In an open letter to the “honoured citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten emphasized today that it never intented to offend Muslims by publishing 12 cartoons of Mohammed last September. The letter, written by Carsten Juste, the paper’s editor, was published both in Danish and Arabic. It was translated for us by Hjörtur Gudmundsson:
Honored citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,
Allow me this opportunity to correct a few misunderstandings regarding the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, which have now led to a boycott of Danish products in your country.
The cartoons were published four months ago as a contribution to a Danish debate on freedom of expression – a right to which we attach great importance in Denmark.
The initiative has been interpreted as a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and the whole world. This I strongly dismiss. It was not our intention to offend anyone for their religion. That it has nevertheless happened was also not intentional. We have regretted that many times during the past months. Both in our own newspaper, other newspapers, on TV, radio and in the international media. At the same time we have had meetings with representatives of the Muslim community in Denmark. Those meetings have taken place in a positive and constructive spirit and at another meeting we intend to establish an effective dialogue with the Danish Muslims.
We regret that this affair has assumed such proportions and therefore it must be repeated that we did not intend to offend anyone and that, like the whole Danish community, we highly respect freedom of religion.
With kind regards,
On 20 January during Friday prayers religious leaders throughout Saudi Arabia called for a boycott of Danish products. The boycott quickly spread to other Gulf states, including Iraq.
This has led to considerable nervousness amongst Danish companies, such as Arla dairy products, which have more consumers in Muslim countries than in Denmark. The company reported an incident in which stones were thrown at a vehicle carrying Arla products and Arla employees have been thrown out of stores along with their products. Panicking Danish companies pressured Jyllands-Posten to explain its conduct.
The paper published the cartoons last September after a Danish author had complained that he could not find an artist to illustrate a (respectful) book about Muhammad. According to Islam it is blasphemy to depict the prophet. To test to what extent freedom of expression had been affected in Denmark the paper put out a call to some forty illustrators to send them pictures of Muhammad. Only twelve dared to send them drawings, which were subsequently published in the paper to illustrate an article on censorship and freedom of speech. The cartoons were pretty mild by Western standards (see them all here, halfway the article). We have seen worse, and are quite certain this would never have been published by Jyllands-Posten. Nevertheless the publication of the cartoons led to rioting and death threats were directed at the paper and some of the cartoonists.
The Brussels Journal, too, received several threats this week, including this one, which was sent to us yesterday:
what you published on your website about our prophet Muhammad “peace and blessing be upon him” is outrageous and disrespectfull to our prophet and our relegion and is unacceptable.
and i ask you to care much about people’s feelings, what would you do if some newspaper or website have an ironic drawing of a holy sympole of your relegion?? ofcourse you will be mad because you are a human have feelings.
we muslims will never make jokes of any prophet for chirstians jews or any other prophet of god , because simply they are all prophets of our god and they all holy to us.
but if you didn’t remove the cartoons and apologize to all muslims we will boycott your products and we all know how much was the losses in the few days from that cartoons issue, second we will fight you in every possible way to teach you a lesson how to disrespect our religion, after all i’m not a terrorist but after i’ve seen these cartoons i want to kill the people that did that each and every one of them and call me terrorist after that.
We welcome the many posts on our site by Muslims because we believe that dialogue is a good thing, though in this case the two sides seem to be speaking different languages. We wonder whether Muslims know what is meant by the Western concept of freedom of speech. Today a Muslim woman posted this comment on our site:
I am a Muslim from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), and co-existence here is at its best. Most people would complain but then content is hardly ever reached by mankind. So far,we have had very minimal issues in the UAE and that is thanks to the tolerance each race/religious group has for one another. Islam is a religion of tolerance and yet there are those who will provoke and those who will respond to such provocation.
It baffles me as to how big a topic like this can become. I would like to state that regardless of what religion you are, an individual will be offended if certain religious symbols/characters are displayed in a provocative way. When I say ‘provocative way’ I mean in the sense of creating hatred towards or amongst that particular religious sect.
I firmly believe that such acts should be deemed as inappropriate. If freedom of speech were true as per its wordings then people would end up 'missing' due to what they can say and display. I believe in all due fairness, that people will always abuse freedom of speech and it will one day end up biting those people. I mean karma says is ‘What goes around, comes around’.
As a final word of warning; if you squeeze a kitten to a corner it will defend itself. Meaning, don't provoke a religious group that you know is the world's fastest growing faith; Islam (statistically).
Like our Muslim reader we are baffled to see how big a topic this has become. This does not bode well for the future of Europe, where Islam is growing fast and where the freedom to publish fairly innocent cartoons now seems to have been lost.