November 27, 2009


Klausen, Jytte, The Cartoons that Shook the World (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2009) ("The story of how the cartoon protest developed from small-scale local demonstrations to global uproar only to subside without a proper conclusion is fraught with unintended consequences and misunderstanding. The difference between genuine misunderstanding and deliberate misrepresentation is often difficult to establish. And when it comes to judging consequences and responsibility, things get murkier. Facts are sometime slippery, and what was once thought to be a fact about the cartoon controversy often turned out to be a misrepresentation or true but insignificant in the larger picture." Id. at 7. "Even people who were in the thick of the conflict felt at a loss to explain why twelve cartoons could set off such serious trouble. . . ." "The most common explanation relied in popularized versions of the "clash of civilizations" thesis. This is the idea that Islam and Christendom are separate and opposed civilizations, perpetually rubbing against each other. . . . From this perspective the protests were represented as entirely predictable results of the atavistic opposition of Muslims to Europe's secular values. . . ." Id. at 9-10. "As a Dane living in the United States, I quickly become absorbed by the events. I found myself being asked to explain how the "good Danes" had turned into hate-filled racists with no respect for human rights. I was more accustomed to being asked to tell the story of how the Danes rescued some seven thousand Jews during the Holocaust. Both stereotypes were wrong, I said, this is all about politics, on both sides. In retrospect I would allow more room for fumbling and misunderstanding, but I still think we need to regard the crisis as a political conflict rather than as a colossal cultural misunderstanding." Id. at 10. This is a worthy read. You will have to decide whether Professor Klausen is correct that the cartoon crisis is best viewed as a political conflict rather than a cultural one. Weighing merits of those two characterizations should cause American readers to consider whether many our domestic disputes, commonly characterized as part of the cultural war, are simply political and not really cultural. If so, the importance of the disputes are neither diminished nor enhanced, but perhaps some of the (rhetorical) heat is dissipated.).