What's up, Europe? Gender, media and European integration. The story of a a young Dane exploring the continent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cartoon incident meets Luhmann

My reading of the German theorist Niklas Luhmann has added a new perspective to my experience of the Mohammad drawing serial.

According to him communication is the basic unit of society. Implicating, if communication does not appear society will seize to exist. Misunderstanding and objection are two obstacles to communication and with the words of Luhmann: "it is possible to refrain from communication in face of these difficulties, and this is a rather common solution..." (Collected Papers, p. 184)

But in the case of society where communication is vital to existance: "it cannot simply capitulate in the face of these problems; it cannot stop all communications at once and decide to avoid any renewal." He continues: "... society has invented powerful mechanisms to guarantee its continuity in the face of lack of understanding or even open rejection" (Collected Papers, p. 185)

The solution is that the communication process starts communicating its own difficulties. Luhmann explains: "It uses a kind of (rather superficial) selfcontrol to become aware of serious misunderstandings, and it has the ability to communicate the rejection and restructure itself around this 'no'. In other words, the process is not obliged to follow the rules of logic... When faced with serious problems of understanding and appearant misunderstandings, social systems very often tend to avoid the burden of argumentation and reasoned discourse to reach consensus..." (here he even added: "very much to the dismay of Habermas", Collected Papers, p. 185)

To me, this portraits the problem of the on-going cartoon crisis: We have a potential communication breakdown due to a cultural cleavage and since the complex communication process of society cannot be stopped - the show must go on. The process begins to communicate its own difficulties, often without reasoning and with arguments based on emotions, and - tadaaaaa - a conflict appears.

Luhmann calls this the immune system of society.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The word vs. the image

"Unlike words and sentences, the photograph does not present to us an idea or concept about the world, except as we use language itself to convert the image to idea. By itself, a photograph cannot deal with the unseen, the remote, the internal, the abstract."

- In Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Without doubt I have found a bigger written word fascist than myself!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Not-so-funny cartoons

As a Dane I almost feel obliged to comment on the infamous Mohammad drawings. Some weeks ago I was suggested to do an article on them but at that point I was fed up with the discussion. The drawings were printed in Jyllands-Posten in September last year, then an intense debate raised and when it finally cooled down the cartoons were introduced on the international scene. It seems to be a never-ending story.

Without doubt it was respectless of Jyllands-Posten to bring the cartoons. But regardless of the priorities of a newspaper Denmark is a democratic society and Danish media should have the right to print whatever they find relevant. At one point, I was concerned that the Danish government would actually apologise on behalf of Jyllands-Posten. This would have been a drastic step back for freedom-of-speech and in conflict with the basic values of the society I grew up in. Fortunately they did not.

To begin with, Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons to adress the self-censorship of Danish media. Today many journalists - as well as ordinary people - are afraid to debate and question Islam in public. They worry that they might risk being persecuted by religious extremists. Sadly, the riots and threats of the past weeks prove that these concerns have not been without reason.

Today, one banner in a Pakistani demonstration summed up the agressions of the East and the fears of the West:

"Europe, your 9/11 is on the way"

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sad day

These are not easy days to be a Dane.