Danish Party Chair Wants Muhammad Cartoons as Teaching Material to Support Free Speech
The so-called Muhammad controversy originated in 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons featuring the principal figure in Islam. While hailed as an exercise in free speech by many Danish journalists and politicians, it sparked one of the country's biggest foreign crises; the aftershocks are still felt today.
Danish Socialist People's Party leader Pia Olsen Dyhr has called for cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to be used freely as teaching material, as she protested against restrictions on free speech.
Emphasising the party's zero tolerance for coercion during the party's national congregation in Kolding, Olsen Dyhr ventured that Denmark and the West in general have sacrificed freedom for the sake of safety. In doing so, she referred to the Muhammad cartoons that sparked Denmark's arguably biggest foreign crisis, as well as led to the subsequent ghoulish beheading of a French teacher who showed similar-spirited caricatures printed in Charlie Hebdo magazine to his students.
“We can see it with the issue over Muhammad cartoons, where Samuel Paty was very bestially killed because he showed the Muhammad cartoons in his teaching. It is an example of something that was the biggest crisis in Danish foreign policy for many years, that is, in recent times”, Pia Olsen Dyhr said, as quoted by Danish Radio.
The debate around the cartoons, which were initially published by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005 and sparked street protests as well as a diplomatic backlash across the Muslim world, flared anew in May this year, when a lecturer at Copenhagen University College wanted to show the drawings in the teaching process. It cost her several threats and regular contacts with the Police Intelligence Service.
“In Denmark, there are teachers who don't dare to show the Muhammad cartoons in their teaching – neither in primary school nor at the university level – for fear of violence or threats of violence. The Muhammad cartoons are one example of where we restrict our freedom of speech. There are satirists who have to live underground and fear for their safety because of a single drawing,” she added, referring to Swedish artist Lars Vilks and the late Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard who were placed under constant police protection and received death threats for what was seen as an affront to Islam.
According to the Socialist People's Party leader, this problem can be remedied, or at least partially alleviated by adopting the cartoons as part of the curriculum.
“That is the crux of the problem today, that a teacher would probably think it was really over the line, because the teachers themselves have to find them and take them into the classroom. By making the drawings part of the curriculum, they can say that it is part of the teaching material and something we have to tell the children about”, Pia Olsen Dyhr suggested.
12 November 2020, 05:13 GMT
Danish Radio's political analyst Jens Ringberg ventured that Pia Olsen Dyhr was challenging her party's value politics, as free speech is broadly seen as a right-wing issue.
The so-called Muhammad controversy erupted when the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, a principal figure of the religion of Islam. While the newspaper itself billed this as an attempt to contribute to the debate about criticism of Islam and self-censorship, the publication sparked protests around the world, including violent demonstrations and riots in some Islamic countries and Danish districts with Muslim population, as well as economic boycotts of Denmark. Then-Prime Minister and future NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen famously described the controversy as Denmark's worst international relations incident since World War II.