Islam in Europe: The Cartoon Controversy & Public Visibility of Muslims

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2011

6 Pages, Grade: A

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The excerpt from Dalia Mogahed and Magali Rinault's (“DMMR”) essay on the Danish cartoon controversy hints at a broader contentious debate in Europe regarding the public visibility of its Muslim population. DMMR refers to concerns in Europe prompted by the Danish cartoon controversy, however, topics involving Muslims in other European countries have prompted these same concerns. DMMR writes that Europe questions “the willingness of its Muslim population to accept Western values,” there are “mass perceptions [in Europe] that Islam and violence are interchangeable,” and Europe is “wary” of its Muslim population. These points are also at issue in France on the topic of hijab and burqa, in Switzerland on the topic of minarets, in Germany on women's rights and headscarves, and in the Netherlands on homosexuality, among others.1 Each topic involves the same contention with an aspect of Muslim public life because it is seen as disruptive to the country's way of life. Therefore, it is clear the concerns mentioned by DMMR are part of a broader issue in which the public visibility of European Muslims is perceived as intrusive and results in discrimination against these Muslims. Thus, the two points I discuss in this paper present this broader issue in the context of the Danish cartoon controversy. I discuss, first, how Europe's response to the controversy was discriminatory toward Muslims; and, second, how these discriminatory responses are due to feelings of threat from the public visibility of European Muslims. I will show the first point through cases of differential treatment at the legal level and through examining the political and social forces that prevented even acceptable secular arguments by Muslim groups from being considered. I will demonstrate the second point through examining the negativity associated with Islam in the eyes of the European public and the increasing multiculturalism across Europe both of which are fueling discrimination against Muslims.

In a clear case of discrimination and double standards during the Danish cartoon controversy, Europe tolerated speech that was offensive to Muslims while prohibiting similar speech offensive to another religious minority group. Several European countries have criminalized private speech that is anti-Semitic and denies the Holocaust, categorizing it as hate speech, but these same countries refused to bring legal charges against the cartoonists and/or ban the cartoons when several Muslims used the same hate speech laws in secular arguments. Furthermore, in February 2006, when the cartoon controversy had spread to the international level and newspapers across continental Europe were republishing the cartoons despite heated international protests, Austria sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for Holocaust denial speech from 1989. According to the Human Rights Watch, this conviction “highlighted the differential treatment often legally accorded anti-Semitic speech versus anti-Islamic speech.”2 European authorities did not impartially consider these legitimate, secular arguments against the cartoons, but instead, singled out all arguments from Muslims as religious arguments. More Muslims agreed with the civic perspective, which considered the cartoons hateful toward Muslims, rather than the religious perspective, which considered the cartoons blasphemous.3 The civic argument used the same secular reasoning used to prevent the hate speech and discrimination banned in most of Europe, yet this argument was wrongly treated as part of the religious argument. Stereotypes of religious extremism associated with Muslims prevented the European public and authorities from discerning that several Muslim groups were using secular arguments of disrespect and hate speech that were legitimate in European legal systems.4 As a result of this discrimination, they rejected all arguments from these groups.

Furthermore, although most Muslim groups sided with secular arguments, these groups were still set apart as antagonists in a polarized confrontation between freedom/West and dogma/Islam which became synonymous with the cartoon controversy.


1 Tariq Ramadan “My compatriots' vote to ban minarets is fuelled by fear.” The Guardian. November 29, 2009

2 Human Rights Watch “Questions and Answers on the Danish Cartoons and Freedom of Expression, When Speech Offends.” Human Rights Watch February 24, 2006.

3 Cesari, Lecture, Week 9

4 Jocelyne Cesari “Rethinking Secularism: Muslims in European public sphere and the limits of liberal theories of citizenship.” The Immanent Frame. April 23, 2010.

5 of 6 pages


Islam in Europe: The Cartoon Controversy & Public Visibility of Muslims
Harvard University
Islam in the West Post 9/11: Radicalization or Integration?
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ISBN (Book)
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islam, europe, cartoon, controversy, public, visibility, muslims
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Maera Siddiqi (Author), 2011, Islam in Europe: The Cartoon Controversy & Public Visibility of Muslims, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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