At a lunch last year celebrating his 25th anniversary with Jyllands-Posten, Kurt Westergaard told an anecdote. During World War II Pablo Picasso met a German officer in southern France, and they got into a conversation. When the German officer figured out whom he was talking to he said:
“Oh, you are the one who created Guernica?” referring to the famous painting of the German bombing of a Basque town by that name in 1937.
Picasso paused for a second, and replied, “No, it wasn’t me, it was you.”
For the past three months Mr. Westergaard and his wife have been on the run. Mr. Westergaard did the most famous of the 12 Muhammad cartoons published in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 — the one depicting the prophet with a bomb in his turban. The cartoon was a satirical comment on the fact that some Muslims are committing terrorist acts in the name of Islam and the prophet. Tragically, Mr. Westergaard’s fate has proven the point of his cartoon: In the early hours of Tuesday morning Danish police arrested three men who allegedly had been plotting to kill him.
In the past few days 17 Danish newspapers have published Mr. Westergaard’s cartoon, which is as truthful as Picasso’s painting. My colleagues at Jyllands-Posten and I understand that the cartoon may be offensive to some people, but sometimes the truth can be very offensive. As George Orwell put it in the suppressed preface to “Animal Farm”: “If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Sadly, the plot to kill Mr. Westergaard is not an isolated story, but part of a broader trend that risks undermining free speech in Europe and around the world. Consider the following recent events: In Oslo a gallery has censored three small watercolor paintings, showing the head of the prophet Muhammad on a dog’s body, by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has been under police protection since the fall of 2007. In Holland the municipal museum in The Hague recently refused to show photos by the Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera of gay men wearing the masks of the prophet Muhammad and his son Ali; Ms. Hera has received several death threats and is in hiding.
In Belarus an editor has been sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp after republishing some of Jyllands-Posten’s Muhammad cartoons. In Egypt bloggers are in jail after having “insulted Islam.” In Afghanistan the 23-year-old Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has been sentenced to death because he distributed “blasphemous” material about the mistreatment of women in Islam. And in India the Bengal writer Taslima Nasreen is in a safe house after having been threatened by people who don’t like her books. More here.
Flemming Rose: My comment to the fate of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard was published in the Wall Street Journal last Friday.
Here it is:
Free Speech and Radical Islam