Having a quick scan of the midday news, I was surprised at first not to see a peep about the Progress Party’s specially commissioned Mohammed caricature/cartoon for their membership magazine, which was published today. Too soon? Or maybe the cautious Norwegian media were just not going to touch this one until absolutely necessary?
Or maybe the Progress Party (FrP) were just exaggerating their bold provocation which aimed to test tolerance and freedom of speech?
A quick trip to the FrP web site finds a release from late yesterday afternoon, which seems to be a quick response to the coverage from Drammens Tidende heralding the impending controversy and new cartoon. Here the executive editor of Fremskritt (Progress), Geir Mo, is doing some very fancy verbal footwork, most of it backwards.
“It is not the publication’s intention that this drawing should depict God or Mohammed, as some speculate. If anyone interprets the drawing this way, it just shows the problems linked to reduced freedom of speech,” Mo says. What? A variety of interpretations indicates less freedom of speech?
This doesn’t bear much resemblance at all to the original drawing expected to provoke a Muslim fundamentalist backlash, and a bold alternative to reusing the Danish caricatures. Perhaps the Drammen paper angled things for maximum controversy. They did name the FrP ‘artist’, something the party itself has refused to do or confirm, not wanting that to distract from the freedom of speech debate. So no chance of risking real trouble or reprisals then.
This sharp contrast between the desire to make a bold stand yet do it as non-commitally as possible may help explain a truly shocking little news item – the FrP is no longer the nation’s leading right-wing party. For the first time in ages, the Conservative Party Høyre has that honor, with 23.3 percent support in an Aftenposten poll, with the FrP on 21.2. Høyre has not been higher since 2001, and hasn’t done better than that in an election since 1985.
The poll, which in overall terms can be seen as an increasing lean to the right and away from the Labour-led majority coalition, cannot reflect the latest FrP stunts, and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts. Or if anyone notices. With a predominantly cautious and polite press, there is no guarantee that many will pay attention to wishy-washy in-house drawings.