Danish Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard passed away | free press

Copenhagen (dpa) – The prophet Mohammed, depicted with a bomb as a turban: Danish caricaturist Kurt Westergaard has become world famous with this controversial and foreign-political memorable drawing.

According to Danish media reports, he has now passed away at the age of 86 after a long illness.

Like Westergaard’s 2005 cartoon, his death, which the newspaper “Berlingske” first reported on Sunday evening, citing his family, aroused international reactions.

Appreciation in international media

“Kurt Westergaard’s fight for freedom of expression must not die with him,” wrote the newspaper “Jyllands-Posten”, which had published the drawings at the time. “Berlingske” praised the fact that as a draftsman Westergaard had become “the epitome of freedom of expression in Denmark”. The BBC and the Guardian also commented on the Dane’s death, while the longtime secretary general of the Norwegian Press Association, Per Edgar Kokkvold, told NRK: “He was fearless. He refused to bow.” Westergaard has thus become a symbol for those who have fought for freedom of expression.

In 2005, Kurt Westergaard and several other cartoonists responded to a call from “Jyllands-Posten” to draw pictures of the prophet Mohammed. Twelve cartoons were published under the headline “Muhammad’s face” in the cultural section of the newspaper, but none were as outraged as Westergaard’s.

The picture showed the prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb with a burning fuse. Months after publication, the drawings sparked a violent wave of protests across the Islamic world, including attacks on Danish embassies. Dozens of people were killed in the fighting.

cartoon dispute

The cartoon dispute, known as the “Mohammed Crisis” in Denmark, sparked the biggest foreign policy crisis in Westergaard’s home country since World War II. Several Muslim countries called on the Danish government to punish the publication, partly because the pictorial representation of Mohammed is taboo in large parts of the Islamic world.

In the Scandinavian country and beyond, the events also sparked a bitter debate about the limits of freedom of expression and religion. And for the learned German teacher Westergaard, who had worked as a satirical artist and illustrator for the conservative Jyllands-Posten from the eighties to the age of 75, all this had personal consequences: from then on he lived under the protection of the Danish secret service and in secret places. In 2010, he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a 28-year-old man broke into his home with an axe.

The French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” finally reprinted the caricatures in 2006 – supplemented with their own drawings. Six years later, the magazine published new cartoons of Mohammed, mentioning freedom of speech and the press, again sparking angry reactions from Muslims.

The Islamic terrorist attack was a “shock” for Westergaard

In early 2015, there was finally an Islamist terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. A month later, a terrorist attack was also committed in Copenhagen – on a synagogue and an event with another Mohammed cartoonist, the Swede Lars Vilks.

“That was a shock to me, as it was to all people. It is terrible,” Westergaard said shortly after the attack on “Charlie Hebdo” in an interview with the German news agency. He also attacked himself in it. At that time, he was just doing his job, Westergaard said of his caricature. “I worked in the Danish satirical tradition, I didn’t do anything bad.” And further: “It is very important that we do not begin to succumb to freedom of expression now. The worst is when self-censorship gets a chance.”

Applause from the right too

After news of his death, Westergaard was recognized by politicians from Denmark and abroad, including many right-wing populists. Westergaard paid a heavy price in the fight for freedom of expression, Kristian Thulesen Dahl, chairman of the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party, wrote on Twitter. Dutchman Geert Wilders, one of the most popular figures in the right-wing scene in Europe, said: “The great Kurt Westergaard has passed away. He was a brave man. An example for all of us.”

Westergaard once called himself an atheist. “I would like to be remembered as the one who fought for free speech,” Westergaard was quoted as saying by “Berlingske”. “But there is no doubt that some will remember me as a Satan who has offended the religion of a billion people.”

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