In September, 2005, a Danish newspaper called the Jyllands-Posten conducted an experiment in free speech. Its editor, Flemming Rose, wrote to every editorial cartoonist in the country, inviting them to draw a caricature of Mohammed, Islam's Prophet. For Rose, it was a test: Was Denmark still a pluralist society with free speech and a separation of mosque and state, or had Danes begun to censor themselves in fear of Muslim violence?
Twelve cartoonists sent in their work. Some mocked the newspaper for being a provocateur; some were critical of jihad and Islam's treatment of women; still others were a neutral depiction of what Mohammed might have looked like. The news story was a one-day wonder.
But two weeks later, 11 Muslim ambassadors – including those from Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya – sent a letter to Denmark's prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. They complained about an "on-going smearing campaign" targeting Islam, and in addition to the Jyllands-Posten montage, they cited public statements by Danish politicians and journalists. The diplomats weren't very diplomatic: if Fogh Rasmussen didn't "take all those responsible to task," it would "cause reactions in Muslim countries and among Muslim communities in Europe."
This is where Jytte Klausen's new book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, is so helpful: She meticulously documents the enormous diplomatic and political machinations that sprang into action to transform an editorial lark in faraway Jutland into a global campaign to censor Islam's critics. If 9/11 was the hard jihad using suicide bombers, the cartoon controversy was the soft jihad of "lawfare," using diplomats and lawyers.
By the time it was done, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference had pressured the United Nations into passing a resolution outlawing "defamation of Islam" and had set up a permanent Islamophobia Observatory, a giant surveillance database on Western critics of Islam. But their real success was much bigger: They had managed to scare 99 per cent of the free world's media into self-censoring a major news story, without firing a shot.
To be sure, there was some violence. In February, 2006, alone, nearly 250 people were killed in anti-cartoon riots around the Muslim world. But that was just the soundtrack behind the real action at the UN.
Klausen provides startling facts about the Danish imams who became the front men for the global censorship campaign. She documents how they surreptitiously added three of their own cartoons – including one of Mohammed being sodomized by a dog – to the dozen actually published by the Jyllands-Posten when the imams toured the Arab world on their anti-Danish campaign. Ironically, the only cartoon the BBC broadcast during the whole affair was one of the imams' forgeries. The Cartoonsdocuments the terrorist links of the imams, but then dismisses it, saying "most families have … bad apples."
And here is where Klausen's book falls down. Hardly a page goes by where she doesn't inject ideological clichés into her research, often with the flimsiest of relevance. She mocks Western leaders who warned of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; she uses the phrase "so-called war on terror." Those are legitimate opinions, but what are they doing in a scholarly book about the cartoons? Even more dissonant is her personal attacks against critics of radical Islam, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
I'd call them tired liberal talking points, but Klausen clearly isn't liberal. True liberals are sympathetic to Muslim women refugees such as Hirsi Ali, or the anti- sharia campaigns of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Klausen accuses them and others of everything from "racialist fearmongering" to "dehumanizing" Muslims.
A book about Danish cartoons would be remiss if it didn't discuss the Danish prime minister's role. But 10 pages of partisan attacks – including a wild but pitiful attempt to smear Fogh Rasmussen's feminist coalition partner – moves that element of the book from merely tedious to unscholarly. And then there's Klausen's Truther moment, where she suggests Denmark joined the invasion of Iraq so that Maersk, the shipping company, would get a big U.S. contract.
Fogh Rasmussen is the villain of Klausen's book, because he didn't submit sufficiently to the Muslim diplomats. He "showed little interest in maintaining Denmark's international reputation as both a liberal-minded member of international organizations and a fair and reliable business partner." Got it? To Klausen, "liberal" no longer means standing up for Danish civil rights such as freedom of speech and secular pluralism; it means submitting to foreign bullies and domestic provocateurs. And blaming Fogh Rasmussen – not the Muslim boycott of Danish exports – for business disruptions is awfully creative.
And then there is pure fiction. "The Rushdie Affair is widely regretted among Muslim leaders in Europe and in the Islamic nations," she writes. Really? That "affair" began with Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa , which continues to this day – as does Rushdie's need for security. Has Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad renounced that death sentence?
Or these: "No widely influential religious authority issued edicts … calling for punishment of the editors and the cartoonists"; "Islamic clerical authorities … sometimes used language they later regretted, but they, too, wanted peaceful protests"; and "Muslim diplomats and governments sought to contain the anti-Western clerics and parties."
Each of these assertions is actually disproved elsewhere in Klausen's book: Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, ordered Muslims to "rage, and show our rage to the world"; al-Qaeda bombed the Danish embassy in Pakistan; Muslim governments from Syria to Iran organized street riots. Klausen projects her own politically correct narrative onto Islamic fascists who were quite clear about their real motivations.
Notwithstanding all this, The Cartoons That Shook the World is an informative read. But you won't find the actual cartoons in it. There's a cartoon mocking George W. Bush; there's a death threat against the cartoonists. But Yale University Press refused to publish Klausen's book as she submitted it – with the 12 Danish cartoons. Yale ordered her to remove the cartoons, citing unnamed "experts" who claimed the book "ran a serious risk of instigating violence." Several American newspapers, like The Philadelphia Inquirer, published the cartoons without incident. Yale has had no actual threats, but it pre-emptively surrendered. If Klausen wanted to live up to Yale's motto – "light and truth" – she would have done what the entire editorial staff of the New York Press did in 2006 when their publisher vetoed their reprinting of the cartoons: They resigned en masse.
Given Klausen's burning derision for Fogh Rasmussen's decision to stand for freedom, it's no surprise she collapsed immediately herself, academic integrity be damned. Her surrender – and Yale's – is not a detail but a central part of the story, for it is exactly the outcome desired by the Danish imams, the Saudi diplomats and their chorus of rioters.
Ezra Levant was the publisher of the Western Standard. In 2006, that magazine reprinted the Danish cartoons, for which Levant and the magazine were prosecuted for 900 days by Alberta's Human Rights Commission, on charges of "hate speech." He can be reached at email@example.com.