The Cartoons That Shook the World


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Jytte Klausen

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On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Five months later, thousands of Muslims inundated the newspaper with outpourings of anger and grief by phone, email, and fax; from Asia to Europe Muslims took to the streets in protest. This book is the first comprehensive investigation of the conflict that aroused impassioned debates around the world on freedom of expression, blasphemy, and the nature of modern Islam.


Jytte Klausen interviewed politicians in the Middle East, Muslim leaders in Europe, the Danish editors and cartoonists, and the Danish imam who started the controversy. Following the winding trail of protests across the world, she deconstructs the arguments and motives that drove the escalation of the increasingly globalized conflict. She concludes that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not—as was commonly assumed—a spontaneous emotional reaction arising out of the clash of Western and Islamic civilizations. Rather it was orchestrated, first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt, and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria. Klausen shows how the cartoon crisis was, therefore, ultimately a political conflict rather than a colossal cultural misunderstanding.

Jytte Klausen is Professor of Comparative Politics at Brandeis University. She is the author of The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe and War and Welfare: Europe and the United States, 1945 to the Present. She lives in Waltham, MA.

Newstalk host Sean Moncrieff’s Recommended Book, November 2009

“For all its newsworthiness, the Danish cartoons affair remains obscure. Jytte Klausen…has written what must rank as the definitive account. It is a model of investigation and exposition. She demonstrates that the global ructions were not some spontaneous eruption of anger, but a campaign orchestrated for political advantage by a series of actors.”—Oliver Kamm, Prospect

"The definitive account of the Danish cartoon controversy...beautifully constructed and intelligent."--Steven Poole, The Guardian (UK)

"Astute interpretive history...Klausen conveys unusual insight into the furor's geopolitical repercussions."--
Arch Puddington, The Weekly Standard

“Unlike most of those who sounded off during the affair, [Klausen] has followed in detail the domestic Danish debate and interviewed many of the protagonists. In her dissection of the controversy, she nimbly dispels a string of falsehoods and misperceptions.”—The Economist

“Meticulously documents the enormous diplomatic and political machinations that sprang into action to transform an editorial lark in faraway Jutland into a global campaign to censor Islam's critics.”—Ezra Levant, Toronto Globe and Mail

“Patient and deeply informed and seeks to complicate our understanding of an event that is easily oversimplified.”—Christopher Caldwell, The Weekly Standard

“An important, thorough history of the Danish cartoon controversy, based on sound scholarship.”—David Gura, Columbia Journalism Review

“This book is deeply researched and sensitively written. It tells a story that had to be told. A must read!” —Baroness Kishwer Falker, Member of the House of Lords

“A balanced and meticulously researched account of the events surrounding the Danish cartoons controversy.  Full of valuable insights and recommendations, this is a must read for policy makers, community leaders, and all interested in good relations between the West and Muslims.”—Bhikhu Parekh, author of A New Politics of Identity

“In this richly textured detective story, Klausen takes us with her on a journey across continents and cultures in an effort to discover why ‘twelve little cartoons’ set off one of the first truly global crises of the twenty-first century. This is an impressive work by a gifted scholar, and is the finest account yet of this little-understood episode in our collective history.”—Tarek Masoud, Harvard University

“An extremely thorough and wide ranging analysis of the facts surrounding the release of the Muhammad cartoons and the international framework in which the cartoons reverberated.”—Steven Simon, Council on Foreign Relations

"A significant contribution to understanding the events around the Danish cartoons crisis, which will undoubtedly be subjected to continuing fascination and manipulation. Klausen offers an understanding of the Danish context that no other researcher can match."--Jørgen S. Nielsen, University of Copenhagen

“The Danish cartoon crisis has been described as a deep cultural clash. This fine scholarly study presents it instead as a domestic political conflict among Danish citizens that spread to the international political arena. There were many losers, Klausen argues, but no winners. This is, by far, the best analysis of these events, and certainly the most thorough.”—Martin Schain, author of The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain and the United States

“The ‘cartoons that shook the world’ have polarized opinions and values in a war of words waged around the globe. Jytte Klausen's timely book brings facts and comparative data to make sense of a debate too often biased by passion, fantasies and false representations.”—Patrick Weil, author of How to Be French: Nationality in the Making since 1789 

“A definitive account of this important chapter in the contemporary encounter between Islam and the West. Klausen takes the reader behind the scenes and explores the winding roads that intersected to create the clash over the cartoons. There is simply no one better placed to write this book.”—Jonathan Laurence, Boston College

"The Cartoons That Shook the World [is] Jytte Klausen's astute interpretive history of the crisis. Her thesis is that the cartoon crisis did not derive from a clash of civilizations between Islamic and Western cultures, as many asserted at the time, but should be regarded as a political struggle with both Danish and international dimensions. . . . Klausen is well informed about contemporary Danish politics and seems to have interviewed just about everyone who played an important role in the crisis, including key figures in the Muslim world."—Arch Puddington, The Weekly Standard

"[The book] provides valuable insights into the perceptions and misperceptions of the various players that helped create this cultural debacle."--The Forward


“Klausen appraises with empathy and irony the characters and issues involved.”--Foreign Affairs

ISBN: 9780300124729
Publication Date: October 13, 2009
240 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
7 scattered b/w illus