Cartoon Violence Pits Muslim Against Muslim

As the number of people killed by Muslims rioting over some cartoons in a Danish paper has escalated, many have asked, not unreasonably, Where are the condemnation from moderate Muslims? Michael Slackman and Hassan Fattah help answer that question in an interesting piece in today’s NYT.

In a direct challenge to the international uproar over cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad, the Jordanian journalist Jihad Momani wrote: “What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras, or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony?”

In Yemen, an editorial by Muhammad al-Assadi condemned the cartoons but also lamented the way many Muslims reacted. “Muslims had an opportunity to educate the world about the merits of the Prophet Muhammad and the peacefulness of the religion he had come with,” Mr. Assadi wrote. He added, “Muslims know how to lose, better than how to use, opportunities.”

To illustrate their points, both editors published selections of the drawings — and for that they were arrested and threatened with prison. Mr. Momani and Mr. Assadi are among 11 journalists in five countries facing prosecution for printing some of the cartoons. Their cases illustrate another side of this conflict, the intra-Muslim side, in what has typically been defined as a struggle between Islam and the West.

The flare-up over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper, has magnified a fault line running through the Middle East, between those who want to engage their communities in a direct, introspective dialogue and those who focus on outside enemies. But it has also underscored a political struggle involving emerging Islamic movements, like Hamas in Gaza and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Arab governments unsure of how to contain them. “This has become a game between two sides, the extremists and the government,” said Tawakkul Karman, head of Women Journalists Without Constraints in Sana, Yemen. “They’ve made it so that if you stand up in this tidal wave, you have to face 1.5 billion Muslims.”

The heated emotions, the violence surrounding protests and the arrests have sent a chill through people, mostly writers, who want to express ideas contrary to the prevailing sentiment. It has threatened those who contend that Islamic groups have manipulated the public to show their strength, and that governments have used the cartoons to establish their religious credentials.

“I keep hearing, ‘Why are liberals silent?’ ” said Said al-Ashmawy, an Egyptian judge and author of books on political Islam. “How can we write? Who is going to protect me? Who is going to publish for me in the first place? With the Islamization of the society, the list of taboos has been increasing daily. You should not write about religion. You should not write about politics or women. Then what is left?”

No doubt. It took incredible courage for Momani and Assadi to take such a bold stand; certainly, much more than for an American blogger or newspaper editor to publish cartoons in the relative safety of the United States.



Danish Muslim Cartoons - Click to enlarge

See these cartoons in full size here.

Previous stories on Danish Muslim cartoons below the fold.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    Very refreshing indeed, even more so coming from the NYT. Has common sense finally entered the GWOT?

  2. Yo says:

    Eventually, I think common sense enters everything. It’s just a matter if it does so before it’s too late.

    Props to NYT for publishing this article.

    Shame on them for not publishing something like this a looooong time ago.

  3. Herb says:

    Muslim against Muslim? Ho hummmm

    Muslim against the civilized world, What else is new? Ho Hummmmm

  4. denise says:

    Thank you for repeatedly putting up the thumbnail and link to the cartoons. It not only let’s us know what we’re fighting about, but publishing them is part of the fight.

  5. John Burgess says:

    As I noted in a piece today, even a Saudi paper republished the cartoon.

    They were shut down, but it took three weeks to do so.