The Danish editor who brought the fury of the Muslim world on his country by printing pictures of the Prophet Muhammad defiantly declared yesterday: “We do not apologise for printing the cartoons. It was our right to do so.”
As protests continued for a second day in Gaza with shouts of “Death to Denmark”, Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the centre-right daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten, sat in his book-lined office declaring his surprise at the reaction.
He said that he had to stand his ground because, as in the Salman Rushdie affair, freedom of speech was being threatened. “There is a lot at stake. It would be very naive to think this is only about Jyllands-Posten and 12 cartoons and apologising or not apologising.
“This is about standing for fundamental values that have been the (foundation) for the development of Western democracies over several hundred years, and we are now in a situation where those values are being challenged,” he said.
“I think some of the Muslims who have reacted very strongly to these cartoons are being driven by totalitarian and authoritarian impulses, and the nature of these impulses is that if you give in once they will just put forward new requirements.”
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Jyllands-Posten, Page 3 of culture section, Sept., 2005.
The cartoons can be viewed here.
The row has been simmering since the newspaper published the cartoons in September, but finally exploded on Friday when a Saudi Arabian imam denounced them in a sermon broadcast across the Middle East. Showing any depiction of Muhammad is deemed blasphemous by most of Islam, and these were seen as particularly offensive, with one portraying the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb.
Saudi Arabia and Libya have withdrawn their ambassadors to Denmark, which issued safety warnings to its citizens travelling in Muslim countries after threats by militant Islamic groups and a boycott of Danish goods. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, has rejected calls for an apology on the ground that Denmark has a free press.
A poll over the weekend showed that 80 per cent of Danes thought that the Government should not apologise and 62 per cent thought that the newspaper should not apologise. Jyllands-Posten tried to calm tempers on Monday by apologising for any offence caused, but stood firm on its decision to print the pictures.
Mr Rose, 47, who commissioned the cartoons after a biographer of Muhammad complained that no cartoonist would illustrate his book, said that they were not deliberately offensive.
“Because in Denmark, as in Britain, we have a tradition of satire, some cartoonists made satirical cartoons, as they do when dealing with Jesus Christ or senior politicians.”
When the cartoons were printed in September, the paper’s staff faced death threats, forcing it to hire security guards. Even yesterday the offices were evacuated after a bomb scare.
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