Muslims & Press Freedom: Danish Cartoon Controversy

Press freedom and culture. Muslim and non-Muslim reactions to controversial Danish cartoons of Islamic prophet Muhammad
Press freedom: How does culture affect Muslim & non-Muslim perceptions of the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban? (Photo: Public Domain)

On September 30, 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published editorial cartoons of Muhammad. The cartoons sparked outrage among Muslims, who viewed the cartoons as an insult to Islam. Supporters of the newspaper argued for freedom of the press. Critics of the editorial insisted that there are limits to press freedom. Freedom of the press is a liberty rooted to the freedom of speech and expression. It is the cornerstone in the development of free press organizations. However, press freedom differs among cultures, as exemplified in the case of the Danish editorial cartoons of Muhammad.

This article analyzes the reactions of Muslims and non-Muslims to the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, symbolizing terrorism.

Muslim and Non-Muslim Freedom of the Press

In Western and similar cultures, the press exercises freedom extensively. Western governments recognize press freedom. The press delivers news and opinion without fear of persecution. Laws and policies protect this freedom. Also, citizens expect and support press freedom.

In Muslim cultures, Islam is important than any individual’s faith in the self. Muslims are expected to follow the religion. They are also expected to support Islamic culture. To go against Islamic culture is to go against Allah. Islam imposes censorship and various restrictions on speech and expression. Strict observance of Islamic values and teachings censors the press. Thus, the term free press does not fully apply to Muslim cultures.

Controversial Danish Cartoons of Muhammad

The controversial cartoons first appeared in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. The cartoons depicted Muhammad and link him with terrorism. In one of the twelve cartoons, Muhammad has a bomb-shaped turban on his head. The other cartoons suggest violence or terrorism. The cartoons are basically a criticism of Muslims, alleging that Islam supports violence and terrorism. Press freedom is the Western cultural justification for the cartoons. The cartoons express the opinions of the cartoonist and the editor about Muslim terrorist groups.

For Muslims, the cartoons are an insult against Islam. These cartoons come from Western culture. As such, the cartoons are viewed as the West’s insult against Muslim cultures. In response, Muslims attacked western embassies and establishments in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Indonesia, among other countries. Other newspapers in European countries published copies of the cartoons. However, the owner of the French paper France Soir expressed his apologies to the Muslim community for publishing the cartoons.

Reconciliation

It is difficult to reconcile cultural perceptions on press freedom and the Danish cartoons. Muslims are adamant in their beliefs. Westerners are also strongly supportive of freedom of the press, speech and expression. It is hard for a non-Muslim to understand Muslims’ reactions to the cartoons. Similarly, it is hard for a Muslim to understand the concept of the freedom of the press.

It pays to establish better communications between Muslims and non-Muslims. The France Soir’s apology is a possible start of reconciliation. How does a non-Muslim make a Muslim understand the value of press freedom? How does a Muslim make a non-Muslim understand the Islamic values and the Muslim zeal? As long as there are no concrete answers to these questions, press-related issues between Muslims and non-Muslims will continue.

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