Danish Member of Parliament gives insight into what the world has learned from the “Cartoon Wars”
On April 24, GMF hosted a breakfast discussion on Muslim Radicalization in Europe: Lessons Learned from the "Cartoon Wars," with Danish Member of Parliament Naser Khader and a response from Mr. Christopher Caldwell, senior editor of the Weekly Standard.
In September 2005, the Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in a way that critics called "racist" and "islamophobic." These cartoons, and their subsequent republication in a number of Western media outlets, touched off a wave of violent protests across the Middle East, culminating in the burning of the Norwegian Embassy in Syria and the death of nearly 140 people. The event called into question the boundaries between free speech and sacred space and highlighted many of the religious and socio-economic tensions that had been simmering just below the surface. What exactly did the cartoon crisis tell us about the state of affairs among Muslims in Western European societies? What effects did it have on the integration process in Denmark? How have Muslim communities within Europe reacted to the cartoon crisis and its aftermath?
At the event, Mr. Khader explored these questions and offered suggestions for how one can use these experiences constructively. In addtion, he explored the differences among European and American Muslim groups, and the similarities and differences that we confront in tackling the challenges of integrating Muslims into Western societies.
Born in Syria before moving to Denmark at age 11, Mr. Khader founded the group Democratic Muslims, in hopes of uniting and motivating more moderate Muslims in Denmark. At the event, it was argued that at the time of the "Cartoon Wars" the majority of Danish Mulsims demonstrated in support of freedom of speech and democracy and that in actuality only 3 percent of Muslims were in support of the Imams or religious leaders and spoke out in protest of the publications and cartoons.
In addition, it was noted that the result of the cartoon crisis brought about a need for greater understanding and tolerance towards Muslims in Denmark, stating that it is easier for Muslims to find employment because of their commitment to democracy. At the close of the event, it was suggested that a Marshall Plan for the Middle East was in order to provide strategic economic growth, a key element needed for regional stablization of democracy.
Mr. Caldwell responded to Mr. Khader with a series of questions on the role of the welfare state in improving or prohibiting integration and the issue of freedom of expression surrounding the cartoon crisis. A wide ranging conversation followed, raising issues such as the nature of integration in Denmark and the differences between Europe and the U.S. It was reiterated that moderate Muslims should be more organized, hold more public demonstrations in support of democracy, publish books that articulate their point of view, and hold seminars to convey these views.
The audience included representatives of think tanks such as the Institute for the Study of International Migration, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, and the Heinrich Boell Foundation, as well as representatives of the media.