Islam vs. Free Speech: The Case of DenmarkSince the murder of the Islam critical Dutch film director Theo van Gogh, Danish artists have become fearful of criticising Islam. Author Kåre Bluitgen is due to publish a book on the prophet Muhammad, but so far no one had agreed to illustrate the work through fear of reprisals from Islamic extremists. Daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten responded by asking 40 illustrators to make drawings of Muhammad. Twelve illustrators heeded the newspaper's call, and sent in cartoons of the prophet which were published in the newspaper. Some Muslims took offence, as pictorial depictions of Muhammad are banned in Islam. 'This type of democracy is worthless for Muslims,' Imam Raed Hlayhel wrote in a statement. 'Muslims will never accept this kind of humiliation. The article has insulted every Muslim in the world. We demand an apology!' Jyllands-Posten described the cartoons as a defence for 'secular democracy and right to expression'. It is not the first time Hlayhel has created headlines in Denmark. One year ago, he infuriated the nation during a Friday prayer session by insisting that Muslim girls should cover themselves from head to toe, and neither wear perfume nor go to the hairdressers if they want to have any chance of going to heaven.
The case has since then escalated in severity. Death threats have forced daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten to hire security guards to protect its employees. Journalists and editors alike have received threats by email and the telephone. Editor Juste said the cartoons had been a journalistic project to find out how many cartoonists refrained from drawing the prophet out of fear. 'We live in a democracy,' he said. 'That's why we can use all the journalistic methods we want to. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn't set any barriers on that sort of expression.' Juste's opinion was not shared by Århus imam Raed Hlayhel, who gave an interview to the Internet edition of Arabic satellite news channel al-Jazeera telling that he considered the cartoons derisive of Islam, and described one of the drawings as showing Muhammad wearing a turban-like bomb. Several thousand Muslims demonstrated in Copenhagen against the treatment of Muslims in general and the images of Muhammad published by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in particular. "We fear that this could lead to violence and extremism, and that young people can decide to carry out extremist acts. We call upon the government to ban degradation of religions and hope that Jyllands-Posten will respond to just criticism," said Danish Muslim Katja Hansen.
Pictures of bombs exploding over of Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and blood flowing over the national flag and a map of Denmark are among the images circulating on the Internet. Daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported that the collages showed pictures of various tourist attractions in Denmark and stated that 'The Mujahedeen have numerous targets in Denmark - very soon you all will regret this', amongst other things. Another picture showed soldiers, armed with bombs, over a map of Denmark, with blood spattered over parts of the country. Recently, four young men between 16 and 20 years of age were taken into custody yesterday in Brøndby, a suburb of Copenhagen, charged with planning terrorism. The police say that the action was planned for 'a European target within the near future', and some of the items found indicated that it was likely a suicide bombing that was in the works. The four arrested are described as inconspicuous and well-behaved young men. All four are born and bred in Denmark, although only one has Danish citizenship. Their friends and relatives had become bemused in recent weeks as the boys had begun to meet at various mosques to pray, adopting a radical tone that was worrying to some of their relatives.
A number of Muslim countries with embassies in Denmark have sent a protest to Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen about the caricatures. 'We are hoping for understanding about Muslims' feelings about Muhammad and an apology from Jyllands-Posten,' said Mascud Effendy Hutasuhut, minister counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy. The Turkish Foreign Ministry and the Turkish ambassador to Denmark fully supported the move. In a letter, they urged PM Rasmussen to call the newspaper to account for "abusing Islam in the name of democracy, human rights and freedom of expression." Liberal party foreign spokesperson Poulsen says EU candidate country Turkey's approval of the letter underlines how important it is for Turkey to live up to freedom of expression demands. Prime Minister Rasmussen denied the ambassadors’ request. 'This is a matter of principle. I won't meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so,' said Rasmussen. 'As prime minister, I have no power whatsoever to limit the press - nor do I want such a power,' he said. 'It is a basic principle of our democracy that a prime minister cannot control the press.' 'Some people say that the press needs to be constructive, and sometimes I also think that'd be nice. But who's to say what's constructive? That's an unfair demand to make. The press needs to be critical - I need to bear that as prime minister and religions must do so as well,' he said.
International Muslim organisations are to take over the discussion about whether a Danish newspaper was in its rights to print caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. After Rasmussen also refused to meet with the ambassadors, Egyptian Ambassador Mona Omar Attia said in a Danish news broadcast on Tuesday that the group planned to meet to discuss contacting other parliamentary leaders, some of whom had urged the PM to hear the ambassador's complaints. After meeting at the Saudi Arabian Embassy on Wednesday, however, the group said they had decided to let international Muslim groups take over the cause, allowing groups such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to try to influence the prime minister. The conference represents 56 member states and has already sent a letter of protest to the government. 'It's out of our hands,' said Attia after the meeting. 'Now it is moving up to the international level. Therefore, we will not try to contact Denmark's political leaders. 'One could imagine that the Arab League will weigh in soon,' she said.
When some Muslims complain about their religion being slighted, the entire Islamic world seems to support them. Unfortunately, the same is not the case with the infidels using their freedom of speech. They are too frequently left to fight alone, with little support. This needs to change. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), with dozens of member states backed by Saudi oil money, is now up against one newspaper and the government of a nation of just above 5 million inhabitants. But what is at stake is nothing less than the very concept of freedom of speech and thus democracy itself, an issue far greater than Denmark. It is totally unacceptable that Muslims try to intimidate the citizens of free nations from speaking their minds, and it is time that this is made clear in no uncertain terms. As an expression of solidarity, you can send in this draft message:
I would hereby like to express my support for the newspaper Jyllands-Posten publishing cartoons of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Freedom of speech is the lifeblood of a democratic society, and cannot be tampered with. Muslims in Denmark freely exercise this right, even to say things that people in Denmark find greatly offensive. A leading Danish mufti in 2004 said that Danish women not wearing the veil “were asking for rape.” Another imam wanted to import the sharia concept of blood money to Denmark, and pay the equivalent of 100 camels for a man’s life. If Muslims in Denmark think these are acceptable statements, they cannot by any right claim to be offended by a few simple drawings. At least not if they really mean that Islam is compatible with Western democracy. Jyllands-Posten should know that this case is being followed by individuals from all around the world, and that you have the support of thousands of people who don’t want to see their freedom slip away. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen should also be commended for his clear and principled stand in this case, as Dutch ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out. In an age where too many political leaders shy away from defending the basic values of our societies, it serves to Denmark’s credit to have a leader who still possesses a backbone.
I would also like to condemn the actions made by the ambassadors of several Muslims countries in this case, and those of Turkey in particular. The behavior of the Turkish government is incompatible with that of a nation with a desire to become a part of a Western community such as the EU. If Turkey thinks that the EU shouldn’t be a Christian club, than Turkey should respond in kind by withdrawing from all “Islamic clubs” such as the OIC. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has earlier stated that anti-Islamism should be viewed as a ”crime against humanity”, has pushed for criticism of Islam to be treated as racism within the EU and is now backing an effort to curtail the freedom of speech of the citizens of an EU nation. These actions are not those of a secular politician such as Ataturk, but more closely mirror the attitude of the Ottoman sultans of old. They indicate that a Turkey within the EU would threaten the freedom of European citizens, and clearly demonstrate that Turkey is not yet ready to become a part of the European community.
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