Category: Western-Middle Eastern Relations


*Originally posted here

Denmark honors its soldiers that contributed to international operationsin the Arab/Muslim world a decade after 9/11 events. Two important events; each with a different impact on the other’s world.  

He gives his infant a gaze full of apprehension. The soldier then cuddles his baby leaving a faint smile behind which hopes not to remain just a memory in the Christiansborg Palace Square.

The Square witnessed on Monday September 5 the celebration of Denmark’s National Flag Day for honouring the country’s military personnel sent abroad for the third time in Danish history. Prior to the celebration, a memorial service was held at Holmens Church for commemorating the fallen soldiers. The human cost of the wars the Danish troops took part in was devastating for the soldiers and for Iraqis and Afghans as well.   

The Iraqi invasion and occupation, an exemplar for chaos, divisions and mayhem, is currently undergoing a “Lebanonization” process. The freedom-embedded slogans used by the Bush administration made the war a holy cause for some. The picture of the “Abu-Ghraibian” war style is contradicted by what the United States and its allies rationalized as an opportunity to make from Iraq an exemplar for development and democracy. This however is viewed sometimes as a mere PR stunt for the American government and its confederates.

Denmark contributed and is still doing so, both on the civilian and military levels, to various international missions, “including the UN Interim Force mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL), NATO’s maritime counter-piracy operation, Operation Ocean Shield, off the Horn of Africa and  its involvement in Afghanistan” (Danish Foreign Policy Yearbook, 2011).

Klavs A. Holm, Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy at the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, comments on the civil-military Danish approach towards the Arab/Muslim world in the broader context of societal development there. He says, “Combating Taliban in Afghanistan is part of the Danish foreign policy. By doing this, we also contribute to the Afghan society. What we do is we link our development system to our military operations there, so we have a civil program.”

In this regard, Ole Kvaerno, the director of the Copenhagen Middle East Research Programme (COMER) at the Royal Danish Defence College says, “The Danish government is committed to a state-building process in the Middle East. We are going to widen our civilian encounters in Afghanistan. In 2014, we will be withdrawing our troops deployed there.”

A Distressed Soldier at Christiansborg Palace Square

 

For more information on the Danish Flag Day 2011, see this video:

Is it the Oil Curse or a War for Democracy?

The projects proposed by the Western world that aim at reform in the Arab/Muslim world are sometimes viewed as “descending on the region from above”, as put in “Developments in Civil-Military relations in the Middle East”, a 2008 report by the Royal Danish Defence College.

The skepticism surrounding these projects including the dialogue projects originates from the fact that the West has traditionally been supporting Arab authoritarian regimes as long as they facilitated the implementation of Western agendas in the region. Another reason for the mistrust-based relationship between the Middle East and the Western world is that “the Arab-Israeli conflict has served as a legitimizing device of the dominance of the militaries on grounds of protecting society from the Israeli threat”, as put by Developments in Civil-Military relations in the Middle East, 2008.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 readdresses the divide between the Muslim/Arab world and the Western world. Denmark, being part of the Western world, finds itself included in the existent triggered “clash of civilizations” between the Western and the Muslim worlds.

The current Danish war stance in the Middle East might be interpreted as to emblemize a mission for democracy and development or as to represent Western hidden agendas and interests in the region. Despite how differently the situation looks the patriotic soldier at the Christiansborg Palace Square remains looking at the Danish flag and kisses his baby.

Danish Flags at the Christiansborg Palace

The cartoon crisis still nibbling at the margins of Denmark’s initiated dialogue projects

Ambitious inter-cultural programs pave the way for better relations between Denmark and the Middle East

 The contradictory image of the West perceived by the Middle East was even more convoluted by the caricature crisis distorting the Danish reputation in particular.  

Ole Kvaerno believes that the cartoon crisis has definitely damaged Danish reputation and hence there is a need for repair at the public diplomacy level.”We have to live with the consequences of the crisis and try to manipulate them. The dialogue projects aim to do that at least at the rhetorical level,” he adds.

 However, Mehmet Ümit Necef, Associate Professor at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark, sees that the cartoon case had a good effect. “There has been a genuine desire on behalf of the Danes to truly understand the Arabs and their culture,” he says.

Victory for both worlds?

 In 2003 the Danish Government launched the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme.

The project aimed at initiating a base for a constructive dialogue between Denmark and the Arab world. Recently the initiative is said to establish a separate thematic focus for promoting dialogue between Israeli and Arab partner organizations. “DKK 10 million was to be set aside in 2011 for this particular purpose” (Danish Foreign Policy Yearbook 2011).

 

 In a speech at the Foreign Policy Committee of the Danish Parliament-25 May this year, PM Rasmussens said that more than 220 Danish civil society organizations and public institutions and 400 Arab partners were part of these professional partnerships -including dialogue projects- between Denmark and the Arab world. In fact, the Danish Youth Council (DUF) ran a project called Dialogue Ambassadors last year where young people from the Middle East and Danes with an Arab background went on tour in Jordan, Egypt and Denmark and held workshops. It was a way to give a better mutual understanding of the different cultures at play.

 

  CARTOON ROW

30 Sept 2005: Danish paper publishes cartoons

20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM

10 Jan 2006: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons

26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador

31 Jan: Danish paper apologises

1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons

4-5 Feb: Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut attacked

6-7 Feb: At least eight killed in Afghanistan as security forces try to suppress protests

9 Feb: Hundreds of thousands protest in Beirut

 Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4727606.stm

 

 

On Friday, I had a meeting with a person I met through Soliya’s Connect Program sessions online. He is Harry Baumgarten that decided to make a tour around the Middle East and currently is in Lebanon. He said that this is his first big travel experience and that he views it as a natural progression from our Soliya experience which encouraged him to consider the need for personal relationships to help deconstruct the myths and misconceptions which permeate U.S-Middle East relations and help widen his understanding. Simply put, Soliya Connect program is a program that uses new media and communication technologies to connect young people from around the world. In our sessions, we held discussions about the Western-Muslim relations and the present day conflicts in a rich online environment utilizing the latest in “social media” and learning technologies. On Friday, we discussed Lebanese politics and Israeli-Lebanese relations and he was pleased that he now had a broader understanding of Lebanese politics and culture. I introduced him to some of my friends. He said that Lebanon is the most country in the Middle East that he felt relaxed in and enjoyed. I hope that I’ve presented a good image about the Middle East. As in this case, Soliya literally brought us together.  Social media is really awesome!

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