The end of blog-utopia

Through Econstudentlog I became aware that one of the best Egyptian blogs is closing. The angry sandmonkey has stopped blogging for a variety of reasons, but I suspect that the most important is fear for his own security – a fear that unfortunately is entirely warranted.

One of the chief reasons is the fact that there has been too much heat around me lately. I no longer believe that my anonymity is kept, especially with State Secuirty agents lurking around my street and asking questions about me since that day. I ignore that, the same way I ignored all the clicking noises that my phones started to exhibit all of a sudden, or the law suit filed by Judge Mourad on my friends, and instead grew bolder and more reckless at a time where everybody else started being more cautious. It took me a while to take note of the fear that has been gripping our little blogsphere and comprehend what it really means. The prospects for improvment, to put it slightly, look pretty grim. I was the model of caution, and believing in my invincipility by managing not to get arrested for the past 2 and a half years, I’ve grown reckless. Stupid Monkey. Stupid!

I’ve been thinking a lot about these things for the last year or so. I’m afraid that our initial optimism regarding blogs’ ability to change the world was entirely unfounded. States and regimes can and will stop blogs and anything else on the internet should they choose to do so. At least they can make the stakes so high for everyone involved that most people will prefer just to keep their blog shut. It is only a matter of taking the descision and applying the necessary means. Any page can be blocked, and everyone can be found – in the end. We might think that we are blogging anonymously, but in reality we are leaving behind us a very obvious electronic ‘bit trail’ which will not only make us easy to find, but also will make our writings available for everyone for all eternity.

The web – unfortunately – only gives us the freedom that the state decides to give us. Or more correctly, the freedom that we are willing to fight for. The ‘free net’ that we in the Western world take for granted is a result of our traditions and institutions for freedom of speech and rights of privacy. This can very quickly change. Let’s try to keep it the way it is – or let’s make it even more free.

Salutes to The Sandmonkey. I understand you perfectly. You’ve done a great job in the past two or three years, and you should not feel ashamed for making your own security the most important priority.

Update, May 12th: The news finally reached Danish MSM.

Love that metaphor!

I love the creative use of metaphors (well, who doesn’t) and the other day I stumbled across these two little gems from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon (p. 515, 516; an amazing read, btw). They describe how the invention of radar affected a certain German U-boat:

In the age of sonar, Bischoff’s U-boat was a rat in a dark, cluttered, infinite cellar, hiding from a man who had neither torch nor lantern: only two rocks that could spark when banged together. Bischoff sank a lot of ships in those days.

… (after the invention of radar) …

His U-boat is no longer a rat in a dark cellar. Now it is a wingless horsefly dragging itself across an immaculate tablecloth in the streaming light of the afternoon sun.

BANG! One dead horsefly!

The Velvet Underground as airplane music

The times they are a-changing… as always. The Velvet Underground used to be the nastiest, sexiest and most scary music money could buy. But last week when I took the Air France Airbus home from Tehran, they played Femme Fatale on the speaker system, like it was just another piece by Vivaldi. Granted it’s among the velvets’ more accessible tracks, but still it wouldn’t exactly call Nico’s voice calming and reassuring, or the lyrics soothing and relaxing. As she sings, she really is a little tease…

What’s next? Merzbow in the elevator?

180 grader i luften

Så er den nye netavis 180grader i luften. Avisen er erklæret borgerlig og står hermed i opposition til resten af den danske presse, hvor der nok findes en del aviser med angivelig borgerlig observans, mens det store (meget store) flertal af journalister er venstreorienterede eller radikale, hvilket i praksis fører til en bestemt type nyheder.

180grader er et ekstremt spændende projekt set herfra, og avisens forside ser flot og professionel ud. Første leder er et spark til Enhedslistens dobbeltmoral. Selv rengøringsassistenter skal åbenbart have partibogen i orden for at blive ansatte. Der er allerede kommentarer, for som en rigtig web2.0 avis udnytter 180grader mediets muligheder.

Personligt glæder jeg mig meget til at følge avisen i fremtiden, også fordi redaktørerne Thomas Breitenbach og Ole Birk Olesen er kendte for at høre til i den liberale del af borgerligheden, som ikke identificerer sig med den nuværende regering og dens kontrolhysteri og paternalisme. Læs mere om idégrundlaget her.

Folketingets bloggere

Ikke ret mange danske MF’ere har en blog, men dem der har, bliver her anmeldt af Jarl Cordua.

“Jarls blog” som den kort hedder er efter min mening p.t. en af de meste velskrevne og interessante blogs i Danmark. Selv orker jeg ikke at følge med i de små justeringer i dansk politik, og derfor kommer de efterhånden mange gode danske, politiske bloggere som sendt fra himlen. De er “politiske dyr”, der faktisk synes det er sjovt at følge med fra dag til dag. Nu mangler vi bare, at politikerne selv kommer rigtigt med på vognen, som Jarl dokumenterer.

East and West: How to spot the difference

It’s a scorching day in Denmark. Summer is here at least a month too early and I’m thanking global warming. It’s a great day to think about a certain phenomenon that very clearly separates Western (I’m thinking particularly about North European) culture from Eastern. Is it the pietistic and protestantic background? No. Is it the long tradition for democracy, human rights and mindless egalitarianism? No. Then what about the fair skin and the long summer nights? No, no and no.

I’m thinking of course about the way we use our balconies. You know those little appendages we hang on the outside of buildings, especially apartment blocks, so people can get the illusion of being outside while they’re actually still in their apartment. You see, they way we use our balconies here in Denmark is vastly different from the way they use it in other places – Iran being one place, but also just on the other side of the Baltic in Poland, and even in Spain (which I here somehow confuse into the East category). So what is the difference? It is the difference between balconies as “extended living room” and balconies as “useful storage space”.

On a hot summer day when you walk around in Copenhagen, you’ll see every Dane who has acces to a balcony actually using it as a substitute for going to the park – they’ll be smoking, drinking coffee, having breakfast, sunbathing, reading a newspaper, whatever, and meanwhile enjoying the fresh air and the sun. Danes who have balconies almost live on them during the summer. But people here in Denmark of – for example – Middle Eastern decent (who are technically Danes but have a different cultural background) will not, never, ever use their balconies for pleasure. A balcony is to be used as a storage space – preferably for lots of coca-cola bottles or other soft drinks.

This essential difference was perfectly illustrated a few months back when me and my girlfriend happened into one of those silly home owner shows on Danish television. Here a young Danish couple of (I think) Pakistani decent (but I may be wrong) just had bought a new apartment, and the home-grown Danish television crew had followed them on their quest. The couple were young, recently married, happy, well integrated, spoke perfect Danish and was in all ways succesfully assimilated into Danish society. And yet, when the Danish interviewer admired the couple’s nice new balcony and said “this is so great: the lilttle baby carriage can stand out there on hot summer evenings” the girl were visibly horrified! There was no way she was putting her little yet-to-be-born baby out there! “No, I think we’ll use it for the coke bottles” she said and brushed the idea off. The guy nodded and agreed – I can extrapolate he was thinking: “this was going so well, but these Danes are really nuts”.

Now, the really funny thing is that here my girlfriend laughed and said: “It’s exactly the same in my familiy!”. You have to know here that she on her mother’s side is Polish-Jewish with that whole part of the family living in Denmark. And here it is exactly the same: no one goes out on the balcony. It is for storing stuff, not for putting out plants and a nice little table to drink coffee at in the morning. So apparently there is this storage-culture all the way from Poland and down (we can assume) at least to Iran, where I again observed the storage-phenomenon.

What’s the explanation? I don’t know. It could have something to do with the climate (which doesn’t explain Poland, though), because in Spain they were also using their balconies for storage – for eggs no less! And then they would make home-made mayonnaise from eggs that had been outside in the summer heat for days and never seen a fridge since they left the chicken. How gross is that?

Anyway: Some people think that the rows of sattelite dishes pointed towards Mecca indicate that a lot of immigrants live in a certain place. Maybe so, but an even better indication is the boxes on the balcony, filled with soft drinks or eggs or whatever. Just take a look the next time you’re passing by!

Where’s the sex?

Speaking of hejabs. Here’s a site that makes clear why hejabs are needed in the Middle East: traffic stopping, cardiac arrest inducing Lebanese Beauties. Danish girls often don’t have much hair to show, which is why they don’t cover it up – what’s the point anyway? Arab, Persian and Jewish girls on the other hand have some of the fullest heads of hair in the world, which is why they have to cover it up (not the Jewish girls, though). The effect of all that hair out in public space be disastrous.

You were probably wondering what happened to the sex promised in the subtitle to this blog. Well, here it is, a link to a site with no sex but lots of bathing suits. Just to show you a side of the Middle East, that you – unfortunately – don’t see every day.

Hejab crackdown

Last week when we were in Iran, there was a rumor going round, that the police were going to crack down on girls not wearing their hejab modestly enough (lots of Iranian girls wear it only to the middle of the top of their head, with lots of hair – sometimes carefully coiffed – visible). Apparently the rumors spoke the truth:

Some people I know have yet to see the packs of police ushering women into awaiting minibuses, but my regular stomping grounds are in the heart of bad-hejabland. “At least the police are polite here,” a taxi driver tells me. They have to be polite. They are being watched by neighbors with cameras and internet connections. “You should see them over at some of the other spots. They are really going after women with force and being rough.”

Sounds bad. On the other hand somebody told me that this was exactly the kind of attitude from the authorites which could shake the country up, since many people simply won’t stand for it any longer. Personally I don’t think we’ll see any rebellion anytime soon. So meanwhile: watch that hejab!

Update, 28th of april:
The news found way to Danish media as well.

Update, 29th og april:
Now they’re going for the men. No more David Beckham stylez for you! We saw a lot of guys with big gelled-up high-hair haircuts in Tehran. Thank god, they put a stop to that, they were really ridiculous!

Iran 4: Islam everywhere and I just want to quit

Before I went to Iran, I was so tired of hearing about Islam all the time in Danish media. The debate on the Danes and the Muslims have been going on for almost ten years and have only intensified and intensified. Ever since the Cartoon Crises I had personally gotten more and more critical of Islam as a religion and more and more critical of persons with a Muslim background as a whole. And I was really tired of being confronted with this issue all the time, and this goes for both the Islam-bashing of Danish blogs and the Danish People’s Party as well as the all too sugar-coated multiculturalism of the Danish Broadcasting Cooperation. And yet, I couldn’t and can’t help writing about Islam all the time.

I won’t say that my trip to Iran changed my views so much as expanded them greatly. I’ve met so many different people with so many different views and although I have an even worse picture of islamism as a political project, I’ve seen the incredible complexities of what we in the West call the Islamic world – even though I’ve really only scratched the surface. I’ve met devout Muslims who were thorough democrats and against the hejab, I’ve met anti-muslim Persians who hated George Bush and 300, and I’ve met an Iranian who grew up in Denmark as a refugee from Khomeini, but simply couldn’t take the heat anymore and went back to Iran – because off the hostile climate in Denmark towards anyone of Middle Eastern decent. All this made me think, and the bottom line is:

Let’s all just shut up about Islam for a while and try to see people as individuals. Try to listen some more, please.

Naser Khader meets Keith Ellison

Well-known Danish politician Naser Khader, founder of the organization Democratic Muslims, meets the first Muslim member of the American Congress, Keith Ellison. And blasts him for American support for countries like Saudi Arabia, while talking about working for democratic values.

Der er tale om dobbeltmoral, når man på den ene side siger, at man er nødt til at fjerne diktatoriske ledere, som i Irak, mens man med den anden hånd stryger Saudi Arabien med hårene. Dette gør det svært for folk, som mig, der arbejder for at indføre demokrati i Mellemøsten, fordi vi altid bliver mødt med dette eksempel på amerikansk dobbeltmoral.

Quite true. But what to do about it? The applies for Danish foreign policy as well. On the one hand we need their oil, on the other we have an interest in spreading democratic values. It’s quite a tightrope walk, and right now we seem to be tripping!

Khader’s visit to the USA has gotten wide attention in the DK, but I’ve yet to see American media cover his tour. Anyone has any links?

Actually here and here are articles about Khader being too controversial for American television – apparently he is too critical of islamists. It seems that PBS is afraid of being accused of islamophobia.