Danish Muslim Cartoons: Blogger Hypocrisy?

Anne Applebaum has an interesting look at the cultural subplots that have unfolded vis-a-vis the Danish cartoons of Mohammad and the subsequent violence in the Muslim world. The one sure to get the most attention in the blogosphere, since it focuses on the blogosphere, is this passage:

Hypocrisy of the right-wing blogosphere. Remember the controversy over Newsweek and the Koran? Last year Newsweek printed an allegation about mistreatment of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base that — although strikingly similar to interrogation techniques actually used to intimidate Muslims at Guantanamo — was not substantiated by an official government investigation. It hardly mattered: Abroad, Muslim politicians and clerics promoted and exaggerated the Koran story, just as they are now promoting and exaggerating the Danish cartoon story. The result was rioting and violence on a scale similar to the rioting and violence of the past week.

But although that controversy was every bit as manipulated as this one, self-styled U.S. “conservatives” blamed not cynical politicians and clerics but Newsweek for (accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world: “Newsweek lied, people died.” Worse, much of the commentary implied that Newsweek was not only wrong to make a mistake (which it was) but also that the magazine was wrong to investigate the alleged misconduct of U.S. soldiers. Logically, the bloggers should now be attacking the Danish newspaper for (less accidentally) inciting violence in the Muslim world. Oddly enough, though, I’ve heard no cries of “Jyllands-Posten insulted, people died.” The moral is: We defend press freedom if it means Danish cartoonists’ right to caricature Muhammad; we don’t defend press freedom if it means the mainstream media’s right to investigate the U.S. government.

While I was not one that blamed Newsweek for the rioting–I have been rather consistent in blaming terrorists for terrorism and criminals for crime– I nonetheless believe the comparison inapt. For the most part, Newsweek was being criticized for rushing to print a story damaging to U.S. interests before checking the facts because it confirmed the suspicion among many that the dominant press loves to paint America and the American government as a bad actor.

The Danish cartoons, on the other hand, were simply the expression of an editorial page. While publishing them demonstrably did not help Danish-Muslim relations, it is simply a different animal. Conservative bloggers are dumbfounded that a newspaper publishing some cartoons could spark rioting, arson, and murder.

Update: Austin Bay has a similar, although better stated, reaction. His commenters have some interesting insights as well.

Ditto John Hinderaker, who is also more succinct: “So, were we more critical of false charges leveled by an American magazine against the American armed forces than of a dozen innocuous drawings in a Danish newspaper? Guilty as charged. We were.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    It didn’t cause them.

    James, think;

    Where would Afghan citizens obtain Danish flags in the numbers we’re seeing them burned in? Such things are generally not found in the kit bag of your average Afghan. The logical conclusion is that they were supplied.

    I’d like you to consider also that the all-important question of “to cartoon or not cartoon” seems to have supplanted the larger issue of Iranian Nuclear movments in the mind’s eye of the American public, and certainly of the Danes and the UN. Is it possible that these protests, 6 months after the cartoons were published and forgotten… protests that even a lot of Islamics are saying are overblown, are someone’s attempts at misdirection?

  2. legion says:

    You’re right that news stories are very different (or should be) from editorial cartoons. That said, I wonder how many death threats Tom Toles and Ted Rall have in their files…

  3. Herb says:

    All of a sudden, some female wanabe named Anne Applebaum is an authorty on the Muslim riots that have taken a number of lives. I have never heard of her, who is she? some crackpot reporter who gets her jollies off with some cock and bull theory anout the Muslim riots. I get so sick and tired of these so called “Experts” who seem to get a high on making the US look bad by making every radical Muslim concern a reason to blame their radical beliefs on the US.

    People like Anne Applebalm (sounds like the name of a cream to reduce muscle pain) is nothing more than some goofy broad out to make a name for herself. I bet someone like the NYT would hire in a minute.

    Let’s face it, the Islamic faith is a Radical and violent faith, and those who practice the extremes of this faith are and will continue to be a threat to all civilized people thruout the world. Cartoons, LOL, just another excuse.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Anne Applebaum isn’t some wannabe. She’s a very good journalist with more than a few books under her belt. She currently writes as a columnist at The Washington Post. I’ve known her since she was an editor at The Spectator in London, in the early 90s.

    I do agree with James, though, that this piece is a bit of apples-and-oranges, though note that the column in which Newsweek published its allegations was more of a gossipy, “what’s hot this week” thing, not in their news pages proper.

  5. Kent says:

    some female wanabe named Anne Applebaum

    Err… I don’t think she’s a female wanabe. The bio link strongly suggests she is already female.

  6. James Joyner says:

    John and Kent are right: She’s a superb journalist and quite demonstrably female. She’s generally an excellent, fair source on what’s going on in the Middle East. I just disagree with her on this particular comparison.

  7. MATT TAYLOR says:

    it just goes to show Muslims lack a sense of humor! If we freaked out every time a Muslim burned the American flag there wouldn’t be any Muslims left. Actually, that’s not such a bad idea. If there were no Muslims left on the planet we might have a real chance at world peace!

  8. Shari says:

    I wonder why the media has to put it’s two cents in. Why not just facts, no comparisons, no “I think”. We have been subject to the medias Ideas of what we need to know for quite sometime and they usually get it wrong. I have not seen this cartoon but there are cartoon that mock the POPE and I have seen some that mock any religion they have at hand. If the Muslim world is that volatile I think ( here I go) that we should all pull out of the countries and let them fight it out then we can deal with whats left over. Or maybe we should just go bonkers over them buring the American Flag..oh wait we have better thing to do than worry about why they have flipped there lids this time because tomorrow it will be a different reason.