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The Great Koran Cartoon Controversy

Last September, Danish author Kåre Bluitgen was set to publish a book on the Muslim prophet Muhammad, but couldn’t find an illustrator. Artistic representations of the human form are forbidden in Islam — so three artists turned down Bluitgen’s offer to illustrate the book, fearing they would pay with their lives for doing so. The largest newspaper in Denmark, Jyllands-Posten, in turn asked for depictions of Muhammad and received 12 cartoons of the Prophet — several playing on the violence committed by Muslims in the name of Islam today.

Danish Imam Raed Hlayhel demanded an apology, but Jyllands-Posten refused. Said editor-in-chief Carsten Juste: “We live in a democracy. That’s why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn’t set any barriers on that sort of expression. This doesn’t mean that we wish to insult any Muslims.” Cultural editor Flemming Rose concurred: “In a democracy one must from time to time accept criticism or becoming a laughingstock.” Some Muslims in Denmark were in no mood to be laughed at. Jyllands-Posten had to hire security guards to protect its staff as threats came in by phone and email.

In late October ambassadors from 11 Muslim countries asked Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for a meeting about what they called the “smear campaign” against Muslims in the Danish press. Rasmussen declined: “I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so.” He added: “I will never accept that respect for a religious stance leads to the curtailment of criticism, humour and satire in the press.” The matter, he said, was beyond his authority: “As prime minister I have no tool whatsoever to take actions against the media and I don’t want that kind of tool.”

As far as one of the ambassadors, Egypt’s, was concerned, that was the wrong answer. Egyptian officials withdrew from a dialogue they had been conducting with their Danish counterparts about human rights and discrimination. Meanwhile, in Denmark in early November thousands of Muslims marched in demonstrations against the cartoons. Two of the cartoonists, fearing for their lives, went into hiding. The Pakistani Jamaaat-e-Islami party offered five thousand kroner to anyone who killed one of them. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), with a membership of 56 Muslim nations, protested to the Danish government. Last week business establishments closed to protest the cartoons — in Kashmir. And last Saturday the most respected authority in the Sunni Muslim world, Mohammad Sayed Tantawi, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, declared that the “Al-Azhar intends to protest these anti-Prophet cartoons with the UN’s concerned committees and human rights groups around the world.”

The UN was all too happy to take the case. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, wrote to the OIC: “I understand your attitude to the images that appeared in the newspaper. I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the beliefs of others. This kind of thing is unacceptable.” She announced that investigations for racism and “Islamophobia” would commence forthwith.

Yet Jyllands-Posten had well articulated its position as founded upon core principles of the Western world: “We must quietly point out here that the drawings illustrated an article on the self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world.  Our right to say, write, photograph and draw what we want to within the framework of the law exists and must endure — unconditionally!” Juste added: “If we apologize, we go against the freedom of speech that generations before us have struggled to win.”

That freedom is imperiled internationally more today than it has been in recent memory. As it grows into an international cause célèbre, the cartoon controversy indicates the gulf between the Islamic world and the post-Christian West in matters of freedom of speech and expression. And it may yet turn out that as the West continues to pay homage to its idols of tolerance, multiculturalism, and pluralism, it will give up those hard-won freedoms voluntarily.

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Written By

Mr. Spencer is director of Jihad Watch and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad, Stealth Jihad and The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran (all from Regnery-a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).

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