Title: The Cartoons that Shook the World
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Yale University Press (October 13, 2009)
After four-years of Danish cartoon controversy that fuelled anger from far-flung Muslim quarters across the spectrum than giggles and chuckles, a fresh wave of controversy has recently erupted. Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, wants the original page that carried the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten re-printed in her book titled The Cartoons that Shook the World. But even before the book makes it to the shelves, its publisher Yale University Press is being criticized by free speech advocates for refusing to reprint the cartoons.
Fahad Faruqui, IslamOnline.net's (IOL) correspondent, interviews Jytte Klausen.
IOL: What is your book about?
Klausen: The book is a detective story describing how a newspaper's editorial cartoons in the course of six months became involved in an international crisis.
IOL: And what are the issues you are trying to investigate?
Klausen: I focus on what happened between the day that the 12 cartoons –or caricatures, properly speaking some were cartoons and others caricatures—were printed in Denmark and protests broke out across the world.
It was a very unusual conflict. Governments, diplomats, the global media, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, political activists, moderates and extremists, all ended up having to have an opinion about the cartoons. Everybody I interviewed professed utter astonishment at how things developed. I am a political scientist, and from the perspective of my profession it was a highly unusual event.
IOL: What got you interested in writing about the cartoon controversy and that too after four-years of its passing?
Klausen: I have received e-mails from people complaining that I am stirring up an old mess but that is what scholars do. We have language and methodologies for analyzing difficult issues in a neutral way. With the passing of time perspectives change.
I have worked on this book for three years and began the research immediately when the conflict broke out. My previous book, which was based upon three hundred interviews with European Muslim leaders, had just been published. I knew many of the European leaders involved in organizing protests, including one of the Danish imams who started the protests there. I knew I could go and talk to them about what their views and purposes were. I had the skills and access to understand both Muslims and Danes. I am Danish by birth, albeit now an American, and speak the language and know how Danes think.
IOL: What does the outcry against the Danish cartoon say about the Muslims world?
Klausen: It shows that we are one global public. Migration, open societies, and the modern media have joined forces to create a quick and unruly feedback between societies and political and religious groups, which have not yet learned how to engage in dialogue.
IOL: What is your take on the Muslim reaction to the cartoons?
Klausen: The perception was that Muslims were of one mind about the cartoons, but Muslims disagreed as much as non-Muslims about what the problem was with the cartoons and what to do about it. Observers often described the controversy as proof that we are faced with a "Clash of Civilizations." I disagree. Muslims—whether they protested or not—agreed only that the cartoons maligned Muslims and their religion. That is normal.
Many European Muslims were upset with the involvement of the Islamic countries' government. "This is our business," they said. Religious authorities disagreed. Everybody disagreed about everything except that the cartoons said something about contemporary global problems between Muslims and the West.
IOL: Can one investigate Islam and politics in the Muslim world by virtue of highly charged events fired-up by the publishing of demeaning cartoons?
Klausen: I do not attempt to analyse politics in the Muslim world. I agree with the premise of your question: one cannot use this incident to make generalizations about politics or faith in Muslim countries. My book is just about the origins of the cartoons and the global protests against them.
IOL: How do you feel the Muslim world, both the masses and the governments, should have dealt with situation?
Klausen: We all became frightened as things deteriorated. The threat of violence against the editors, the cartoonists, and later in 2008 the bombing of the Danish embassy in Islamabad were very upsetting. We are all—Muslims and non-Muslims—struggling to have a debate without feeling the effects of intimidation. Unfortunately a first response on the part of public institutions and governments, both European and Muslims, was to curtail freedom of expression.
IOL: Can one say or do anything under the blanket of "free speech", and if so, do we also give everyone the right to defame?
Klausen: Free speech does not give license to say racist things about other people or to incite violence. Some countries prohibit blasphemy and others do not. The difficulty is that legal concepts vary from one country to another according to national history and social expectations.
What constitutes religious defamation in Christian traditions is different from Muslims' traditions. Multiplicity is mankind. Genuine cultural misunderstanding and lack of information about '"the other side'" played a role in the conflict.
IOL: How would re-publishing the cartoons in your book buck your argument that it wouldn't otherwise?
Klausen: I was not reproducing the individual cartoons but re-producing the entire page as it appeared in the newspaper. One chapter in the book is about the history of racialist caricature. It is very difficult to teach people about the demeaning usages of images if you cannot look at the image and turn around the different interpretations in your head.
IOL: Do you feel if Muslims were to see the context in which cartoons were published, they would realize that there vision was marred by the media hype?
Klausen: Some of the 12 cartoons showed Muslims to be victims of the editors rather than vice versa. Some have references to Danish events and personalities that have been lost in the fuss over the cartoon with bomb in the turban, the only one that was widely reproduced.
I think that both Muslim and non-Muslim readers would learn from looking at them again with my discussion in mind. I hope that my words can do the job of teaching without the illustrations.
IOL: What role did the media play in fuelling the cartoon controversy worldwide?
Klausen: The media played a very large role. Public opinion surveys showed that 90% of the public in both the Middle East and Europe knew about the cartoons but people knew only about them through the media coverage of demonstrations.
That meant that the extremists framed the stories. One interesting fact is that Muslims and non-Muslims got news about the cartoons from the same source: the television. I discovered that the role of the Internet was highly overrated. Only the extremists made extensive use of the Internet.