Islam on Campus: A Cartoonist Visits the Ivy League

In early October, Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist, visited Princeton and Yale, two of America’s top universities, to speak to students, who are supposed to be tomorrow’s elite. The students did not feel any sympathy – indeed, were almost hostile – towards Mr. Westergaard, an artist who has been living under constant police protection since he drew a cartoon of Muhammad, the founder of Islam, four years ago.

Mr. Westergaard arrived at both Princeton and Yale heavily guarded by policemen. Ten officers kept watch inside the room – with more on guard outside – when he addressed his audience in Princeton. Such is life for Mr. Westergaard these days. “When, early in September 2005, I got a brief request from my editor to draw my impression of the prophet Muhammad, I had little idea of what I was getting myself into,” he told the students.



He drew the Islamic prophet with a bomb in his turban. “My cartoon,” Mr. Westergaard said, “was an attempt to expose those fanatics who have justified a great number of bombings, murders and other atrocities with reference to the sayings of their prophet. If many Muslims thought that their religion did not condone such acts, they might have stood up and declared that the men of violence had misrepresented the true meaning of Islam. Very few of them did so.”

On the contrary, as if to prove that Mr. Westergaard had hit the raw nerve of Islam, he had to go into hiding when Muslim radicals threatened to kill him for “insulting” their prophet. He and his wife lived in more than ten different government-provided safe houses before the Danish authorities turned his own house into a bunker, with electronic surveillance cameras, bullet-proof windows, steel doors and a panic room.

The Danish cartoon affair led to riots and attacks on Danish embassies and properties in Islamic countries, resulting in the death of over 130 people. The threats against Mr. Westergaard are still as imminent as they were four years ago. Last year, the Danish police arrested two Tunisians who were planning to force their way into the Westergaard home and assassinate the cartoonist. “I have been living under police protection and I expect to do so for the rest of my life,” Mr. Westergaard told his audience at Princeton and Yale.

Nevertheless, despite the price he and his wife have had to pay, the 74-year old artist does not regret that he drew the cartoon. He has also consistently refused to apologize to those whose feelings he might have hurt. To him, it is a matter of principle. “Free speech must have limits, but these limits should be determined by law and by precedents established by the courts. […] My cartoon was well within the law, and nobody except some fanatical Muslims said otherwise. As a matter of fact, 22 Muslim organizations in Denmark went to court in an attempt to get the cartoons censored. The case was dismissed as groundless. Then there is the matter of taste and good manners. Here, I must also plead my innocence. My cartoon was construed as an attempt to hurt the feelings of every Muslim in the world. That was never my intention.”

The cartoon which Mr. Westergaard drew has become an icon of our time. It is the only drawing in recent history over which people have been killed and whose maker has to live under a permanent threat of assassination. Mr. Westergaard, invariably dressed in black and red, “the colors,” he says “of anarchism,” shrugs when asked about his fears. “When you are old, there is not so much to lose,” he says.

Moreover, he explains, he sees no reason why Muslims should be treated differently from other people. He has also drawn things which Christians and Jews found to be offensive, including a “pro-Palestinian” cartoon of Nazi camp prisoners with the Nazi guards substituted by Israelis and the prisoners by Palestinians with the word ‘Arab’ on their Star of David instead of ‘Jude.’ “It was a pro-Palestinian article which I had to illustrate,” he explains. “That is my job. My illustrations have to be in line with the message of the article.” Though Danish Jews were insulted, and told Mr. Westergaard so, they never threatened to kill him, nor did they demand apologies.

The Danish cartoon affair has become the most important free speech cause of our time. Since the right to free speech is indivisible, it includes, as Mr. Westergaard said at Princeton and Yale, “the right to treat Islam, Muhammad and Muslims exactly as you would any other religion, prophet or group of believers. If we no longer had that right, one could only conclude that the country had succumbed to de facto sharia law.”

Despite their displeasure with the cartoon Mr. Westergaard had drawn, the Danish politicians have stood by him, refusing to criticize him, let alone apologize for his drawing, and providing him constant protection against his would-be assassins.

How would the American establishment react, however, if confronted with a similar case? American newspapers have refused to reprint his cartoons, even as illustrations to articles about the case. Yale University Press has published a whole book about the affair, without showing the cartoon. While an image of the cartoon was projected on a screen during Kurt Westergaard’s talk at Princeton, the university authorities at Yale refused to do so when Mr. Westergaard was giving his talk there. They told Mr. Westergaard that they would only allow the cartoon to be shown in a separate room, “so that students who do not want to see it, do not have to see it,” thereby treating the drawing as they would treat a vile piece of pornography. As it turned out, however, the cartoon was not even shown in a separate room.

Despite the Danish cartoon affair being a watershed test for the freedom of the Western media to criticize religions and ideologies without fear of violent reprisal, only a small number of students turned up at both Princeton and Yale to hear Mr. Westergaard plead his case. At Princeton, there was a turnout of about sixty people, at Yale of about eighty. Both at Princeton and at Yale, half of the audience was Muslim, while the other half either agreed with them or was intimidated into appearing to do so. Perhaps the non-Muslims among America’s Ivy League students are simply unaware of the Danish cartoon affair or do not care about it.

In both Princeton and Yale, the university authorities had ensured that the Muslim voice critical of Mr. Westergaard would be heard. In Yale, they even had a fifth of the audience seats specifically reserved for Muslims, though more showed up.

At Princeton, the official Muslim campus chaplain was sitting on the panel. He was very critical of the Dane, but was prepared to debate with him. He also made no objection to the cartoon being shown. At Yale, however, the Muslim chaplain, one Omer Bajwa, claimed that Mr. Westergaard’s visit to Yale was part of a plot by Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician, and Daniel Pipes, an American scholar. Both Mr. Wilders and Mr. Pipes are critical of Islamism. Lars Hedegaard, the Danish president of the International Free Press Society (IFPS), which had organized Mr. Westergaard’s visit to America, denied this, pointing out that “Mr. Wilders and Mr. Pipes are not even aware that Mr. Westergaard is here.” Mr. Bajwa also wanted to know from Mr. Westergaard “what your son, who has converted to Islam, thinks about your cartoon and your refusal to apologize?” As it happens, Mr. Westergaard’s son has not converted to Islam, nor have any of his other children.

The Yale audience – all of them students whose parents pay up to $50,000 per year to send them there – was even more hostile to Mr. Westergaard than the students at Princeton. One of them told Mr. Westergaard” “You feel unsafe today, which is unfortunate, but you should realize that your presence here today has made thousands of other people feel unsafe.” This type of statement makes a moral equation between attempting to assassinate someone and drawing a cartoon.

Rabbi Jonathan Hausman, who attended the event at Yale as a guest of the IFPS, was shocked by what he had to witness:

I was disappointed at the inability of those in attendance amongst the Yale community to place responsibility for the violence that has transpired on those who manifest such responsibility. […] Every questioner seemed to want to misplace blame.

Further, it is clear that the university suffers from the malaise of relativist truth and the multicultural ethic. There are no universal truths any longer. When I was in college, it seemed that the point of education at the university level was to use the subject matter under study to encourage independent, critical thinking. Today, all truths are equal. I abjure this notion.

In the final analysis, I believe that the university is lost.

The American columnist Diana West, an alumni of Yale, speaks of her former university as a “wreck.” Mr. Westergaard will not need to draw a cartoon of Yale University upon his return home. It has made a caricature of itself.



Post script

After his visit to Yale, Mr. Westergaard flew to Toronto where he was interviewed by the National Post, one of Canada’s major national newspapers. The next day, the paper published an interview with the Danish cartoonist on its first page, including the controversial cartoon. No major US paper, including its liberal flagships, has dared to do this so far.


Postcard from (Death's Other Dominion ) Lilliput (3)

What our civilisation badly needs is a second golden age of British caricature.(The original ran from circa 1790-1830). I can well imagine the fun and, more importantly, the positive political and societal impact  the likes of Gillray and Cruickshank would have on certain contemporary themes - political correctness, Eurabia/ the EU, 'human rights', climate change - the list is endless and likewise the ridicule that would flow from their collective creative genius.   

RE: Go Canada

The Danes haven't been taken seriously since the 1620s. 


The Islamists are well aware by now, that the Princess Patricia's men will dig village wells one day, and waste Taleban the next...

waste of money

Maybe one should ask what kind of nonsense some cartoonist or provincial journalist must publish in order to get free state housing and paid world tours. It seems that both debates as well as the article in the Canadian paper could been easily transmitted by mail. What a waste of money!

waste of money?

Mr Westergaard's trip to America and Canada was not paid by the Danish govt., but by a private organization.

Mr Westergaard does not get free housing. He lives in his own house, which has, however, been transformed in a fortress (steel doors, bullet-proof windows, panic room, etc.) by the authorities.

Way to go Canada

Excellent aticle in the National Post. And no Canadian embassies seem to have been bobmed afterwards.

RE: Islam on Campus


Leaping from self-censorship to Sharia is an exaggeration.  The right to free speech does not obligate one to fully exercise it.  As long as free speech remains protected by law, and that this freedom is not infringed upon legally or extra-legally, I see no issue with either Princeton or Yale respecting their Muslim students.  These students should have the right to interact with Mr Westergaard, without having to view the images that so offend them. 


How were the non-Muslim students “intimidated” into agreeing with their Muslim colleagues?  Was the student claiming that Mr Westergaard made “thousands of other people” unsafe Muslim or non-Muslim? 


How are Mr Bajwa’s ludicrous conspiracy theories and lies, or these rather longstanding opinions of Yale newsworthy?  Mr Hausman would be offended indeed, if a Holocaust denier was hosted by the university, and wanted to display anti-Semitic cartoons such as the German one depicting Trotsky as a Jew and Satan. 


I do applaud the National Post for declaring its position on the matter, when Human Rights Tribunals in Canada are busy undermining free speech.


Mr Westergaard should not be lauded for the cartoons.  He is not a hero nor should he be made one.  He is paid to draw controversial political cartoons that shock and offend.


The main issue should be Islamic violence against non-Muslims, of which the reaction to the cartoons is but a minor example.  It is important that atheists, Christians, conservatives and social democrats routinely offend one another and react non-violently.  Again, the issue resolves around Islamic behavior internationally, and within non-Muslim societies.  Mr Westergaard is not needed to drive the point home, and he should have spared Denmark the expense of the trip.


Signs of the times

The Ivy League campus visits of Mr Westergaard illustrate a new reality, which is that today's 'brownshirts' of the currently rising totalitarian ideology, radical (or political) islam, can be found among the faculties and students of absurdly mis-named so-called 'progressive' institutions in the West.

Mr Westergaard is clearly a victim of despicable intolerance.  At the same time, nobody is perfect, and neither is he.  If he willingly made a 'cartoon' in which "nazi guards were substituted by Israelis", then he should not be surprised that many others are also quite willing to distort the 'truth' and play 'fast and loose' with facts and reality.  

However, the persecution of some leftist anarchists by the bulk of the contemporary left and their islamic 'allies', should not be minimised by sensible people anwhere.  It actually helps to expose the true nature of the current dominant political left.