The State Of Denmark

<b>Bob Simon</b> Examines Muhammad Cartoon Controversy

You would have to look hard for a country with a better brand-name than Denmark. It's not only the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the country seems to live in one of his fairy tales. The people are pretty and prosperous, the land is green and fertile, and the towns are colorful and squeaky clean. Denmark's queen is much beloved by her people and hails from the oldest monarchy in Europe.

Who could ever imagine that this lovely little land would spark riots sweeping the Islamic world? Is it a quirk, a coincidence? Correspondent Bob Simon traveled to Copenhagen to find out and discovered that there is something really strange in the state of Denmark and that it's no accident the firestorm started here.



The riots, reaching from Jerusalem to Jakarta, can all be traced back to the most unlikely of places: a cluttered work space in the apartment of Kare Buitgen, a writer of children's books.

"Well, it's sad to see what happens now," Buitgen says. "I wrote a book about the Prophet Muhammad to promote better understanding between cultures and religions here in Denmark."

Buitgen had trouble finding someone to illustrate his book. Muslims don't permit representations of their prophet, and illustrators were afraid of offending the Muslim community in Denmark.

Buitgen's problem became known to the editors of Denmark's largest newspaper. Its cultural editor, Flemming Rose, said he was offended by what he called this self-censorship. He explained himself in an interview that aired on the BBC.

"It's problematic if some Muslims require of me that I in the public space, in the public domain, have to submit myselves to their taboos. In that case I don't think they are asking for my respect. I think they are asking for my submission," Rose said.

But Rose has said he wasn't about to submit. Instead, as a challenge, he invited Danish cartoonists to submit cartoons about the Prophet and he printed twelve of them. One showed Muhammad wearing a turban that was really a bomb.

"Because in Denmark we do have a tradition of satire and humor, some of the cartoonists made satirical cartoons. But that's what we do with Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, that's what we do with other religions," Rose said.

Well, not exactly. The editors of the paper, the Jyllands-Posten, recently rejected a satirical depiction of the resurrection, saying it would cause a public outcry. But the paper did print the Muhammad cartoons: all 12 of them. And until last week, Rose defended his decision on just about every broadcast that would have him.

The newspaper insisted from the start that its purpose was to show that there are no higher values in a democratic society than free speech and free expression. And if Muslims want to live in Denmark, the paper insists, they'd better buy that. But as soon as events started careening out of control last week, the editors of this bastion of free speech responded by refusing to speak to anyone at all.

Not only that, Flemming Rose, that cultural editor, has been put on indefinite paid vacation and encouraged to leave Denmark. He's currently resting at a five-star hotel in Washington, DC. But Rose and the newspaper have their defenders, including the editor of a rival paper, Toger Seidenfaden.

"The way I've put it, and we've been saying in our editorials for some time, is we are defending their right to be stupid. We think that being stupid is part of freedom of speech," says Seidenfaden.

Asked if he thinks Jyllands-Posten realized the fallout the publication of these cartoons might cause, Seidenfaden says, "No, I don't think they had any idea that there would be an international crisis. Certainly not one of this size. But, of course, they were doing it to get a reaction from the local Muslim religious minority. And they said so very explicitly. They explained on their front page that they were doing this, and I quote, 'To teach religious Muslims in Denmark that in our society, they must accept to be scorned, mocked and ridiculed.'"

"They were stirring it up?" Simon asked.

"It was very much stirring it up," Seidenfaden replied.

  • Daniel Schorn

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