An article by Hjörtur Gudmundsson (with Filip van Laenen)
Condoleezza Rice has warned Norway not to boycott Israel. This week the American Secretary of State warned Oslo that there would be “serious political consequences” after last week’s declaration by Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen, the leader of the Socialist Left Party (SV), that she never buys Israeli products and supports the commercial boycott of Israel by the Norwegian province of South-Trøndelag. The Norwegian government parties all voted in favour of the province’s boycott of Israel, but – in order to save Norway’s position as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – they all stress that they did not do so in their capacity of Norwegian government parties.
While the red-green government coalition in Oslo finds it hard to hide its far-left inclinations, Norway can fortunately take pride in some of its media. On Tuesday the Christian newspaper Magazinet published 12 cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Magazinet did so to support the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten that published the cartoons [see them here] last September, but has since received terrorist threats and huge international criticism, including pressure from organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union. Now Magazinet has received threats via e-mail from around the world. One of these, sent anonymously through a popular e-mail service in the Middle East, was mailed to the editor, Vebjørn Selbekk, simply stating: “You’re a dead man!” Other staff members have also received threats. Selbekk said it looked as if the newspaper’s e-mail addresses were being distributed in an organized campaign. One of the e-mails Selbekk received contains a couple of pictures showing a burnt body, sent through an e-mail address in France.
Giving in to the threats, Magazinet decided today to remove the cartoons from its webiste. “The e-mail with the pictures of the burnt body is the most frightening. But I am not afraid. This is of course unpleasant, especially for a family man. But I cannot go around being afraid,” Selbekk told the Norwegian daily Dagbladet which also published the cartoons on its website last Tuesday. However, a number of other Norwegian newspaper editors have said they do not intend to follow the two newspapers’ example, claiming it to be an unnecessary provocation. Arab newspapers around the world have also reacted sharply to the publication of the cartoons. Selbekk, however, said the purpose for his decision was not to provoke anyone, but to highlight the status of freedom of expression in Norway.
Magazinet also interviewed two leading Norwegian cartoonists: Finn Graff and Morten M. Kristiansen. Graff, who was known in the 1960s and ’70s for his satirical drawings of Jesus Christ, said that he does not draw pictures mocking Muhammad. He does so out of fear for Muslims, and also “out of respect.” Muslims, he said, are very sensitive about their religion and their prophet, which is something one has to take into account and one has to respect. Kristiansen said he had received many protest letters in the past whenever he mocked Christ. The same applies to cartoons about Muhammad, but lately the protest letters from Muslims had increasingly become threats, including death threats in e-mails from places such as Iran. Unlike Graff, Kristiansen said he will not change his behaviour because of these threats because it is important to defend the right to freedom of expression.
Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands Posten, the Danish paper which published the cartoons first, told Magazinet that he does not regret that decision. “We cannot regret it. We live in a country where freedom of expression is recognized and we live and work in Denmark under Danish laws. The nature of the reactions has shown how necessary this debate is.” Juste said.
Asked if Jyllands-Posten had received any support from the Danish media after the decision to publish the cartoons Juste said at first there was not much support. Most of them believed this was something Jyllands-Posten did just to provoke. But after all the arbitrary demands that the newspaper apologize for the publication their attitude began to change. “Fortunately most people now realize this is an important issue about freedom of expression and, as a consequence, we have been getting more and more support.” He added that support has come from all over the world, but, unfortunately, threats, too.
Meanwhile, the Danish tabloid Extra Bladet got hold of a 43-page report that Danish Muslim leaders and imams, on a tour of the Islamic world are handing out to their contacts to “explain” how offensive the cartoons are. The report contains 15 pictures instead of 12. The first of the three additional pictures, which are of dismal quality, shows Muhammad as a pedophile deamon [see it here], the second shows the prophet with a pigsnout [here] and the third depicts a praying Muslim being raped by a dog [here]. Apparently, the 12 original pictures were not deemed bad enough to convince other Muslims that Muslims in Denmark are the victims of a campaign of religious hatred.
Akhmad Akkari, spokesman of the 21 Danish Muslim organizations which organized the tour, explained that the three drawings had been added to “give an insight in how hateful the atmosphere in Denmark is towards Muslims.” Akkari claimed he does not know the origin of the three pictures. He said they had been sent anonymously to Danish Muslims. However, when Ekstra Bladet asked if it could talk to these Muslims, Akkari refused to reveal their identity.
More on the Danish cartoon case:
Jihad Against Danish Paper, 22 October 2005
Cartoon Case Escalates into International Crisis, 27 October 2005
Out of the Iranian Frying Pan into the Danish Fire, 29 October 2005
Pigs Do Not Fly, 17 November 2005
Bounty Offered for Murdering Cartoonists, 4 December 2005
UN to Investigate Racism of Danish Cartoonists, 7 December 2005
Dispatch from the Eurabian Front, 9 December 2005
Europe Criticises Copenhagen over Cartoons, 21 December 2005
Cartoon Case: EU and UN Call Denmark to Account, 28 December 2005
Danish Cartoon Affair: Letter from a Muslim, 31 December 2005
Danish Muslims Divided over Cartoon Affair, 8 January 2006
Danish Prime Minister Shocked at Lies, 11 January 2006