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The Paradox of Muhammad Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard

My latest in PJ Media:

One of the most consequential and least-known people of this young century died last Wednesday: Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. You may not be familiar with Westergaard’s name, but you almost certainly know his most celebrated work: the cartoon of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, with a bomb in his turban. That was the cartoon that set off worldwide rioting and a campaign that has now lasted for a decade and a half to compel the West to criminalize criticism of Islam under the guise of “hate speech.” The Left’s present all-out war against the freedom of speech began in great part in the furor over Westergaard’s cartoon.

Westergaard’s cartoon was the most arresting and provocative of the twelve cartoons of  Muhammad that were published in the largest newspaper in Denmark, Jyllands-Posten, on September 30, 2005. As the book Islamophobia and Free Speech explains, the paper wasn’t trying to be gratuitously insulting. In the wake of the jihad murder of Theo Van Gogh, Danish author Kåre Bluitgen had found it difficult to find an illustrator for his book about Muhammad: Danish artists were all too afraid of jihadist violence. Frants Iver Gundelach, president of the Danish Writers Union, decried this submission to violent intimidation as a threat to free speech, and Jyllands-Posten took up the challenge.

Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, approached 40 artists asking for depictions of Muhammad. In response, he received the 12 drawings he published, nine of which were eminently forgettable—and immediately forgotten. The other three pointed out the link between Islam and violence. One of the three, only Westergaard’s drawing was truly memorable.

By early November 2005, thousands of Muslims in Denmark were marching in demonstrations against the cartoons. Westergaard went into hiding. The Pakistani Jamaaat-e-Islami party offered 50,000 Danish kroner (around $7,500) to anyone who killed one of the cartoonists. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) lodged a protest with the Danish government and began a campaign that continues to force the West to abandon the freedom of speech and criminalize “incitement to religious hatred.” Around the world, riots over the cartoons killed at least 139 people and injured 823.

On January 1, 2010, a Muslim migrant in Denmark took an axe to the door of Westergaard’s house, intent on killing him for insulting Muhammad; he got inside, but Westergaard and his five-year-old granddaughter were hiding inside a secure safe room, and the would-be murderer was shot by police. After that, Westergaard, who was 74 at the time of the attack, kept a low profile. Voices speaking out in his defense were few, and were defamed as “far-right.”

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