The State Of Denmark

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


If the paper was trying to stir it up, it succeeded.

"Muhammad is our leader. Muhammad is our prophet. Muhammad is the perfect man," Imam Ahmed Abu-Laban preached in a recent sermon.

"That's why we believe in him, we love him, and we keep on defending him," the imam intoned.

"What do you think was on the minds of the editors of the newspaper when they published the cartoons? What were they trying to accomplish?" Simon asked the imam.

"They were trying to be teachers, to teach us democracy, the values of democracy, and most important, how to abide to those values. Love it or leave it, this is the way it goes. My dear student pupil, listen carefully. I try to help you," Abu-Laban replied.

The imam says he found the cartoon of the turban and the bomb most objectionable.

Abu-Laban and his followers asked the newspaper for an apology, which they didn't get. A group of ambassadors from eleven Muslim countries asked Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for a meeting, which they didn't get.

Asked why he refused to meet with the ambassadors, Prime Minister Rasmussen says, "Well, we have not refused dialogue. On the contrary."

"But you didn't meet with the Arab ambassadors," Simon said.

"No. But I have to stress that the foreign minister has had meetings with ambassadors and foreign ministers and others," Rasmussen replied.

But newspaper editor Toger Seidenfaden has his own view as to why the prime minister didn't meet the ambassadors.

"Because sadly enough, in the domestic political situation in Denmark, the logic was simple. As conflict between the biggest newspaper in the land and religious Muslims. On whose side am I on? It's very simple for a prime minister to answer: 'I'm with the big newspaper,'" Seidenfaden says.

And that's exactly how the Muslim leaders understood it.

"You are on record as defending the paper, defending its right to publish. And your critics have said that defending them so strongly has served to further inflame the Muslim world. What's your view on that, sir?" Simon asked Rasmussen.

"Well what I've done is to insist on the principle of free speech, the principle of free press. And I have made it clear that the government has no means whatsoever to interfere with a free and independent newspaper," the prime minister replied.

The Muslims felt totally rebuffed at home in Denmark. So the imam sent a delegation to the Middle East with a dossier of pictures, not only of the published cartoons, but of others that were even more offensive. One showed the prophet with the head of a pig.

Abu-Laban told 60 Minutes he had received these in anonymous threatening letters. But the dossier left the impression that those pictures had been printed in the newspaper.

"I guess what I'm getting at, imam, didn't you include these obscene cartoons as a way of really stirring up the pot?" Simon asked.

"We didn't give it to media. Don't forget this point," the imam said.

"I'm the media. And I have it," Simon replied.

It was the dissemination of that dossier which ignited the flames that are still burning today.

"You weren't getting any attention here before you spread the word. Now, you're getting attention and engagement. Do you think your mission was a success?" Simon asked.

"Yes. The whole world is engaged. I'm so positive," Abu-Laban replied.

Asked if he thought the casualties are worthwhile, the imam said: "I feel sorry. But we make cars and they make accidents. We build skyscrapers, but they collapse in an earthquake. This is life. We have maybe unexpected tragedies. And we have to live with them."