Cartoon-Krieg: Politics as War by Other Means

Jyllands-Posten stood Clausewitz on his head.  Its now infamous cartoons of Mohammed are not so much speech as acts.  Acts of provocation and belligerence.  They are the latest round of politics as war by other means.

Make no mistake.  Jyllands-Posten is not in the business of promoting the freedom of speech.  Nor are the European governments that rallied to its defense.  What they claim is the license to injure the oppressed and marginalized.

The Sunday editor of Jyllands-Posten rejected the cartoons about the resurrection of Christ that Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted in April 2003: “I don’t think Jyllands-Posten‘s readers will enjoy the drawings.  As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry.  Therefore, I will not use them.”1  Austria sent David Irving to prison for violating the law that criminalizes denying, trivializing, approving, or justifying the Holocaust.  At least ten other European governments have similar laws on the books.2  The cultural and political elite of Europe do not hesitate to suppress speech, in deference to the dominant group (as in the case of Zieler’s Jesus cartoons) or with a view to upholding their pretense to anti-fascism (as in the case of prohibition of Holocaust denial).

The issue is not free speech.  The issue is power.  Who has it and who doesn’t.

When the Jews were powerless, where did Jyllands-Posten stand?  In the 1930s, the paper was infamous for its support for Italian fascism and German Nazism.  In 1933, it all but argued for the introduction of a dictatorship in Denmark:

Det lige så kostbare som skadelige kriseforlig har skabt en sådan lede ved hele det parlamentariske styre, at sikkert et stort flertal af danske vælgere ville hilse en Mussolini, der ville og kunne handle samfundsmæssigt, og derfor måtte sætte politikerne på porten.

The crisis agreement [the January 1933 deal — Kanslergadeforliget — between the Social Democratic-Radical government and the Agrarian Party (Venstre), which devalued the Danish currency, made public investments, and forbade both strikes and lockouts], which is as costly as it is harmful, has created such a loathing for the whole parliamentarian regime that a large majority of the Danish voters certainly would welcome a Mussolini, who could and would act in a socially responsible way and therefore would have to give the politicians their marching orders.3

The powerless in Europe today are Arabs and Muslims, many of whom are immigrants, the chief target of the xenophobic European Right.  Jyllands-Posten, once again, has taken the side of power.  Today it is linked to the Danish People’s Party which has publicly stated that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Danish society and has called Islam a “cancerous ulcer” and a “terrorist movement.”  Notoriously racist DPP chair Pia Kjaersgaard once stated, “There is only one civilization, and that is ours.”  Such incitements to xenophobia pushed Danish politics to right in the 1990s.  Even the then ruling Social Democrats came up with their own xenophobic campaigns.  The DPP is now in power, part of the right-wing coalition government of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen which lined up behind the Bush administration on the Iraq War and sent a contingent of troops there despite the vehement opposition of the Danish people.

It is not just Denmark where xenophobic campaigns on the cultural and political fronts go hand in hand.  Take France, for instance.  French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy defended the republications of the cartoons in the France Soir, Le Monde, and Libération, claiming to prefer “an excess of caricature to an excess of censure.”4  Sarkozy, as you may recall, is the man who helped fan the flame of last year’s anti-police riots in the Muslim immigrant suburbs of France by calling residents “scum” and “gangrene.”5  The language of anti-Semitism has become the language of anti-Muslim xenophobia.  Martin Luther wrote in 1543: “I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, to see whether this might not help (though it is doubtful).  They must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in, proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow.”  Today, the rhetoric remains the same, though the target is different.

As in the case of anti-Semitism, any difference from the dominant culture is seized upon and classified as a mark of racial inferiority, a sign of intolerable foreign bodies inside the body politic.  Sander L. Gilman draws a parallel between reactions to Jews and Muslims in Europe: e.g., “the prohibition against kosher Jewish slaughter (which still stands today)” in Switzerland and the ban on head scarves in France.7  It is not only the Right (such as Sarkozy in France and Geert Wilders who introduced a bill to ban the burqa — which has since become law — in the Netherlands8) that seek to compel the oppressed to submit to the dominant culture.  The French ban on hijab was supported by Socialists and many Communists.9  Lutte Ouvrière went further: “Bien sûr, certaines jeunes filles affirment que cela représente leur choix personnel.  Mais même si cela est vrai, ce choix contribue à l’oppression de celles qui voudraient résister et il est tout aussi inacceptable [Of course, certain girls affirm that hijab represents their personal choice.  But even if that is true, their choice contributes to the oppression of those who would like to resist and it is just as unacceptable].”10  Notice how easily what is done in the name of freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of women — metastasizes into the negation of freedom.

Negate freedom in the name of freedom at home.  Invade and occupy Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haiti, against law, against reason, against humanity, all the while lecturing the world shrilly about the West’s humanity, rationality, and rule of law.

The two wars at home and abroad become one and the same, liberated from the bounds of reason imposed by Clausewitz’s art of war: war as politics by other means, limited in scope and driven by attainable goals.  Politics, instead, has become war by other means, waged everywhere, even on the invisible battlefield of the mind.  The psyche of the target population is attacked as viciously as an enemy on the battlefield through elaborate psychological operations and black propaganda which have the sole object of destroying the sense of self and wiping out cultural identity.  This was the technique at work in the sexual torture of Abu Ghraib and Gunatanamo.11

The European power elite’s Cartoon-Krieg, like all propaganda, is an offensive directed against not only their enemies — Arabs and Muslims at home and abroad — but also “their own people,” i.e. non-Arab and non-Muslim citizens of Europe.  After all, a great majority of them opposed the Iraq War (if not the Afghanistan War), which put a brake on European warmongers.12  Can non-Arab and non-Muslim Europeans resist the blitzkrieg of Islamophobic incitement?  If they succumb, Europe will resemble a fortress more than before, and the world is a step closer to sanctions — eventually a war — on Iran.


1  Qtd. in Gwladys Fouché, “Danish Paper Rejected Jesus Cartoons,” The Guardian 6 February 2006.

2  Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland, as well as Australia, Canada, Israel, and New Zealand make Holocaust denial a crime.  See Michael Shermer, “Free Speech, Even If It Hurts” Los Angeles Times 22 February 2006.

3  KR, “Jyllands-Pesten 1933,” December 2000; and KR, “Jyllands-Pesten 1933: How Jyllands-Posten Became Jyllands-PESTEN,” Trans. Jens Guld, February 2006.

4  Kim Willsher, Luke Harding, and Nicholas Watt, “European Elite Scrambles to Defuse Furore over Caricatures of Muhammad,” The Guardian 3 February 2006.

5  Antoine Lerougetel, “Paris Hit by Anti-police Riots,”, 2 November 2005.

6  Martin Luther, “The Jews and Their Lies,” 1543, Luther’s Works, Volume 47: The Christian in Society IV, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971): 268-293.

7  Sander L. Gilman, “The Parallels of Islam and Judaism in Diaspora,” Chronicle of Higher Education 51.31, 8 April 2005.

8  The Dutch Parliament “recently legislated a countrywide ban on wearing the burqa in public” (Stefan Theil, “The End of Tolerance,” Newsweek 6 March 2006).

9  “On February 10, the French National Assembly voted (494 in favor, 36 against, 31 abstentions) to adopt a law banning ‘symbols and clothing that ostentatiously show students’ religious membership’ in public elementary, middle and high schools.  The law will apply beginning in September 2004 throughout France and in many of its island territories.  Within the National Assembly, the ruling conservative UMP (Union for a Popular Majority) party voted massively in favor of the bill, as did the establishment left party, the PS (Socialist Party).  The small center-right UDF (Union for French Democracy) and the Stalinist PCF (French Communist Party) both split their votes” (Alex Lefebvre, “France: National Assembly Bans Muslim Headscarves in Schools,”, 18 February 2004).

10  Sophie Gargan, “Port du voile: une pression réactionnaire,” Lutte Ouvrière 1833, 19 September 2003.

11  Not surprisingly, Rafael Patai’s The Arab Mind (1973), which argues that force and humiliation are the only measures that the “Arab mind” understands, has remained “the most popular and widely-read book on the Arabs in the U.S. military” in the training of special forces (Brian Whitaker, “Its Best Use Is as a Doorstop,” The Guardian 24 May 2004).

12  Some European governments openly defied public opinion.  Others, like Germany, did so quietly: “German intelligence agents reportedly helped US forces target Saddam Hussein in an April 2003 Baghdad bombing raid that killed at least 12 people, contravening former chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s insistence that Germany was not involved in the war in Iraq” (Charles Hawley, “Berlin’s Spies Reportedly Helped US,” Der Spiegel 12 January 2006).  Such covert assistance isn’t just a European phenomenon: “The German role is not the only instance in which nations that publicly cautioned against the war privately facilitated it. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for example, provided more help than they have disclosed. Egypt gave access for refueling planes, while Saudi Arabia allowed American special operations forces to initiate attacks from its territory, United States military officials say” (Michael R. Gordon, “German Intelligence Gave U.S. Iraqi Defense Plan, Report Says,” New York Times 27 February 2006).

Lila RajivaLila Rajiva is a freelance journalist based in Baltimore. She has an advanced degree in politics from the Johns Hopkins University and has taught at the University of Maryland. Her writings can be found on Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, and AlterNet, among others. Her book The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media was published by Monthly Review Press this year. The schedule of her speaking engagements is available here. Would you like to invite Lila Rajiva to meet and talk to your group? Contact Martin Paddio at <>.