a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

German blogger series: the Mohammed cartoons

Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 12th, 2006

Many German bloggers appear more uncertain, angered or rattled about the cartoon controversy than they have seemed about other topics like the Iraq war or Abu Ghraib. There’s a fair amount of “don’t push us around” attitude even among the usually leftish, moderate sections of the German blogosphere. An unscientific opinion sample:

Jochen Bittner writes for the German weekly Die Zeit, and maintains the blog “Beruf Terrorist [Profession Terrorist] The Enemy of all the World” — Bittner is a knowledgeable reporter on the subject, and the blog name belies what is usually a calm, wry, analytical attitude. Nevertheless, in this case Bittner actually considers the cartoon a “justified provocation,” and is, I think, uncharacteristically dismissive of all Islam itself:

If proof was needed that the Mohammed cartoons in the Danish newspaper ‘Jyllands-Posten’ were a justified provocation, then it’s the reactions of broad parts of the Muslim world. […]

And [someone who reacts to cartoons with bomb threats] should — instead of accusing others of intolerance — start to ask oneself if a religion that can’t be laughed about might itself be responsible for a medieval attitude.

Schockwellenreiter, a very popular computers/Internet blogger with leftish/libertarian sensibilities, also dismisses anything but pure free speech concerns:

I actually never agree with Henryk M. Broder, but in the case of the monkey dance around the Mohammed cartoon controversy he’s simply correct: the case is Exhibit A for how a democratic public pulls in its tail before a totalitarian, religiously dressed up sensibility. And presumably only, because they’re afraid about their business with Petrodollars… [Spiegel Online]

Even if the cartoons (I’ve never seen them) presumably weren’t exactly a high point in satirical art, the basic right to freedom of opinion is being sacrificed on the altar of religious insanity. I therefore declare the Mohammed-Karikaturen [Mohammed cartoons] to be the “Google of the Day.”


Sven Scholz, on the other hand, sees needless provocations on both sides. He recommends a Frankfurter Allgemeine article by Nils Minkmar, provides an extensive link list of other blogger reactions, and writes

And it would be nice, if the press here and the mobs there would not let themselves be provoked, manipulated, or instrumentalized by anybody who comes along. Bigotry combined with banalities, regardless in which direction, and with obvious motivations, is really annoying. Tremendously.

Kuechenkabinett‘s (“Kitchen Cabinet”) Stefan (who provides another huge links roundup) writes:

The clash of cultures is warned against, but these days it seems to be an almost unavoidable Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Polemics reign, and moderating voices succumb often enough to the crude demands of Hardliners on both sides.*

The Bembelkandidat writes:

a quarrel about cartoons and freedom of the press became a projection screen for fundamentalist prejudices and aggressions, no holds barred thrashings for everyone, all against all.

In the end it won’t be good sense that wins out, but escalation, which in the West will be driven by the stigmatization of Muslims as seemingly hotblooded fundamentalists and carriers of the Islamic threat. Anti-Western sentiments irresponsibly fanned in the Muslim world help confirm the image of the reckless West.

Ulrich Speck (“Kosmoblog”), another Die Zeit pro-blogger, is more relaxed about it all:

But only a barely measurable, vanishingly small minority of the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world have participated in the unrest. This small degree of mobilization, even in countries whose governments are seeking to heat up the situation — such as Iran — can be seen as a clear rejection of a clash of cultures.

On the other hand, hardly any of the commenters for this post agreed with him, “Wachtmeister” for instance: “Even if I don’t like it myself: the Clash of Civilizations is reality. Instead of denying it one should start dealing with it.”

Don Dahlmann:

My feeling is that the cause for the reactions here and there, besides the political motivated ones, is fear. Here the diffuse fear of economic calamities, an unknown religion and behaviors that one isn’t familiar with and can’t avoid, there the fear about one’s own identity and the loss of sovereignty to a superior military presence nearby.

Telegehirn (“Telebrain”), on the other hand, more or less says “bring it on,” and wants to start a “DU BIST DIE MEINUNGSFREIHEIT!” (“You are freedom of opinion”) campaign echoing the somewhat notorious “Du bist Deutschland” campaign. He writes:

Our times are not always perfect. No one denies that. Maybe the Islamists stand before Your newspaper building or the embassy of Your country is set on fire by fanatics. But we have kicked out the fires of total tyranny once before. Europe has enough free people who raise their voices against religious totalitarianism. You just have to open Your mouth.*

We have enough voices to drown out the chorus of fanatics. We are 425 million. You are the voice. Let’s use it. You are Europe.


Politically Incorrect (“Achtung! Pro-US blog!”) is a new one to me, but has apparently seen its readership climb to the top of the German charts lately. It seems to be a kind of LGF-lite, but they’re working on it. Showing a photo of a victim of an Abu Sayyaf attack in Philippines side by side with one of the Danish cartoons, it asks:

Only one of these two pictures provoked Muslims to hysteria, fiery demonstrations, boycotts and death threats against the perpetrators. Do you know Islam well enough to figure out which picture that was?

Hinterding prefers a kind of scientific approach:

hello. this is a survey for Muslims who believe it is sinful to attempt to draw the Prophet Muhammad. in your opinion, at what point do these images start to become sinful?

Seems a fair question.

Of course many German blogs have reacted sparingly, if at all. Jens Scholz observes that “burning down embassies is a form of expression too, if you look at it that way.” Andreas Schaefer simply links to a cartoon showing Muslims running out of stuff to burn and opting for Legos. Praschl et al at le sofa blog seem not to have mentioned the topic at all. — a kind of MediaMatters focused on the single German tabloid Bild, and the most visited German blog — has apparently found nothing in that paper worth mentioning about the cartoon story.

Still, on the whole, the shoe seems to be on the other foot here compared to two and four years ago: it seems easier to run across German bloggers who see their own rights endangered, if not their safety, in a way that was not as salient to them in the past. The riots in France last year may also have contributed to some of the palpably greater unease, “Schnauze” (lip), and belligerence on display.

Whether sadly, deservedly, tragically, or some combination thereof, it’s my (again, quite unscientific) impression that the picture of an undifferentiated and dangerous “Muslim enemy” is developing in Germany, just as it has in the U.S. in many quarters.

If so, that country’s allegiance to the rule of law and equal protection under the law of its own Muslim minorities may soon be tested. So far, German courts have seemed to be equal to the task of facing down pressures to cut corners in the “clash of cultures”; the question is whether that will continue when that pressure comes from Berlin, not Washington, DC. As the question suggests, it’s not like our country has shown the way of late.

* TRANSLATION NOTES: “Medieval”: voraufklaererisch, lit. pre-Enlightenment. The Kuechenkabinett writer used and capitalized the English phrases “Self fulfilling Prophecy” and “Hardliners.” Telegehirn’s “Your”s are capitalized to follow his/her use of the capitalized “Deine” in mid-sentence, signaling a slightly archaic, if not to say Voelkisch kind of polemic. Finally, I’ve taken the liberty of translating some sentences to a more active voice from the passive voice used by the German writer.
NOTE: German blogger series tag link.
EDIT, 2/12: “that pressure comes” for “the pressure not to is”.

5 Responses to “German blogger series: the Mohammed cartoons”

  1. Brett Says:

    This is a good roundup. Caroline Fetscher is my new favorite German blogger; she’s a got a few good things to say as well:

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    She’s interesting, you’re right. Quite a varied beat: nuclear testing, the Balkans, trans-Atlantic relations, human rights.
    From “97”, Iconophobia I, written in English:
    Only crude and staged political calculations, one may conclude, are lurking behind this current hysterical uproar. It has nothing at all to do with any reality such as, sadly and most appallingly, Srebrenica constituted.
    An elightened Muslim friend of mine said recently: If the prophet were to see these comics, he would most probably smile for a second and then forget about this poor piece of art altogether because he has a sovereign mind and much more important matters worry about.

    I’ve blogrolled this blog now, too.

  3. Ulrich Speck Says:

    Thanks for that interesting round-up. As one of the bloggers cited, I have to add that I’m not relaxed. By emphasising that only a very small minority of muslims actually joined the protest, I didn’t intend to downplay the problem. What I wanted is to avoid to play the “clash of cultures”-game that islamists are looking for.
    That said, I’m very concerned that cartoonists and liberale muslims are threatened, some need protection by the police. There is a general fear that will lead to a de facto-censorship of European media when it comes to islam.
    I wrote a piece on the issue, saying that liberalism has to defend now a core liberal right: free speech. For those who read German:

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I think it’s not just Islamists who are looking for a “clash of cultures,” and I mainly meant to place you among those non-Muslim Europeans who clearly who do not. But calling your views “more relaxed” was a bit slapdash on my part, it was just the first word that occurred to me.
    I’ve also neglected an important bit of context that there are more accepted restrictions on free speech in Europe (eg, re anti-semitism) than in the US. That leads Muslims to want equal protection (whether this would rightly applied in this case or not), and meanwhile irks at least some in the media and in the left. Thus the French periodical that is following up the Mohammed cartoons with some Holocaust ones, if I’ve understood correctly.

  5. Sven Says:

    Hi Thomas,
    i think the better translation for that what i mean with “Pauschalisierung” ist “generalizations” but “banalities”. I think, there is only a “clash of cultures” because some want one. Against the will of the majority on “both sides”. Thats why i am really pissed of by the media – they play the games of some minor interests. That’s far away from “independece” and “objectivity”, they claim to have.
    Thanks for the nice roundup.

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