Cartoon calculus

Light and heat
Cartoons are, by their nature, caricatures—oversimplifications designed to make a forceful point and provoke debate. Editors know that one powerful cartoon can generate more furor than dozens of provocative articles. Therefore editors usually make a rough calculation: Will the cartoon generate light as well as heat? Will the publishing of it be, as St. Paul would put it, not only lawful but beneficial? This is not an exact science, and benefits do not necessarily come without pain.

A Danish newspaper’s cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad have provoked riots and killings, the burning of several embassies and churches, and death threats against the cartoonists. So an obvious conclusion might be that Flemming Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, made the wrong calculation (even if one would defend his right to make it). Relations between Muslims and the West, one might say, can’t bear such provocations.


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