The cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed are causing trouble again. First published by a Danish newspaper in 2005, the 12 satirical editorial cartoons were intended as a challenge to Islamic extremists: Don’t tell us what we can and can’t print. Some of the images were fairly innocuous—one showed Mohammed as a shepherd, another had him wearing a Viking helmet—although they could still be considered offensive to devout Muslims, whose faith forbids any depiction of any of the prophets. Others were patently incendiary, notably the one of Mohammed wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse sticking out of it. The cartoons have sparked deadly riots across the Muslim world. Danish embassies were burned and Danish goods boycotted. Now, the most provocative cartoonist is being threatened. Danish police charged three men this week with plotting to kill him (see Page 6).
The day after the arrests were announced, at least five Danish newspapers reprinted the turban-bomb cartoon, to signal that freedom of the press would not be compromised. Newspapers in Spain, Holland, and Sweden followed suit out of solidarity, and more European papers can be expected to jump on the bandwagon in the coming week. From their point of view, they can hardly do otherwise. The question now is whether a new round of protests will follow, whether more people will have to die. To journalists, having to fight this same battle over and over again is wearisome. Can’t the Muslim world understand what press freedom means? Of course, to devout believers, it must be equally tedious. Must the European press gratuitously insult Islam every chance it gets? Unfortunately for all of us, this impasse looks insurmountable. -Susan Caskie