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AUGUST 11, 2010 10:46AM

Here we go again: Mohammed caricature to be republished

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 Kurt Westergaard
"I don't want to start a new crisis":
Danish artist Kurt Westergaard
(Source: makli.com)


THE MOHAMMED CARICATURE CONTROVERSY five years ago shook the world, although it’s hard to know which side of the world received more of a shaking: outraged Muslims across the globe who felt insulted by what they perceived as neo-imperialist European contempt for their religious values, or the so-called “West,” whose most outspoken pundits chose to depict the Muslim response to the provocation as a “clash of civilizations.” The crisis, which ensued from a series of cartoons sponsored by the conservative Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, led to an estimated 100 deaths around the world. It has been causing aftershocks ever since, most recently in the form of a spate of Holocaust-denying caricatures from the Muslim world and a physical assault on Swedish artist Lars Vilks (whom I’ve written about here) while he presented a provocative art lecture in Uppsala last spring and a subsequent arson attack on his private home.


But now it looks like the whole sorry business is about to start up again, because retired Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard, the creator of what many Muslims regard as the most offensive of the lot, is preparing to publish his memoirs – with his “Mohammed Bomb” smack on the front cover.


How it all started:
Westergaard's Mohammed caricature
(Source: korrektheiten.de)

Scandinavian artists live dangerously these days. The seventy-five year-old Westergaard has been the target of numerous murder plots since 2008. From that time on, he has stood under police protection. The police also provided him with a reinforced panic room in his house. It saved his life last January 2, when an axe-wielding Somali assassin shouting “Revenge! Revenge!” broke into the house and made straight for the artist. Westergaard has been living with a bodyguard around the clock ever since. 

Jyllands-Posten, whose neoconservative editor Flemming Rose started the whole controversy back in 2005 as a protest against the way Muslims “demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings,” is taking the threat of renewed violence very seriously. It has surrounded its main editorial offices near Århus with security cameras, large granite blocks, and a two and a half meter high barbed wire fence. Cars entering the grounds have to pass through a security gate and inspection area, which is sealed in the rear before it opens in the front. Employees and visitors have to enter through a special building and pass through a security door after keying in a code. The Danish security police have also asked the newspaper to step up security at its Copenhagen offices.

Westergaard’s print-on-demand book The Man Behind the Line will contain approximately thirty of his best-known caricatures. It will tell the story of his Christian fundamentalist childhood in the western Danish region of Himmerland, his later career as a school principal and artist, and his atheism. This unlikely symbol of Western freedoms believes it’s only natural to place his most controversial drawing on the cover. He swears it isn’t a provocation. "I’m not trying to start a new crisis, but it’s what started the whole thing in the first place,” he told Jyllands-Posten. "The drawings were a catalyst for a necessary discussion on freedom of expression.” He is convinced the crisis would have erupted eventually anyway, with or without his drawing.

Mohammed caricature 
The Danish cartoon controversy is not only about "freedom
of expression," as this anti-immigrant poster on a Copenhagen
street illustrates (Source: snaphanen.dk)

While Muslims - most of them first generation immigrants from Islamic countries - represent less than four percent of Denmark's population, many Danes find Islam hard to digest. Muslim attitudes towards women are the biggest barrier to acceptance, but the group's consistent failure to integrate with Danish society and particularly also its fixation on a narrowly defined religion in a generally liberal and largely atheist country have produced a backlash that political parties such as the right-wing Danish People's Party are now skillfuly exploiting. Many Danes genuinely fear the "Islamization" of their homeland. Denmark is, after all, a staunch US ally in the "Global War on Terror." The tiny Nordic country's valiant struggle against "Islamo-Fascism" provides the context for the 2005 caricature campaign.

Danish security experts are now saying that the threat to Danish lives and interests is not nearly as great as it was five years ago. If you listen to the unrepentant Flemming Rose, the violent Muslim reaction to the cartoons is all about politics anyway. “This had very little to do with insulting religious sensibilities, though it was being used by influential groups and regimes in the Middle East to stir up emotions. It was a very well planned and executed operation. It was not spontaneous in any way.”  Perhaps Rose and the experts are right. But the book’s publication in November will undoubtedly yank the crisis back into the headlines, and Lars Vilks is also planning to complete his interrupted Uppsala lecture in the coming months.

So Scandinavia is getting ready for a very hot autumn. And this time it won’t be due to global warming.

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@Behind Blue Eyes
Although the population of Denmark may only be 4% Muslim, there is apparently a sizable number of them who have no desire to assimilate into Danish society, and their response to the cartoon five years ago was an ironic affirmation of the cartoon's message. Those who believe violent retribution against those who exercise free political expression is a just response simply prove the point that conservative Islam is inconsistent with liberal Western democracy.

The Danes (and Swedes and Norwegians and Dutch...) are justified in their desire that immigrants accept the cultural liberalism of the nations in which they settle. The anti-immigrant poster you show may be overly provocative and offensive, but its message contains a kernel of truth. Those who would seek to kill an artist whose work they find offensive should not choose to live in a country where such expression is legally permissible. Perhaps they should choose to live in a country where their sensibilities will be protected. Saudi Arabia, perhaps, or the supposedly secular and liberal Turkey. (Of course, secular Turkey isn't so secular or Liberal when it comes to protecting the rights of its Christian minority.)
Interesting stuff. It's a real dilemma when religious freedom, cultural traditions, and free speech collide.
What right you have to hurt anybody`s emotions, belief?You white people think yourself superior and treat others very badly.I think white people never read their own history. Who burned to Bruno?Who send jail to Galileo?In 13 and 14 Th centuries who ignited to Jews?Why Hitler burned Jews?Can you give answers to my question.?You are mighty people so you have right to hurt weaker people?
The crisis, which ensued from a series of cartoons sponsored by the conservative Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, led to an estimated 100 deaths around the world.

You're missing some very important events in the history of this whole manufactroversy. Let me fill in the gaps here...

The offending cartoons first appeared in some right-wing-Christian Danish fringe publication. There was no "crisis" as a result, no reaction from any sizeable number of Muslims anywhere, most likely because they were bigoted cartoons in a bigoted publication and no one expected any better.

Later on, the mainstream Danish paper Jillends Posten reprinted the cartoons as part of a series about attitudes toward visual depictions of Mohammed. Still no immediate reaction from any Muslim community.

Then one day -- several months later -- there was a bit of a crowd-control problem during the annual Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. About 350 people were killed, which meant a HUGE embarrassment for the Saudi regime. So instead of talking about the incident, the state-controlled Saudi media began orchestrating widespread outrage over the cartoons. This orchestration included the fabrication of even more tasteless cartoons by a Muslim cleric for inclusion in the portfolio of offenses against good Muslims. The "crisis" you speak of didn't happen when the cartoons were published -- it was caused by Saudi media to distract attention away from their own government's embarrassing failures. And it was not a spontaneous grassroots reaction, it was a deliberately orchestrated propaganda campaign by a government.
Good for him! There are enough anti-christian, anti-jewish cartoons and essays to sink a ship. Muslims don't get a pass.
as long as religious extremists feel free to assassinate ob-gyn health workers in the states, as long as murdered families are collateral damage in foreign countries and innocent civilians in america, i'll stick with the general principle that religion is chiefly an excuse to lie, cheat, steal and murder with a clear conscience.

since the west, notably britain and america, started this struggle for oil, i'll give the moslems a free pass until the casualties are more nearly matched.

but fair warning to the world of islam: if you harm a hair on the head of a 'new yorker' cartoonist, i will have to re-evaluate.
Slavoj Zizek points out in his book "Violence" how the Mohammed cartoon scandal put liberals in an awkward stance: on the one hand defending the artist's right to free speech, a liberal touchstone, while at the same time deploring his obviously insensitive provocation. Since "tolerance" is the watchword of contemporary liberalism, it became an impossible Mobius loop. And the contradictions didn't stop there, since the Muslim population in Denmark and other parts of Europe wanted to excoriate the man while distancing themselves from the threats of violence made against him by "extremists." Added to that was the fact that the very people---liberals once again---who defend their right to freedom of religious expression (against a growing reactionary consensus in Europe over immigration, even on the traditional centre-left), are the same people who defended the artist who attacked their religion. Interesting dilemma. Zizek suggests that points both to the limits of a philosophy based on "tolerance" rather than some truly radical-ethical credo---like anti-racism or anti-capitalism---and the limits of "multicultural" society, which appear to have been reached.
I don't care what your religion is, if your are willing to take another HUMAN LIFE over a mere drawing, you need to reevaluate yourself. As far as the question of assimilation, the extremists DON'T want to have their values questioned, they fear change. If you want to live in a 3rd century mindset, great stay home and do that.

Otherwise, time to grow out of the tribal, archaic bullshit already!
I think that it looks like the guy who played Ming in the 70's Flash Gordon movie if that guy were in a 1950's movie set in the middle east with harem scenes and not at all like Mohammed.
Mo was a gigolo who got his first break marrying a rich widow (so was probably better looking in a nebbishy way) and parlayed that into running a gang of bandits and well, the sky was the limit for messiah's in those days and the rest is probably all made up since Islam forbids photoshop. (R)ated
Or if Ming were a Cossack.
"So Scandinavia is getting ready for a very hot autumn."

Actually, I'm optimistic. When we talk about this whole cartoon mess, I think it's important to keep in mind that the vast majority of Muslims see no reason to react with violence. If anything, that seems especially true of Muslims living in Scandinavia - the deaths and burning of buildings have taken place in Muslim countries, not here (the attack on Westergaard was the exception). It's probably easier for members of a Muslim minority in a predominantly Christian society to see that freedom of speech, thought and religion ultimately protects minorities like themselves most of all. Without it, there would be no Islam in Denmark.

So the danger should not be hyped. And I suspect even hard-line Muslims are getting a bit tired of playing this whack-a-mole game. Whenever they overreact to another cartoon, thousands more are published.

That said, Muslims will have to learn the lesson Western Christians have reluctantly accepted: In the modern world, free speech trumps religious sensibilities. That is as it should be, and it will not change. Not without a fight.
I agree, although, as Stellaa points out, it's foolish to stick pokers in other people's faces. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens in November.

@Naughty Boy
Yes, you've expressed the crux of the argument from the Muslim point of view. Thanks for stopping by.

You're right, I compressed the story to fit into a short blog. Thanks for adding the extra info - it is indeed a complex issue.

Thanks, Zizek livens up every debate.

"Whack-a-mole" is right - it's a boring game. Let's hope things turn out as you describe.
@Alan Nothagle,Iam did not written from Muslim point of view.That one is my general statement.This is my firm openion we must not hurt anyone`s belief faith, we have no right to abused anyone Every religion have some fault. Let them live as they choose and we live as we enjoy.We must respect each and everyone.As humanity point of view all have right to worship which God they prefer.
Naughtyboy - no one is harmed by the mere sight of a drawing. You can choose to be offended, but as Jefferson said "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. "

We should publish more "offensive" pictures of all religions. Burn more flags, say the things that need to be said. A person who cannot let others state their beliefs without resorting to violence has no place in a free country. We have to let other people have their say or none of us will ever be able to voice an opinion regardless of it's value.

The best response to too much free speech is more free speech. The dilemma happens when people who have no regard for free speech use it against people who would disagree with everything they say, yet fight to the death for their right to say it. Jihadists have no problem with that and have proved that they will ultimately resort to violence.
At some point a culture of freedom has to address the paradox. If the worst that happens is that people who can't buy into live and let live get shipped back home, they should consider themselves lucky.
" if you're going to incite a radical, reactionary devotee of a religion, then you can't be surprised when the crazy people you're trying to annoy REACT LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE. You know, just like you can't antagonize a bear without expecting to be mauled. The fact that neither reaction is rational has nothing to do with it. I'd like to talk shit back on every person that yells out insults on the streets of New York, but you know what? Most people are fucking lunatics without religion being involved, and it's ultimately not worth getting beat up or killed over.

The equation is simple: don't draw the prophet Muhammad and no one will threaten your life for it; draw him and someone probably will. Is there something worth expressing about Islam that is hindered by not being able to draw Muhammad? Even if there is, hey, here's a novel idea: be creative and work around being outright sacrilegious. Or else don't be surprised when the lunatic fringe of a religion act like murderous lunatics. "
end quote , nuff said
I just wish the cartoons were funnier