Feature

Denmark: Revenge for the caricatures of Mohammed

Kurt Westergaard, the artist whose drawing of the Prophet Mohammed caused riots across the Muslim world in 2006, was baby-sitting his granddaughter when a Somali man armed with an axe and a knife burst into his home.

A Danish cartoonist last week came “perilously close to being murdered,” said Erik Norby in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten. Kurt Westergaard, the artist whose drawing of the Prophet Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban caused riots across the Muslim world in 2006, was baby-sitting his 5-year-old granddaughter when a Somali man armed with an axe and a knife burst into his home. Westergaard didn’t have time to collect the girl as he ran to the fortified panic room he had installed in one of his bathrooms and pressed the alarm to summon police. The attacker hacked at the panic room door, swearing and screaming about blood and revenge. “I feared for my grandchild,” Westergaard, 74, said. “But she did great. I knew that he wouldn’t do anything to her.” The man, who has not been named, then hurled his weapons at the arriving police officers, who shot him in the hand and leg. Police believe he is an Islamic extremist—and he certainly appears wholly unrepentant. At his arraignment, the man stared at reporters with “an almost exultant, fixed gaze.”

How could this happen? asked Denmark’s Politiken in an editorial. The Danish intelligence service, the PET, should have been closely watching this man—a Danish resident who was kicked out of Kenya last year after being suspected of planning an attack on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit there. And they should have had better security around Westergaard. His cartoon was the most controversial of all the 12 drawings published by Jyllands-Posten, and he received the most death threats. The attack may have failed, “but the intelligence services failed, too.”

Westergaard doesn’t see it that way, said Hans Drachmann, also in Politiken. The PET has been protecting him ever since the publication of that infamous drawing “changed his life forever.” In 2007, intelligence officials caught three Islamic extremists in a plot to kill him. For months, they moved him and his wife from safe house to safe house while they investigated. And it was the PET that built the panic room in Westergaard’s home and trained him to race into it alone, because terrorists targeting a single “enemy” rarely go after family members. Even now, Westergaard has “nothing but praise” for the intelligence services. He said he bears some responsibility for his status as a target, since he refuses to keep a low profile. “Terrorists must not be allowed to run my life,” he says.

That’s a lesson we can all take to heart, said Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende. The attack on Westergaard highlights the dilemma of how much freedom we’re willing to give up to protect ourselves. The failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up the plane heading to Detroit, for example, “should not spur us to suspend all flights.” A crazy person bent on destruction can always find a target, be it a plane or a subway station or a shopping mall. “The perfect balance between security and a life of freedom does not exist.”

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