Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Column, February 7, 2006

THE Danes have come a long way since their longboats pulled up on our shore for a little light pillaging.

The Viking scourge of Europe has settled down and is now best known for butter and bacon. But then having supplied the world with two-thirds of the requirements of a bacon sandwich is not a bad way to go down in history.

But you could see that newspaper editors were finding it a stretch at the weekend to come up with your typical Dane to defend their country against the ravages of reaction by Muslims around the world to a few cartoons.

One just about managed it by wheeling out Sandi Toksvig. You remember, yes you do, small blonde (well, she is Danish so that’s a bit of a given) used to be on Whose Line Is It Anyway? Still don’t remember, trust me she was famous-ish.

But at the weekend we discovered a game even more fiendishly difficult than Name 10 Famous Belgians – Come Up With Names of 10 Danes They Don’t Even Have To Be Famous.

But a quick dabble on Google sorts out my ignorance. So here are a few, as we should remind ourselves what the Danes have contributed to our civilisation before they all perish in the fires of Hell, which appear to have been commandeered by the followers of Islam, Christianity having long given up putting the willies up its adherents with tales of eternal damnation.

Viggo Mortensen – aka Aragorn, aka Strider – hacker and hewer of Orcs in Lord of the Rings.

Whigfield – pop singer, of sorts, and if they’d been burning copies of ‘Saturday Night’ in the streets I’d have been right there with them.

Nils Bohr – physicist who helped the world understand quantum theory, or rather helped quantum physicists understand quantum theory, it’s all Greek to me, or rather Danish.

King Canute – who tried to hold back the tide, or rather, who was told by sycophantic courtiers he could hold back the tide and who got his feet wet to prove them wrong.

Hans Christian Andersen – purveyor of fairy tales.

Alright, I might have been stretching a bit with Whigfield, but a for a little country they’ve punched above their weight in contributions to civilisation, after that is they stopped burning and pillaging civilisation. And we in Wales should recognise a little of ourselves in them.

Now they are persona non grata in the Muslim world, flags burning, embassies put to the torch and people parading in London pretending to be suicide bombers as a result of a few cartoons.

They may not have been well-drawn cartoons, they may not have been funny, they may have been deeply, deeply offensive – but they were just cartoons.

But from the reaction they have provoked anyone would gave thought Denmark had launched an illegal war on the basis of a pack of lies and invaded a sovereign nation without the backing of the UN to depose a head of state. Oops, no, that would be us.

But we haven’t published any cartoons, of no, no, no. That was them, the Danes, across the water. Red flag, white cross, burns well when soaked in petrol.

But instead of backing our European allies in their time of need – and let’s remember when we were up against it 65 years ago the Danes were on our side – we pussyfoot around the sensibilities of the mob with Jack Straw condemning the republication of the cartoons almost as much as the riots that greeted them as if there is some moral equivalence between drawing a cartoon and prancing around pretending to be a suicide bomber.

Yes freedom of speech has limitations. You can’t shout fire in a crowded theatre. But are we really saying that the sensibilities of the adherents to this or that religion are now so sacred that we cannot, in a free society, poke a little fun at them by way of a cartoon? And I don’t single out any one faith here – I’m just as happy seeing jokes about people of all faiths and none.

There is no point in having freedom of speech unless it is freedom to say things that sometimes people find offensive. And sometimes you might say something stupid, or insensitive to the feelings of one section of the community. As long as you are not inciting violence against them then they are only words, or pictures, feelings may be hurt but no harm is done.

Britain has a history of cartooning that goes back centuries and that was unrestrained in its savagery of public figures, and yes, the public figures have even on occasion included God and Jesus.

Are we now so lily-livered in our pandering to the sensitivities of a tiny, militant minority that we abandon freedom so lightly?

Last week we came within a whisker of passing a law that would make it an offence to have recklessly incited religious hatred. Wouldn’t have mattered whether you intended to or not – if you’d been reckless, and who knows how that would have been interpreted, you’d have been in clink.

So while protesters wave placards calling for beheadings and go unmolested by the forces of law and order, our MPs consider outlawing a vicar joke.

We could just muddle through this, which is what apparently our government was trying to do at the weekend, or we nail our colours to the mast over something as inconsequential, but crucial, as a poorly-drawn, not very funny, cartoon.

Because if the chips are down I suggest we side not with the baying mob, but with the country that gave us The Little Mermaid.

THERE was a rugby match on at the weekend.

I had pre-warned Mrs Banks that at 3.30pm I would be downing tools from the seemingly interminable effort to turn a ‘70s-converted Victorian schoolhouse into something that would grace the pages of Country Living.

She gave me a look that indicated that anything other than full-tilt DIY would not be acceptable – I wonder if there’s a secret aisle at B&Q where they learn to do that.

A concession was made though – I could do the aforementioned DIY within sight or sound of the TV.


I wish I hadn’t bothered.

I’m not sure which gave me greater pain – watching Wales get exhausted and then pushed around by an English pack that had quite clearly been cheating at breakfast with their Weetabix-quotient – or assembling four flat-pack bookcases.

And Lawrence Dallaglio. That’s clearly not him, he’s obviously some sort of Robo-Dallaglio whose been enhanced with fiendish Soviet technology. He walked onto the pitch and eclipsed the sun.

It is clearly not fair playing against someone so big he has his own gravitational field.

Anyhow, there was one moment of unrestrained joy to be had in the whole painful 80 minutes – I found they had packed one screw too many with my bookcases – there’s a first.

If Wales carry on like this the house will be finished by Easter.

No comments: