Cartoon riots in Denmark

A murder plot against the cartoonist behind one of the infamous 'Muhammad cartoons' set off a two-week-long wave of rioting in the streets of Denmark in mid-February. The cartoon, which generated outrage and violence among Muslims worldwide, depicted the prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. It was drawn by 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard and published in the Danish newspaper, Morgenavisen Jyllandsposten in September 2005. On February 11, three suspects - two Tunisians with Danish residence permits and one Danish citizen of Moroccan heritage were arrested and accused of planning to murder Westergaard in his home in Aarhus, Denmark's second-largest city. The arrest followed a three-month investigation by PET (the Danish police's bureau of investigation), who had warned the cartoonist and told him to go into hiding. In response to the arrest, additional Danish papers that had refused to publish the cartoon in 2005 decided to publish it in what they referred to as solidarity with the threatened cartoonist and in the name of free speech. In the aftermath of the republishing of the cartoon, a wave of rioting and more than 650 cases of arson, including schools and other public institutions, broke out in Copenhagen and other Danish cities. No injuries were reported. There were renewed protests against the cartoons in parts of the Muslim world. The arrested murder-plot suspects were meanwhile released due to insufficient evidence. However, based on anti-terrorist legislation passed subsequent to the 9/11 attacks, the Danish authorities decided to deport the two Tunisian nationals. The rioting coincided with a week-long winter school vacation, prompting analysts to observe that many of the rioters were bored Muslim youngsters with nothing to do. However, Danish politicians noted that the spokesman of the ostensibly moderate Islamic Faith Society, Kassem Ahmad, was seen carrying a banner in the front line of a demonstration (with about 1000 participants), organized by the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir (The Global Islamic Movement). Hizb ut-Tahrir denounced the publication of the cartoons and warned that the "Danish government hasn't yet seen anything of the Muslim potential." In response, member of parliament Villy Søvndal, leader of the opposition Socialist People's Party stated on his blog, "To these men of darkness I want to say: Go to Hell. If they have such deep wishes to live in a religious dictatorship they can go to those countries in the Middle East where these kinds of dictatorships exist." Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the press that anger at the reprinting of the drawings did not bestow "the right to burn others' cars or to burn down schools and institutions." "We have definitely not taken a step forward and it's deeply worrying," says Garbi Schmidt, professor at The Danish National Center for Social Research in Islamic studies, who has researched Muslims living in Denmark. She expresses concern that the current situation will further marginalize the already alienated Muslim community. In contrast, right-wing politicians have called for lowering the age of criminal responsibility and lowering tolerance for Muslim demands. An opinion poll published by the national TV2 channel on February 21 shows that the Danes are now more likely to vote for right-wing parties than before the rioting erupted. "I think it is a natural development," says Schmidt, but adds that this mutual contempt that has developed in Denmark is dangerous. It will create even deeper rifts between the Danes and the Muslims living in Denmark. The responses of Jewish community leaders have been cautious. "On the face of it, the events haven't affected the Jewish community. There is always the fear that this group might turn their anger towards the Jewish society. That risk is always present and has become a part of our everyday life," attorney Finn Schwarz, board member of the Mosaisk Trossamfund, the organized Jewish community in Denmark, tells The Report.