Freedom of speech, battle over values, and the political symbolism of the Muhammad drawings

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Series Details No.6, 2008
Publication Date 2008
ISBN 978-87-7605-257-7
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When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten commissioned and printed 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad on September 30, 2005, no one expected that this would ignite the worst foreign policy crisis in Denmark since World War II. What began with a private newspaper's controversial illustrated article at the end of January 2006 erupted into a massive consumer boycott against Danish products in large parts of the Moslem world and, furthermore, led to vast and angry demonstrations, flag burnings and even embassy burnings.

This article argues how the publishing of the caricatures was used as a fitting and symbolic event in other political, cultural and religious battles in Denmark and even more so internationally. In Denmark the main topics of disagreement were 1) the unlimited freedom of expression vs. respecting religious sensitivities, 2) the liberal-conservative government’s very restrictive immigration, asylum, and integration policy, and 3) the Prime Minister’s decision in October 2005 not to meet and have a dialogue with a group of complaining ambassadors from 11 Moslem countries.

Although religious anger and sorrow at the caricatures was widespread in the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, the article argues that many other factors led to the consumer boycott and violent demonstrations, and the article concludes that the frustration and anger, that surfaces in the Muhammad caricature affair, has its background in the clash of values that has long characterised the political situation in the Middle East and South Asia more than in the discourse on freedom of speech in Denmark.

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