Here we go again: Mohammed caricature to be republished
"I don't want to start a new crisis":
Danish artist Kurt Westergaard
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
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.
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.