Unlike in the United States, many countries in Europe ban publication of extremely controversial statements—acts to incite violence. In other words, blasphemous or discriminatory expressions are prohibited. An example would be denying that the Holocaust occurred. The Danish Muslim community—a religious minority—wanted to classify images of Muhammad under this category. This would effectively ban all publication of images of Muhammad, which are forbidden in the Islamic tradition.
In September of 2005, there was a controversy over a dozen Danish editorial cartoons. The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, including one version where he has a bomb stuck in his turban. The newspaper states it was an attempt to contribute to the debate and to make a political point regarding the Muslim organization’s attempts to censor images of Muhammad.
As a result of this publication, the Muslim world was outraged, and protests sprang up, some of which turned violent. Danish Embassies were burned and Danish flags destroyed in Gaza City.
Critics of the cartoons described the publication to be Islamaphobic and racist. They say it is a calculated move to provoke the Muslim community to react. As the Danish Muslim community is a minority, some also see the cartoons as intended to bully the religious minority.
Those who support the cartoons, including many groups in the Western world, said the cartoons are a form of free speech and should not be censored by any one group. To do so, they argue, would not only violate that form of free speech, but would also be religious oppression by the Muslim community, forcing others to conform to a specific rule from Islamic tradition.
How can we reconcile differences amongst people with different beliefs in our modern world of free speech and mixed religions? In this instance in history, art was used in an attempt to create peace and understanding; it obviously backfired, but why? Did the Danish newspaper take it too far in creating political cartoons of Muhammad? Or did the Muslim community over-react to the situation?