European Papers Publish Cartoons in Stand for Press Freedom

COPENHAGEN, Feb. 1 — Several European newspapers reprinted cartoons today depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, supporting a Danish newspaper that caused a huge outcry in the Islamic world by publishing them in the first place.

The newspapers’ action fed into a sharpening debate here over freedom of expression, human rights and what the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper that first published the cartoons in September, called a “clash of civilizations” between secular Western democracies and Islamic societies.

“This is a far bigger story than just the question of 12 cartoons in a small Danish newspaper,” the editor, Flemming Rose, said.

“This is about the question of integration and how compatible is the religion of Islam with a modern secular society,” Mr. Rose added, “how much does an immigrant have to give up and how much does the receiving culture have to compromise.” In recent days, Denmark has become the target of a widespread boycott of its goods in Muslim countries. Danish diplomats, too, have been summoned to be dressed down in Teheran and Baghdad, and Islamic protesters have taken to the streets of Gaza.

While Jyllands-Posten has apologized for the fact that the cartoons “undeniably offended many Muslims,” it has not apologized for publishing them. One depicts the prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban — and any images of Muhammad are regarded as blasphemous by many Muslims.

The Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has rejected demands by Arab governments for an official apology, saying: “I can’t call a newspaper and tell them what to put in it. That’s not how our society works.”

Mr. Rose called the decision not to apologize for printing the cartoons “a key issue of principle.”

Some Muslim leaders in Copenhagen have said they accept the apology from Jyllands-Posten, but in the Middle East, Arab and Islamic governments continued to express outrage.

In support of the Danish position, newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland reprinted some of the cartoons today. A small Norwegian evangelical magazine, Magazinet, also published the cartoons last month.

The dispute has been compared to a string of earlier cultural confrontations between Islam and the West, beginning with the death sentence declared in 1979 against the British author, Salman Rushdie. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued his fatwah after the publication of Mr. Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.”

In 2004, the Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, was slain after making “Submission,” a film that dealt with violence against women in Islamic societies.

Robert Me’nard, the secretary general of Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based body that monitors media developments, declared: “All countries in Europe should be behind the Danes and Danish authorities to defend the principle that a newspaper can write what it wishes to, even if it offends people.”

Our View

Muslims must learn that – regardless of what the Quran teaches – violence is never an acceptable way to register disagreement. The record shows that by far the greatest harm to the religion of Islam is done by those who, while claiming to act in its defense, behave like barbarians. Death threats, suicide bombings, kidnapping and murder, and other acts of terrorism should not be part of any religion – and certainly not one that wants to be known as a ‘religion of peace.’

“I understand that it may shock Muslims, but being shocked is part of the price of being informed,” he said in a telephone interview.

Today, Syria became the latest Arab country, after Saudi Arabia and Libya, to withdraw its ambassador from Denmark, saying publication of the cartoons “constitutes a violation of the sacred principles of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims,” according to the Syrian state news agency SANA.

The Danish Embassy in Damascus was evacuated after a bomb threat today, but no bomb was found.

In Paris, the newspaper France-Soir printed all 12 of the cartoons in question.

The newspaper declared, “No religious dogma can impose its view on a democratic and secular society.”

The editor in chief of France-Soir, Arnaud Levy, said there had been no coordination between European editors about publishing the cartoons. “Absolutely not,” he said in a telephone interview.

In Berlin, a senior German editor, who was granted anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of her employers, also said there had been no contacts among European newspapers to synchronize their coverage.

The France-Soir decision to publish the cartoons drew a sharp response from French Muslims.

The leader of the French Council for the Muslim Religion, Dalil Boubakeur, called publication of the cartoons a “provocation” and an abuse of press freedom that was disrespectful of the world’s more than one billion Muslims.

“The publication of the cartoons can only revive tensions in Europe and the world at a time when we are trying to unite people,” Mr. Boubakeur said.

In Germany, the conservative daily Die Welt printed one image on its front page and declared in an editorial: “The protests from Muslims would be taken more seriously if they were less hypocritical. When Syrian television showed drama documentaries in prime time depicting rabbis as cannibals, the imams were quiet.”

In Italy, the Turin-based La Stampa published the cartoons today, two days after Milan’s Corriere della Sera. And in Spain, they were printed in El Perio’dico. Switzerland’s Tribune de Gene`ve plans to publish the cartoons on Thursday, and its editor in chief, Dominique von Burg, told Agence France-Presse, “You can understand the feelings of Muslims but we’re in a pluralist state, we have a right to do that.”

The Swiss newspaper Blick published two of the cartoons on Tuesday.

Freedom of expression is a closely protected right in Denmark, to the extent that this country became known in the 1970’s as a haven for hard-core pornography. Niels-Erik Hansen, a lawyer at a center offering legal support for people complaining of racial discrimination, said the debate over the cartoons raised the question of whether it would provoke attacks on Denmark’s 200,000 Muslim minority in a land of some 5.4 million people.

“There’s a balance here between freedom of speech,” he said, “and the right not to be subjected to racial discrimination. It’s a difficult line.”

But Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten, said the principle to be drawn from the debate was that opponents of press freedom had secured a victory.

“My guess is that no one will draw the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark in the next generation and therefore I must say with deep shame that they have won.” he said in an interview with the newspaper Berlingske Tidende

Dan Bilefsky of The International Herald Tribune contributed reporting from Paris for this article, and Judy Dempsey contributed reporting from Berlin.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The New York Times, USA
Feb. 1, 2006
Alan Cowell

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday February 2, 2006.
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