The Cartoonist: The reason for the bomb in the turban

A cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban has offended people all over the world. But what was the cartoonist's message?

In recent months, the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban has travelled all over the world. Famous and at the same time infamous. Because the combination of Islam and terror has offended millions of Muslims, who see the satirical drawing as an expression of the West's contempt for Muslims and their religion. However, according to the cartoonist responsible for the controversial image, this is a misunderstanding.

What was the message of your cartoon of the prophet Mohammed with a bomb in his turban?

"The cartoon is not directed against Islam as a whole, but against the part of it which obviously can inspire to violence, terrorism, death and destruction. And therefore the fundamentalist aspect of Islam. I wanted to show that terrorists get their spiritual ammunition from Islam."

Why was it important for you to get that message across?

"If a religion degenerates into religious Fascism, we are faced with totalitarian tendencies similar to Fascism and Nazism in the past. It is the same situation, where people have to bow their heads and act as the regime wants them to act. I believe we have to fight against that and of course a cartoonist's weapon is the pen or pencil and a certain amount of indignation."

Do you feel your cartoon has been misunderstood?

"Some interpretations of it are wrong. The general view among Muslims is that it relates to Islam as a whole. That is not the case. It relates to certain fundamentalist views, which of course are not shared by all Muslims."

"But the fuel behind the terrorists' actions is supplied by interpretations of Islam. I think that conclusion is inescapable. That does not mean that all Muslims are responsible for terror. It is a matter of proving a connection with the source of the spiritual fuel. According to some interpretations of Islam, those dying for their faith become martyrs, believers can serenely kill the infidels and will then be rewarded in the hereafter."

Your indignation has caused offence to millions of Muslims. Does your cartoon show sufficient respect for Islam?

"It does not respect the kind of Islam which provides terrorists with spiritual fuel. I have nothing against Islam and Muslims. They are entitled to their freedom, but if factions of a religion degenerate in a totalitarian and aggressive direction, I believe we have to protest. We protested against the other isms. Thousands of satirical cartoons and other satire were produced during Communism, exposing and reacting against it."

But even though you were aiming at fundamentalist forces, your satire has had a broad effect. Does freedom of speech justify offending entire religions in order to strike at a small part?

"We must have the freedom to satirise religions. Some religions want to set agendas for all aspects of life and the religious idea or faith is terribly powerful. Denmark has a great tradition of satire. Anything can be mocked. Anybody. That is the starting point and normally the reaction to satire tends to be amiable. This was not the case here and I for one was unable to predict that."

Did you consider whether you might get across your message in some other way without offending an entire religion?

"It is a metaphor I have also used in other contexts involving criticism of fundamentalism and terrorism. However, when it was combined with the holy prophet, some Muslims reacted very badly. But I am not a Muslim, it is not my religion, I am in my own country, I must be allowed to follow the tradition which for the sake of freedom of speech is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. That must not be compromised, that cannot be right. We have had to lay down the borderlines."

Why was it necessary?

"We were obliged to defend our view of freedom of speech, because a religion or people practising a religion and perhaps subscribing to the more fundamentalist aspects of it have begun to demand a privileged or special position in the public arena. For instance in the case of the author who could not get his book illustrated. We have to protect our traditions of freedom of speech and I believe that even if the cartoons had not been produced now, the confrontation would have arisen sooner or later. It could have been triggered by a film, a play or a book. It is something which we have to get through, but of course we have to talk to each other and understand each other."

You are yourself an atheist and at the same time known for your hard line in relation to religions. Is your cartoon a protest against religion as a whole?

"I have nothing at all against religions, but I believe we have to be sceptical about the fundamentalist versions. Increasing religiosity results in greater intolerance and restrictiveness. Things become complicated when all of life is defined by religion. For those gripped by it and even more for all those who are not. We live in an age of growing religious obscurantism, where religion seems to be increasingly important. As a result, my own beliefs as a longstanding atheist have been reinforced."

The cartoonist's name has deliberately been withheld, as the National Security Service for safety reasons have advised him to remain anonymous in the debate around the cartoons of the prophet. The cartoonist has received several death threats.

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