Professor’s work surveys motivations behind cartoon cataclysm

Jytte Klausen's upcoming book sparks international discussion

Jytte Klausen

On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Five months later, thousands of Muslims inundated the newspaper with outpourings of anger and grief by phone, email, and facsimile; from Asia to Europe Muslims took to the streets in protests that left more than 200 people dead.

Brandeis Professor of Comparative Politics Jytte Klausen recently completed the first comprehensive investigation of that conflict, which sparked international debate about freedom of expression, blasphemy, and the nature of modern Islam.

Klausen interviewed politicians in the Middle East, Muslim leaders in Europe, the Danish editors and cartoonists, and the Danish imam at the center of the controversy. She retraced the winding trail of protests across the world, and deconstructed the arguments and motives that fueled the conflict.

"The book is a detective story describing how a newspaper’s editorial cartoons in the course of six months became involved in… a unique international crisis." Klausen said. "People were killed, but not because of the cartoons. They were killed in places where already conflict was brewing – in Nigeria, in Tripoli, in Libya, in the Northwest Frontier Province and in Islamabad and Peshawar. The cartoons moved from being something directed against Danish Muslims to becoming emblematic of all that was wrong with the West…"

Klausen concluded that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not – as was commonly assumed – a spontaneous emotional reaction arising out of the clash of Western and Islamic civilizations. Rather, Klausen says that her work showed that the outrage sprang from a political conflict, and was orchestrated first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt, and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria.

The book Klausen has written based on her investigation will not be out until November, but already is receiving international attention due to a decision by its publisher to remove the cartoons and all other images of Muhammad from the volume.

Reports and comments so far have appeared in the New York Times, New York Post, The Times of London, The Guardian,, The Huffington Post, Frankfurter Algemaine, and numerous other publications.

Click here to read the American Association of University Professors' response to the controversy.

Click here to read a March 2009 BrandeisNOW interview with professor Klausen about European Islam.

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