Friday, February 03, 2006
Danish Imams Propose to End Cartoon Dispute
The Danish imams, who protested the publication of 12 Muhammad cartoons [see them all below] in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last September, have announced that they want to end the dispute. For four months the imams and their radical Muslim organizations have unsuccesfully demanded government censorship. However, despite immense pressure (also from international organizations such as the UN and the EU) the Danish government refused to call the newspaper to account.
Last week a couple of Norwegian papers decided to publish the cartoons in support of the Danish paper while in Denmark moderate Muslims, encouraged by the government’s refusal to be intimidated by the radicals, have distanced themselves from the imams. The latter announced on Friday that they no longer demand apologies from Jyllands-Posten for the publication. Instead they said they just want two things: a guarantee from the Danish authorities that Muslims can freely practice their religion without being “provoked and discriminated.” And a declaration from Jyllands-Posten that the cartoons were not published with the intention of mocking the Muslim faith. “We want Jyllands-Posten to show respect for the Muslims. This can happen with an apology, but it can also happen in some other way. We will leave it to Jyllands-Posten to come up with some ideas,” said Ahmed Akkari, spokesman of the Muslim organizations. “We want respect for Muhammad restored and we want him to be described as the man he really was in history, and that he gets the respect he deserves,” Akkari stressed that Muslim organizations are still deeply opposed to the publication of the cartoons.
The Muslim organizations and Jyllands-Posten met last week to discuss the matter. “It was a good and constructive meeting. We agreed that we need to find a solution,” said Carsten Juste, editor of Jyllands-Posten. Juste stressed that the meeting was one step in a reconciliation process which the Muslim organizations and the newspaper began in December.
Some sceptics wonder whether the demands of the imams have changed fundamentally. They still insist that Jyllands-Posten admit that publishing the cartoons was wrong and make amends for it. The sceptics argue that the paper should not settle for a compromise on freedom of expression by justifying itself. Others wonder why the radical Muslims appear to be softening their demand and seem so eager to make a deal. Perhaps the decision of Norwegian papers such as Magazinet to support Jyllands-Posten by publishing the cartoons has made the radicals reconsider. Perhaps they fear a domino effect. Some Swedish papers are considering publishing the cartoons as well. If the Swedish government subsequently follows the position of the Danish and Norwegian governments, refusing to interfere and limit freedom of expression, the position of the radical Danish Muslims, who are looking for international support, will only weaken.
According to a poll taken this week among 1,047 people in Denmark 57% of the Danes support Jyllands-Posten’s decision to publish the cartoons, while 31% disagrees. Young people and men are more likely to support the decision. Almost two out of every three males and 61% of people aged between 18 and 25 years of age did so.
Meanwhile an international organization of Muslim intellectuals has threatened to mobilize “millions of Muslims all over the World” to boycott Danish and Norwegian products unless the Danish and Norwegian government condemn the publication of the cartoons, which is called an “attack on the Muslims of the World and on the Prophet.” In Saudi Arabia people are receiving e-mails and sms messages urging them to boycott Danish products “until Denmark offers an official apology.” The Organization of the Islamic Conference protested last week’s publication of the cartoons in the Norwegian paper Magazinet. The Iranian embassy in Oslo said that freedom of expression cannot justify publishing the cartoons. However, Finn Jarle Sæle, the editor of the Norwegian Christian newspaper Norge I DAG, announced that his paper is also considering publishing the cartoons. He called upon other Norwegian editors to do the same. Sæle says that so far many of them have only written editorials supporting freedom of expression but have not dared to publish the cartoons themselves.
Asked if wider publication will not lead to unnecessary confrontations between Christians and Muslims Sæle said the intention was not to provoke just for the sake of provoking, but rather to confront radical Islam in Norway. Perhaps it is necessary to provoke in order to do that, he said. Sæle wants the Norwegian imams to publicly oppose the death threats that have been sent to Magazinet’s editor Vebjørn Selbekk. According to Sæle these threats are not just directed against Magazinet. They affect the entire Norwegian media, not just one editor who dared to stand up for freedom of expression.