When I taught courses in policy analysis and public administration, one of my favourite show-stoppers was presenting the (now departing) director of the Danish Royal Theatre, Michael Christiansen. The joke was that Christiansen was recruited to this post from a position as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defense (!)
Today, the board of the Royal Theatre announced Christiansen’s successor, Erik Jacobsen. And, yes, he too is recruited from a ministry. This time the Ministry of the Environment.
As I recall, Christiansen was originally met with some reservation from the staff of the theatre, even though he wasn’t the first career civil servant to lead the theatre, but managed to settle in the organisation. He even went native and married one of the actresses. On the other hand, Christiansen never interfered – at least not visibly – in artistic decisions at the operative level during his tenure.
This time round, the artistic staff had less reservations about a professional director. In fact both the chairman of the theatre’s board and the leader of the opera are quoted as saying that getting a person with intimate knowledge of the political and administrative system was of prime importance.
America’s creative elite invade Berlin, city of cool, the Guardian says. Why? Because they can afford it. Just as Paris in the 1920s was affordable.
xkcd reveals my true nature.
Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics and had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit program and offer other private insurance options encouraged by the Bu
From politics to an even more controversial subject: css. I am not sure it is that good an idea to play around with these things at this time of the day, but I wanted to try a couple of tweaks to the design of the page:
- I use a 3-column version of the K2 WordPress theme, but I’m not sure if I prefer having the main column to the left or in the centre.
- I am sure that I prefer the text to be left-aligned.
- I think I managed to change the default font from Lucida Grande (Verdana for Windows-prisoners) to Georgia. I may go back to the default again.
K2 is a nice theme to work with for code-almost-analphabets like me but for some reason I cannot get the "Archives" page to work. K2’s support forum doesn’t give me any hints.
Part one is here
Combining political parties which often have histories and traditions going back to before World War I and candidates with a non-European immigrant background is not an easy task: My impression is that young Muslim women in particular have caused problems for Danish parties – even if the women are bright and educated, they simply haven’t learned the finer codes and distinctions so important in political discourse both within and between parties and come across as politically ambiguous. (Men with immigrant backgrounds have also occasionally caused trouble but for other reasons which more have to do with the clash between ideologically and clan-based politics). And conversely, the parties – especially those on the libertarian end of the scale – still haven’t learnt how to gauge the views of these women.
An added complication is that to Europeans in general and Scandinavians in particular higher levels of education are generally linked with more liberal or libertarian standpoints on social issues (technically, these are questions regarding issues like education, women’s rights or religion – and of cause immigration). This link – especially with the backlash against secularism and the subsequent rise of Islamism in the Muslim world – is less obvious among immigrants and their descendents.
Which brings us to the question: How – if at all – does Asmaa Abdol-Hamid fit in at the Unity List?
First a look at Abdol-Hamid’s biography: She was born in Lebanon in 1981 as the daughter of Palestinian refugees and came to Denmark in 1986 or 1987 where she grew up, first in a small town in Sønderjylland but when she was 17 her family moved to Odense as her mother (!) wanted to give her children better opportunities for higher education. Adbol-Hamid is trained as a social worker and has been involved in a number of projects supported by local councils.
In an interview published on Kvinfo’s homepage, the recurring themes besides the discussion of her professional role are her Palestinian indentity, rejection of integration as a positive goal and religion. So we have a seeming paradox here: On the one hand, Abdol-Hamid appears modern – the focus on education and work; on the other hand deeply conservative – the focus on religion and visible religious symbols, especially her wearing a hijab, and the relationship between men and women.
The paradox is less obvious in a Middle-Eastern context: Abdol-Hamid would be a prime example of the contemporary Islamist, as opposed to secularised, woman. (At this point we should remember that Islamism in practice covers a wide variety of positions ranging from the Turkish AKP at one end to Osama bin-Laden at the opposite – conflating the two is a little like claiming that Ché Guevarra was a Social Democrat).
This still doesn’t explain what she is doing in the socialist Unity List where she was on the party’s list for the 2005 local council election in Odense (without getting elected to the council, though) and since earlier this year #7 on the party’s national target list.
The fact that she is a Palestinian and involved in local social work could be part of the explanation. Supporting the Palestinian cause against US-Israeli capitalist globalisation has always been central to the post-1968 European new left and Abdol-Hamid could serve as a token Palestinian. Her training and work would also make her a useful symbol for a party wanting to point to alternatives to the (non-)immigration and integration policies of the present Danish government.
Her sexual and religious politics, on the other hand, fit the Unity List as a fist to a black eye: Besides wearing the hijab, Abdol-Hamid’s shtick is refusing to shake hands with men (which amounts to a carefully orchestrated insult in a Western society; it is almost as bad as entering a mosque with your shoes on). There are a number of interesting ambiguities in the sexual politics of radical feminism but it is far from obvious how the modern Islamist view of women’s role and appearance in society fits in with the new-left tradition.
To an outside observer, it seems as if part of the reasoning in the Unity List has been: If the Danish People’s Party hate her so much, then she is the right candidate for us. (During the spring and summer of this year, DPP politicians launched a number of attacks on Abdol-Hamid that ranged from the silly to the outright disgusting)
As the icing on the cake, Abdol-Hamid has showed herself as an ineffective political communicator (Gaffe-prone would be another, less kind way of putting it). She may argue that she has been met with excessive suspicion by national media but the fact remains that she has managed to waffle on issues such as the death penalty, religion and politics, the role of Danish forces in Iraq and even her accept of the Danish constitution, and that a number of prominent figures on the left-wing in Danish politics, who should have an idea about the means and goals of the Unity List, have distanced themselves from her.
In short, she is both symbolically and substantially a political liability, which a recent opinion poll conducted for Danish TV2 poll also confirmed (I’ll note that the formulation in the questionnaire is problematic and that the sample of UL voters for obvious reasons is very small).
In an editorial in Monday’s paper, Politiken argues that the backlash against Abdol-Hamid’s candidacy is proof of a fundamental Danish intolerance against Muslims but I think this is a partial misunderstanding. That the DPP went ballistic was only what one could expect – to the DPP immigrants who show their ethnical or religious identity are enemies of Denmark while those who don’t are fith-column traitors just waiting to show their real identity and creating fear of immigrants is one of the party’s instruments in mobilising its voters and members.
What Politiken misses is that Abdol-Hamid in a Danish context for a number of reasons will be perceived as a social conservative rather than a socialist and that it takes a very effective political communicator to get her message across in a credible way outside her established audience. That the Unity List might never have accepted a less opague Abdol-Hamid as a parliamentary candidate is part of the equation.
PS: For Scandinavian readers, the fastest way to get an overview of the Asmaa story is via the homepage dansk-politik.
This is a special message for Nick Aylott: Soon, you will have no excuse for not getting a mac.