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Posted February 05, 2006 in Race, class, ethnicity, and stereotyping
Arthur Bright, "Firestorm over Danish Muhmammad cartoons continues," Christian Science Monitor (February 1, 2006)

Firestorm over Danish Muhammad cartoons continues
Newspaper that published cartoons received bomb threat a day after issuing apology.
By Arthur Bright |

A Danish newspaper that ran a series of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad is still feeling the heat from their publication, having received a bomb threat one day after printing an apology to the Muslim world.

The Independent of London reports that Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest newspaper, evacuated its offices in Copenhagen and Arhus after the threat was phoned in Tuesday. It proved to be false.

The bomb threat comes in the aftermath of the September 2005 publication of the 12 cartoons, some of which seemed to equate Muhammad with terrorism. Since publication, Jyllands-Posten and Denmark have become the focus of the ire of the Muslim world. Demonstrators in Gaza have burned Danish flags, Saudi Arabia and Libya have withdrawn their ambassadors to Denmark, and Danish goods are being boycotted across the Middle East.

Jyllands-Posten ran an apology from Carsten Juste, the paper's editor in chief, on Monday.

In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologize....

Maybe because of culturally based misunderstandings, the initiative to publish the 12 drawings has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the rest of the world.

I must categorically dismiss such an interpretation. Because of the very fact that we are strong proponents of the freedom of religion and because we respect the right of any human being to practise his or her religion, offending anybody on the grounds of their religious beliefs is unthinkable to us.

Although Danish Muslim groups initially welcomed Jyllands-Posten's apology, they have since declared it "ambiguous," reports the Associated Press.

"We lack a clear statement where the newspaper apologizes for the offense and stand[s] by it," said Ahmed Akkari, a spokesman for the groups.

The cartoons were published last September by Jyllands-Posten after Flemming Rose, the paper's cultural editor, heard that Danish cartoonists "were too afraid of Muslim militants to illustrate a new children's biography of Islam's Prophet Muhammad," The Christian Science Monitor reported. Depictions of Muhammad are forbidden in Islam, as they are considered idolatrous.

While the cartoons' publication sparked much debate inside and outside Denmark, The Globe and Mail reports that a recent reprinting of the cartoons in a conservative Norwegian magazine gave the issue "new life."

Anger suddenly reverberated across the Middle East, with condemnation of Denmark and Norway coming from the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Arab governments.

The BBC reports that Danish dairy company Arla Foods, which does $480 million in annual sales in the Middle East, has seen their sales there come to a complete stop and has had to lay off 100 people because of the boycott.

The cartoons were reprinted Wednesday in the French newspaper France Soir and in Germany's Die Welt. The papers asserted a "right to caricature God" and a "right to blasphemy," respectively.

The issue has been hotly debated in both the European and the Middle Eastern media. The BBC reports in a media review that Die Welt feels the Muslim response "begs the pressing question: 'Is Islam capable of coping with satire?'"

The paper points out that the issue has nothing to do with "a battle between cultures" as there are "thresholds of consideration" which cannot be crossed when it comes to making fun of religion. "But the standards that Muslims require are overtaxing for open societies," the paper believes.

The daily points out that in the West there is no right of exemption from satire. "Christianity itself has become a subject of pitiless criticism, an object of satirical analysis, which marks the triumph of humour over religious worship", it argues.

It points out that there was no protest when a primetime programme on Syrian TV portrayed a rabbi as a cannibal. "Muslims' protests would be taken more seriously if they came across as less hypocritical," the paper feels.

The BBC media review also reports that the Swedish newspaper Expressen expressed disappointment in the Jyllands-Posten apology, which it sees as a retreat in the face of "fundamentalist threats."

"Defending freedom of expression against fundamentalist threats is a cause. It is a matter of principle, whether it involves Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses', a film about veils and the oppression of women or some clumsy drawings in a Danish newspaper."

Much of the criticism from Middle Eastern press has focused on the lack of official, legal ramifications for Jyllands-Posten and its cartoonists. In an editorial, the Khaleej Times of the United Arab Emirates expressed dismay that the Danish government has not formally apologized for the episode.

The prime minister continues to defend the insensitive newspaper in the name of ‘media freedom’. All freedom including that of the media comes with responsibility. Mocking people’s deeply held religious beliefs and sentiments is no media freedom. It’s sheer and unpardonable callousness.

(The editorial does not mention that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he "never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people.")

The Arab News of Saudi Arabia calls upon Denmark to legally ban religious hate speech, as Tony Blair is trying to do in Britain.

No one can say that the UK is any less committed to freedom of speech than Denmark. But Blair understands there are limits to freedom of speech, just as there are to freedom of action; people do not have the right to stir up riots and racial hatred, encourage mass hysteria or heap abuse on religion any more than they do to rob, rape, cheat or kill.

For his part, Mr. Rose has refused to back down in the face of Muslim criticism. He told The Times of London, "There is a lot at stake. It would be very naive to think this is only about Jyllands-Posten and 12 cartoons and apologising or not apologising."

"This is about standing for fundamental values that have been the (foundation) for the development of Western democracies over several hundred years, and we are now in a situation where those values are being challenged," he said.

"I think some of the Muslims who have reacted very strongly to these cartoons are being driven by totalitarian and authoritarian impulses, and the nature of these impulses is that if you give in once they will just put forward new requirements."

Rose refuses to apologize. "We do not apologise for printing the cartoons. It was our right to do so."

Category: Race, class, ethnicity, and stereotyping