Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is shocked at the way in which some Muslims are misrepresenting Denmark in the Islamic world. “I am speechless that those people, whom we have given the right to live in Denmark and where they freely have chosen to stay, are now touring Arab countries and inciting antipathy towards Denmark and the Danish people,” Rasmussen told journalists yesterday.
Rasmussen was responding to the recent visits by certain imams, Muslim intellectuals and representatives of Danish Muslim organizations who toured a number of Muslim countries to “explain” the Danish cartoon affair to local political and religious leaders and media. The affair started last September when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of Muhammad.
Meanwhile, after last week’s rejection of their complaint by the public prosecutor, Danish Muslim organisations have announced that they will take the newspaper to the European Court of Human Rights over the controversial publication. Islam forbids the depiction of the Muslim prophet. Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten repeated late last week that the daily will not apologise for publishing the cartoons: “We will not apologise, because we live in Denmark under Danish law, and we have freedom of speech in this country. If we apologised, we would betray the generations who have fought for this right, and the moderate Muslims who are democratically minded.”
Rasmussen said he did not want to use the word “treason,” as Pia Kjærsgaard, leader of the Danish People’s Party, has done to describe the Danish Muslims’ visit to the Arab countries. Rasmussen said treason has a certain legal reference and should only be used in appropriate circumstances. He also stressed the necessity of a proper tone in the debate from all parties, but at the same time he said, with a reference to the words of Kjærsgaard, that Denmark had a tradition of wide ranging freedom of expression and one should tolerate the use of this freedom. “As Prime Minister I will not evaluate what other people say nor judge what is proper. The courts decide when someone crosses the line,” he added.
In the Danish Parliament there is general indignation at the Arab visits by the Muslim representatives. However, instead of using strong words the government has decided to ask Danish embassies to correct the misinformation. Previously Rasmussen had urged the Muslim representatives to correct the misinformation themselves. These, however, claim the wrong information did not come from them and that it is therefore not their responsibility but that of the „international press’“.
Meanwhile the 12 cartoons were published on Tuesday in the Norwegian Christian newspaper Magazinet “in support of the freedom of expression.” Magazinet has received much feedback since publishing the cartoons and the overwhelming majority of it has been positive, thanking the newspaper for its initiative in defense of freedom of expression. Much of it has come from Denmark, but also from e.g. Sweden, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. Yesterday the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet also published the cartoons on its website.
„We are ourselves a nation that has been exposed to increasing Muslim violence against freedom of expression,“ said Vebjørn K. Selbekk, the editor of Magazinet, and referred to the 1993 murder attempt on Willam Nygaard, the Norwegian publisher of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Consequently, Selbekk said, Norway has a special responsibility to confront this problem. He said that Norwegian illustrators were tending towards the same self-censorship as their colleagues in Denmark. They do not dare to depict Muhammad for fear of a violent Muslim reaction.
Drawing cartoons of Muslim religious leaders suffices to become the target of threats and even death threats, as Morten M. Kristiansen, illustrator at the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, has experienced. He says he often received remarks from Christians when he depicted Jesus Christ and from Muslims when depicting their religious leaders, but in recent years the Muslim remarks have turned into threats.
“We cannot tolerate this in a democratic society,” said Selbekk. Asked if he was himself afraid of reprisals he said: “We have gone astray if we begin to concede on this issue out of fear. Many have already done much to prevent this problem from being hushed up. We hope that by publishing the cartoons we can do our bit.”
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