Newsletter for American friends 21. marts 2006

Tidligere bunkemails til venner og bekendte


American  Pictures! 


Dear American friends

Several of you have sent me e-mails wondering why Denmark is now setting the whole world on fire. I have not had time to answer you since I am myself in the midst of it all in Denmark where I am in the media constantly criticizing the growing Danish racism and the government's alliance with the far rightist racist Danish Folk party.

With my experience from American racism (towards blacks) my words seem to carry extra weight since the Danes are totally bewildered about how this incredible racism towards Muslims and immigrants could rise so fast in a traditionally very tolerant country. As a result I have even had big half page stories in the conservative daily which printed the Muhammad cartoons in which I attacked the paper's line.

Remember that this was the same paper which the day after Crystal night in Germany 1938 wrote: " You have to admit that Germany is in its right to get rid of its Jews, but we must as a condition demand that it is done in a decent way."
That tone is the same in the newspaper today towards Muslims. Most scary is that even many of my better-educated friends read it - including my younger brother Steen.

I am right now in Canada and have not much time to tell you about it all. If you are interested you can read the words below from one of my Danish allies in this struggle. Some of you who were in Denmark in the past are in disbelief when I tell you about the racism there today - especially blacks who previously found a refuge there from the oppressive conditions in America. However, of all the blacks I previously employed in American Pictures only two have decided to stay and they too are daily eaten up by anger from having to listen to their co-workers constant racist remarks about Muslims and immigrants reminding them of the worst nigger-talk from their own childhood in America. Perhaps I will later get time to translate some of the many stories I write about it Danish media.

One of those who opened up my own sheltered mind to foreigners and Muslims was dr. Charles Godfrey who in 1968 invited me to Tunisia - and thus changed my life around. Most of his 88-year long life he has used every one of his vacations going out to poor Third World countries to do voluntary unpaid medical work. Later he and his family invited me to work on this farm in Canada - the beginning of American Pictures which economically later also enabled myself to make myself useful in the Third World building a health clinic run by Namibia's present Minister of Health - very much as a result of the inspiration I got from dr. Godfrey's work. His recently deceased wife had a similar impact on me. As a former Communist she shared much of my idealism about making social change, but not my fanaticism which at that time was close to making me join the guerillas in Latin America. Her tireless work on my youthful mind for a year on this farm made me eventually chose the camera rather than what is today called " terrorism " .
Since I am right now visiting this family again I thought I would share this with you since I so often in my racism workshops have talked about the importance of us acting as "saving angels" for other. The fact that I - a looser in school - can today serve my country in a constructive and meaningful way in the midst of its crisis I very much owe to the Godfrey family once serving as my "saving angel".

Since I will rather use my limited time right now in the Danish media I will tell the story of this Danish crises with the words of a couple of my Danish friends.

With love



The Cartoons in the words of a couple of my Danish friends


The cartoons depicting Muhammad were just the culmination of years of scorn against Muslims, something which has unfortunately been widespread during the last ten years of political debate in Denmark. For the same reason the international reputation of Denmark has been rapidly declining for a number of years, not just with the Islamic countries, but with a lot of other countries in the rest of the world too. Therefore Jyllands-Posten's cartoons are merely fanning a fire whose embers have been smoldering for years.

Jyllands-Posten's drawings are caricatures with a tendency. They associate the Prophet with terrorism, criminality and repression of women. None of them could possibly serve dialogue, mutual understanding or much needed public education between Danes and the Muslims anywhere. They are ill-willed.

The intensity of the negative reaction may be surprising. But seen in the context of our contemporary, globalizing world, their publication was both thoughtless and purposeless. It reveals a mind-boggling deficit in general education and good (journalistic) manners.


The Danish government has lost it

Worse, the Danish government understood neither the affair nor the need for early damage-limitation. Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen turned down appeals for dialogue, following an established pattern also in relation to Denmark's policy on Iraq and immigration issues: by definition we make no mistakes and have nothing to learn from anyone.

If the government had understood the world and our times, it could have emphasized Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the caricatures but used the opportunity to strongly distance itself from such counterproductive, offending activity.

The Prime Minister's and the Foreign Minister's press conference in the afternoon of February 7th amounted to little but yet another bout of self-praise without the slightest hints at regret, apology or reconciliation. The Prime Minister's emphasis that he has the full support of George W. Bush - made in a speech to the Muslim world - reveals that he has understood deplorably little of that world.


Why this is freedom of oppression, not freedom of expression

One must welcome that Jyllands-Posten's editor-in-chief has apologized for the fact that they have provoked and offended so many; he says they were not meant to (January 30, 2006). He maintains that they were published as part of an "ongoing debate on freedom of expression that we cherish so highly." Fine and good - but how utterly blind culturally!

The freedom of expression argument is phony. That the free press exists is, at best, a qualified truth. The way Western mainstream media treat some contemporary issues, such as their government's participation in wars, is only one of several examples of self-censorship and propaganda in the service of power rather than truth and freedom of opinion formation. Freedom of the press has always also implied the freedom to neglect and marginalize - for instance the larger truth about how and why billions of people keep on living in poverty. And it has meant a systematic orientation to government policies rather than civil society.

Second, freedom of expression implies responsibility. It doesn't equal a right to humiliate, offend, demonize, defame or slander. Personal maturity as well as cultured behavior is also about exercising sound judgment and knowing what to say and not to say when - and why. Journalists can still exercise respect, be polite, show empathy and be decent in their dealings with fellow human beings, can't they?

Third, anyone who has traveled outside her or his own culture knows that freedom of expression, together with other so-called universally accepted norms, must be interpreted in a context. No culture or society wants to have foreigners' interpretations imposed upon them. The generalized Westerner - the teacher of the world, never the learner - would strongly decline to have Muslim or Hindu interpretations of those norms imposed on her or his daily living.


Self-glorification and institutionalized racism

(Jan Øberg) am a Danish citizen who has lived 33 years in Sweden. For shorter periods I have worked in Somalia, the Balkans, Japan, Burundi and elsewhere. What has happened the last decade or so in Denmark eludes me both as a Dane and as scholar. I am afraid, indeed frightened, when I ponder the consequences of what I would call Western self-glorifying civilizational dominance and institutionalized racism. So pervasive and so "natural" has it become since the end of the old Cold War that neither the Danes nor other Westerners in general seem to see it. With the war on terrorism we are already well into a new Cold War. For no good reason except the human folly that stems from the combination of cultural arrogance, absence of self-criticism and empathy.

Not for a second do I believe that the Muhammad caricatures or the freedom of the press argument is anything but the last straw in a series of cultural blind humiliations of non-Westerners. They build on centuries of humiliation and insensitivity of the "other". We have become culturally blind and project our own dark features upon others.

So lacking in empathy has Danish politics become that the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Stig Moeller, repeatedly uses only one word: Unacceptable! - but not about his own government's immigration policies or its participation in genocide and mass murder on the Iraqi people but - yes of course - about the reactions throughout the Muslim world. Increasingly these hours and days, commentators present Denmark as a victim and the Muslim reactions as exaggerated and staged.

Few Danes and few Danish media seem willing to raise the broader contextual questions and ask whether Denmark's policies - Iraq, immigration, Islamophobia - could be the basic cause of all this.


They see my country as a rogue state and I don't blame them

Let's assume that the Danes and their politicians still have manners and human maturity. If so, they would recognize that now is the time for modesty, self-reflection, apologies and reconciliation. A civilization that has none of it is decaying and, in the process, also dangerous for itself and others. It becomes a rogue civilization.

These days I fear that Western culture increasingly comes across as lacking both empathy, open debate and the courage to say, We are sorry! My native country is now a rogue state in the eyes of millions of fellow human beings. Whether or not this is a fair judgment of Denmark is not the issue. The issue is that present Danish politics is a prime reason that those millions hold that image.

We could well be witnessing the beginning of a drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.

With Love

Jacob Holdt
Gernersgade 63
1319 Copenhagen K, Denmark
Tel in Denmark: +45 33 124412
Tel in the USA: 212-614-0438 


If my e-mail answer was too short or unsatisfactory, 
you can find more information on my 17.434 web pages:

My calendar where you can see if one of my lectures is in your area or - if you want to organize one - if I am available on your preferred date

My previous  6.500 lectures - listed after type of school

The online version of the show or book with 3000 pictures

Reviews of my shows - in major American papers and college papers

My articles on racism, development aid, ecology, welfare state etc.

My photographs - from the USA, Bolivia, Nepal, Guatemala, 
Nicaragua, Thailand, Haiti , Jamaica, Africa and Kosovo.

My racism work with the Ku Klux Klan - and their healing encounters with my black friends

And some hobbies helping me to fill out all the spare time as a lecturer on the boring highways:

Genealogy - with a family tree containing over 10,000 of my
family's direct ancestors through 150 generations - or  4.100 years! Click from my children all the way back to their x-great grandparents such as emperor Augustus, Herod the Great, Alexander the Great and 1,100 other  kings, emperors - and pharaohs such as Ramses II - not to speak of Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt.

Influential ancestors: Or see my family's relationship with those persons who actually talked to or were friends with Jesus, John the Baptist, St. Paul, Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, Perikles, Cleisthenes (the founder of democracy) and others who shaped modern humanism...... well, even corresponded with Jesus (as surprising as it sounds).

And if you finally - after this e-mail - have difficulties seeing my saint halo, - well, let me try to polish it a bit by showing you how much saint blood runs in my family veins - directly descending from more than 30 saints and some of the popes who (mistakenly?) canonized them!!!