We can’t boycott everyone

Sister Kareema Hamdan, over at UmmahPulse.com, suggests a Muslim boycott of Dutch products in response to Geert Wilders’ planned film insulting the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) or Islam, claiming that a similar boycott after the cartoons episode of a couple of years ago resulting in the subject of the boycott, the Arla food company, losing major contracts and had politicians scurrying around trying to mend ties with various Muslim countries. Kareema is one of the more astute writers at UmmahPulse, but I disagree with her about this. The problem with the boycott of Danish goods was that it was unjust and hit a target largely unrelated to the offensive cartoons.

Arla is a large, multinational company which happens to be based in Denmark. Doubtless it advertises in Jyllands-Posten, much as its subsidiaries advertise in major newspapers in other countries, including the UK, where at the time it owned Express Dairies; since then, that business has been sold to Dairy Crest, but it still owns various British dairy brands, such as Anchor butter and Cravendale milk; it also owns a large chunk of the Swedish dairy industry, and the name Arla originated in Sweden. The targets of a boycott of food companies are typically people entirely outside the media industry, such as farmers and factory workers, and thus innocent of the offence which gave rise to the boycott.

The consequences hardly bear thinking about. They are the people most likely to be swayed by inflammatory arguments on the radio and in down-market newspapers because they are least likely to be well-educated. Even if they had not voted for the right-wing parties which trade on fear of “outsiders” before, they might choose to now if they lose their jobs because of actions by these “outsiders” or their friends abroad. If people are rioting at home, it does not matter if the government is cosying up to leaders of Muslim countries. Economic crisis is what gives a boost to extremist parties. Whether or not anti-discrimination laws exist, employers could easily find ways to get rid of Muslims if they have to get rid of people (e.g. by banning headscarves).

I dispute that the boycott had such a chastening effect on Denmark. The climate of anti-Muslim opinion has not changed much, and the laws preventing young people bringing young spouses into the country from outside the EU, which was aimed at Muslims, are still in place. Meanwhile, the cartoons are readily available on websites the world over which moan about, or mock, the intolerant nature of Muslims. In the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn became a martyr as did Theo Van Gogh, as will Geert Wilders if any harm should befall him as a result of his rantings. In the hysteria that followed the Danish cartoons, it was even suggested that Norwegian products be boycotted as well, after a low-circulation magazine there reprinted the cartoons.

I cannot think what products we will boycott from the Netherlands, anyway. Flowers? Vegetables? Unless they come from some media hot-shot’s hobby farm (do they have them in Holland as they do here?), what benefit could possibly come from that? The only result will be jobs lost to ordinary workers. However, that is really not my main objection to these boycotts.

My main objection is that they always seem to take place in response to insults, not assaults on the community. There has been no mass movement to boycott French goods, for example, in response to their anti-hijab laws, which caused real suffering rather than offence, and countries do not get boycotted when parties come to power on openly or thinly-disguised anti-Muslim platforms. When a crypto-fascist party, the Freedom Party, entered the governing coalition in Austria, it resulted in sanctions from the EU against that country, and we all know what happened when the Palestinians elected politicians connected to Hamas to office. As for Muslims, our boycotts are usually in response to insults from individuals or private organisations, and hit targets unrelated to the insult. We cannot boycott entire countries in response to such insults; we should choose our targets more carefully.

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