Friday, February 17, 2006

Phantom Illustrators in Denmark?

Apart from being a great band name, the title of this post refers to an article on a brand-spankin-new blog called Random Platitudes. Starting off with a topic that is far from random, the author—a "historian and lecturer" from Denmark who calls himself RP—promises a four-part dissection of the Danish cartoon incident.

In part one, RP gives a little background.
In the summer of 2005, author Kåre Bluitgen, writer of several books critical of Islam (Nye danskere and Til gavn for de sorte) and a frequent participant in media debates on Islamic presence in Danish society, was working on a book dealing with the life of Muhammad. During a meeting with an old acquaintance, journalist Troels Pedersen, Bluitgen mentioned that he was having trouble with his book, because three different illustrators (according to Bluitgen) had refused to participate, citing fears of reprisals for making pictures of Muhammad.
So far, this is pretty much common knowledge for anyone who has been paying close attention to the cartoon controversy. The one thing that might not be as widely known is Bluitgen's status as a critic of Islam and of the Islamic presence in Denmark. In many news accounts, he was portrayed as some sort of Danish Ted Geisel whose harmless little children's book was ruined by terrorists. It's interesting to learn that this may not be the case.

More intriguing, however, is that little nugget in the parentheses (ain't the best stuff always in parenthetical remarks?). RP elaborates:
Troels Pedersen didn't do anything with the story at the time — but three months later, he was working at the Danish news agency Ritzau and Pedersen now made the situation with the three reluctant illustrators the basis for an interview with Bluitgen. Bluitgen declined to identify the three, but Pedersen went ahead with the story anyway. Repeated requests by journalists for Bluitgen to identify the supposed illustrators were denied, and a certain skepticism crept in. Had Bluitgen concoted the story to bring attention to his upcoming book? (emphasis added)
That's an excellent question. Have the phantom illustrators of Bluitgen's children's book ever been identified? Do they even exist? As RP points out, when Jyllands-Posten went trolling for illustrators willing to draw Muhammad, they had no trouble whatsoever finding them.

None of this changes the fact that people got stupid and went crazy in the streets. If, however, the whole cartoon controversy, from the very beginning, was engineered by right-wing xenophobes, that would certainly put the liberalism and tolerance of Europe into perspective. Random Platitudes has left us with quite a cliff-hanger, there, so I guess we'll have to stay tuned.
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