On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.
Copenhagen is one of my favourite cities. I have spent many happy times there. My late wife was Danish, my sons are half-Danish, and I have many in-law relatives there. I salute The Danish Free Press Society and its President, Katrine Winkel Holm for holding the conference and her sister, Marie Krarup, member of parliament, for hosting it. The first speaker was German, Henryk Broder.
Broder begins with a charmingly quiet ad lib section, almost under his breath, extolling the virtues of Copenhagen.
Then, when he turns to his script, my heart sinks. He has already proved to my satisfaction that his English is good enough for him to shoot this speech from the hip, yet he is reading it. In the process he takes a big percentage of the stuffing out of it. He either does not know how to prepare a speech to be delivered without the assistance of paper, or he does not trust himself to try. He could easily do it. The only excuse is the language. It would be a very good excuse – I could not deliver a speech in German to save my life – but not only does that tiny opening section indicate that he speaks English very well, but ten minutes of Q&A after the speech absolutely confirm it. What a pity!
Nevertheless I would infinitely prefer to hear these words read than not hear them at all. It is a beautiful piece of writing, and a magnificently argued message. It is measured, tempered, sober, yet devastatingly well aimed. I know there will be some who do not share his sentiments; but surely no one would dare to challenge his prescience, uttered more than three months before New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Being shown to be right goes a long way towards being proved to be correct.
Compare his warnings, now already justified by events, with the weaselly wittering of those who disgracefully and lamely try to blame Cologne on the victims.
He closes with a quotation from Winston Churchill. It is the cherry on the icing.