Cole On Danish Caricatures In Salon_09

Cole on Danish Caricatures in

My article on cartoongate is out over at


‘ After the cartoons were published on Sept. 30, right-wing Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen reacted to the angry response by refusing to meet with ambassadors from Muslim countries and sternly lecturing Muslims on their need to put up with the caricatures. He finally sounded a more conciliatory note this week, complaining of a global crisis. He was clearly worried, like another Dane, Prince Hamlet, about what would happen “if the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me.”

Muslim touchiness about Western insults to the prophet Mohammed must be understood in historical context. Most Muslim societies have spent the past two centuries either under European rule or heavy European influence, and most colonial masters and their helpmeets among the missionaries were not shy about letting local people know exactly how barbaric they thought the Muslim faith was. The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, “Dogs and Indians not allowed.”

Indeed, the same themes of Aryan superiority and Semitic backwardness in the European “scientific racism” of the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to the Holocaust against the Jews also often colored the language of colonial administrators in places like Algeria about their subjects. A caricature of a Semitic prophet like Mohammed with a bomb in his turban replicates these racist themes of a century and a half ago, wherein Semites were depicted as violent and irrational and therefore as needing a firm white colonial master for their own good.

(It is worth noting that in 2004 the Danish editor who commissioned the drawings, Flemming Rose, conducted an uncritical interview with the American neoconservative and Islamophobe Daniel Pipes. Pipes, an extreme right-wing supporter of the Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank, has warned of the dangers of Muslim immigration into Denmark, claiming that “many of them show little desire to fit into their adopted country” and that male Muslim immigrants made up a majority of the country’s rapists.) ‘

An English translation of Flemming Rose’s interview with Pipes is here. Rose deliberately sought the caricatures.

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