The cartoons of the prophet Mohammed were published in the Jyllands-Posten on September 30. On October 17th the Egyptian newspaper al-Fagr reprinted some of the cartoons (calling them a ‘continuing insult’). On October 20th ambassadors from ten majority-Muslim countries complained to the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who said, ‘The government refuses to apologize because the government does not control the media or a newspaper outlet; that would be in violation of the freedom of speech.’

Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Aboul Gheit wrote to the Danish PM and the UN. In December the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, sent a letter to the Organisation of Islamic Conferences, which had complained about the cartoons. She told the OIC she deplored ‘any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people’s religion.’ The newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported the letter said ‘Arbour had appointed UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter.’

A group of Danish imams put together a brochure with the twelve cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten (most of which were quite anodyne), took it to Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey in December and January and showed it around. To enhance the effect, they thoughtfully added three new ones that were nothing to do with the Danish newspaper. (It appears that that fact was not heavily emphasized during the travels of the imams and the brochure, however.) One of the three added cartoons was passed off as a cartoon of the prophet in the guise of a pig, but it turned out to be an Associated Press photograph of a man at a pig-squealing contest at an agricultural fair in southern France in August. The AP was not greatly pleased with this misuse of its photograph.

The Danish imams got their way, and protests against the cartoons escalated sharply in early February. And then the pressure to submit began. From Sarah Joseph in the Guardian:

Any depiction of Muhammad, however temperate, is not allowed. There are but a few images of him in Muslim history, and even these are shown with his face veiled. This applies not only to images of Muhammad: no prophet is to be depicted. There are no images of God in Islam either.

From Paul Vallely in the Independent:

Images of the Prophet Mohamed have long been discouraged in Islam. The West has little understanding of why this should be so – nor of the intensity of the feelings aroused by non-believers’ attitudes to the founder of Islam…[T]o reject and criticise Mohamed is to reject and criticise Allah himself. Criticism of the Prophet is therefore equated with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in some Muslim states. When Salman Rushdie, in his novel The Satanic Verses, depicted Mohamed as a cynical schemer and his wives as prostitutes, the outcome was – to those with any understanding of Islam – predictable. But understanding of Islam is sorely lacking in the West.

From Jack Straw:

There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been insulting, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong. There are taboos in every religion. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect in this situation.

From US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:

Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images or any other religious belief.

From the Pope:

The right of freedom of thought and of expression, as contained in the Declaration of Human Rights, cannot imply the right to offend the religious feelings of believers.

From EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini, who told the Telegraph that there was a “very real problem” in the EU of balancing “two fundamental freedoms, the freedom of expression and the freedom of religion”:

The press will give the Muslim world the message: we are aware of the consequences of exercising the right of free expression, we can and we are ready to self-regulate that right.

From Kofia Annan:

Annan condemned the drawings…as “insensitive and rather offensive,”…He said the drawings, one of which shows Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, could be seen as vilifying a religion with more than 1 billion adherents. Annan said he defends free speech, but insisted “it has to come with some sense of responsibility and judgment and limits. There are times when you have to challenge taboos,” he said. “But you don’t fool around with other people’s religions and you have to respect what is sacred to other people.”

From a student union spokeswoman at the University of Cardiff:

A student union spokeswoman said Tom Wellingham, the editor of the paper, which won newspaper of the year at last year’s Guardian’s Student Media Awards, had been suspended alongside three other journalists. “The editorial team enjoy the normal freedoms and independence associated with the press in the UK, and are expected to exercise those freedoms with responsibility, due care and judgment.”

From the Guardian:

The Guardian believes uncompromisingly in freedom of expression, but not in any duty to gratuitously offend…To directly associate the founder of one of the world’s three great monotheistic religions with terrorist violence – the unmistakable meaning of the most explicit of these cartoons – is wrong, even if the intention was satirical rather than blasphemous…The volatile context of this issue, with its echoes of the furore over Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, cannot be ignored…The extraordinary unanimity of the British press in refraining from publishing the drawings – in contrast to the Nordic countries, Germany, Spain and France – speaks volumes. John Stuart Mill is a better guide to this issue than Voltaire.

Other people had better sense. Ibn Warraq:

The cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten raise the most important question of our times: freedom of expression. Are we in the west going to cave into pressure from societies with a medieval mindset, or are we going to defend our most precious freedom — freedom of expression, a freedom for which thousands of people sacrificed their lives? A democracy cannot survive long without freedom of expression, the freedom to argue, to dissent, even to insult and offend…Unless, we show some solidarity, unashamed, noisy, public solidarity with the Danish cartoonists, then the forces that are trying to impose on the Free West a totalitarian ideology will have won; the Islamization of Europe will have begun in earnest.

Matthew Parris:

I’m afraid we really do have to decide whether the demand is reasonable. I do not think it is. I am not a Muslim. Nor am I a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu…But let us not duck what that “I do not believe” really means. It means I do not believe that there is one God, Allah, or that Muhammad is His Prophet. It means I do not believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, or that no man cometh to the Father except by Him…In my opinion these views are profoundly mistaken, and those who subscribe to them are under a serious misapprehension on a most important matter. Not only are their views not true for me: they are not true for them. They are not true for anyone. They are wrong.

Christopher Hitchens:

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week’s international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate…How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean “unacceptable”? That it should be forbidden?

David Pannick QC:

We respect the right of everyone to believe whatever they like: that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, Muhammad was God’s prophet, the Red Sea was parted for the Children of Israel or L. Ron Hubbard identified the path to total happiness. But there are two important limits to religious tolerance. First, I have no right to legal protection against your scepticism, criticism or ridicule. Religion is too powerful a force, and is too often a cause of injustice or evil, for it to be immune from discussion and debate…But in Europe it is not the role of the law, far less the Government, to prohibit or punish publications that sections of the community (whether Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists) find offensive.

And Munira Mirza:

Censorship in the West bolsters the moral authority of leaders in the Middle East to censor their own citizens. Indeed, the religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and Palestine have been opportunistic in using the story as a way of galvanising support and reinforcing the view that only they can protect Muslims from victimisation. Counter to the claims of unelected ‘community leaders’, Muslims do not benefit from censorship…In Denmark, large numbers of moderate Muslims have sought to oppose the stranglehold of extremist Muslim lobby groups who claim to represent them. In Arhus, they have organised counter-demonstrations. One Muslim city councillor who was involved said: ‘There is a large group of Muslims in this city who want to live in a secular society and adhere to the principle that religion is an issue between them and God and not something that should involve society.’ It turns out that those sympathetic lefty anti-racists who believe censorship will protect Muslims are actually missing the point. Many Muslims want the same freedoms as everyone else to debate, criticise and challenge their religion.


Internal Resources

What are we supposed to understand?

But how does anyone know the cartoons are of the Prophet?

Of course you can, except when you can’t

External Resources

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