danish People’s Party in particular. There was no end to her slandering of the foul, foul Danes.

I had the opportunity to see the film and later discuss it with the Swedish journalist on TV2 News, and it was striking to me, who has through the years experienced today’s political correctness at close hand, how this was an attempt to force the Danes and perhaps particularly the Swedes into the ideological straightjacket of the past.

This is because the Danes were only meant to be used as a bugbear for the Swedish population who have weakly, rather weakly, started the same showdown with the ideological rulers as Denmark has carried out. I had to remind the journalist girl that in the 1970s the English journalist Roland Huntford published a book about the Sweden of Olof Palme, where he had worked for several years, and called the book The New Totalitarians. This was how he characterised modern Sweden, which is ruled by Olof Palme-style politicians and journalists. A genuinely Svend Auken-esque country.

A country where the insult ”racist” determines public debate and where the common Swede who rallies his countrymen to resistance under the pressure of an overwhelming and intolerable immigration is cowed and persecuted by the rulers in the media and politics. That was the purpose of this film about Denmark, where the change of system has taken place.

And during the debate with the Swedish journalist I could not help recounting an experience I had some years ago at Tidehverv’s[9] summer meeting. An elderly man unknown to me stood up and asked to speak and told that he had lived in Scania for many years although he was born Danish.[10] And during the German occupation, he said, the Danes from blacked-out Denmark looked longingly towards the Swedish coast, which was bathed in light.

Now it is the other way around. Now the Swedes sit in a blacked-out Sweden and look jealously to a Denmark with light and freedom of spirit because the Danes have broken with the lack of freedom and enforcement of uniformity which Sweden is suffering under so badly.

I told the Swedish journalist this. But I realised that my words were in vain.

No, the European upper class, those who think like Olof Palme and Svend Auken, the Europe of the media and ideologues, refuse to face the everyday reality, which the common Danish population have taken to their heart and created a change of system on. I have been struck time and again during recent decades by the difference between the official and the common Denmark.

I could be tempted to say about the upper class that we are seeing the fall of Rome again – with a depraved, amoral, effect-seeking upper class betraying the reality and culture lived by the common people. This is why there is this monomanic propaganda against ”racism”, this is why there is a supranational or anti-national EU, which most of all tries to shut the mouth of the populations and prevent them from expressing their opinion about the EU and the Lisbon treaty through referendums.

Denmark is a fortunate exception. The Danes have carried out the change of system, which the populations of Europe are dreaming about. But I believe the upper class will eventually lose. I believe there are many, many signs that the Europeans are about to follow in the footsteps of the Danes. The most recent elections to the European Parliament seem to me to be a straw in the wind of the movement of which the Danish change of system is an expression.

The growing revolt by the populations against the supranational ideologues. This is why the European nations are demanding independence. The Danish change of system is, in all its simplicity, national. It is the same craving for national self-determination, which I see as the leading trend in Europe today.


Published: Nov 10, 2009 12:36 PM


Translator’s notes

[1] Georg Brandes was a leading cultural theorist in late 19th to early 20th century Denmark and Germany. Krarup’s book Det moderne sammenbrud (The modern breakdown) is a response to Brandes’ Det moderne gennembrud (The modern breakthrough). The Danish Ministry of education writes as follows about Brandes and “cultural radicalism”, which is the general movement that Krarup and the Danish government since 2001 have opposed in their “struggle of values” (værdikamp):

In the last third of the 19th century, an enlightenment movement arose, which later became known as cultural radicalism. Values such as freedom, reason and enlightenment lay at the basis of the new age of enlightenment, which was properly introduced in Denmark when Georg Brandes (1842-1927) held a series of lectures in 1871 with the innocent title Main Currents in 19th Century Literature. These lectures, however, ignited a fire, off which sparks still leap. Even though the new age of enlightenment was not a copy of the classical Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century, it built on the same emphasis of science and “freedom of thought” (including the right to criticise religious tradition), the same aversion to the supernatural and the metaphysical, the same preoccupation with social problems and the same optimism about human nature and history.

A good biographical overview of Georg Brandes can be found at

Ironically, it was Brandes’ (and Harald Høffding’s) German-language writings on Kierkegaard and correspondence with Nietzsche, which brought this otherwise obscure Copenhagen eccentric to the attention of European and Japanese (Watsuji Tetsuro) intellectual circles. But Krarup seems to think that Kierkegaard’s message was narrowly Danish and Lutheran. Krarup wrote in his Modern breakdown book that his “Jewish blood” gave Brandes “no sense of piety and belonging to the past of the country.” (“…på grund af sit jødiske blod var han uden pietet for og samhørighed med landets fortid.”) He also describes Brandes’ “modern breakthrough” as “a rape of Danish culture” (voldtægt af den danske kultur). So Jews and Muslims can never be at home in Denmark, and they are branded as rapists, both literally and metaphorically. For more Krarup quotes, which I intend to translate, see

The newspaper Politiken has historically been and remains the leading voice of centre-left opinion and the urban intelligentsia. It has been closely linked with “cultural radicalism” through its history and with Jewish intellectuals.

[2] The term Krarup uses is “dansk indfødsret”, which literally means the right to be considered a native Dane. It has connotations of primogeniture and that “natives” should naturally be privileged over non-natives. It is a standard term, which has no direct equivalent in English. It covers much of the semantic terrain of the English term citizenship, but it means more than that. The Danish term statsborgerskab corresponds directly with civic/legal citizenship, but indfødsret has more ethno-cultural connotations, more Blut und Boden. The annual awarding of citizenship, for instance, takes place through an act of parliament called Lov om dansk indfødsrets meddelelse, i.e. Law announcing the right to be considered a Danish native. The document is passed as a law and lists the names of all those who have become naturalised. This is required by Article 44 of the Constitution of the Danish Empire (my unofficial but honest translation), which states that “no foreigner can acquire indfødsret except by law.” On the imperial nature of current Danish constitutional arrangements, please see Steffensen, Kenn Nakata “Denmark’s invisible empire: The politics of translating the Danish constitutional order” in Epstein, Brett J. (ed.) Northern Lights: Translation in the Nordic Countries. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009. For more on Danish citizenship/indfødsret see Sine Lex, Lasse Lindekilde and Per Mouritsen “Public and political debates on multicultural crises in Denmark”. Florence: European University Institute, 2007.

[3] Krarup uses the standard Danish term udlændingepolitik. Because he contrasts udlændingepolitik with indvandringspolitik (immigration policy), I have chosen a literal translation. This reads somewhat awkwardly in English, but it conveys the meaning and retains the distinction he makes between a policy to deal with foreigners on Danish territory and a policy to regulate immigration. Udlændingepolitik literally means “foreigner policy”, and its use in Denmark, as opposed to the Swedish “migrationspolitik” (migration policy) speaks volumes about the conceptual difference in approach between the two countries and between Denmark and most of the world. Hans Mouritzen has written on this, but I do not have the reference at hand. An interesting parallel is Japan, which has similar elements of blood and soil natinalism.

[4] Krarup now uses the term indvandringspolitik (immigration policy) rather than “udlændingepolitik” to distinguish between the “bad” old days and the new order he claims has come into being in 2001.

[5] The term used by Krarup is åndshistorie, which corresponds to the German Geistesgeschichte or Japanese seishinshi i.e. more than just a history of the intellect. It is literally a “history of the spirit”.

[6] Krarup uses the term borgerlig regering, which literally means “bourgeois government”. In addition to the left-right dichotomy, Scandinavian political discourse often distinguishes between “bourgeois” and “workers’” parties. The “bourgeois-worker” distinction is probably more common than left-right. Sometimes the two are used together, as in “the left wing and the bourgeois parties”.

[7] Integrationsudvalget is a Danish parliamentary committee.

[8] The law was last amended in August 2009. An unofficial English translation is available at

[9] Tidehverv is a theological journal and movement founded in 1926. Krarup has been one of its leading figures for many years. The movement defines itself as follows:

Tidehverv is old-fashioned Lutheran Christianity in an age far too moden to respect the basically human: To be a single human being between birht and death, in responsibility and guilt.

Tidehverv is therefore non-modern because Tidehverv renounces that modernity which is another word for superficiality. Tidehverv is therefore also reactionary because Tidehverv reacts against the worship of development and progress, which means spiritual emptiness and personal irresponsibility.

The above is my translation of the Danish text at

[10] Scania (Skåne) is a southern Swedish region, which was Danish until 1658. Krarup has called for its return to Denmark, although he has later claimed that he was misquoted. He does, however, still maintain that he would like to see former Danish territory in northern Germany returned when/if the people living there realise that they are Danish at heart.

Singhsbury’s Superstore, London NW6

I came across this shop today and found it quite original and amusing. It´s in Salusbury Road, London NW6. I hadn’t had lunch and was going to work in a recording studio next door to it, so I went in and bought some samosas from Mr. Singh(sbury). The shop seems to have existed for some time, and I hope Sainsbury’s have enough sense of humour not to sue the owners out of existence. There also seems to be a musical duo called (David) Marx & (Tracy) Spencer. See I don’t know if they sing about revolution and evolution.

BECTU, the BBC and the BNP: Three acronyms and a political dilemma

Kenn Nakata Steffensen

I am a member of the Broadcast, Entertainment, Communication and Theatre Union, BECTU. Like most people in this country BECTU understandably finds the BNP’s views abhorrent. Its policy of denying the party airtime is more difficult to understand, as it seems to contradict the union’s values as a democratic organisation committed to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression should be particularly important for a union of media workers, and it ought therefore to think about the meaning of the concept and its translation into policy.

Regardless of the fact that Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time looks like an unmitigated PR disaster for the BNP, was BECTU right in principle to argue for suppression of their views? Does calling for censorship not open up an intractable debate about who else should be censored and the criteria to be applied when making such a decision? And does it not represent a capitulation to the authoritarian values that BECTU sought to oppose? Should we fight fire with fire and thereby sacrifice a central principle? Do the ends justify the means? After some doubts I have come to believe that BECTU’s policy of “no platform for the BNP” is misguided.

In September the BBC decided to invite the BNP leader Nick Griffin to participate in its current affairs programme Question Time. This has been a matter of general political controversy, exposing some of the core contradictions of liberal democratic political theory and practice and posing a dilemma for all who believe in democracy, equality and freedom of expression. This is exemplified in the manner in which the issue has split the Labour Party with Jack Straw agreeing to appear on the programme and his cabinet colleague Peter Hain urging the BBC not to allow Mr. Griffin to appear. The Labour Party has previously had a policy of not sharing media platforms with the BNP. The party’s decision to be represented by the Justice Secretary therefore marks a significant change. The Prime Minister argued for the policy reversal by saying that, “If, on Question Time, they are asked about their racist and bigoted views that are damaging to good community relations, it will be a good opportunity to expose what they are about.”

In response to the BBC’s decision BECTU issued a press release on 28th September announcing the union’s support for members who chose on conscientious grounds “not to work on the broadcast because of the involvement of the BNP.” The day before the broadcast, BECTU announced that general secretary Gerry Morrisey would “speak at the Unite Against Fascism rally outside BBC Television Centre, London, on 22 October.” BECTU argued that “the party’s performance earlier this year in the European elections, does not justify inclusion in the programme, contrary to the BBC’s official view.” The day after the broadcast, BECTU issued another statement saying that “The BNP leader’s weak justifications for his extremist, far-Right beliefs will galvanise the political opposition to him and, most importantly, should encourage those voters who delivered a platform for the party in the European Parliament to think again about the further damage which the BNP would do to UK society.” The union also reiterated its belief that Nick Griffin should not have appeared on Question Time. Gerry Morrissey, general secretary, said, “We stand by our view, which is union policy, in arguing that the BBC should not have granted a platform to the BNP. Time will tell whether the BNP secures any electoral advantage from the broadcast.”

The BBC has justified its decision to include the BNP with reference to the organisation’s obligation “to treat all political parties registered with the Electoral Commission and operating within the law with due impartiality,” and with reference to the fact that the BNP has “demonstrated evidence of electoral support at a national level”. This electoral support should “be reflected in the amount of coverage the party received.” Although the legality of the BNP’s constitution is disputed, the reasoning of the BBC seems logically coherent and in line with its obligations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the many well-intentioned people, including BECTU’s secretary general, who are, in effect, calling for censorship.

The BNP increased their share of votes in the European Parliament elections on 4th June by 1.3% on their 2004 results, thus winning two seats and representation at a national level for the first time. They won 6% of the vote nationally (943,598 votes) and “close to 10% in some regions”. This is a momentous event in British political history and a disturbing development for all egalitarians. What is heartening, on the other hand, is the general response by the public and the mainstream parties. Unlike in some other European countries, the political ideas of the BNP remain marginal and are consistently opposed by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It does not enjoy as widespread support as the Dutch Party for Freedom (14.8%) or the Danish People’s Party (15.3%). And due to the higher thresholds for representation in the British first-past-the-post electoral system, this does not translate into parliamentary representation as directly as in proportional systems. In spite of its relative electoral success, the BNP is still considered beyond the pale by other parties, and unlike in Denmark its core ideas have not been adopted by the social democratic, liberal and conservative mainstream. Nick Griffin’s performance on Question Time clearly showed that his parasitical attempts to co-opt liberal democratic discourse and present a “New BNP” failed. The party cannot run from its fascist roots and is unlikely to have mass appeal or to change the orientations of the mainstream parties. However unpleasant a phenomenon it is, it does not represent as great a threat to pluralism as parties with similar values elsewhere in Europe.
It is right for BECTU to be concerned about the rise of the BNP and to act against it. There can be no doubt about that. But, as Lenin asked in another historical context and from a different perspective and with different objectives than mine, “what is to be done?” This is really one of the “burning questions of our movement.” To answer the tactical question of how to respond appropriately requires some theoretical reflection on a number of dilemmas and possibly irresolvable contradictions of modern politics. These tend to present themselves as paired conceptual oppositions, such as the limits of democracy and authoritarianism, procedural versus substantive democracy, freedom of speech versus harm to society and individuals, universalism versus relativism, and reason versus emotion.
Democracy as a political system has its origins in ancient Athens. It has two semantic components – demos (people) and kratia (rule). It was a system by which the people governed the city state (polis). The people were conceived of as all Athenian citizens, which meant native, male Athenians over the age of 18. Women, descendants of immigrants and slaves were excluded from the citizenry. Citizenship conferred a right to participation in the assembly (ekklesia), which would constitute an executive council (boule) of 500 paid government officials elected for a one-year term. Between 503 to 322 BCE, “Athens lived under a radically democratic government” where “in a very real sense, the People governed themselves, debating and voting individually on issues great and small, from matters of war and peace to the proper qualifications for ferry-boat captains “
After the enlightenment and the French revolution, classical Athenian democracy developed into representative liberal democracy and became the ideal form of government towards which European states strived. Hardly any political movements since Hitler have defined themselves as opposed to democracy. Even Stalinists and Maoists have claimed to be democrats, as terms like “people’s democracy”, the oxymoronic “people’s democratic dictatorship” and names like German Democratic Republic or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea show. What we generally refer to as democracy today is representative liberal democracy. Although it means different things to many people, democracy is so hegemonic that even Nick Griffin appeals to liberal democratic principles.
Liberalism and democracy coexist uneasily, and at times they come into conflict with each other. Unlike classical democracy, which was founded on fundamental gender and class discrimination, liberalism secularised the Christian doctrine that all human beings were equal before God. The principle of fundamental equality made exclusion from political participation based on first class and later gender and ethnicity untenable and resulted in the gradual extension of citizenship rights to more of the population. Today, all adults regardless of class, income, gender and ethnicity have a right to in principle equal participation in the political process. In most contemporary liberal democracies, immigrants do not have the right to vote in national elections, but all citizens do, including BNP members, voters and sympathisers.
As the name implies, liberalism is also centrally concerned with liberty, which is usually understood as the right of individuals and groups to freely live as they choose as long as their choices do not harm others. A distinction is often made between positive and negative freedoms – freedom to and freedom from. One of the questions faced by anti-racists is whether the BNP’s right to democratic participation infringes on the right of others, e.g. ethnic minorities, to live in freedom. If so, how should it be addressed and what should be the balance between positive and negative freedom? The union’s position is that the BNP’s rights should be curtailed because their views are in principle different from those of other political opponents. What distinguishes the BNP from others is, according to Gerry Morrissey, that their “policies are reprehensible, anti-democratic and racist”. Most members will probably agree with this. Many may also agree that the union should therefore support efforts to prevent them from spreading their views in the media. However honourable the intentions, such a policy is problematic because it means relativising and compromising principles, which should be consistently upheld by BECTU. Freedom of expression and the right to political participation applies to all, even to those we fundamentally disagree with. Censorship is fundamentally illiberal and undemocratic, and a consistently democratic position would therefore defend it as an absolute value under all circumstances. By seeking to keep the BNP off the airwaves, BECTU has given in to the authoritarianism that it finds reprehensible about the BNP. It is a self-contradiction to do what we condemn others for trying to do.  As Noam Chomsky once wrote,

“it is a truism, hardly deserving discussion, that the defense of the right of free expression is not restricted to ideas one approves of, and that it is precisely in the case of ideas found most offensive that these rights must be most vigorously defended. Advocacy of the right to express ideas that are generally approved is, quite obviously, a matter of no significance.”

Parties and movements like the BNP should be opposed on the principled grounds that their ideology is irrational and unethical. This opposition should take the form of reasoned debate true to the dialogic nature of democratic politics, not by making concessions to the very authoritarianism we oppose.
A further question raised by BECTU’s decision is which criteria to apply when deciding who should and who should not be censored. In this case, the argument for censorship is the anti-democratic and racist nature of the BNP. How should BECTU then respond to certain strands of Islamism or Zionism? Should it, as the Dutch and Danish far-right politician Geert Wilders and Søren Krarup, argue for the suppression of Islam itself on the grounds that it advocates authoritarianism and sexism? How should contemporary democratic liberal racists like Wilders be treated, and how should we assess historical democratic socialist racists like Sidney and Beatrice Webb? There are no easy answers to these questions, if any answers at all, once censorship and denial of political rights to one’s opponents has been embarked upon. A way of avoiding these questions in the first place is to consistently uphold the rights to freedom of expression and equal participation. This must, of course, be qualified by the harm principle, which John Stuart Mill defined as:

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

This means that the BNP have a right to be heard, but that the exercise of that right is conditional on refraining from inflicting harm on other members of society. It also means that nobody is entitled to limit that right unless it is for the purpose of preventing harm to others.
It seems logically inconsistent for anti-racist democrats to wish to deny a racist party the right to be heard and scrutinised in public. Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism said, Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time “will lead to the growth of a fascist party” . According to the BNP, this has been an immediate effect of the programme. The party claims that the BBC has acted as its recruitment agent, thus apparently confirming Peter Hain’s fears. But 9,000 inquiries out of 8 million viewers amounts to very little. Ken Livingstone has argued that it will result “in a surge in violence against people from ethnic minorities”. This remains to be seen. It seems impossible to establish any clear causal relationship even in the (unlikely) case that there is a correlation. Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that all publicity is good publicity. As Gordon Brown has said, exposing the BNP may “make people see what they are really like.” On the contrary, silencing parties like the BNP may have the opposite of the desired effect by lending legitimacy to their bizarre claims that London has been “ethnically cleansed” and that they speak on behalf of an indigenous ethnic majority threatened by genocide. As with other radical movements, there is a risk that suppression will backfire and strengthen the movement.

What would be truly worrying would be if Jack Straw, like the then Social Democrat (now Liberal) Danish Home Secretary Karen Jespersen, began to speak of the need to keep “illiterate Somalis” out of Britain, promise that the Labour Party would ensure that Britain would “never become a multicultural society” where “Islam was considered equal to Christianity”, or propose building special detention centres for asylum seekers on uninhabited islands. Fortunately, the British political elite and the general public are firmly committed to multiculturalism, and the political poison of the BNP has not infected the mainstream parties like in Denmark. Although the BNP is parasitical on liberal discourse for tactical reasons, e.g. in its appeals to freedom, human rights and democracy, it has clear historical roots in European fascism. The same cannot be said about the Danish and Dutch parties with which it shares many points of view. The historical roots of the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and the Danish People’s Party are not in pre-1945 fascism, although both parties have attracted members and supporters from more traditional fascist backgrounds. These examples illustrate that liberalism, ultra-nationalism and xenophobia are compatible with liberalism. In the same way, leading early 20th century socialists like Sidney and Beatrice Webb held views that are clearly racist.


Freedom of speech would have no meaning if it applied only to views found acceptable by most members of a polity at a given time in history. One’s commitment to freedom of speech is tested precisely when confronted with despicable views. Rather than following Hitler and Stalin in allowing the “free” expression of views BECTU agrees with, it should have followed Voltaire’s insistence on defending to the death Nick Griffin’s right to speak and be challenged. Freedom of speech has no meaning if it is relativised.