Denmark on Fire

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As a person living in Nørrebro, the Copenhagen neighbourhood where Ungdomshuset used to be, I’ve witnessed quite a lot in recent years. During the battle over “Ungdomshuset”, when anarchists and other pale kids dressed in black defended their base against the radical Christian community, “Faderhuset” (“Father’s House”), by fighting the police, lots of cars and containers were set on fire, and lots and lots of stores had their windows broken.

The other day a few thousand muslims demonstrated outside the window of my studio. Followers of the religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, angry and shouting (calling freedom of speech a “plague”, democracy a “disgrace”) passed by; first a group of men, then a group of women and children. They demonstrated against the republication of Jyllands-postens most notorious Muhammed-cartoon, and they did it in a peaceful manner. But over the last eight days there has been fires on Nørrebro, which quickly spread, first to other parts of Copenhagen, then to other parts of the country. These riots have caused severe damage, according to media reports there have been between 400 and 500 fires, and the damages include a couple of burned-out public schools.

2007 — The Best Hip Hop Albums

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Already some ways into 2008, I figured I’d still write a little something about the hip hop albums I enjoyed the most in the past year. The genre is clearly going through changes, seeing not only a substantial generational shift and a geographical displacement of its creative locus to the South, but also what seems to be a return to its roots as a localized, urban underground genre as sales of high-profile mainstream material is in free fall, and the wave of innovative suburban white avant-garde hip hop of the years around the turn of the millenium has lost steam. Though the last few years have been meagre indeed, quality seems to be winning through in various places. Despite recognizing the above-mentioned overall trends, I was happy to recognise that the music I enjoyed the most the past year, at least in terms of albums, came from all over the place. Anyway, without further ado — check out the following albums if you haven’t already.

This is that shit.

Picks of the Week

The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal. It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity.

— Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The Archbishop of Canterbury’s highly controversial lecture on the intersection of British and Islamic law, as well as those of other religions is well worth your attention if you’re at all interested in the role of religion, and especially Islam, in modern secular society.
  • Steve Gerber links. The passing of the mainstream comics auteur this week has prompted the posting of a good deal of interesting material relating to the man and his work. Here’s Gary Groth’s 1978 interview with Gerber from The Comics Journal, and here’s Dale Luciano’s 198? essay on Gerber’s most famous creation Howard the Duck, also from the Journal (warning: PDF). Also, be sure to read the personal reminiscences of Gerber’s friend and colleague, comics writer Steve Grant here. And here’s comics critic Tom Spurgeon talking about Gerber on the radio. Plus, read some Howard the Duck here. Thanks to Dirk for the heads-up.
  • Last, but not least, check out this interesting German short film. Rather Lynchian in tone, but well-executed and both mysterious and creepy. (Again, thanks Dirk.)
  • “No Discussion Should End in a Funeral”

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    Today, major Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende prints Kurt Westergaard’s notorious Mohammed-cartoon for the very first time, alongside an editorial entitled: “No Discussion Should End in a Funeral“. Since the Cartoon Crisis began in September 2005, Berlingske Tidende has played its part in a very careful manner, similar to that of most American papers. But the murder plot against Kurt Westergaard has obviously challenged editorial positions, and accordingly, almost all major Danish papers today reprint the cartoon in an act of solidarity with Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten.

    Photo: Allan Lundgreen, Berlingske.dk

    Cartoon Crisis: Murder Plot Against Danish Cartoonist


    This morning, three people with Muslim background were arrested by Danish Police, suspected of conspiring to kill Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, one of the 12 cartoonists that portrayed the prophet Mohammed in Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2005.

    Among the suspects are both Danish as well as non-Danish citizens. The group has been under surveillance by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service for months.

    Jyllands-Posten‘s editor-in-chief, Carsten Juste, has made following statement:

    Deeply worried, the management at Jyllands-Posten has for several months followed the discrete efforts by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service to protect Kurt Westergaard from concrete murder threats. The arrests Tuesday morning have hopefully thwarted the murder plans. We sympathize with Kurt Westergaard and his family who are forced to live under unacceptable pressure. It is appalling that a man who to the best of his ability goes about his work, and carries it out in accordance with Danish law, the Danish media ethics and Danish media tradition is rewarded by demonization and threatened on his life. We are grateful to the Danish authorities for protecting our colleague competently and professionally.”

    The cartoonist himself, Kurt Westergaard (age 73), adds:

    Of course I fear for my life when the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informs me of concrete plans by specific people to kill me. But I’ve turned fear into anger and resentment. It am angry that a perfectly normal, everyday activity, which I have done by the thousand, is being abused to set off such madness. I’ve attended to my work and I still do. For how long I am to live under police protection I cannot possibly know, but I think the consequences of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life. It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life.

    Illustration: The most famous and emblematic Mohammed-cartoon was drawn by Kurt Westergaard. Mr. Westergaard wanted to point out how the Prophet is exploited to legitimize terrorism, but obviously many have seen the cartoon as a depiction of the Prophet himself as a terrorist.

    New York Times: 3 Arrested in Plot to Kill Cartoonist

    Steve Gerber 1947-2008

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    Mainstream comics auteur Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck and Omega the Unknown, passed away Sunday night. Tom Spurgeon has as fine an obituary as you’re going to find up, providing an appreciation of key works and a career overview. Mark Evanier delivers the more personal perspective and friends and fans congregate at Gerber’s site. Also, this essay on his genre-challenging run on Marvel’s The Defenders is worth reading.

    Rest in Peace.

    Image from Omega the Unknown by Gerber, Mary Skrenes and Jim Mooney.

    A Cornucopia of Cliché

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    The Arrival by Shaun Tan is the most overrated comic of the past year. Published more or less simultaneously in several languages, it seems to have received unanimously positive, bordering on rave, criticism since it came out — from the mainstream press as well as the comics cognoscenti. To cap things off, it was awarded the Book of the Year-award at Angoulême. Yet, it is little more than a big fat sap sandwich.

    Its shortcomings are nothing new. Rather, they seem almost endemic to the modernist tradition of the socially engaged, silent picture-narrative that it naturally fits into. The mostly woodcut stories of artists like Lynd Ward, Otto Nückel and Eric Drooker that with a few outstanding exceptions — Frans Masereel, Palle Nielsen — equate the stark contrast of their graphic medium with their ethos and thrive on the bathetic.