Still rotten

Af Jacob Mchangama & Lars Hvidberg, 24-12-2010

Five years after the infamous “cartoon crisis,” many Danes still seem confused about what constitutes free speech and why it is important to defend. The Danish public is tired of discussing the case, worried that the debate is becoming a sectarian issue between left and right rather than a rallying point for shared values. Meanwhile, the pressure on free speech continues with threats of violence, lawsuits, and changes in international law.

The “cartoon crisis” began in the fall of 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, following a number of incidents in which illustrators refused to draw the Muslim prophet for fear of violent response from fundamentalists, published 12 cartoons, some of which depicted the prophet Mohammed. Through an unforeseeable chain of events, including the provocative actions of a group of Danish imams, Jyllands-Posten’s publication sparked a global crisis that culminated in early 2006 with violent demonstrations and attacks on Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon and riots from Nigeria to Indonesia. Death threats and terrorist plots were directed against Flemming Rose, the editor at Jyllands-Posten who conceived the cartoon publication, and the illustrator Kurt Westergaard, who drew the now-infamous bomb-in-the-turban cartoon. Earlier this year, Westergaard was attacked in his home by a would-be axe murderer but escaped by hiding in a panic room.

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