Compelling new evidence against Danish government’s handling of the cartoons

Have been too busy to blog lately, alas.

A quick update on the Danish cartoon controversy.

Just got my hands on a great new book by Rune Engelbreth Larsen and Tøger Seidenfaden called Karikaturkrisen: En undersøgelse af baggrund og ansvar  ("The Cartoon Crisis:  An Study of its background and responsibility") which pretty much demolishes the government’s justifications and much of the conventional wisdom about the Danish imam’s supposedly inflammatory contribution to the crisis.

Haven’t read the whole thing yet and don’t have time to translate anything from it at the moment, but suffice it to provides considerable evidence to prove that:

  1. The government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen had ample opportunity to nip this crisis in the bud over a period of half a year.
  2. The early Muslim response did not demand government censorship.  The October 2005 letter from Muslim ambassadors to the Prime Minister explicitly affirmed freedom of speech (and presciently warned of the danger of unrest in Muslim societies), as did even Egypt’s protest letter the following month to the UN.  All that was asked was for him to distance the government from Jyllands-Posten’s divisive PR campaign against Islam.  In other words, the argument that the Danish government had no choice but to rebuff Muslims because they were demanding that the government ignore Danish laws protecting speech are patently false.
  3. While the Danish imams did say some some things that’s weren’t entirely accurate in the heat of the controversy, there is no evidence that they sought to misrepresent the cartoons by including the infamous additional drawings.  These additional items were physically separated from the JP cartoons.
  4. They provide compelling arguments for the view that the imams
    and the dossier (i.e., with the JP cartoons and various other more
    offensive ones that Danish Muslims had encountered in Denmark) they
    distributed to leaders in the region did not contribute appreciably to
    the escalation of the conflict.  One interesting point they make is
    that most of the leaders they met were already quite familiar with the
    cartoons, so it is unlikely the additional drawings in any way misled
  5. Not only is it a myth that the Danish Muslim delegation whipped up the Muslim world into a frenzy against Denmark, they actually were instrumental in delaying the outbreak of the boycott.  They opposed a fatwa by Egyptian mufti Ali Guma urging a boycott.  The authors note that a senior Danish counterterrorism official publicly thanked them for their constructive and moderate role while in the Middle East.  They go on to state that there is considerable evidence for the view that the imams prevented the boycott from beginning two months earlier.  The boycott and mayhem did not occur until they’d returned to Denmark (and at a point at which the Danish government had had months to defuse the crisis).

Hope this book gets translated into English soon, as it provides so much important context that’s lacking from international coverage.

Even if you don’t agree with all the authors conclusions–though I don’t see how one could argue against them given the evidence they marshal–it’s hands down the most thorough study of the saga done to date.

It definitely puts the government in a bad light, not to mention supports my take on the sorry saga. 

Just finished an article for book on the controversy, btw.   More later.

  • The Lounsbury

    Eh. This qualifies as mere apologia. One can reasonably argue the group of Imams who put the dossier together were overly vilified, but having read the actual thing in its original, I find this apologia silly. As the absurd claim that most of the leaders they met were already quite familiar with the cartoons, so it is unlikely the additional drawings in any way misled them is mere excuse making.

  • TM Lutas

    A government that will bend and distance itself from disagreeable speech is a government that will find itself with an ever growing list of things it is being asked to distance itself from. This is generally not healthy for a religious faiths with outspoken views on right and wrong.
    I have always found the delayed reaction violent outrage strange. Is this sort of thing usual for moslems? For me, it bears all the hallmarks of provocateurs but I’m too far removed from the culture to say anything for sure.

  • Svend White

    Thanks for the feedback, folks.
    TM, I respectfully submit that you are overlooking the real cause of the conflict. Were this simply a theological matter (i.e., the ban on portraying the Prophet), as I think you’re assuming when you say that the reaction was “delayed”, all hell would have broken loose half a year earlier.
    This is about politics inside Denmark and–once the Danish government’s hamhanded response had created the unfortunate impression worldwide that Denmark was endorsing attacks on Islam–Denmark’s suddenly contentious political relationship with the Muslim world. By letting this fester for so long and then acting in such a dismissive and humliating way towards Muslim sentiments (How often do leaders categorically refuse to meet with a dozen ambassadors who are desperately trying to avoid a conflict?) the government transformed what should have been a petty local dispute into a geopolitical cause celebre.
    BTW, this mistaken reading causes many Western observers to interpret the lack of a comparable outcry at Muslim/Arab newspapers publication of the cartoons as evidence of hypocrisy. There’s no question that some leaders in the Muslim world cynically exploited this conflict–I in particular get a kick out of idea of Turkey, a country known for denying Muslim women an education for choosing to wear a headscarf, making a big stink to defend Islam.–but there’s nothing inconsistent about reacting differently to a local publication (i.e., one which, unlike JP, isn’t known for bashing Islam and Muslims) choosing to publish them. The context and obvious intent are completely different, and this is all about context.
    Lounsbury, I’ve seen the original dossier, too, both in scanned form online and in the appendix of this book. I don’t share your assessment.
    I think the additional cartoons were clearly demarcated from the original 12 in the packet distributed.
    I will concede that it was an unfortunate mistake for them to include the extra drawings, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they intended to mislead. That is my point here.
    Moreover, in a political climate where politicians are routinely referring to Muslims as “rapists” and “cancers” in Danish society, I don’t find their professed motivation (i.e., to show the kind of abuse Muslims are encountering in Denmark today) implausible. In fact, even Jyllands-Posten’s own correspondent has conceded that this doesn’t appear to have been an attempt to mislead leaders.,1518,398624,00.html
    The authors make I think a strong case for the notion that the forces set in motion in the Middle East were quite independent of the delegation (e.g., at the big conference in Bahrain, they were overruled by Qaradawi when they called for more dialogue). And it’s undeniable that they did argue for dialogue while in the region.
    The boycott began in Saudi without their input or leadership after their return to Denmark. This was a grassroots reaction the perception (right or wrong) that Denmark was dissing Islam. This, btw, is why the ambassadors were so desperate to meet with the Prime Minister months earlier–they realized the potential of this situation to be made into a huge controversy.
    If you’re saying that it’s improable that leaders already knew about the cartoons when the delegation arrived in November, media reports from the time make it quite clear that this was the case for at least some of them. A number of them said publicly at the time that they saw nothing new in the dossier shown to them during their meetings with the delegation.
    BTW, I remember quite clearly seeing the cartoons last summer for that matter after word spread via email. If I in the USA saw the cartoons within days of their publication last year, I don’t think this is in any way improbable that leaders were familiar with them. Muslims tend to remember when the Prophet is attacked, even if they can’t find the place on the map.
    Sometimes the media consensus is dead wrong. I think this is such a case. The imams made mistakes, sure, but the way they (and by implication all Danish Muslims) have been scapegoated by the international media based on flimsy evidence (often from highly partisan sources) is very troubling. It’s an obvious attempt to shift blame from those who instigated the controversy to those who were its victims (like so many other anti-immigrant campaigns in Denmark in recent years).
    Whatever their faults, the bottom line is that they did not start this fight and they did not go to the Middle EAst to lobby for support until they’d exhausted their options in Copenhagen (which refused to enter into any dialogue whatsoever in November 2005). Media discussion which obscure this basic (but somehow often lacking) context are merely part of the backlash agaisnt the victims for legitimtely defending themselves.
    Finally, another very important point that the authors make is that this delegation was fairly marginal in the scheme of things. The shifting of attention away from the basic facts (i.e., the cartoons, the government’s handling of it, the long backdrop of Muslim-bashing and xenophobia in Denmark) by the government and its defenders to the supposed treachery of the imams was a transparent political ploy.
    As I say in my article (which should be published this fall), the international media should have been more careful about swallowing *this* very real “apologia” hook, line and sinker.

  • The Lounsbury

    At the time and now I did not think the extra illustrations were intended to mislead. They were, however, also not innocent.
    I would not play down anti-Muslim bashing in Europe, quite the contrary, however your commentary reads like over-done apologia for a group of Imams who rather clearly threw oil on the fire. Perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not. They were certainly not the innocents you are portraying (nor am I comfortable with the position you take on the Government, but I shan’t argue that, not my area).

  • Svend White

    Hi Lounsbury
    Respectfully disagree.
    What you’re perceiving as bias, I would call a “corrective” to the dreadfully biased and myopic media coverage we’ve had. The media has made these relatively trivial figures (the imams) into THE story, in the process distracting us from the real issues at stake.
    First of all, IMHO, the proverbial oil was clearly cast on the fire by Jyllands-Posten not the imams, whatever their faults may be. As one Danish expat, Jytte Klausen, observed in, “The Danish paper that printed the cartoons wanted to stir up trouble — and the government wanted a culture war. They got more than they bargained for.”
    Secondly, they (and a dozen ambassadors!) had been trying unsuccessfully to resolve this controversy in Denmark but PM Rasmussen was more interested in appearing “strong” for his right flank than smoothing things over, so he ignored them, with disastrous consequences. Thus, they went to the Middle East to lobby for diplomatic support after they’d exhausted their options in Denmark. They internationalized the conflict as a last resort.
    I see absolutely nothing wrong with them seeking diplomatic help abroad once it became clear that the Danish government had no interest in dialogue.
    As for them being “innocents”, I don’t believe that’s the case. In fact, judging by some of the past reports I’ve seen I probably wouldn’t get have much in common with them (e.g., Akkari sounds like a cave man on gender issues). But that doesn’t make them guilty of *treason* or *creating* this crisis, as the spindoctors would have it. Of *those* charges, they certainly are innocent.
    I’m not saying they didn’t make mistakes or that I agree with the decision to include those additional drawings.
    But let’s be realistic. Extremism begets extremism. JP intentionally picked a very public and very humiliating fight with Muslims in Denmark. Is it surprising that Danish Muslims should have overreacted at some points?
    Keep in mind that this delegation ultimately played a bit part in this conflict. They neither set the forces in motion–JP and then, by sending a terrible message to the Muslim world, Copenhagen did–nor did they contribute to the blow up in early 2006. That’s the bottom line.
    The way the media has personalized this conflict on them is very problematic, though very politically expedient for those wishing to avoid facing the issues raised. Even if they are rogues, this conflict was never about them.
    I lay much of the blame on the Danish government. They had no way of knowing that World War III would break out, but they certainly were being derelict in their duty to take a stand against xenophobia and dangerously centrifugal developments in Danish society. Instead of doing the right (and very easy) thing and distancing themselves from a political campaign that obviously had the makings of wreaking havoc, they postured for the Danish Right. And Denmark paid the price for the terrible political situation they created.
    This should’ve been a petty and quickly forgotten local dispute, a mere footnote in history. Instead, it became an international symbol Western/Muslim conflict.
    Speaking of footnotes, that’s what it was for months last year. It was quickly forgotten last summer. It did not reach critical mass until Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s administration fumbled and escalated it so terribly.
    You probably won’t agree with my view, but if you like I can send you a copy of the article I just wrote.

  • kactuz

    I find it strange that the most important issue relating to the ‘Cartoon War’ is absent in all debates….
    The question is not if Muslims are offended (obviously they are) or if they are trying to silence free speech (yes, they are) or even if group A or B is using this for their own puposes (yes, yes).
    The most important question is “what” do Muslims want, ‘why’ and ‘who” is this all about. So we are back to Mohammud the man and his message. That is the real issue here.
    The facts are clear. Islam’s great prophet – who Muslims love, respect and consider a moral example – is a man who did many vile things. This is, of course, just a theory based upon Islam’s own texts.
    Words like …
    The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made a raid upon Banu Mustaliq while they were unaware and their cattle were having a drink at the water. He killed those who fought and imprisoned others. On that very day, he captured Juwairiya bint al-Harith (Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 130).
    Then the Prophet was informed by a shouter for help, he sent some men in their pursuit, and before the sun rose high, they were brought, and he had their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered for nails which were heated and passed over their eyes, and whey were left in the Harra (ie. rocky land). They asked for water, and nobody provided them with water till they died…” (
    and even…
    (Aisha speaking) He struck me on the chest which caused me pain……. ,” Muslim 4:2127.
    and many other passages in the Quran and traditions seem to indicate that this man is not quite a paragon of virtue, yet these words mean nothing to Muslims. The hundreds of verses in the Quran praching hate and violence against non-Muslims are not relevant either, according to Muslims who would have us believe that Islam means ‘peace’. Right!
    This is why I have no respect for Muslims. They cannot be honest about their religion, past or present. It is a festival of denial and dishonesty.
    Tell me Mr White, can you and other Muslims do anything but blame others for everything? You talk about ‘xenophobia’ and European dislike of Muslims, but you never address the hate and violence at the core of Islam. This is pathetic. Maybe, just maybe, what you call xenophobia is a natural reaction to the hate, anger and violence cvharacterize islam? Could it be? Why don’t you relect on the Hindus in Europe and wonder why they don’t have the same problems that Muslims do? Wonder why? What could it be? Oh me, oh my! Such difficult questions!
    Here is another question? Why should I, an infidel, respect a man that did the things Muhammed did? Why should I respect a torturer, a wife-beater, a person that enslaved and murdered? or even maybe you should just tell me why I should respect a group of people that respect and love that kind of person?

  • Svend White

    I don’t have time for debate with people who obviously have no interest in a serious and fair discussion.
    As the Quran says, Lakum deenukum wa liya deen. “Unto your religion and unto me mine.” In that verse, the word DEEN also means judgement. God will judge us all eventually.
    I think you’re woefully misinformed and guilty of applying ahistorical and biased standards to Islam from which you implicitly and arbitrarily exclude other religious traditions. Few of the charges lobbed at Islam today by the “War on Terror” jihadis could not easily be applied to Judaism and/or Christianity. Take a look at the example of the Patriarchs in dealing with pagans (e.g., Moses and the Midianites), for example.
    In a way, I appreciate your message, as it lays bare what’s really going on here. This is really a prejudice and viceral animosity (prejudice and animosity that you obviously consider justified) and fear as opposed to the consequence of all these abstract principles of freedom. The cartoons, like your post, were an attack by hardliners on a minority they hate and wish to drive out, not an attempt to foster interfaith dialogue.
    Islamophobia is the Cold War of fools.

  • kactuz

    Mr White,
    First of all I am not afraid of Muslims – I’m too old and too stupid probably – so forget the Islaophobia . I just don’t like Islam because of the hate and violence it does (in case you haven’t noticed!).
    Second. You did not answer my questions. You have no justification for the evil in the Quran and hadiths, so you ignore it and do the old “out of context” thing that Muslims always do. If I quote hadiths from Muslims writers and translaters, and there are so many of them from so many sources, why do you say these are “ahistorical” or “biased”? What do you consider a “serious and fair discussion”? Do you want me to lie and pretend these things aren’t written in Islam own histories? Will that make you happy?
    Could it be that the anger and violence in Islamic writings has something to do with the anger and violence we see in Islamic communities? Could it explain the hate and oppression we see among Muslims? Could the evil acts in Mohammud’s life and the fact that he is considered a great example by Muslims be relevant to a discussion of Islam and current events? What do you think? Take a wild guess!
    Or maybe we shouldn’t apply the same standards of conduct and morality to Islam’s prophet that we apply to everybody else? Is that it?
    The problem Muslims have with me is that I do not treat them like retards or children, and neither do I expect less of them than other people. I tell them the truth as it is written in their own scriptures. Don’t blame me! This is not hate, it is honesty.
    I known I am probably wasting my time, but oh well. The only question is if these things or true or not, not if I am mean, or hateful, or ignorant or whatever.
    You are young, and because of these things the future will not be nice. Bad times are coming, and let us not pretend otherwise. Worse times, I should probably say, much much worse.
    Take care, John aka kactuz
    PS: One final link – please consider this incident:
    So that was ok? No big deal? It was only a woman and her unborn child….

  • OmarG

    Salaam, Svend you mention the imam’s quest for dialogue with the Danish government and then seeking help overseas as legitimate. But, what were there goals for the dialgue and them external pressure? Censorship in the future? A public statement against JP? I think its improper when an American ambassador might meet with a country’s leadership and criticize them for not accomodating Christians; since when did the US become the world’s defender of Christian minorities? In the same way, although meeting the ambassadors may have given the impression of Danish sympathy (one by one so they couldn’t give the impression of ganging up on the Danish PM), what would that have achieved? A simple photo op and joint statement? Maybe, but I think they were asking for more. I think Akkari wanted the Danish government to play kingmaker by acknowledging him as the go-to guy for Muslims in Denmark. I also think any dialogue would have to be bi-directional. All too often, dialogue and interfaith activities are too one way: the Muslim side insists on understanding and complete tolerance from the other, but often do not wish to accomodate the other. Will the Jewish version of Paradise Now ever be shown at a mosque as that movie is shown at JCC’s? With Denmark, what exactly would the community there agree to compromise on? It seems they want most of the compromises to be FOR them and not FROM them. Agreed, there is a lot of xenophobia and I have no idea how that would be resolved with a growing and culturally distinct as Muslims often are in non-immigration oriented societies. Keep in mind, following a distinct religion, even Islam, need not make immigrants or converts as a culturally distinct group…unless they want to of course under the rubric of modern political Islamism.