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Why There Was No Cartoon Controversy in the United States

29 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2007  

Robert Kahn

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Date Written: 2007


The publication of cartoons insulting the prophet Mohammed created a far greater controversy in Europe than it did in the United States. In the paper, I attempt to trace this difference to broader differences in the way Americans and Europeans think about offensive speech. While Americans have developed a language of "libertarian regret," which allows them to criticize speech that they nevertheless concede the legal system must protect, Europeans are much more concerned about the threat posed by acts of intolerance. As a result, Europeans tended to view Muslim protests against the cartoons as a potential harbinger of totalitarianism. By contrast, most American commentators - while defending the right of the Danish paper to run the cartoons - were more likely to trace the Muslim opposition to the cartoons to religious sensitivities. In a concluding section of the paper, I link this to the European fears that Muslims will undermine secular norms.

Keywords: Comparative law, offensive speech, freedom of speech, law and religion

Suggested Citation

Kahn, Robert, Why There Was No Cartoon Controversy in the United States (2007). U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-28. Available at SSRN: or

Robert Kahn (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

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