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How Did Muslims ACTUALLY Respond to the Danish Cartoons Insulting Muhammed?

[These are excerpts from On the Muslim Question by Anne Norton]

excerpted by John Spritzler

April 29, 2016

[Also see "Links to some facts about Muslims & Islam"]

[The mass media version of what happened when a Danish newspaper published cartoons insulting to Muhammed can be read here. A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, on September 30, 2005, published a collection of twelve cartoons about (and most depicting) Muhammed with an essay, defending that publication decision, by its cultural editor, Flemming Rose. What follows are some facts from Anne Norton's book that are not well-known or understood.]

The now-notorious article came and went. There appears to have been no significant reaction at all either within Denmark or in the Middle East. It's not that the cartoons went unnoticed by newspapers in the Middle East: the Egyptian newspaper El Fagr had published them with a negative editorial in October, which neither urged nor produced a violent reaction. The Jyllands-Posten appears to have been dissatisfied with the lack of reaction to the cartoons, and circulated them, after publication, to prominent imams in Copenhagen, including Ahmad Abu Laban. The imams were disturbed, but again, there was no violent (or even inflammatory) reaction.

Months later, Abu Laban and other Danish imams brought a folio of these and other antisemitic, anti-Muslim cartoons to a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference they were scheduled to attend in Mecca. The imams wished to discuss the rising tide of anti-Mulim sentiment in Europe. They therefore brought not only the cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten but other examples of anti-Muslim caricature...The additional cartoons the imams brought to Cairo were real: real caricatures, real insults, received by real people. The meeting produced a formal diplomatic expression of "concern at the rising hatred against Islam and Muslims" and over "using the freedom of expression as a pretext for defaming religions." It did not call for violent action, and no violence occurred.


As the cartoons began to circulate farther afield, the file enlarged. Muslims added other, more offensive, caricatures, and the images moved outside Europe, outside the realm of the diplomatic, and into a rougher politics. Politicians and media figures in the Islamic world did as Flemming Rose and Jyllands-Posten editor in chief Carsten Juste had done: circulating and supplementing the images in the hope of kindling a more outraged, more political, more violent, more newsworthy, and more profitable response. They got it--but not at home, not in Europe, not in the West.

Jytte Klausen is a scholar who has produced some of the most reliable and evenhanded work on Muslims in Europe. Her study of the cartoon controversy is invaluable in many respects, but misleading in others. Most importantly, Klausen exaggerates the violence associated with the cartoons. Table 2 in the book presents the "number of victims associated with demonstrations against the Danish cartoons." The number of deaths and injuries appears large indeed until one reads the table carefully. Klausen counts 241-48+ deaths over a four-month period, of which 205-7 come from a single five-day period in Nigeria. She counts 790-800+ injuries, of which 485+ come from Nigeria. These figures are, unfortunately, not remarkable in the Nigerian context. Comparable clusters of deaths have occurred both before and after the cartoon controversy. The BBC reported over 200 deaths in Nigeria on January 20, 2010, writing that "the area has seen several bouts of deadly violence in recent years. At least 200 people were killed in an outbreak of fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2008, while some 1,000 died in a riot in 2001."

The next largest--but much smaller--group of deaths (11) was of Libyan rioters shot by Libyan police. This group of rioters had split off from a larger peaceful demonstration, and was attacked by the police after it became violent. The link to the Danish cartoons is also tenuous here. The killings were of Muslim Libyans by Muslim Libyans. The protest was directed at the Italian consulate and was prompted by an Italian minister who wore a T-shirt displaying the cartoons during a television appearance. The cartoons became inflammatory in the Libyan context only when they were linked to Libya's former colonizer, Italy. In light of subsequent events, we might now wonder whether the confrontations between Libyan police and Libyan demonstrators were really about the cartoons at all, or whether they were the occasion for the expression of anger at a repressive regime. The 4 deaths in Afghani riots against the cartoons might be compared with 14 deaths in anti-US riots in the same period. Denmark has soldiers serving with US forces in Afghanistan and, cartoons or no cartoons, is a target for Afghans who object to the presence of coalition forces. Only one of the deaths and none of the injuries occurred in the West. The single Western death was the suicide of a Muslim in police custody.

Let us be clear about this. The idea that the cartoon controversy set off violent confrontations between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners is simply wrong. Violence did occur outside the West. It occurred in places where violence is common, where any number of issues, at home or abroad, actual or rumored, can set it off. People were injured, people died. Those people were Pakistani, Nigerian, Afghani, Libyan, and usually Muslim. they were casualties in continuing violent conflicts. Those conflicts continue today, without reference to the Danish cartoons.


There was also--and this is critical--no threat to freedom of speech. No Dane feared the intervention of the state. No Dane feared the reaction of outraged majority sentiment. They did not even fear the "sickly oversensitivity" of Muslims they sought to offend. They were correct. Jyllands-Posten published the cartoons. The newspaper was printed, circulated, and read. Those who objected to the cartoons did so in print and in demonstrations that remained peaceful.

If the object of the publication of the cartoons was to affirm the right to freedom of the press or free speech, or even the "right" to offend, Jyllands-Posten should have been delighted with the result. They weren't. Simply proving that Danes could publish what they chose was not enough. They intended to provoke. If one insult wasn't enough, it would have to be repeated.






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