Danish-cartoon-controversy Anniversary

September 30, 2009

Mohammed

On September 30th, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons relating to Mohammed and Islam.  One of the paper’s editors, Flemming Rose, was concerned about freedom of expression and about a growing trend of self-censorship in the West on the subject of Islam.  “That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him,” Rose explained.

He later explained further in the Washington Post, “The cartoonists treated Islam the same way they treat Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. And by treating Muslims in Denmark as equals they made a point: We are integrating you into the Danish tradition of satire because you are part of our society, not strangers. The cartoons are including, rather than excluding, Muslims.”

Parts of the Muslim world responded with death threats against the cartoonists (causing some of them to go into hiding), bomb threats against the newspaper, boycotts of Danish exports, and riots that left more than 100 dead.  Muslim imams circulated copies of the twelve cartoons plus three additional pictures which were not from the Jyllands-Posten at all: a crude cartoon of Mohammed as a demonic pedophile, a photograph of a dog mounting a Muslim while he prays, and a photograph of a bearded man wearing pig’s ears and a pig’s snout.  The imams gave this last the caption “Here is the real image of Mohammed”, but it turned out to be a news photo from a French pig-squealing contest.

Even when American and European newspapers considered the riots and controversy newsworthy and reported on them, many of them carefully avoided printing the cartoons themselves.  In other words, there was widespread self-censorship in the West of exactly the kind that the Danish editor was concerned about in the first place.

In protest of the erosion of the culture of freedom of expression in America and Europe, and out of support for and solidarity with Flemming Rose, the cartoonists, Denmark, and artists and newsmen everywhere, here are the original twelve cartoons (now also available—with explanations!—as a convenient one-sheet PDF, in case you want to do any distribution, education, and solidarity of your own).

If you look at only one other Web page on this subject, read the full Washington Post piece by Flemming Rose here.

For more information, and the additional sources these pages can link you to, see The Brussels Journal (see also long list of further articles under the heading “Updates” below that article), Wikipedia’s article, and Wikipedia’s timeline.  See also Kathy Shaidle and Pete Vere’s timeline in the appendix to their book about free speech The Tyranny of Nice.

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7 Responses to “Danish-cartoon-controversy Anniversary”

  1. to onoma mou Says:

    I had the opportunity to hear a paper presented by one Ron Hassner, a professor at U.C. Berkeley, at a colloquium last January. It can be found at this url: http://iserp.columbia.edu/files/iserp/hassner.pdf
    It offered a fascinating reflection on the violent responses to the cartoons.

    Yale University Press recently decided not to re-print the cartoons in the book The Cartoons that Shook the World, and shortly thereafter two separate groups at Yale invited both the author of the book and one of the Danish cartoonists to speak at the university on the same day. This juxtaposition prompted lots of discussion. And the opinion piece in the Yale Daily News whose url follows this sentence was especially interesting, I thought. http://www.yaledailynews.com/opinion/guest-columns/2009/09/30/kronman-yale-distinct-its-press/


  2. Thank you. Mr. Hassner’s work looks interesting.

    In the Yale Daily News opinion piece, is this law professor defending Yale Press’s decision not to include the original cartoons in the book about them? I remember hearing about that decision in the news. Here, it sounds as if the writer had begun to lay out some of a framework for thinking about the matter, but then reached his word limit and couldn’t include the application of his ideas to the problem at hand. He said, “Third, and most obviously, neither the Press nor Yale generally has the ability to assure the peace and safety of every forum in which its books are read and discussed, around the world.” Doesn’t that weigh in favor of printing the cartoons in the book? Indeed, that sounds like a reason for the discrepancy to go the other way: Even if Yale didn’t allow the author of the book or any of the original cartoonists to come and speak on campus, because of safety concerns, the publishing house could afford to send books out around the world, where they, and their readers’ safety, would become someone else’s concern.

    Unfortunately, the question of safety isn’t entirely academic. Just earlier this week (via Mark Steyn), American officials apparently broke up a plot to go to Denmark and kill the Danish newspaper editor Flemming Rose.

    • to onoma mou Says:

      Yes, you’ve identified the one really interesting line in the YDN piece and the reason I mentioned it. It could go either way, couldn’t it? He is defending the decision of the Press. There are two types of violence: the riots, in which hundreds were killed, and threats against the life and safety of the newspapermen. Is a freely expressed utterance which endangers only the utterer morally different from one which endangers lots of people far away? Even if the Press can make a mess that somebody else has to clean up, should they?

      But, at what point do we hold people responsible for their own decisions? I was informed by a bumper-sticker last week that “terrorism is a symptom, not the disease.” I suppose the Yale University Press might say that this violence and threat of violence is a symptom, and the disease is free speech (or at least, the publication of cartoons). To end the symptom of violence, we must treat (temper or eliminate) the disease of free speech.


    • Yes, I suppose some do tend (whether they realize it or would articulate it that way or not) toward the conclusion that free speech is a cancer (and “Islam is the answer”?), or at least that it’s worth throwing free speech overboard (muzzle the press, stop being “insensitive” to, ah, “other religions”) if we think that will make our enemies stop hating us. Actually, I suppose that has been a difference of opinion between liberals and conservatives for a long time, hasn’t it? Neville Chamberlain, Israel, September 11th—whatever the context, conservatives say that showing weakness only encourages a bully to become even crueler to us, or at least to take even more advantage of us, while liberals—like a battered wife?—believe that our abusers’ wrath must somehow be our fault.

      “Is a freely expressed utterance which endangers only the utterer morally different from one which endangers lots of people far away? Even if the Press can make a mess that somebody else has to clean up, should they?”

      Fair question, and maybe a hard question, but I still think the answer has to be that we don’t change our behavior to accommodate threats of violence. As the South Park pair, of all people, put it, in a surprisingly clear statement of the matter (in the Family Guy episode), if we do, then terrorism works. In effect, we allow violent gangs to hold innocent people (in this case, maybe the Yale book’s readers or distributors) hostage, demanding our life and our world (in this case, our freedom of speech and freedom of the press) as ransom.


  3. […] may recall that some Muslim countries tried boycotting products from Denmark to protest the Danish cartoons; others called for a countervailing “buy Danish” campaign (which, incidentally, […]


  4. […] is the cover they ran in 2006 when they reprinted the Danish cartoons (“Mohammed overrun by fundamentalists”; Mohammed: “It’s hard to be loved […]


  5. […] is very good news.  Ten years after the Danish newspaper the Jyllands-Posten took a stand for freedom by publishing a dozen drawings of Mohammed, America has produced some high-profile public […]


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