Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sketchy Views

I was alerted to the possible repercussions from the Danish cartoons by one of my Iraqi co-workers. It was a day after an unusually high number of thuds. Most sounded as if they came from bombs detonated nearby. The New York Times, in their January 30 coverage, was clueless about the rationale, speculating that Zarqawi might now be renewing attacks on Christian sites. I didn't believe one of the Iraqis who told me it was in response to the cartoons, because I thought that was many news cycles ago and that the insurgents had different motives. But now that this seems to have irked the Muslim world more than the war in Iraq, I believe him.

Not surprisingly, our Iraqi staff here have plenty of different takes on the cartoons. The Iraqi who first told me the bombings were due to the cartoons is not shy how silly he thinks this whole thing is. At the same time, he made sure that no one else was looking at the monitor when he showed them to me. Most of the staff seem to agree that the cartoons were in poor taste, but do not in any way hold me or the West responsible.

That's what confuses me most about the response to the cartoons. How could Denmark possibly be culpable? I can understand why the Muslim community would want the worst fate for the cartoonists, and maybe the newspaper. After what happened to Salman Rushdie following the Satanic Verses, death for blasphemy is not surprising. But how is Denmark responsible? In most Arab countries the media is government controlled, though most Arabs know that's not the case elsewhere. Perhaps there are too many cartoonists invovled to attack each artist so its easier to hold the country responsible. Would renaming the "Danish cartoons" as the "Westergaard, Refn..etc. Cartoons" stem the protests? Maybe the newspaper has been spared because "Jyllandsposten Cartoons" is too difficult to say. What seems most likely is that the response was too visceral and immediate to identify a proper target.

One of my coworkers did tell me that though she was offended by the cartoons, hurting the Dane on the street was not justified. However, she has no choice but to participate in the boycott. All the stores have been stripped of Danish goods. She would happily eat her Danish-made cheese for breakfast as she does normally, but its not an option any more. I wonder how much of the response to these cartoons is a grassroots movement, and how many of the protestors are people like my coworker who do not feel strongly opposed to the cartoons or the inappropriate response. The implication from that question is not that an Arab regime is orchestrating everything.

Professor Cole's post about the cartoons does explain why the Danish government might be a target. The government might be in a position to punish the paper, but has not done anything.

Above: A cartoon forwarded to me by a coworker.


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