The Magazine

Drawing Conclusions

A Danish political scientist revisits the cartoon controversy.

Oct 19, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 05 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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Klausen sees three possible reasons Fogh Rasmussen held his ground. First, that he simply underestimated Muslim anger at the cartoons. Second, that he was under the thumb of the DF, which, while not part of his governing coalition, supported much of his program. Her third explanation: that Fogh Rasmussen wanted to move the country in what she calls a "neoconservative" direction. This is a protean word. For Klausen it means primarily the idea that spreading democracy can serve U.S. (and by extension Western) strategic interests. She makes the provocative and well-supported point that in Egypt--where the government of Hosni Mubarak was imperiled by the democratic reforms that its American ally was urging on it--the cartoons may have been a way of pushing back.

Klausen is much less convincing when it comes to Danish-U.S. relations. Like many Europeans, she mistakes the Project for a New American Century (a tiny four-person operation with which this magazine used to share office space) for a vast think tank. The former presidential speechwriter Michael Gerson, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were not, as Klausen writes, "members" of PNAC. Rumsfeld, moreover, was a frequent target of its attacks. And if Denmark was moving towards neoconservatism, the Bush administration was offering it little in return. On the contrary, the administration's attacks on Jyllands-Posten and its defenders were extraordinarily, even gratuitously, harsh.

Klausen shows that the mobilization against the cartoons was a new type of protest. "This was not a campaign against the capitalist exploitation of natural resources or other issues recognizable within the normal European politics of left versus right," she writes. "Demands were made in the name of the ummah, or community of believers." She does not, however, always see what a big difference this makes. Denmark, a country of 5 or 6 million people, was being attacked in the name of a community of 1.5 billion. It is not just the categories of left and right that get confused in such a case, but the categories of majority and minority.

Why shouldn't Danes have been worried, not just over their interests abroad but over the loyalties of their Muslim fellow citizens?

While never seeking to soft-pedal the real threats of violence in Denmark, Klausen argues that if you disentangle the different motivations of the protesters, you will find they were not as monolithic as they looked. Arab diplomats, Danish imams, and populist firebrands of the Indian subcontinent "shared no consensus on exactly what was the problem with the cartoons." That may be true. The question is whether that opened up to Denmark any realistic alternative path for dealing with the cartoon crisis. It probably did not.

Klausen makes the point more generally. "Western Europe's fifteen million Muslims are not a coherent political bloc," she writes. This is wrong. They are not a coherent cultural bloc. They come from different countries and speak different languages, they are of different races and classes, and they follow different schools of Islam. We do well to bear that diversity in mind. But on certain important political issues, European Muslims are about as politically coherent as it is possible for a subculture to be. Israel is one such issue. The Danish cartoons turned out to be another. The cartoon crisis was a shock for Europe in the way the O.J. Simpson trial was for the United States. It disproved the cliché about how, once you swept off the blinders of prejudice, all communities ultimately want more or less the same thing. Danish Muslims--with some extraordinary exceptions like the brave centrist Naser Khader--did not feel very differently about the cartoons than Muslims elsewhere.

"It looked as if a coordinated global protest movement was under way," Klausen writes. "But goals varied, and the protest movement was fragmented." At the risk of insisting, it is not true that goals varied. Idioms varied, rationales varied, philosophies varied, interests varied, and tactics varied, but in all branches of the protest throughout the world, the goal was the same--to bully the Danish government into bringing Jyllands-Posten to heel, and to secure for Muslim themes and iconography immunity from the mockery to which those of all other religions have been and remain subject in the West.

Danes, Klausen laments, were for the most part incapable of decoding the different rationales for Muslim protest. They "heard only that they were being told to change their laws and ways." This was indeed an unsubtle way of looking at things. But it was an accurate one.

Christopher Caldwell is a senior editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.