Those Danish cartoons and me

I didn't know I had a hand in the Danish cartoons until I saw it on a conspiracist website.

cartoon 88 (photo credit: )
cartoon 88
(photo credit: )
Did you know that I had a hand in the Danish cartoons of Muhammad? No? Well, neither did I until I found it out in early February on a conspiracist Web site. To clear the record, I'll start with the facts, then outline the conspiracy theory.
What actually happened: Flemming Rose, cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, sent me an email on September 29, 2004, introducing himself and requesting an in-person interview during his US trip. I agreed and Rose came to my Philadelphia office on October 25, where he spent about half an hour asking me questions. His article on me, "Truslen fra islamismen" (or "The Threat of Islamism"), appeared on October 29. It is a standard journalistic piece in which Rose provided some biographical information about me and had me explain my views on radical Islam. (Both the Danish original and an English translation can be found on my Web site,
After that meeting I had no further contact with Rose. To be more precise: We have since then not met, talked, or written to each other. I learned only from the press of his decision, nearly a year after our meeting, to commission and publish the cartoons.
That's the boring reality - a routine interview and nothing else. The more exciting conspiracy theory began when a fringe anti-Semitic writer named Christopher Bollyn published an analysis on February 3 announcing that "Rose traveled to Philadelphia in October 2004 to visit Daniel Pipes... Rose then penned a positive article about Pipes." Two days later, Bollyn transmogrified this fact into an elaborate conspiracy theory: "The anti-Muslim cartoon scandal is clearly turning out to be a key event in the Zionist Neo-Cons' 'clash of civilizations,' the artificially constructed struggle to pit the so-called Christian West against the Islamic states and peoples. We know that Flemming Rose is a colleague and fellow of the Zionist Neo-Con Daniel Pipes. He has visited Pipes in Philadelphia and written a friendly biographical article."
Note Bollyn's three assumptions in this account: that Rose is my "colleague and fellow," that he and I together intentionally provoked Muslims, and that we are part of a wider conspiracy to worsen Christian-Muslim relations.
Such wild assumptions are standard fare for Bollyn. Concerning 9/11, for example, he thinks President George W. Bush and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch knew the plans in advance, that the Mossad had a key role in that day's events, that United Airlines flight 175 was not flown into the southern World Trade Center tower, and that the towers were destroyed either by an Israeli-US laser weapon or by underground explosions.
BOLLYN'S THEORY connecting me to a clash of civilizations gained momentum within days. Leftist and Islamist writers variously described Rose as my "close associate," "disciple," and 'prot g ," and the Internet buzzed with rumors of my part in a "Neocon conspiracy."
Even mainstream elements then picked up these ideas. Al-Hayat, a leading Arabic newspaper, speculated on February 10 about the "mutual admiration society" between Rose and myself. The PLO representative in Washington, Afif Safieh, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on February 12 that Flemming Rose "is a fan and an admirer" of mine.
The mass-circulation Belgian weekly Knack then called me "the ideologue of the NeoCons" (which will come as news to William Kristol) and accused Rose, me and others of instigating an "intentional NeoCon provocation."
I watched the spread of this fantastical account with bemusement and apprehension. As the author of two books and many articles on conspiracy theories, I have intensively studied these misguided attempts to understand reality. This time I had the dubious privilege of doing so on the inside, looking out.
In response I recalled two recommendations from my 1992 CIA-commissioned report suggesting ways for the US government to handle conspiracy theories deny the validity of conspiracy theories. Following my own advice, I placed a correction on my Web site, discussed the topic on Al-Jazeera television, and am addressing the matter here.
• anticipate malign interpretations: In today's vicious and vulgar political discourse, public figures must anticipate that their actions, however minor and innocent, might randomly be plucked out of obscurity and framed as part of some grand design. One cannot prevent this, but the damage can be minimized by keeping careful documentation (emails, audio recordings, photographs) and producing these to refute distortions.
The writer is director of the Middle East Forum.