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
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
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,
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.