(click the cartoon for a link to the ones published in the Danish newspaper)
In September of 2005, a conservative Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Not much was made of the caricatures at first, but when Muslim leaders called attention to the images in 2006, it set off a thunderstorm of rioting.
The cartoons originated when an author of a children's book on Muhammad could not find an illustrator unafraid of the backlash that publishing a photo of the prophet would cause. The Danes decided it was time to stop being censored by Islamist extremists and held a contest asking for people to send in depictions of the prophet. Did they have any idea what the response was going to be? They must have known how controversial the publishing of those images would be.
Overall, 100 people died during violent protests. The Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran were burned. European buildings were stormed.
Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten's culture editor, had this to say:
The modern, secular society is rejected by some Muslims. They demand a special position, insisting on special consideration of their own religious feelings. It is incompatible with contemporary democracy and freedom of speech, where you must be ready to put up with insults, mockery and ridicule. It is certainly not always attractive and nice to look at, and it does not mean that religious feelings should be made fun of at any price, but that is of minor importance in the present context. [...] we are on our way to a slippery slope where no-one can tell how the self-censorship will end. That is why Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten has invited members of the Danish editorial cartoonists union to draw Muhammad as they see him.So what was at stake here? Freedom of expression and the press? Were they just "poking the bear" unneccesarrily? After all, only a few thousand of the billion Muslims around the world rioted. Should newspapers cowtow to the noisy minority? But after all, it was Islamic leaders who called attention to the cartoons several months after their publication.
The case study on the Society of Professional Journalist's website says:
It could be argued that deciding not to publish the cartoons is not cowardly self-censorship but considered good judgement. After all, they were readily available on the Internet. A responsible journalist's intent should be to inform, not to offend.Hmm. Hmm indeed.
See also Andrew and Todd's post.