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Juan Cole provides important context to cartoon crisis

by Ben P Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:05:55 AM EST

Juan Cole's latest two posts, which are quite extensive attempts - based on government documents and Arab media - to try to unravel the history of the controversy.

Three things stick out in particular:

  1. Saudi Arabia was not particularly involved. Cole posits that Egypt was a more important instigator, as he looks back at newspaper reports from last fall, in the context of Mubarak's parliamentary "campaign", throwing red meat to Islamic and anti-western sentiment.

  2. That the nature of the protests were actually quite limited and the vast majority of the protests were peaceful. Violence only occurred in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon - and Cole thinks there are particular social and political reasons for this violence, which I won't elaborate here.

  3. All the Arab newspapers (mostly from Iraq) he quotes condemned the cartoons as unfortunate and offensive and the West's position as hypocrtical, but none of them advocated violence and only a few advocated boycotts and various measures involving diplomatic protocol.

I don't really have a point to make here other than that it is important to know the actual nature of what happened before pontificating further.

Well, Juam Cole is a good source...so thanks!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:35:25 AM EST
Repeating and expanding my response on this from the other thread....

Cole posits that Egypt was a more important instigator, as he looks back at newspaper reports from last fall, in the context of Mubarak's parliamentary "campaign", throwing red meat to Islamic and anti-western sentiment.

Ag, everyone has their boogeyman, or, er, preferred context.  One guy says Saudi, another Egypt, another says it's all the USA's fault.  Point is, I think Cole is wrong here, and it's a mistake to lay the blame at any single country's door.  Every country in the region has some "reason" to have either encouraged outrage over the cartoons or at least tolerated it.

I mean, maybe Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit tried to distract people from the elections by talking about the cartoons, but it sure as hell didn't work.  I went back and checked old newspapers, just to be sure, and I mean the Arabic ones too, not just the insipid English paper.  All of November and early December were totally dominated by election news here, as well as the usual simpering press reports of Mubarak's message to the Barcelona conference on something-or-other...  

I do remember hearing something about the cartoons way back then, but I would hardly categorize it as a major distraction.  It was a blip.  Egypt had six weeks of parliamentary elections, with voting roughly every six days, and every single round of voting was increasingly more violent.  That was the news, even in the government papers that blamed all the violence on the Brotherhood.  Nobody was paying attention to anything else.

Although the Egyptian parliament's involvement is unique, Egypt didn't join in the boycott until well after the Gulf states did so, and there has been exactly one protest, which was yesterday and nowhere near the Danish and Norwegian embassies.

But Cole is spot on with his next statement:

Most of the caricature protests are a mixture of local politics and standard post-colonial anti-imperialism.


by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 05:19:08 AM EST
While I obviously don't have Cole's credentials, I'm skeptical about the accuracy of that observation.

Local politics, sure. But Denmark and Norway are hardly known as great colonialist bugbears (except possibly the former in the latter, but we have kind of forgiven them.) Also, the publications occurred up here, in the sub-Arctic, which is not the worst imperialism I have ever heard of.

Instead, I think we're dealing with genuine wrath at the perceived violation of a religious taboo, that of insulting the Prophet.

The grain of truth in the observation is, I think, summed up in (ii) below. Quoting self:

The protesting masses of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc. etc. are hardly preoccupied with the Danish debate about integration of immigrants. No, they are riled up over: (i) perceived acts of sacriledge against the Prophet, and (ii) perceived attacks on the Islamic Umma (global community of believers) by infidels.

In turn, (ii) has to do with a sense of being oppressed by sleazy dictatorial regimes backed by Western powers, and in the case of Iraq, directly by the USA. There is also Israel, which said regimes wave before their populations as a red cloth to divert from their own kleptocracy. One may feel some sympathy here. But (ii) is also related to a sense of global humiliation at the hands of the technologically, economically, and martially superior Western civilization, which is not supposed to be superior in these ways, being spiritually inferior. I admit to feeling much less sympathy for that.

I'd like to emphasize the latter point, and recommend a book by Bernard Lewis called What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle-Eastern Response. It shouldn't be read uncritically; a chapter on colonialism is notably missing. But it still has lots of merit. A friend of mine attended a seminary on it at the University of Bergen, where it was reviewed quite favorably by people noone can accuse of Islamophobia.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:05:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd be careful when reading Lewis:

Firstly, he is an historian of medieval Islam. Secondly, the book you cite is primarily about the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and almost all of its sources are Turkish. Its fine as a kind of a popular/speculative history, but it is flawed in various respects and not-definitive. In other words, it has some ideas to think about and argue over, but I wouldn't regard it definivetly by any means.

Secondly, as to the point about colonialism/post-colonialsim. I don't think what Cole is saying is that this dynamic is a direct grudge with Norway or Denmark. He is saying rather that Norway and Denmark are merely symbols in this case for a large set of grudges and narratives that have little to do with these specific countries, per se. He is also saying that in many ways, the outward and violent manifestations vis-a-vis the cartoon occurred in these specific countries because of a particular set of internal political and social instabilities and tensions within certain societies. Norway and Denmark are epiphenomenal and almost incidental here.

by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:31:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, as you know, the Ottoman empire was virtually identical with the Islamic world for centuries. It's true that he mostly uses Ottoman sources; as a Jew he has had trouble gaining entry to archives in Arabic countries.

As I said, I don't read him uncritically at all; he's a fave of the neo-cons and adviser to the Bush administration. But he's also extremely competent, as even his opponents grudgingly admit. And it's not exceptional for area specialists to dislike their subject of study. The Sovietologists did as well; and their analyses were often sound.

That said, his earlier books are better, but I recommend this one for its accessibility, with the stated reservations.

About the other thingy - Denmark and Norway as symbols - you are probably right.

(Comment deleted and reposted due to humiliating grammatical errors...)

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:47:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I always underestimate people's knowledge here at my own peril . . . : )
by Ben P (wbp@u.washington.edu) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:58:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I don't have Cole's credentials either, but I do think you're onto something there.  I also think there is a fair degree of collectivist thinking in these parts, where the actual colonial or imperialist history of a given country is less important in the minds of some than the fact that the country is Western.

At the same time, cartoons published in any (non-Anglophone or non-Francophone) national newspaper would not likely have garnered much attention in the Muslim world on their own, were the country in question not also home to a disaffected, discriminated-against and disempowered Muslim minority that could draw attention to them.  If the various parties in Denmark (and I do mean all of them) had been willing and able to work this out themselves, Saudi Arabia and Egypt would likely never have thought twice about it.  But Denmark's divisions are clearly quite pernicious.

Thus I think (for both reasons stated above) that Chile's embassy in Damascus would not have been burned if a Chilean newspaper had been the one to initially print the cartoons.  (I'm sure the Chileans never imagined that sharing a building with Denmark would cause them such a grave security problem....)

I haven't read any Bernard Lewis, but his earlier works come very highly recommended.  (The same people, though, say he's gone a bit off his rocker lately, although I'm not sure what the evidence is... and the book you recommend appears to be quite recent.  I will have a look, though; I believe in making up my own mind about these things, I just haven't gotten around to Lewis yet :-)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 04:35:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good comment, and I agree.

But please don't exaggerate the marginalization of muslim immigrants in Denmark. From my knowledge of the country, it's nowhere near as bad as it's now made out to be in the anglophone press and blogosphere.

I wish I had the time and energy to correct all the misleading impressions, but I don't. I don't even know where to start. Noone mentions the radical imams with but tenuous connections to the country, often unwilling to even learn the language, who routinely preach in the mosques about the "depravity" of Danish society. We have them in Norway as well; they sometimes say quite different things to the media than to their congregations. It was some of those that toured the Middle East to "internationalize" the issue, bringing along the false cartoons. These people are as much part of the problem as anyone.

But yes, the Danish immigration debate during the last decade has been more polarized along a nationalism/non-nationalism spectrum than in many other countries. They still haven't gotten up a proper mosque in Copenhagen for a variety of practical reasons, and not many years ago there was debate on whether to allow this.

BobFunk and other Danes will know a lot more about all this, though.

The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 05:06:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
please don't exaggerate the marginalization of muslim immigrants in Denmark.

That is a very reasonable request, and since I've never been to Denmark, I must admit that I could well be overstating it.

But I also have known people from many different countries who are not members of a minority or disadvantaged group and who wrongly believe there is not serious discrimination in their society.  (I'm not sure I stated that clearly, let's try again:  Many people who are in the majority are unaware of how discriminatory their own societies are.)

I'd put my own country near the top of that list, but the list is long, and we have lots of company.  The total failure of dialogue in Denmark these past months indicates that Denmark probably belongs somewhere on the list too.  Where on the list, I cannot say.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 05:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As far as I remember, there were race riots in Nørrebro, Copenhagen a year or two back, and there has been a considerable tightening of the immigration laws, with the rise of a right-wing immigrant-hostile government. One example is that it is now so difficult to get family into Denmark, that in a famous case, the Danish prime ministers son couldnt get his American wife a permanent visa in Denmark, because she didnt have enough ties to the country.

I would also agree that alot of the discrimination of minority groups is usually not seen by the majority. I live in Norway too, and I know some Muslims. From what they have told me, it isnt so much pure racism that is the problem. Things like trying to get a good job with their University degrees is.

by Trond Ove on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 06:55:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
After reading Juan Cole's thoroughful summary and the research he had done, I reached to the conclusion that the media like always has exaggarated the conflict in searching "primetime news." Even the diaries in EuroTrib are obssessed with this issue and I can not find a new diary that would arouse my interest and satiate my "information hunger." I hope the theme will soon be changed and Eurotrip will offer agian the variety of topics I enjoy...

I'm not ugly,but my beauty is a total creation.Hegel
by Chris on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 02:45:28 PM EST
Start a diary on a topic of your choice... It will be most welcome!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:45:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Violence only occurred in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon

And Iran, and Indonesia, and India, and Afghanistan, and Somalia. In the latter two the conflict has now claimed lives.


The world's northernmost desert wind.

by Sirocco (sirocco2005ATgmail.com) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:06:49 PM EST
Police in Turkey are also trying to determin whether the killing of a Catholic priest by a lone gunman is connected to the cartoons.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 6th, 2006 at 03:35:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was also violence in Norway because of this. A palestinian man was stabbed by Norwegians after burning a Norwegian flag in protest at the printing of the drawings.
by Trond Ove on Tue Feb 7th, 2006 at 06:59:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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