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Charlie Hebdo And Politeness In Multi-Ethnic Societies

By John Scales Avery

09 January, 2015

The attack on Charlie Hebdo, in which 10 people were killed, claimed massive media attention worldwide. Everyone agreed that freedom of speech and democracy had been brutally attacked, and many people proclaimed “Je suis Charlie!”, in solidarity with the murdered members of the magazine's staff.

In Denmark, it was proposed that the offending cartoons of the prophet Mohammad should be reprinted in major newspapers. However, in the United States, there was no such proposal, and in fact, US television viewers were not even allowed to see the drawings that had provoked the attack. How is this difference between Denmark and the US to be explained?

Denmark is a country with a predominantly homogeneous population, which only recently has become more diverse through the influx of refugees from troubled parts of the world. Thus, I believe, Denmark has not yet had time to learn that politeness is essential for preventing conflicts in a multi-ethnic society. On the other hand, the United States has lived with the problem for much longer.

During most of its history, the US has had substantial Spanish-speaking and Italian-speaking minorities, as well as great religious diversity. During the 1960's the civil rights movement fought against racial prejudice and gradually achieved most of its goals. Thus, over a very long period of time, the United States learned to avoid racial and religious insults in its media, and this hard-earned wisdom has allowed the very markedly multi-ethnic US society to function with a minimum of racial and religious conflicts.

Is this a lesson that the world as a whole needs to learn? I strongly believe that it is. Globally, we are in great need of a new ethic, which regards all humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, religion or nationality. Human solidarity will become increasingly important in the future, as stress from climate change and the vanishing of nonrenewable resources becomes more pronounced.

To get through the difficult time ahead of us, we will need to face the dangers and challenges of the future arm in arm, respecting each other's differing beliefs, and emphasizing our common humanity rather than our differences.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at avery.john.s@gmail.com






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