Saturday, February 16, 2008

Denmark - The cartoon wars continue

I trust that everyone remembers the international storm surrounding the publication in a Danish newspaper, back in September 2005, of some satirical cartoons that included depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.

(If you want a reminder, see my February 2006 post on "The cartoon wars" and some related items from 2006, including good pieces by Marc Cooper and Tim Rutten and an outspoken joint declaration by 12 writers and other intellectuals, a number of them Muslims or from Muslim backgrounds, calling for the defense of freedom and democratic principles against Islamist fanaticism.)

Well, the latest news from Denmark (see below) indicates that these cartoon wars are not over yet (and the cartoonists involved will probably not feel entirely safe for the rest of their lives).

=> Denmark's three main newspapers have just acted to express solidarity in defense of freedom of expression and in opposition to terrorist intimidation. The deserve to be commended for this principled stand.
“This shows that terror is not only despicable, but also at the end powerless,” said Toeger Seidenfaden, Politiken’s chief editor.

Not quite ... but it's a fine sentiment.
The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the controversy,
(Which is a euphemistic way of saying that back in 2005-2006 they went out of their way to whip up international hysteria about these cartoons. As a New York Times editorial pointed out at the time: "The cartoons were largely unnoticed outside Denmark until a group of Muslim leaders there made a point of circulating them, along with drawings far more offensive than the relatively mild stuff actually printed by the paper, Jyllands-Posten.")
condemned the plot and urged that all disagreements should be handled through legitimate channels.

“It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands,” it said in a statement.

“On the contrary, we want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear.”
Amen. 

[Update: On the other hand, the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard still has reasons to be fearful.  In 2010 an attacker broke into his house tried to kill him.  That attempt wasn't successful, but Westergaard was seriously wounded, and the next attacker might be luckier.


--Jeff Weintraub
=========================
London Times
February 13, 2008
Newspapers defy Muslim fanatics to support Kurt Westergaard
David Charter in Brussels and Marcus Oscarsson in Stockholm

Denmark’s three main newspapers will take the provocative step today of reprinting a cartoon showing the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb instead of a turban after the arrest yesterday of three suspected Islamic terrorists for plotting to murder the artist.

The cartoon by Kurt Westergaard was one of 12 depicting the prophet which triggered riots around the world leading to dozens of deaths when they first appeared in 2005. The violent backlash demonstrated starkly the incendiary interface between Islam and the boundaries of freedom of expression in Europe.

Mr Westergaard, who has spent three months moving between secret addresses while security services tracked the alleged plotters, was back at work yesterday to draw a self-portrait for today’s editions. It shows him still clutching his pen and a Danish flag, but he is obscured by a dark and bloody cloud featuring Arabic script which declares: “Glorious Koran.”

Muslim leaders in Denmark appealed for calm last night as police interviewed a Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians about plans for the “terror-related killing” of Mr Westergaard, 73, who said that he expected to live the rest of his life under threat of death.

The arrests came as a shock in Denmark which thought that it had closed the unhappy chapter of the cartoons controversy that led to deaths in protests in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, attacks on Danish embassies and the withdrawal of ambassadors from Iran, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Westergaard’s image of Muhammad, which he intended to show how Islam was being used by terrorists, was regarded by some Muslims as one of the most offensive of the cartoons published in his Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September 2005.

“Unfortunately, the matter shows that there are in Denmark groups of extremists that do not acknowledge and respect the principles on which Danish democracy is built,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, said. “In Denmark we have freedom not only to think and talk, but also to draw.” Jyllands-Posten and two other Danish papers, Politiken and Berlingske Tidende, said that they would reprint the original cartoon as part of their news coverage today. Jyllands-Posten posted it on the front page of its website yesterday.

“This shows that terror is not only despicable, but also at the end powerless,” said Toeger Seidenfaden, Politiken’s chief editor. The Islamic Faith Community, a religious Muslim organisation at the centre of the controversy, condemned the plot and urged that all disagreements should be handled through legitimate channels.

“It does not serve our purpose that people take the law into their own hands,” it said in a statement.

“On the contrary, we want to appeal to reason in both politicians and the media to not use this miserable example to feed the flames or use it for their own profit. No one in Denmark deserves to live in fear.” Jyllands-Posten published the original cartoons in September 2005 after a Danish writer complained that she could not find an illustrator for a book about the life of Muhammad because artists feared reprisals from Islamic extremists.

The depiction of the prophet is regarded as idolatory under Islamic law but no one foresaw the scale of the international outcry that would follow as the cartoons were picked up by publications around the world.

Mr Westergaard revealed yesterday that he and his wife, Gitte, 66, had been living at various secret locations since death threats were first made three months ago.

“Of course I fear for my life after the Danish Security and Intelligence Service informed me of the concrete plans of certain people to kill me,” he said in a statement. “However, I have turned fear into anger and indignation. It has made me angry that a perfectly normal everyday activity which I used to do by the thousand was abused to set off such madness. I have attended to my work and I still do. I could not possibly know for how long I have to live under police protection.

He added: “I think, however, that the impact of the insane response to my cartoon will last for the rest of my life. It is sad indeed, but it has become a fact of my life.”

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) said that yesterday’s arrests near Aarhus in western Denmark were made after lengthy surveillance.

It expected the 40-year-old Danish citizen to be released pending further investigation. The Tunisians would remain detained while deportation proceedings were brought against them.

The head offices of Jyllands Posten in Aarhus remain protected by security guards and an electronic entry system for staff. Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief, said: “We sympathise with Kurt Westergaard and his family who are forced to live under unreasonable pressure. It is appalling that a man who goes about his work and carries it out in accordance with Danish law . . . was demonised and threatened.”

Incendiary art that triggered deadly riots

— Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in September 2005
The pictures caused international Muslim anger on a level not seen since the release of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses
At least two Muslim countries recalled their ambassadors to Denmark. The resulting protests lasted six months and led to the deaths of dozens of people.
The printed cartoons included one depicting Muhammad greeting suicide bombers in heaven, saying: “Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins!”
Another cartoon depicted a Danish boy called Muhammad writing in Arabic on a blackboard the words: “Jyllands-Posten’s journalists are a bunch of reactionary provocateurs.”
— Jyllands-Posten apologised in January 2006, but Norwegian, Canadian and French publications reprinted the cartoons
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Related Links
Denmark faces international boycott over Muslim cartoons
Danish court throws out Muslim cartoons lawsuit
Cartoonist shrugs off death threat

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