Opinion: "Why I Published Those Cartoons"

February 17, 2006

Source: The Washington Post


On February 17, 2006 The Washington Post ran an opinion piece by Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten who called for the creation of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Rose writes, "I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn't mean you publish everything... So we are not fundamentalists in our support for freedom of expression. But the cartoon story is different... I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam... The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously... Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter... 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 do not in any way demonize or stereotype Muslims. In fact, they differ from one another both in the way they depict the prophet and in whom they target... On occasion, Jyllands-Posten has refused to print satirical cartoons of Jesus, but not because it applies a double standard. In fact, the same cartoonist who drew the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban drew a cartoon with Jesus on the cross having dollar notes in his eyes and another with the star of David attached to a bomb fuse. There were, however, no embassy burnings or death threats when we published those... Has Jyllands-Posten insulted and disrespected Islam? It certainly didn't intend to. But what does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy."